The Heineken ‘Worlds Apart’ Ad: Corporate Social Justice Done Right

Finally, a corporate attempt at social awareness advertising that does not devolve into sanctimonious progressive preaching

It generally doesn’t end well when big corporations decide to prove their right-on, progressive credentials with a slick new TV advertisement.

Only four months ago, Pepsi found itself on the receiving end of a heap of bad PR when their insipid commercial, featuring celebrity with no discernible talent Kylie Jenner, was deemed to be trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement (the gravest sin that it is presently possible to commit).

The Pepsi ad was certainly stupid, but not because it made light of a movement which is by no means as pure of character as it likes to pretend. No, the problem with the Pepsi ad was that it tried to cast the soft drink manufacturer in a positive light by clinging on to the coattails of various protest movements, and casting its brown sugary liquid as the balm that could ease tensions between Generic Oppressed Communities and the police. It was glib and superficial and insulting to everyone who was portrayed in it.

And unfortunately that’s how it is with most ads that try to paint the responsible corporation in a positive light by embracing the latest progressive fad or injunction from the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics. They politicise that which should not be politicised, needlessly sow division over politically contentious issues, waste shareholder money to burnish the reputations of certain executives and generally fail to serve the corporation’s customers. In Britain, Channel 4’s cynical and self-serving “Gay Mountain” ad, timed to coincide with the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is another awful example of tawdry corporate behaviour.

That’s not to say that all such ads are bad – by all means, corporations should wade into social territory when the product and the issue actually have some connection with each other and there is a worthy goal in mind. The #LikeAGirl ad campaign by Always, for example, is actually quite moving and packs a real impact. This Barbie ad isn’t half bad either.

Other social justice ads fall into the grey zone, not terrible but not particularly praiseworthy either – or else just plain confusing. Procter & Gamble’s recent ad “The Talk“, highlighting the fact that African American parents have had to teach their children resilience techniques and shore up their self-esteem in ways that white parents generally have not, makes a valid and moving historical point. But it is never quite clear why Procter & Gamble is the one to be making the ad, other than that they cynically calculated that they can burnish their corporate credentials by conspicuously attaching their brand to the worthy cause of anti-racism.

But best of all recent ads where a large corporation dips its toe into the roiling waters of social issues is this one by Heineken, entitled “Worlds Apart“. What makes it so good? The fact that it does not seek to preach any specific value or social outcome besides the importance of tolerance and mutual respect which is too often missing in public discourse. Rather than shoving a particular social cause down the throats of consumers, the ad dares to suggest that more than one opinion (the progressive one) may have value, and that issues should be discussed rather than dissent shut down.

The ad is shot like a reality show, putting various pairs of strangers with diametrically opposed opinions on various issues – feminism, transgenderism, climate change and so on – in a room together, having them perform various icebreaking tasks including assembling furniture, describing both themselves and their partner using five adjectives and then just talking together about their life experiences. It sounds corny, but it actually works quite well – watch the video at the top of this article.

The final task given to the various pairs of strangers is to assemble a construction out of wooden blocks – which turns out to be a bar (see what they did there?) Having cooperated and bonded with each other while completing various tasks, they each then have to watch a video in which the other person talks to the camera about their opinions of various relevant hot-button issues. It then becomes clear that the feminist was paired with the anti-feminist, the climate change sceptic with the environmentalist, the transgender woman with the man who scorned the idea of transgenderism. Having discovered this truth about their partner, they are then offered a choice – either they can leave and never see each other again, or they can discuss their differences over a beer at the bar they just constructed together.

This really is quite effective. You see the shock on each person’s face as they realise this uncomfortable truth about the stranger with whom they have been working and bonding during the various tasks. You see hints of confusion and almost betrayal on some of their faces as they weigh the competing facts – that they got on well with the person, know them through their brief interactions to be decent, yet that they stand on opposite sides of major social wedge issues. Spoiler alert: they all end up deciding to stay and discuss their differences over a nice cool Heineken.

This is a good ad. Firstly in terms of product promotion, it positions Heineken beer as something over which sane, rational people can discuss their differences like adults. In real life, people do discuss their problems and bond over beer. Unlike the Procter & Gamble ad, there is a valid reason for Heineken to be making this commercial. And what’s more, despite only being a commercial the various interactions feel ten times more real than President Obama’s very real and much-publicised “beer summit” in the wake of the Henry Louis Gates arrest controversy.

But more than that, the ad is good because it doesn’t force a set outcome. It doesn’t end with the transgenderism sceptic acknowledging the error of his ways, confessing his sin and being absolved, or the anti-feminist checking his male privilege. Rather, knowing that their partner is more than the sum of his or her political opinions, the various couples are able to forge bonds of mutual respect and friendship. Like adults used to do in the days before social media turbo-charged identity politics.

So why does Heineken succeed where so many other corporations have failed? Again, it’s those three reasons:

  1. A clear link between the issues at stake (in this case various hot-button social issues) and the product (people often discuss their differences over a beer)
  2. Not forcing a preset outcome, and acknowledging that people can be good despite coming down on different sides of an issue
  3. Not alienating any of their customers by charging in with a preachy, absolutist message

If corporations are going to continue to dip their toes into social issues then we need more ads like this. Right now it feels like society is fraying, sometimes even in danger of coming apart at the seams, fuelled by a toxic blend of identity politics zealots, genuine bigots, people who simply dislike being preached to and those who profit from creating friction between them.

Too many people in positions of authority – politicians, media personalities, self-appointed community leaders – fail to encourage understanding and respectful disagreement, preferring to foment mutual intolerance. Only today I was publicly and ostentatiously defriended by a respected acquaintance, someone who suddenly decided that my relatively mainstream and inoffensive conservatarian opinions were beyond the pale and injurious to their mental safety. It isn’t the first time that this has happened. This is what identity politics and leftist intolerance hath wrought.

Retreating into our respective bubbles will not help knit society back together and weave the strands of a common identity and shared purpose around which we can – and must – all unite. The Heineken “Worlds Apart” ad acknowledges this fact and pitches its product as part of the solution.

It shouldn’t take a beer company to say what so many political and community leaders have so conspicuously failed to say themselves, but that’s just what Heineken have done with this ad. And this puts it head and shoulders above the rest.

 

Heineken - Worlds Apart ad

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Centrists Cling To Their Failed Dogma Even As It Tears Their Countries Apart

Tony Blair - Hillary Clinton - centrism

In a wide-ranging essay, Michael Lind argues that the elite managerial class have broken their compact with the working classes to the detriment of the country, thus explaining the populist backlashes witnessed in Britain and America

“The New Class War”, an essay in the American Affairs Journal by writer Michael Lind, perfectly captures the intersection between trade regulation, democracy and the interests of the managerial elites which is at the heart of the current debate over sovereignty – and which fuelled the Brexit vote in the UK and Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency in America.

It is necessary to quote at some length from the section entitled “The Politics of Global Arbitrage“, in which Lind discusses the ways in which corporate behaviour has influenced the contours of our democracy:

Even as they have exploited opportunities for international labor and tax-and-subsidy arbitrage, firms in the post–Cold War era of globalization have promoted selective harmonization of laws and rules, when it has been in their interest to do so. In the second half of the twentieth century, successive rounds of negotiation under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and, more recently, the World Trade Organization (WTO) effectively reduced most traditional tariff barriers. By 2016, when the WTO effectively terminated the failed Doha Development Round of global trade talks, the United States and other leading industrial nations had shifted the emphasis from removing barriers restricting the cross-border flow of goods to harmonizing laws and regulations through “multiregional trade pacts” like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), in the interests of transnational investors and corporations reliant on transnational supply chains.

The areas chosen for arbitrage and harmonization reflect the interests not of national working-class majorities but of the managerial elites that dominate western governments. Harmonizing labor standards or wages would undercut the labor arbitrage strategy, while transnational crackdowns on tax avoidance would thwart the strategy of tax arbitrage by transnational firms. Instead, the emphasis in harmonization policy has been on common industrial standards, the liberalization of financial systems, and intellectual property rights, including pharmaceutical patents. These kinds of harmonization benefit transnational firms, investors on Wall Street or in the City of London, and the holders of intellectual property rights in Silicon Valley and the pharmaceutical industry.

In many cases, this kind of regulatory harmonization makes sense—standardizing product safety measures, for example. But the new regulatory harmonization agreements produce a “democratic deficit” in two ways.

First, they remove whole areas of regulation from the realm of ordinary legislation, replacing it with “legislation by treaty.” Favorable laws and regulations that corporate lobbyists are unable to persuade national democratic legislatures to enact can be repackaged and hidden in harmonization agreements masked as “trade” treaties. These treaties, often thousands of pages long, tend to be drafted in secret by committees involving corporate lobbyists and may be ratified by legislatures without careful scrutiny.

Worse, most of these contemporary regulatory harmonization agreements include “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) provisions that allow individual corporations to sue national governments that change the rules in their countries after the passage of the treaty in private tribunals, dominated by corporate lawyers, with no appeal mechanism. If Congress enacts a statute that adversely affects the interests of Acme Inc., then Acme has few options, other than paying lobbyists and making campaign donations. But if Congress ratifies a treaty, and later changes a provision by passing a new law, Acme can sue the federal government for financial damages. The United States has yet to lose a case to ISDS, but other countries have, and some believe that the prospect of corporate lawsuits has a chilling effect on new laws and regulations of which particular corporations disapprove.

None of this is to imply that the transnational managers of the West and littoral East Asia who control the new global oligopolies are more selfish or less public-spirited than the managers of national corporations during the Second Industrial Era. On the contrary, in personal terms, today’s managerial elite is for the most part less bigoted and often quite philanthropic. The point is simply that the American, German, and Japanese corporations of half a century ago were constrained by kinds of Galbraithian countervailing power and Burnhamite/Moscian juridical defenses that have crumbled. Thanks to globalization, itself a voluntary policy choice enabled but not required by new technology, today’s transnational firms have much more bargaining power in their dealings with workers and democratic nation-states.

My emphasis in bold.

This perfectly sums up a core part of the democratic case for leaving the European Union as it relates to trade, and is very much in line with the analysis and arguments advanced by Dr. Richard North of eureferendum.com and Pete North.

Lind is quite correct to acknowledge that regulatory harmonisation can be an enormous force for good. In fact, the trouble only really comes about when there is no option for a democratic nation state to “opt out” of a certain regulatory change or edict when its imposition would harm the national interest in some way. Obviously there would be consequences for such an action, such as the non-recognition of standards relating to the product or industry in question. But the opt-out is a vital tool which nation states must possess in order to wield sensibly and with restraint on those occasions when the compromise hashed out by 27 EU member states is unacceptable to the sole outvoted dissenting country.

This is what we mean by the outsourcing of sovereignty. Remainers and assorted pro-EU apologists love to make the glib assertion that EU member states retain ultimate sovereignty at all times because they are technically free to leave the EU, but this is an asinine assertion. Sovereignty should not be a choice between having to go along with every diktat from Brussels or deploying the nuclear option and leaving the European Union. Indeed, how can you call it sovereignty when the choice is between accepting papercut after papercut (grave though the cumulative wound may be) or else enduring the disruption of severing ourselves from the union? This isn’t sovereignty, it is blackmail. Thank goodness that Britain finally called the EU’s bluff.

This section is also instructive:

To obtain social peace and mobilize national populations during World War II, the United States and its allies like Britain brokered business-labor pacts and promised welfare benefits to veterans. In the ensuing Cold War, every major industrial democracy devised some kind of “settlement” or compromise among business and labor interests within the nation.

The postwar settlements were a combination of employer-specific welfare capitalism and universal or means-tested, social-democratic welfare states. In West Germany, welfare capitalism took the form of “codetermination,” or union membership on corporate boards. Japan, following intense labor conflict after 1945, developed a system of corporate paternalism and lifetime employment for many workers. Organized labor was weak in the postwar United States, but the “Treaty of Detroit” negotiated among automobile companies and unions was a successful example of informal business-labor corporatism. Low levels of legal and illegal immigration, and social pressure on married mothers to exit the work force to become homemakers, strengthened the bargaining power of mostly male workers by creating tight labor markets.

These corporatist systems of welfare capitalism made the welfare states of the period from the 1940s to the 1970s much smaller than they would have been otherwise. Wage compression brought about by unions in the welfare-capitalist system made it easier for payroll taxes to fund entitlements like public pensions, which in turn were smaller than they might have been because of the widespread existence of private employer pensions.

The post-1945 settlements in the West and Japan demonstrate countervailing power and juridical defense in action. The result was the golden age of capitalism from the 1940s to the 1970s, combining high growth with a more equal distribution of its rewards than has ever existed before or since.

But Lind sees the end of the Cold War as a turning point when the post-war settlements established in the West and Japan began to be fatally undermined:

Following the Cold War, the global business revolution shattered these social compacts. Through the empowerment of multinational corporations and the creation of transnational supply chains, managerial elites disempowered national labor and national governments and transferred political power from national legislatures to executive agencies, transnational bureaucracies, and treaty organizations.

Freed from older constraints, the managerial minorities of Western nations have predictably run amok, using their near-monopoly of power and influence in all sectors—private, public, and nonprofit—to enact policies that advantage their members to the detriment of their fellow citizens. Derided and disempowered, large elements of the native working classes in Western democracies have turned to charismatic tribunes of anti-system populism in electoral rebellions against the selfishness and arrogance of managerial elites.

I have to say that Lind’s essay has given me pause for thought. This blog has consistently championed the Thatcherite revolution which took Britain from being the sick man of 1970s Europe, seemingly in terminal decline, to a revived and confident global power by the 1990s. I did so while acknowledging the various failures of the Thatcher government to ameliorate the decline of heavy industry outside of the wealthy Southeast and its cost in terms of suffering and wasted human potential, but I nonetheless saw (and continue to see) Thatcherism as a necessary if painful tonic for the economically sick Britain of the 1970s.

Lind, however, sees things differently. From Lind’s perspective, the post World War II settlements established between labour and the managerial classes in various Western countries were responsible for the great boost in productivity and living standards, not an anchor on these metrics (as I have always viewed the post-war settlement in Britain, partially deconstructed by Thatcher). To be fair, Lind pinpoints the start of the unravelling to the end of the Cold War when Thatcher’s premiership was nearing an end, but since many of the tenets of Thatcherism continued through the Major and Blair governments into the 21st century once can reasonably infer a criticism of Thatcher’s policies, which merely took a decade to come to full fruition.

This is food for thought for an unabashed Thatcherite like me, and I need to do more reading to decide how much of Lind’s narrative holds water. The narrative arc he constructs is persuasively argued and passes the “common sense” test, but to my mind Britain’s experience stands as an exception to Lind’s rule. In our case, the post-war settlement we constructed (based on the recommendations of the Beveridge Report) grievously held us back as a country. We did not benefit from enlightened German-style corporate governance or Japanese-style jobs for life in the post-war years, but rather sank into decades of adversarial conflict between unions and (largely state-owned) employers, with government policy repeatedly favouring the interests of the producer over those of the consumer.

Now, this could be because British government policy was particularly misguided and the British managerial class particularly useless (an argument I have some sympathy with), but it seems more likely to me that Lind’s blanket assertion that countries prosper most when there is a powerful countervailing force to push back against the elite managerial class is not always correct – or at least is only one of several other key factors determining economic growth and increases in standard of living. I would posit that Thatcher’s Methodist upbringing probably provided a great moral anchor that prevented excessive self-serving policymaking, while today’s decadent and avowedly secular elites are perhaps more prone to corruption and in greater need of the countervailing force that Lind describes (hence the populist backlashes we have witnessed).

Lind then goes on to discuss how labour arbitrage and tax & subsidy arbitrage in our more globalised world have worked to undermine the nation state and empower the corporation – a line of reasoning which would certainly be familiar to anyone on the Left.

He concludes by looking ahead to the likely geopolitical situation in the year 2050, and considers what will be the best strategy for the West to maintain power and influence:

Great-power competition, even in the form of limited cold wars, is likely to reward nations whose economic model is based on developing productive technology and raising the incomes of domestic worker-consumers, rather than engaging in labor and tax arbitrage, regulatory harmonization, and other schemes that boost profits without increasing productivity. In cold wars and trade wars, even if no blood is shed by the contenders, countries and blocs with empowered and patriotic workers are likely to do better than rival nations crippled by immiserated workforces and selfish, nepotistic, oligarchic elites.

[..]

Managerial elites are bound to dominate the economy and society of every modern nation. But if they are not checked, they will overreach and produce a populist backlash in proportion to their excess. By a misguided policy of suppressing wages and thus throttling mass consumption, unchecked managerial elites may inadvertently cripple the technology-driven productivity growth responsible for their rise and accidentally cause the replacement of managerial society itself by a kind of high-tech rentier feudalism.

Managerial society works best when there are not only concessions to national working-class economic interests—the bribes to the “losers” of neoliberalism—but also genuine economic bargaining power and political power wielded by the many. Far from undermining managerial regimes, Burnham’s “juridical check” and Galbraith’s “countervailing power” make them more legitimate and sustainable.

In other words, the policies favoured by the current dispossessed centrists in Britain and America are not as smart and self-evidently beneficial as their advocates love to claim. Status quo globalisation, which increasingly seeks to leverage labour arbitrage, tax arbitrage and selective regulatory harmonisation to benefit the managerial class while doing little to raise productivity (not to mention leaving millions of people in dead-end jobs or the unemployment scrapheap) is not only selfish on the part of the managerial class, it is also injurious to the future prosperity and security of the country.

In fact, according to Lind, it turns out that having a patriotic population and workers with a commitment to the country they live in, together with some degree of bargaining power (preferably due to their possessing valuable skills rather than the threat of withholding their labour, as deployed in the 1970s), is perhaps a net positive after all, particularly in the long term.

Again: I don’t buy everything in Michael Lind’s essay. But he spins a plausible narrative and argues his case well. And if Lind is correct, how regrettable is it, then, that the populist backlashes on both sides of the Atlantic have been held in check partly through their own incompetence (Donald Trump in America and the Tory hard Brexiteers in the UK) and partly by the fact that the resurgent centrists have effectively ground the respective movements to a halt?

Bear in mind, if and when the centrists retake power, they intend to revert to pure business as usual. They have learned nothing from the comprehensive rejection they received from voters only a short time ago, and think that the world can revert to its previous happy state where they got everything that they wanted while anyone who dissented could go jump off a bridge.

I have long contended that such an overturning of these populist movements by the elite would be poisonous, even fatal, to our democracy. But if Lind is correct, it could also be fatal to the future economic prosperity and national security of our countries.

 

Globalisation

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Lack Of Empathy For Opposing Political Views Threatens Social Cohesion

Bob Geldof - EU Referendum - Brexit- Fisherman boat protest

The inability of the political and professional classes to comprehend or respect the political opinions of those from other backgrounds is nearly as grave a threat to our social cohesion as unchecked multiculturalism

There is a whole bucketload of truth in this piece by Michael Merrick, which should make uncomfortable reading not only for metro-leftist, pro-EU types, but even those of us in the so-called professional classes who do not subscribe to majority opinion.

Merrick discusses the differing prevailing cultural and political norms which exist among working class people (generally more conservative) and those in the urban professional classes (much more progressive), and the difficulty of bridging the gulf of misunderstanding between the two. This is particularly relevant when it is almost exclusively the professional classes who are charged with setting public policy, despite often having no real empathy with those whom they seek to reform or re-educate.

Merrick writes:

It is a long established truth that graduates tend to be much more liberal than their non-graduate compatriots. Indeed, since the referendum, plenty on the Remain have been quick to point out the education gap between Leave voters and themselves. The observation is innocent enough, though it too often contains all the smirk and subtext of that teacher from my youth.

Thus the graduate professions take on a particular character, with norms of outlook, of worldview, indeed of morality. The moral compass of the liberal outlook is distinct from the conservative, and these things split broadly over class, which correlates with level of education; these tribes value different things, draw lines in different places. But when the deck is stacked so heavily toward one over the other, the chances of any effort to comprehend the difference diminish whilst self-certainty proliferates. And liberals, contrary to assumption, tend to be as intolerant as conservatives, who have a broader moral outlook, though less understanding of the conservative viewpoint than the other way round. In a profession which is graduate dominated, and with graduate-level education so tightly correlated with liberal outlook, so we might see the roots of an important disconnect. Conformity to the norms of the in-group becomes the mark of the sophisticated, the cultured, the educated. And transgression comes at a cost.

As such, if you arrive from a working-class background shaped by these subversive norms, the graduate professions are not always a comfortable place to be. You must grow accustomed to the objects of derision and mockery being people like your family, those you grew up with, those you know and love. Whilst the derision might be delivered in the abstract – against a general viewpoint or unidentified Other – the barbs are felt personally. The word bigot, or any of its linguistic manifestations, is chucked about casually, but it hits specific targets, especially when it addresses a common viewpoint amongst those who comprise your upbringing. Those ‘xenophobes’ and ‘racists’ who voted Leave, for example, are not disembodied, theoretical people, but those who you know to be nothing of the sort, such as grandparents, who were always so loving and kind, and parents, who have lived a life of service to others, friends, who are decent and hardworking, the folks who live next door, the lady who you see at Church each week, the priest who baptised your kids. It becomes personal, and it jars.

But with public affirmation of in-group norms comes prestige –  in the echo chamber of social media, there is status to be acquired through the sassy, the rude, the downright spiteful to working-class folk with more conservative views, on immigration, perhaps, or crime, or Brexit. An army of followers giddily RT and ‘Like’ such comments, as if their articulacy were evidence of their truth and justification for their prejudice. Thus the motes are plucked out whilst the beams remain – the cultured despisers find in their intellectual superiority a justification of their presumed existential superiority, too.

This truth tends to sail over the heads of people who currently exist and always remained largely in the same social class and culture in which they were raised – how would they know any different? But Merrick, who gained access to the professional classes after being the first in his family to get a degree, is better placed to notice the gulf of incomprehension and unwillingness to empathise with the other side, having occupied both sides of the divide at various times.

And this can have a real impact in terms of public policy, as Merrick notes:

In our schools, this has real consequences – as I have explored here and here – creating a representation vacuum as a class of Anywheres seek to educate a generation of SomewheresPioneers against Settlers, with the former holding all the power and believing professional success consists in educating the latter out of the values and culture of their upbringing. Pupils from a socially conservative background, which often (not always) overlaps with a working-class (or religious) background, will at times find themselves at odds with the ethical and moral paradigms of those who educate them, a culture chasm always framed as simply a matter of education (or the absence of it). And so the cycle starts over, an abiding tension between home and school, since in this case to be educated is to leave behind what you hear and are taught at home.

But some do choose home. Not because of a lack of learning but because of a refusal to shed heritage and home as the participation fee. If we want to talk about why working-class kids are alienated from education, we could do worse than start a conversation there. That those who agitate so fiercely for social justice, and write and speak so piously about the disenfranchisement of the working class, should choose to studiously ignore this particular deficit, and indeed locate their own virtue in the perpetuation of it, tells us a lot about the intractability of the culture clash we accommodate.

“Anywheres seeking to educate a generation of somewheres” – that phrase resonates, particularly as the self-described Citizens of the World tend to assume that the only thing preventing others from embracing their worldview is their lower level of education.

I actually see a lot of myself in what Merrick writes. I wouldn’t know whether to describe my upbringing as working class or middle class. Income-wise, being in a single parent family on benefits, living in Harlow, we were very much working class. But thanks to other branches of the family that worked in professional or academic circles, I wouldn’t say that my social upbringing was that of the typical working class. I should also note that my accent was never the standard estuary accent typical to Essex, but rather that of my wider family – and in Britain, accent does so much to demarcate one’s class status.

I certainly remember being both aware and very ashamed of being poor when I was young, and keenly noticed the difference in lifestyle between many of my schoolfriends who came from working families – their Sky television versus our black and white television set, for example. To be clear, I wanted for nothing when I was a child and had a great upbringing rich in love and family and culture. But a child notices these things, and it is silly to deny that they influence one’s development.

And so, when I was accepted into Cambridge University I was probably overly keen to embrace the distinctly more upper middle-class lifestyle and tastes enjoyed by my peers – not that I ever fell properly into the working class mould because of our extended family, but because I was keen to explore new horizons which had previously been somewhat limited. I enjoyed being on the Entertainments Committee of the Cambridge Union Society and wearing black tie to the weekly debates featuring famous names from British political and cultural life. I admit that I enjoyed having transcended the town, the culture and many of the people with whom I had grown up.

This continued into my professional life. Living with other young professionals starting their careers in London, I was happy to make jokes about chavs, or otherwise look down on those from less educated and less wealthy circumstances. I would sometimes crack jokes about Harlow and the people there (despite the fact that I had, and continue to have, friends living in Harlow to this day). I remember attending one fancy dress party in a chav costume, which I thought to be terribly clever at the time.

In fact, it has probably only been in the past five years, since I started blogging (and consequently reading and thinking a lot more about various issues) that I realise the deliberate nature of what I was doing as an adolescent and a young graduate – and how insufferable I must have been to so many people from my earlier life during that time. And it is only now, in the aftermath of the EU referendum and the enormous establishment hissy fit which continues to this day in response to the outcome, that I fully understand what Michael Merrick is saying and identify very much with his experience.

I have always felt that the best people to analyse or give commentary on a situation are those who have held both sides of an argument at one time or another, or been on different sides of an important wedge issue. Why listen to somebody like Owen Jones analyse politics, when he was raised to hate the Tories and simply continued on the same uninterrupted intellectual trajectory his whole life, the only difference being that he can now use longer words and quote academic sources sympathetic to his position? There is no personal growth there, nor any real empathy for the other side (the possession of which is the only real acid test of one’s own political philosophy) and consequently no real attempt to engage with ideological opponents. That’s not being an intellectual, it’s being a partisan shill.

Similarly on Brexit, why listen to some millennial writer who has only grown up knowing life inside the EU and accepting its unquestioned brilliance all the days of her life? What can such a person really add to the national conversation besides a whole heap of confirmation bias and sanctimony?

Now, I would never claim to be better than Owen Jones or Generic Millennial Remainiac Writer. But I can at least plausibly claim to have had my feet on both sides of the political and cultural divide at various times, having grown up holding the typical youthful left-wing opinions and then made a gradual move toward the libertarian or conservatarian Right. And even more so having been a staunch euro-federalist in my university days, to the extent that I hung an EU flag on my dorm room wall and sometimes insufferably wore an EU flag lapel pin, to rediscovering the vital importance of the nation state and becoming an avowed Brexiteer over the past five years.

Generally I find that the most productive exchanges take place with people who have not simply percolated in likeminded groupthink for their entire careers, but who have either personal experience of occupying the other side of the argument or at least made a sincere effort to reach out in good faith to those who disagree.

I was a socialist in my youth, and know many of the old arguments inside and out – but crucially, I also know through personal experience that many of those who still hold socialist views are good and decent people. I was a pro-European in my youth and know the entire case for European political integration backwards and forwards, yet despite having reversed my position 180 degrees I know that many of those who still hold these views are intelligent and honourable people. I hope that this knowledge of the opposing viewpoint and acknowledgement of the decency of those with whom I disagree adds a bit of depth to my better pieces of writing.

Unfortunately, this attempt to bridge the chasm of cultural and political difference is almost nonexistent among the political class – on both sides. Rising star Labour MP Jess Phillips openly admits to being “raised in no uncertain terms to hate Tories“, a fact which shines through in many of her speeches and television appearances. And the inability of many of those in the Conservative Party and the centrist, machine politics wing of the Labour Party to empathise with working class people is self-evident – a particularly shameful indictment of the Labour centrists, who now openly scorn a large swathe of their political base.

And this failure to empathise with different people has real world effects, like when David Cameron went marching off to Brussels to conduct his faux renegotiation with the EU despite never really having stopped to ask what the British people wanted out of it, and today’s Conservative government pursuing an idiotic and damaging approach to Brexit on the assumption that immigration is the overriding factor for most people when post-referendum polls (and a few conversations with actual Brexiteers) reveal concerns about sovereignty and democracy to have been the primary driver of Brexit.

We currently have a political class who at best arrogantly think they can channel working class opinion without ever really stopping to consult the people they think they are ventriloquising, and at worst simply don’t care at all about what a whole swathe of the population thinks and believes.

More worryingly, it takes an immense effort to overcome this gulf of misunderstanding – in my case it took over five years, and that’s despite having occupied both sides of the debate at different times, such is the zealotry of a convert to professional class norms – and the political class generally show zero aptitude for that kind of introspection.

Michael Merrick has done a great job of diagnosing the problem, but right now I fail to see a ready solution. The gulf of incomprehension is likely to get wider before it narrows.

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The Conservative Party Fiddles While Momentum Aggressively Courts Tory Voters

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Momentum and other leftist groups supportive of Jeremy Corbyn are using new tactics to aggressively court Tory voters. Meanwhile, lacking a compelling vision of its own, the rootless and enfeebled Conservative Party has no response

We may be in the depths of summer silly season, but it is rapidly becoming evident that the forces of the Left are using their time productively while complacent Conservatives sun themselves on generally undeserved vacations.

This week in particular there has been a flurry of activity from the Corbynite wing of the Labour Party, with Owen Jones launching a “decapitation strategy” targeted at vulnerable (and in some cases very high profile) Tory ministers and MPs defending greatly reduced majorities. At the same time, the grassroots campaign group Momentum is trialling new voter outreach tactics lifted from the Bernie Sanders campaign, aimed at getting dissatisfied voters unimpressed with the performance of Theresa May’s government to give socialism a second look.

Emma Bean at LabourList crows:

Owen Jones is joining forces with pro-Corbyn campaigning group Momentum in a push to seize the seats of several current and former Tory cabinet ministers.

The new Unseat campaign will target Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd, Justine Greening and Phillip Davies, all of whom saw their majorities slashed in the general election. Another MP, Stephen Crabb, who has been linked to an organisation which claims that homosexuality and bisexuality can be “cured”, will also face Momentum’s efforts on the doorstep.

The group seeks to create a series of “Portillo moments”, a reference to the unseating of the Tory defence secretary in the 1997 Labour landslide victory.

The Hastings seat of Rudd, the home secretary, was held by Labour as recently as 2010.

While Momentum are currently so swaggeringly confident in their shiny new US-style voter outreach strategy that they bragged about it to the New Statesman:

Momentum’s approach to canvassing, inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US, attempts to create a deeper engagement between the activists and the members of the public they are speaking to. The message at the training session was ambitious – even the staunchest Tory can be convinced to vote for Labour.

Momentum’s approach to canvassing, inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US, attempts to create a deeper engagement between the activists and the members of the public they are speaking to. The message at the training session was ambitious – even the staunchest Tory can be convinced to vote for Labour.

Canterbury’s swing to Labour this summer is a case in point. A previous Tory stronghold, the constituency swung to Labour by more than nine percentage points, and was won by Labour’s Rosie Duffield with 45 per cent of the vote.

One workshop attendee who canvassed in Canterbury believes this swing was because Momentum “went to every house” and that even those who seemed hostile to Momentum “still wanted to talk politics with them”.

After the result of the snap election, with Theresa May’s plans for Tory domination in tatters, Momentum announced plans to continue to campaign as though there was another snap election on the horizon. Activists and canvassers have descended on  Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat as recently as three weeks after the snap election, supported by notable Labour party figures such as Sir Keir Starmer MP and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry. While May has clung onto power over the summer break, the continued political turbulence adds a sense of urgency to the training session.

Ambition. A sense of urgency. Most Conservatives have probably forgotten how those sensations feel. Apparently at the end of one Momentum activist training session in Euston, all of the attendees were added to a Slack group so that they could better coordinate through the instant messaging app – even the older Momentum members who were a bit dubious about technology. What we have here is a hard left socialist group given strategic rocket boosters through the accumulated lessons of the Howard Dean and Barack Obama campaigns.

Meanwhile, what do the Tories have to show for themselves? How has the party which carries the torch (or should that be the tree) for conservative politics been spending its downtime this summer?

One might have thought that having guided her party to such catastrophic near-defeat, Theresa May would be keen to make amends by cancelling any holiday plans and visibly knuckling down, devoting every spare moment to damage control, overseeing Brexit negotiations and coming up with a conservative strategy that doesn’t involve cross-dressing in Labour’s hand-me-down clothes.

But no – the prime minister has been off hiking in Italy, where the only headline she generated in the domestic press occurred when she led guests at her five-star hotel in a rousing rendition of the British national anthem.

Disaster is staring the Conservatives in the face, but they are either too busy sipping limoncello in Italy (the prime minister), plotting their pathetic and utterly indistinguishable future leadership bids (the MPs) or having Jacob Rees-Mogg’s face tattooed onto their left buttocks (the activists) to notice the peril. The shock general election result in June should have been a wake-up call, but instead the Tories have immediately lapsed back into complacency, apparently content to be in a minority government propped up by the DUP with Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-Left Labour Party breathing down their necks.

If British conservatism (and the UK’s political system) were healthy right now, as opposed to being on life support, then this summer would have seen a wellspring of new ideas bubbling up from all quarters – promising backbench MPs, radical think tanks, grassroots conservative movements unwilling to allow the captain who already crashed the ship once to continue to set the course. But conservatism, like our political system as a whole, is not healthy, and we have seen no such ideas, no such developments.

The Conservative Party still cannot decide what it wants to be. “But wait for the party conference!”, I hear you shout. Don’t get your hopes up. Do you really think that anything positive, anything remotely useful in the small government conservative mould is going to emerge out of the Tory autumn conference in Manchester? This conference will be devoted to two things: trying to shore up Theresa May’s failed premiership, and providing a platform for a lot of chest-thumping idiocy about Brexit. There will be no bold new vision for British conservatism in the 21st century because there are no bold new thinkers. There are barely any thinkers at all, and what few there are remain consigned to the backbenches (Kwasi Kwarteng, James Cleverly) while mediocrities continue to hog the limelight.

And what of the Conservative Party’s hopeless performance with the youth vote? Has any action been taken to learn the lessons from the 2016 general election, or counter-strategies developed to rebut Jeremy Corbyn’s ludicrous false promises? Does any action look likely to be taken?

Immediately after the general election disaster I wrote:

In some ways, Jeremy Corbyn seems like a most implausible politician to court the youth vote – an old, grey haired career politician with absolutely zero interest in doing anything fashionable, sartorially or politically. But my god, he is an authentic conviction politician. And if your average voter hates overgroomed, telegenic bland politico-bots then young people clearly hate them even more. Canned soundbites don’t work on social media-savvy young people, if they work on anyone. And yet the Conservatives went into battle – largely thanks to the “genius” Lynton Crosby – with an arsenal made up almost exclusively of glib, canned soundbites in place of anything remotely authentic.

Not that authenticity alone is enough. Right wing politics are clearly hugely toxic to many young people, who would sooner die than consider voting Conservative, let alone admitting any conservative leanings to their social circle. The Tories are too closely associated with grey, uninspiring “austerity”, even though austerity is largely a myth. The Tory brand, fair or unfair, is still toxic to many people. And the parties of the left have perfectly tapped into the consumerist politics of Me Me Me by promising to firehose endless sums of money into the gaping, insatiable mouth of Britain’s public services.

It seems painfully apparent to me that we need a prominent, national vessel for the development and promotion conservative policies (and personalities) separate from the Conservative Party, which simply can no longer be trusted to make the case for its own worldview.

And as I emphasised in another piece, the same point applies to policy:

Theresa May’s team seemingly forgot that people don’t become more conservative as they get older automatically or without some prompting, and that if the Tories continually screw somebody over through their formative years, young adulthood and early middle age then they won’t magically become Tory voters when they get their first grey hair. People become more conservative as they get older because historically, sensible government policy has allowed them to become greater and greater stakeholders in society, largely through property and equity ownership. Cut off millions of young people from this ladder to prosperity and security, and the conveyor belt which gradually moves people from political Left to Right as they age will come grinding to a halt.

And on strategy:

We particularly need to work closely with conservative organisations in the United States, which face a similar uphill struggle in overcoming a historic disinterest in the youth vote but which are now starting to have some success, generated in part by their opposition to the illiberal Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics sweeping American university campuses, with its disregard for freedom of speech and toxic obsession with the politics of victimhood.

We should be sharing best practice back and forth with American conservative organisations as to how to build strong redoubts for conservatism in overwhelmingly leftist places, so that conservatism isn’t washed away altogether. Frankly, British conservatism is in such a parlous state that we need their help. And then, once things have stabilised, we can look to reclaim some of the ground we have lost among young voters.

It looks like Momentum and the Left took this idea and ran with it, and are already benefiting from adopting their new strategy. What a pity that the message has been so roundly ignored by its actual intended audience.

Conservatism decline and a slide toward irrelevance is not inevitable, but preventing it will take hard work and a capacity for self-criticism. We all dropped the ball in 2016; we all need to do better. But it is no good pushing harder in precisely the same direction, or shouting the same slogans even louder than before. “Strong and stable” doesn’t work when much of the population is dissatisfied and wants change. And at a time when many voters responded warmly to Jeremy Corbyn’s conviction politics of the Left, confounding all expectations, the Conservatives must regrow some convictions of their own.

Yet a plurality of Tories either don’t care about the crisis we face, or are simply deny its existence. They think that slapping a new coat of paint on the same rusty old banger will convince voters already tiring of seven years of Conservative government that they are buying a shiny new Tesla rather than a wobbly old Reliant Robbin. They bizarrely think that Moggmentum is the cure, or simply sticking with a failed prime minister who should never have ascended to the top job in the first place.

No, no, no. The Conservative Party needs to stop squabbling about personalities and which interchangeable Cabinet nonentity is best placed to succeed Theresa May, and decide what it actually stands for. And any conservative groups, think tanks and private individuals with an ounce of vision and charisma need to step up and push the party in the right direction, just as John Hoskyns and Norman Strauss did with their Stepping Stones Report in 1977, planting the seed of the Thatcherite recovery.

The Tories cannot make an informed decision about who should be their next leader without first deciding what kind of party they want to be – a limp and apologetic outfit which grovels and apologises for its limited principles, trying to make itself look as much like the Labour Party as possible, or a virile and ambitious party with transformative instincts, belief in individual liberty and the zeal to roll back the administrative state.

The Conservative Party conference opens in Manchester on Sunday 1st October. And rather than painting a false picture of unity, let’s actually have it out once and for all. And if a few unremarkable political careers end up getting caught up in the crossfire, so much the better. We need to clean house in terms of leadership, but more importantly in terms of ideology and basic principles.

At present, Theresa May and her rootless Tories are effectively in office but not in power. And if they do not take swift and dramatic action in the face of a resurgent leftist movement, the power could also slip away sooner than they think.

 

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Barcelona, Donald Trump And The American Media’s Crisis Of Perspective

There is more to the horrific Barcelona terror attack than Donald Trump’s garbled response, but you wouldn’t know that if you are watching CNN

To get a good sense of just how debased and insular the American news media has become, one need only flick over to CNN and watch their coverage of the horrific Islamist terror attack which took place only hours ago in Barcelona.

What you will find is not detailed coverage of the Barcelona attack and how it transpired, or even the mindless banalities and speculation that has become the hallmark of cable news, but rather a bunch of talking heads agreeing with each other that Donald Trump’s response to the terror attack was all wrong.

This is the age where men, women and children being mown down in the middle of a European city street by a van-driving Islamist is secondary news to whatever inanities various celebrities have to say about the event on Twitter, or the word choice of an American president whom we already know to be rash, unstable and in loose command of the facts (at the best of times).

What really got CNN riled up on this occasion is this tweet by Donald Trump, promulgating an unfounded rumour about the supposed action taken by US Army General John Pershing in response to a Muslim-planned terrorist attack in the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century:

The urban legend goes that General Pershing rounded up the culprits and suspects, and had them shot with bullets previously dipped in pigs’ blood. In Trump’s own graphic telling, Pershing shot 49 of the culprits and spared the 50th one so that he could go back and warn others in the movement about America’s swaggering zero-tolerance policy for terrorist shenanigans.

To be clear, there is zero proof that this apocryphal story actually took place, and that the President of the United States would make speeches presenting the tale as fact both during the election campaign and again in the immediate aftermath of an Islamist terror attack on an American ally is bad, wrong and depressing in equal measure.

But for most of the past hour on CNN, the chyron across the bottom of the screen hasn’t reported details of the terror attack, but rather Trump’s entirely typical and unsurprising blustering response to it. That’s not to say that Trump’s actions are unworthy of coverage – and we should certainly never allow ourselves to stop reporting on the president’s misdeeds and objecting to them just because they occur so regularly. But good television news is supposed to educate and inform, not simply encourage people to think myopically about global issues exclusively through the narrow lens of their own country’s political process.

Yet rather than presenting Trump’s dodgy urban myth about General Pershing as one tangential element of the story, CNN did what CNN does best – assemble a multitude of talking heads in boxes, all crammed onto the screen at the same time, to denounce Trump and slot an inconvenient story about terrorist murder in Barcelona into their preferred narrative about Trump’s unfitness for office.

Again – the point is entirely valid, and in an ideal world the President of the United States would neither spread unfounded rumours nor seek to get the more distasteful portions of his base excited by telling them yarns about shooting Muslim terrorists with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. That would be nice. But this is not the main takeaway from the Barcelona terror attack, and yet both Jake Tapper and now Anderson Cooper seem to be leading with it, to the detriment of telling the more important story about the seemingly unstoppable wave of vehicular Islamist terrorism in Europe and the inability (or unwillingness) of political leaders to take any meaningful action to prevent such massacres.

Meanwhile, television news in Britain – itself hardly a fitting successor to the likes of Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite – is at least reporting the facts and broadcasting footage and eyewitness statements as they emerge. Decent analysis remains beyond them (or at least beyond their willingness to pay a knowledgeable panel of experts and commentators to schlep into the studio) but at least they aren’t using the tragedy as a means of bashing Prime Minister Theresa May. Yet.

If American political discourse is to improve, restraint has to happen both ways. Just as conservatives need to come to terms with the fact that the Alt-Right is an issue in our own back yard which we must disown and work to discredit, so those on the Left – including much of the mainstream media – need to bring some balance back to their coverage and accept that important as the office of President of the United States is, Donald Trump’s reactions are not always the most important part of a breaking news story.

This de-escalation should not be so hard to achieve among adults, but sadly there are too many adult children on both sides who would rather have the last word and advance their political agenda at all costs, even if it debases the office of the presidency, diminishes trust in the media and rips the country apart at the seams, all at the same time.

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