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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Labour’s Cynical, Disingenuous National Debt Hysteria

Labour Party attack ad Tories national debt

Pot, meet kettle

You’ve probably already seen them countless times over the course of this general election campaign – the smug, sanctimonious internet memes bandied about by Labour supporters and other left-wing activists excoriating the Conservatives for having presided over a massive increase in the national debt since taking office in coalition back in 2010.

And of course this is factually correct. The only thing missing from these outraged little infographics is an admission of what would have happened to the budget deficit and national debt under fiscally incontinent left-wing economic policies – and the answer, of course, is that the situation would be even worse.

Yet even “serious” publications have been pushing the same disingenuous message, with Alison McGovern recently writing a piece for the New Statesman, demanding “The Tories used the budget deficit to attack Labour – so why haven’t they fixed it yet?”:

Spot the pattern? Tory Chancellors who loudly proclaim the virtues of having a budget surplus, have, in the end, presided only ever over deficits.

But it gets worse. The deficit, as the gap between money coming into the Treasury and money spent, has to be paid for by borrowing. And quite rightly, the Tories’ deficit target was matched by a debt goal. Borrowing to invest in structural improvements to our economy is clearly the right thing to do. But that is very different from permanent borrowing to prop up day-to-day spending.

Yet the Tories have delayed their target on debt three times since 2010

Their original target was to have debt falling by 2015-16. Then in 2014 that was delayed until 2016-17. Then in 2015 the target was to keep it falling every year until 2020-1. Then in 2016 that was changed to be “falling by 2020-1”.

This “goal” looks like one that will always be swerved as the Tory mismanagement rolls on.

Author’s emphasis in bold. McGovern concludes:

The budget deficit was used repeatedly by Osborne as an attack on Labour’s record in office.

This has now been demonstrated to be ludicrous chutzpah. Laughable, if it were not so serious. Ironic, if it were not to have such lasting consequences for all of us.

It’s time we moved on from a debate about the Labour past, and looked at what the Tories are doing today. We should show the leadership the country badly needs, and take this fight on.

Yes, how rude of the homeowner not to instantly repair all of the damage caused by the arsonist.

The bare-faced gall of these people is astonishing. Heading into the Great Recession, the Labour Party under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown consistently ran budget deficits, despite the fact that the economy was growing and boom and bust had apparently been “abolished”. And so when the downturn hit, there was almost zero room for fiscal manoeuvre by the government. Sure, we printed lots of money and nationalised failing banks – didn’t the Left used to angrily call that “privatising the profits and nationalising the losses?” – but we were in no position to undertake the kind of stimulus spending that America unleashed and which Keynesian economics dictates is the correct way to deal with a recession.

The budget deficit naturally exploded and reached a peak just as the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition government came into office, reaching a peak of around £160 billion when Labour left office. This means that the national debt was being added to every year at the fastest rate in modern history. To their partial credit, the Conservatives have succeeded in at least reducing the budget deficit every year (thereby slowing the rate of increase in the national debt) though they have consistently relaxed and missed their own targets for doing so, with the budget deficit now not due to be eliminated until the year 2026. And so we now have the spectacle of  smarmy left-wing internet meme-sharers lambasting the Tories for having failed to eliminate the deficit and significantly lower the national debt.

Well, what would they have had the Evil Tories do? The Left squealed like self-entitled pigs when George Osborne made even modest efforts to trim the deficit, repeatedly relaxing the timetable by which he planned to return Britain to a budget surplus. Are the Left now saying that they would rather have had deeper budget cuts? Abolishing the Army, perhaps? Surely not reducing funding for Our Blessed NHS (genuflect)? Or perhaps they secretly intended to eliminate the budget deficit by dramatically hiking income tax and national insurance on all tax bands, in angry defiance of the Laffer Curve? But what when this only suppressed economic activity even further?

Let’s be clear – the Conservative Party, under chancellors George Osborne and Philip Hammond, has been depressingly unambitious when it comes to eliminating the budget deficit. The party of David Cameron and Theresa May has not been the party of fiscal responsibility, and their constant lying about “fixing the roof while the sun is shining” and “paying down Britain’s debts” when in fact they have done no such thing only makes matters worse.

But the only thing more ludicrous than a Conservative Party which struts around pretending to be the guardians of fiscal responsibility is a Labour Party which ran budget deficits in the good years, leaving Britain particularly vulnerable to the loss of tax revenue accompanying a recession, attacking the Tories for having failed to enact measures which they would never have enacted themselves, and which in fact they repeatedly criticised the Tories for even attempting to do. It is simply mind-boggling that the Labour Party dares to attack the Tories on the question of deficit reduction and the national debt when their “anti-austerity” policies would have increased the deficit even further and made the national debt even larger.

Blogger Paul Goldsmith has had enough:

I actually can’t take it anymore. It is economically illiterate and it is self-defeating and it has to stop. It is like someone lighting a fire, which is an inferno when the fire brigade arrives, and then the person who starts it runs around replacing the brigade’s water with oil, and fanning the flames, whilst screaming at the fire bridgade that they can’t believe the fire isn’t out. Yes, Labour’s repeated taunts about the national debt really are that preposterous. Self-defeating too, as it brings attention back onto how the fire got started in the first place.

And then launches into this glorious tirade:

So, having left a deficit of £160bn, and a national debt (cumulative deficits added together), of just under a trillion, Labour have noted that the debt is bigger. Well, duh! Were the Tories supposed to have eliminated the deficit in their first year in Government? Impossible. In fact, what the Tories chose to do is to cut spending, added to a few tax rises, and slowly eliminated that deficit. Very slowly, slower than they originally hoped. But at every turn, every cut, Labour opposed them. Every single one. So yes, every year a lot of deficit (decreasing every time) got added to the national debt, but that is because Labour left such a massive deficit.

Now, yes, they left that deficit mostly because of the action they took to save the banking system and to try and stimulate the economy to stave off depression during the financial crisis. A financial crisis that wasn’t caused by Labour.

But look at the seven years between 2001 and the start of the crisis in 2008. Those were times of economic growth. During times of economic growth that deficit should have been a surplus (tax revenue greater than government spending). But it wasn’t, as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown chose to spend and maintained a deficit of around £40 billion a year. This means there was no financial room to manoeuvre when the inevitable recession came. Of course, Brown had boasted that he might have abolished boom and bust, so may not have been ready for that recession. But when it came, a huge amount of public money was thrown at it, which meant the Conservatives inherited a massive deficit.

Here’s my point, every time Labour mention the addition to the debt under the Conservatives, the Conservatives can just point to what they were left with. Best summed up by the note left by the last Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne, to the first Coalition replacement, David Laws: “I’m afraid there is no money.”

It’s funny. Transport these same leftists to the United States, where beloved Barack Obama ruled from 2009 to 2017 in the aftermath of the same global recession, and they would doubtless shriek with outrage at similarly cynical efforts recently made by the Republican Party to pin the blame for American budget deficits and increasing national debt squarely on the Democrats. They would rightly point out that President Obama inherited a mess, an economy in freefall and public spending jacked up artificially high by his fiscally incontinent predecessor George W. Bush. They would correctly point out that nobody can work economic miracles like making a large structural budget deficit and cumulative national debt disappear in an instant.

But the sanctimonious meme-sharers do not live in America where an admired left-wing president ruled for the past eight years. They live in Britain, where the callous, heartless Evil Tor-ees (they’re lower than vermin, don’t you know!) have been in charge since 2010, and so all of the leeway and understanding that they would demand for themselves is stubbornly withheld from the other side under identical conditions.

As is so often the case, Labour Party propaganda relies on voter ignorance and lack of medium or even short-term memory in order to make an impact. With these lowbrow memes and the highbrow articles which underpin them, Labour Party activists and sympathetic commentators are counting on the British people being too stupid to ask what Labour would have done differently to have achieved a budget surplus and reduced national debt given the same circumstances faced by the Tories.

That’s certainly one way to go about trying to win an election, but there is nothing to be proud of in this tawdry, disingenuous approach.

 

Labour Conservatives National Debt - General Election 2017

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Theresa May’s Government Should Dramatically Increase Defence Spending

USO lounge airport

It is time to reject David Cameron’s lazy, noncommittal approach to our armed forces and national defence

After a rather assured start as Britain’s new prime minister, will Theresa May act to beef up Britain’s flagging and cash-starved armed forces, making them as steely and formidable as her own carefully cultivated image?

Conservative Home makes the case:

The introductions to British defence reports are characterised by assurances of the UK’s continued global relevance and ambitions. By contrast the bodies of most reports are composed of capabilities we allegedly no longer require. At some point rhetoric and reality inevitably collide.

The Royal Navy now has 19 frigates and destroyers where in 1998 it had 34. The UK has fewer tanks than Switzerland. The British MOD leads the world in operating at the extreme edge of the possible.

Our current defence strategy is largely premised on not having to defend ourselves. The lifecycle of the defence systems and equipment procured today is up to 45 years. Forty-five years ago, in 1971, the Iron Curtain was as firm as ever, Deng Xiaoping was yet to take power and introduce China’s transformative market reforms and Osama Bin Laden was merely a wealthy Saudi teenager. By historical standards these strategic shifts are reasonably minor. Nevertheless government strategic analyses generally assume the relative stability of the last 15 years will continue indefinitely; the 2010 and 2015 defence reviews inexplicably argues the UK will no longer need the capability to deploy an expeditionary force of the size sent to Iraq or to conduct two simultaneous medium sized operations as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hopefully the 2020s are indeed an exceptionally peaceful decade, but premising our defence policy on an unstated and unjustifiable assumption they will be appears unwise.

Three illusions aid this approach to defence. Firstly over-dependence on Trident; if we continue to rely so heavily on our nuclear capabilities some scenarios will confront us with a choice between launching an immoral first-strike nuclear attack or doing absolutely nothing. Secondly over-dependence on NATO; the British Army is intended to act as an interoperable auxiliary to a much larger US force. Perhaps the US will remain highly committed to the defence of Europe, but Donald Trump is cheered when he denounces NATO and Newt Gingrich has publicly dubbed Estonia to be “a suburb of St Petersburg”. In 2012 Obama’s (largely rhetorical) pivot to Asia attempted to shift the US’s strategic and economic centre of gravity from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In this political environment, it would be unwise to have no plan for US disengagement from Nato. Finally, British defence planning tends to assume lost capabilities can be regenerated rapidly in the event of a crisis. Given the extraordinary logistical hurdles which confronted the Ministry of Defence in the run-up the Invasion of Iraq, a scenario consistent with defence planning assumptions, wide scale attempts to regenerated lost capabilities would probably be impossible except in the long-term.

Fundamentally only a very few voters have any personal contact with the military. Servicemen and women are constitutionally forbidden from protesting. The Ministry of Defence is therefore at a crucial disadvantage in interdepartmental budgetary warfare. Parliamentarians have a duty to compensate by holding the government to account. Of course there is no shortage of Conservative MPs who would favour higher defence spending but they face the challenge of highlighting less deserving areas of spending to cut instead.

Absolutely. And over-reliance on Trident in particular can only lead to a never-ending series of national humiliations, as adversaries test us and find us continually unwilling or unable to respond with conventional forces.

The military in particular needs to start throwing its weight around more, agitating for lost capabilities to be restored and highlighting the risks to Britain if they are not, rather than their current approach of quietly begging for cash behind the scenes but maintaining a brave face to the world. Sometimes, politicians need to be shamed into doing the right thing, perhaps especially when the government is a lily-livered centrist Conservative administration more concerned about pursuing “social justice” than defending the country. Operation Shame should therefore begin now.

ConHome are also right to point out that very few voters have any personal contact with the military. This is in marked contrast to countries such as the United States, where armed forces veterans are not only more visible, but much more highly honoured too. People visiting America for the first time are often struck by the frequent presence of soldiers in transit at airports, USO lounges set aside for them, and veterans being honoured at public events such as sports games or political rallies, often asked to stand as the crowd show their appreciation. Many restaurants and businesses offer a discount to veterans. In nearly every way, American society is geared to respect and honour the military more than is now the case in Britain.

The effects of the armed force’s diminished role in public life are telling. When the military is so invisible to most people most of the time, it naturally loses out in the endless departmental cash grabs every year when the government announces its budget. The NHS has a dedicated army of online priests and priestesses, endlessly and mindlessly singing the praise of the health service from dawn to dusk. Consequently, politicians terrified of electoral retribution throw more money at the NHS every year while rarely standing up to the many entrenched special interests which corrupt the working of the world’s fifth largest employer.

We need to start taking the defence and security of our country as seriously as many of us seem to take defending the NHS from criticism, reform or privatisation by the “Evil Tories”. That means putting great pressure on Theresa May and her government to show a steely resolve when it comes to protecting and growing the MOD’s share of government spending. Somebody needs to send a memo reminding Cabinet that NATO’s 2% of GDP target is a minimum aspiration, and not a level to be particularly proud of.

And we all need to let this government know that whatever other fiscal and political pressures there may be, doing the bare minimum when it comes to our national defence is simply no longer acceptable.

 

PHOTEX-HMS DIAMOND

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Bottom Image: Defence Industry Daily

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The Furore Over David Cameron’s Tax Affairs Reveals Britain At Its Worst

David Cameron Tax Protest - Panama Papers

Responsibly lowering his tax liability through perfectly legal means is one of the few things that David Cameron has accomplished with any real competence. If only his stewardship of British sovereignty and democracy was half as accomplished, his premiership might not be such a letdown

No, I’m not going to write about David Cameron’s tax return, because despite the sound and fury emanating from the Paul Mason, “neo-liberalism” hating Left, it is a complete non-story.

That much is outlined well enough here, here, here and here.

This blog is more than happy to discuss tax reform – preferably of the fundamental and flattening kind – but not through the lens of our national envy and hatred of wealth and success. Because this tawdry intermission in our political conversation serves only to highlight all of the flawed parts of our national psyche – particularly the disdain bordering on hatred many people feel toward wealth and success – while fading out everything that makes us great.

Of course there are privileged people in this country with wealth and resources that the poorest among us can only dream about. But every moment we waste casting envious eyes at those with more than us, bemoaning our own lot in life and viewing ourselves as part of a vast Collective of the Oppressed and Hard Done By is a moment we are not accepting the agency and responsibility we have for our own lives and decisions.

Should we be outraged that the legal, private tax affairs of an elected politician somehow set a bad example? Okay – but only if we are really willing to go down a path that ultimately will lead to witch-hunts of anybody who fails to “voluntarily” donate 90% of their income to Our Blessed NHS (genuflect).

Bear in mind, many of those shouting the loudest themselves are guilty of the same (or worse) behaviour, cynically (and hypocritically) attempting to use this story to advance their political agenda. And in terms of Cameron’s mishandling of the media story, are we really going to focus on this one particular instance and not the many other clangers? I could write a blog post every day for a year about why David Cameron is a lousy conservative and a disappointing prime minister, and still not get around to talking about his family’s mundane tax affairs.

So if you want to read a furious polemic about the Evil Tories and their inherited wealth, look elsewhere – Owen Jones and Paul Mason will take good care of you. Likewise if you want to read a simpering, fawning defence of the prime minister.

Our country faces an existential choice in the coming EU referendum while the liberal, enlightenment values which we supposedly hold dear are under attack everywhere from GCHQ to social media to the university campus.

And so long as that remains the case, this blog will focus on the things that matter, not the shiny distractions which only serve to reveal our petty biases and jealousies.

 

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The National Security Implications Of Failing To Support The Steel Industry

Save Our Steel - Tata Steel - National Security

With so many other glaring weaknesses in Britain’s national security infrastructure, does the loss of domestic steel production really matter?

While everybody rends their garments about the threatened closure of Tata plants and other steelworks around the country, many commentators – from both ends of the political spectrum – are touching on the national security implications of failing to support our steel industry.

Arguing in favour of government intervention to support the British steel industry, the Daily Mirror quotes Labour MP Dan Jarvis:

The steel sector crisis rocking Britain could put our national security at risk, a top Labour MP has warned.

In a boost for the Daily Mirror’s Save Our Steel campaign, Dan Jarvis will tell the annual State of the North conference of the dangers of closing major plants.

“It undermines our freedom and our influence if we become overly reliant on other countries for essential resources that we will need in the future,” he will say.

“Deciding whether we preserve some of the best coke ovens and the largest blast furnaces in our country has implications for our national security as well as our future prosperity.”

While from the other side, Allister Heath writes in the Telegraph:

Then there are the strategic and military dimensions. There may one day be another major war, or a large emerging nation could go rogue. But we cannot run Britain on a war footing. The Government should engage in contingency planning: it could stockpile steel, or even set up a couple of mothballed plants. None of this is any justification for nationalising unviable businesses.

But how much of a hammer blow to Britain’s independent warmaking (or defensive) capability would the closure of our remaining steel plants actually be?

The argument in favour of retaining significant steelmaking capacity is that we might need it in case of urgent re-armament or replenishment of lost military hardware. But the lead time for the construction of a Type 45 destroyer is 3 years – compared to one year for the groundbreaking HMS Dreadnought in 1906 and thirteen months for the famous HMS Belfast in 1938. While the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible was built in seven years during the 1970s, HMS Queen Elizabeth – first of the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers – will have been in production and trials for eleven years before finally becoming operationally ready in 2020.

If we found ourselves facing a dire security or military threat requiring additional naval ships, besides directing our ire at David Cameron – who has presided over a shameful degradation of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet – Britain would have little choice but to attempt to buy the requisite ships from a foreign navy (who may or may not be willing to sell to us). The lead time for commissioning a modern advanced warship is now so long that most conflagrations would be over by the time new ships were completed. And all the time they were under construction, the shipyards – and steelworks, and any other supporting industry – building them would be vulnerable to sabotage from within and aerial attack from without.

In other words, the days when we could melt down iron railings and salvage bits of scrap material to aid the war effort or rush produce a battleship in eleven months are over (to the limited extent that they existed at all). In any future major war, Britain will effectively go to war with the hardware it has available at the time, with little prospect of rapid re-armament – which is why we should all be concerned about this supposedly Conservative government’s failure to prioritise defence spending.

And it’s not just steel. Britain has almost no domestic supply of the rare earth minerals which are needed to manufacture the computer components which go into everything from vehicles, weapons and medical equipment. Sure, the government could keep stockpiles – though our government is too woefully inept to do so. But where does it end? When so many goods are the product of a disaggregated global supply chain, what do you insist is produced locally?

These are not easy questions to answer. But in answering them, policymakers have an obligation to delve deeper than the very two-dimensional “steelwork closures will mean that Britain is no longer a military power” level of debate we are getting so far. And they have an obligation – not that they are likely to fulfil it – to be honest with the public about the trade-offs which guide such decisions.

As it happens, this blog would like to see more critical national security infrastructure brought back under British control – energy independence for a start, and a strengthened military with a Royal Navy befitting a powerful island trading nation. But so far, I have yet to be convinced by anyone that the loss of domestic steel production weakens us as a country any more than the many other inevitable global interdependencies which undergird our ability to make war – never mind the Conservative government’s reckless vandalism of the armed forces, which was utterly avoidable.

And so I put this out there to those with strong opinions backed up by detailed knowledge: from a national security standpoint, with so many other glaring (and often recently self-inflicted) weaknesses in our national security infrastructure, does the potential loss of our remaining domestic steel production capacity really matter?

 

Postscript:

This is not to say there should not be some type of government intervention to delay the steelworks closures or mitigate their effects. Surely one of the lessons learned from Thatcherism is that no matter how essential industrial and economic realignment may be for long-term success, simply expecting people (particularly a coddled British population used to being helped by the government) to brush themselves off and start lucrative new careers after being made redundant is callous and wildly overoptimistic. The word “Tory” is still utterly toxic in some communities, over thirty years later, and we must avoid making it even worse.

People have no right to demand that the state (i.e. their taxpaying neighbours) permanently subsidise the loss-making industry which gives them employment, but we should provide those affected with transitional support through re-training and educational grants to equip workers with more lucrative skills. Failing to do so, either out of bumbling incompetence (David Cameron and Sajid Javid) or rigid ideology will only create more negative consequences of social deprivation and regional dereliction, which is morally wrong as well as more expensive in the long term.

This piece in Conservative Home explains the consequences of failing to provide such transitional support, and the advantages of doing so.

 

Tata Steel

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