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Owen Jones’ Pointless, Self-Deceiving Journey Around Brexitland

Brexitland

Owen Jones’ pilgrimage to Brexitland tell us nothing new about Leave voters, but gives us another depressing insight into the sanctimonious mindset of an establishment Remainer

I have no great love or respect for Owen Jones. The Guardian’s sanctimonious boy wonder once tried to insult me by sneeringly describing me as a “self-described journalist” and a “patently dishonest man” for reporting fairly and accurately on an article which he himself had written (my, he gets upset when his left wing sanctimony and arrogance is pointed out to him), and his recent flouncing away from social media in response to receiving negative feedback after criticising Jeremy Corbyn is only the latest proof that when it comes to insults and ad hominem attacks, Owen Jones can dish it out but just can’t take it.

Therefore I now usually spend most of my time ignoring Owen Jones, but his current series of articles in the Guardian – under the banner of “Brexitland”, whereby the author trudges around the United Kingdom desperately trying to understand why people didn’t believe the Remain campaign’s lies, exaggerations and catastrophisations of Brexit and vote to remain in the EU – is too good to avoid at least passing comment.

The latest instalment takes Owen Jones to Fareham in Hampshire, which as Owen Jones solemnly informs us, somehow voted Leave despite being a wealthy town with a high proportion of homeowners. This, Jones suggests, is some kind of devastating rebuttal to the idea that only poor, disenfranchised working class people voted for Brexit – which nobody serious has ever claimed, other than with the proviso that it is a general trend and not a cast-iron rule.

Under the illusion that he is contributing something original and worth hearing to the discussion, Jones crows:

As elsewhere, the result defied any predefined class dynamic and confounded the stereotypes. While Fareham is cast as part of an anti-establishment vanguard, Tower Hamlets – which has prevalent child poverty and two-thirds of whose residents voted for remain – is subsumed into the caricature of a pampered liberal elite. Most working-class Britons under 35 opted for remain, while most middle-class people over 65 voted for leave. Most working-class people who are white went for leave, most working-class people from ethnic minorities went for remain. Consider that the next time the Brexit press imposes its simplistic narrative on a complicated reality. Applying their logic, black supermarket workers and young apprentices form part of the privileged remoaner elite.

Of course, the only thing this really proves is that Owen Jones failed to define the establishment properly (ironic, given the title of his second book), and constructed a straw man which would be most easily knocked down. Nobody is suggesting that supermarket workers or young apprentices form part of the pro-EU elite.

While the push to get the Leave vote over 50 percent was driven significantly by working class dissatisfaction with their economic and social circumstances – and with the political status quo – many working class people still voted Remain. They have free will, after all, and were every bit as vulnerable to the Remain campaign’s apocalyptic warnings and false assurances about the EU as any other voter. Owen Jones hasn’t somehow confounded the standard narratives around Brexit by finding a pocket of relatively wealthy people in Fareham who voted Leave, just as he has not achieved the impossible by identifying some working class people who voted Remain. The entire exercise is simply a cynical vehicle for Jones to trot out the standard self-exculpatory lines Remainers use when trying to rationalise their defeat (The Brexit bus! What about £350 million for Our NHS!)

The only thing that Owen Jones’ tour of Brexitland is really good for is getting another insight into the workings of the Remainer mind. This anecdote is particularly telling:

The divisions here mirror those in other affluent communities. Sometimes disagreement is amicable, often not. Henry Palk, 79, was polishing windows that were once plastered with remain posters. He took me into his extraordinary wood-beamed 14-room house, which dates back to 1294. “Hitler would feel quite comfortable here with a lot of the residents,” he said irascibly. Palk says he has fallen out with some of his neighbours, not to mention a leave-supporting relative. His cousin telephoned each week, but when they spoke the Sunday after the referendum, that arrangement came to an end. Palk told him: “I’m sick of you, and I never want to hear from you again.” Then he hung up.

How many times has that scene played out in the months leading up to, and following, the EU referendum? And how many times has the person severing contact been a Brexiteer? I would venture that the answer is “rarely, if ever”.  As a general rule, Brexiteers (by virtue of having to live with a status quo they despised, often for years) are more tolerant of opposing viewpoints and capable of hearing dissenting opinions about Britain’s place in the EU. A higher proportion of Remainers, by contrast, have almost zero ability to handle dissent or see the goodness in a person with a legitimate disagreement.

As a result of my campaigning during the referendum, I have personally been de-friended and told to do various X-rated things to myself by a number of people online, while at one particularly memorable dinner party the female guest seated to my right physically picked up her chair and moved it a couple of inches further away from me when she found out that I voted for Brexit (despite knowing nothing else about me or my motivations).

And so it is natural that Owen Jones finds someone on his travels who feels justified and morally superior for severing contact with a former acquaintance (a family member, in this case) because they disagreed over Brexit – apparently the country is brimming with such people on the Remain side.

Palk’s words, “I’m sick of you, and I never want to hear from you again”, basically sum up the feelings of “liberal”, metro-leftist, pro-EU, establishment Britain towards those dared to defy their better judgment. As pampered members of the Edwardian aristocracy treated their domestic servants, Remainers often looked with a kind and indulgent eye on their fellow citizens so long as they kept their mouths shut and didn’t rock the boat, but became full of horror and revulsion when they dared to speak for themselves. Now Brexiteers are viewed as being every bit as “deplorable” as those Americans whose dissatisfaction with the status quo led them to vote for Donald Trump (a highly unfair comparison), despite the self-interested attempts to discern their motivations by people like Owen Jones.

More:

The likes of Fareham seen through a media lens offer certainty, but in truth the lines blur here as elsewhere. It suits the media barons to portray Britain’s divide as being between a patronisingly depicted working class and a privileged layer of snobs. But that hardly facilitates the intelligent discussion we now need. Of course the referendum result must be respected. But attempts to shut down any scrutiny, let alone dissent about a hard Tory Brexit, have to be resisted.

The “intelligent discussion we now need”? Like perpetrating the insulting myth that we are only leaving the EU because the most gullible amongst us were tricked into voting against our own interests by a patently false promise scrawled on the side of a bus, while the honest and upstanding Remain campaign high-handedly dealt only in truth and never once descended to the gutter?

Even Jones’ own forays into Brexitland reveal the comforting tale Remainers tell themselves about Evil Brexiteers and their Bus of Lies to be a – well, a lie:

Ian Page, 72, is another lifetime Tory voter, save for a brief dalliance with New Labour. He worked in the computer and electronics industry before retirement and voted leave. “Distrust of Brussels,” he says. “I had no problem with immigration, it didn’t bother me at all.” Indeed, he resented the “very negative” immigration policies offered by the leavers. But he did it and he is upbeat. “I don’t have any fears about not getting a deal,” he tells me. “I think Europe needs us more than we need them.”

They were lied to like the rest of us. Never forget the sheer deceit of a leave campaign that promised £350m a week extra for the NHS. But I encounter few complaints of betrayal. Tony Coves, a 76-year-old former chartered loss adjuster at Lloyd’s, recalls the ads on the side of the leave bus: “That was a load of nonsense, we knew that. We still voted for it.”

The only ones who took the NHS-worshipping Vote Leave battle bus seriously are the Remainers who seem to think that it constitutes smoking gun evidence that the EU referendum was somehow unfair and stacked against them rather than hideously weighted in their own favour, as it was in reality. Well, I take the moronic Brexit bus and raise the Remain campaign a lying prime minister who abused his office and leveraged the full might of the state in an effort to get his way. And if you think that a deceptive bus slogan promoted by a team of obvious charlatans is somehow worse than our head of government debasing himself and his office then we really can’t have a fruitful discussion, because you are not engaged in a legitimate cognitive process.

And why this continual belief that scrutiny and dissent about Brexit are being shut down? Is Hilary Benn not given free reign to indulge in any partisan whim he pleases as chair of the parliamentary Exiting the EU Committee? Are the establishment not still overwhelmingly personally in favour of remaining in the EU, even if those who are elected politicians have made peace with the result as a matter of political survival? Are the arts and creative industries, which do so much to influence our culture, almost lockstep in support of the European Union? Are tremulous, wobbly-lipped Remainers not given every opportunity to sweat their insecurities about looming fascism on every news bulletin and every edition of BBC Question Time? Show me where dissent is being suppressed, Owen, and I shall be very grateful.

Ultimately, Owen Jones can trudge from Lands End to John O’Groats trying to understand Brexit, but he would do far better to stand still and examine his own heart. At one time, his more sincere left-wing principles led Jones in the same direction as the late Tony Benn – opposed to the EU either for principled democratic reasons, or perhaps more likely out of self-interested fear that EU membership would thwart the imposition of Utopian left-wing policies in Britain. The tiresome phrase “Tory Brexit” originated from the perceptive idea (shared by Owen Jones and his onetime idol Jeremy Corbyn) that Brexit is not a bad thing in itself, and that the only thing bad for the British Left would be Brexit purely on perceived Tory terms.

What happened to the Owen Jones who looked at the European Union with a critical eye, saw it for what it really was and came close to supporting Brexit? What happened to the Owen Jones who saw the EU’s treatment of Greece during the euro crisis and realised how terminally unreformable and intransigent an organisation the EU really is, and how lethal to healthy nation state democracy? The answer is as clear as it is damning – that eurosceptic version of Owen Jones realised which side of his bread is buttered, and meekly got in line with the pro-EU establishment’s amen chorus, suppressing any doubts about the EU and cheering for a Remain vote which would have put the interests of the political class over Labour’s supposed working class base.

A pilgrimage through Brexitland will tell you nothing new about working and middle class attitudes toward Brexit and the EU. But it will tell you everything about the public’s attitude toward people from the political elite – politicians, journalists and commentators alike – who profess to respect and serve them only to second-guess their judgment on key issues like Britain’s place in the EU.

And surprisingly, it doesn’t matter whether you are a working class denizen of Tower Hamlets or a wealthy homeowner in Hampshire – having Owen Jones turn up on your doorstep to study you and write about your vote in the EU referendum as though it were a symptom of some pathological disease is pointless, insulting and utterly redundant.

Talking about “Brexitland” makes it sound as though those enclaves of the United Kingdom which dared to vote for secession from the European Union are somehow foreign and alien, and that their inhabitants require analysis and interpretation to be understandable to the majority. This is still very much the attitude of the pro-EU, pseudo-liberal media. But they, and Owen Jones, would do well to reflect on the fact that 52 is greater than 48. They are the minority. Their worldview was repudiated, quite forcefully, by many of the people they claim should benefit from it the most. Perhaps it might be worth reflecting on why that was, and on the failures and errors in their own thinking.

Because if anything, journalists should be making enquiring voyages deep into the heart of “euroland” to understand what could possibly motivate such a large minority of Britons to vote to remain in such a deeply unattractive union when 52 percent of their countrymen knew better.

 

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Top Image: Madeleina Kay

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The Elites Are Fuelling A Backlash They Do Not Comprehend And May Not Withstand

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Accustomed to getting their own way and furious at being thwarted by mere democracy, the political elite are responding to recent setbacks by doubling down on behaviours which could soon see them swept away completely

One would be hard pressed to find a better charge sheet against the British political elite – and explanation for the populist backlash currently being felt by every well-manicured and over-rehearsed politician in the country – than the one recently laid out by Charles Moore in The Spectator.

Moore writes, in explaining why he is now “cheering for the populist right”:

It may sound Marxist to say this, but I do think the elites have constructed a world order which serves their interests, not those of their subject populations. You see it in little things, like the fact that European commissioners, when they leave their posts, receive enormous ‘transition’ payments (it was reported that Peter Mandelson got £1 million) on top of their salaries and pensions. You see it in big things, like the fact that nearly half the young people of Spain, Italy and Greece have to go without jobs in order to enforce Germanic theories about central banking and Brussels doctrines about European integration.

In the second half of the 20th century, the huge projects to which the western world bent its mind more or less worked — the Marshall Plan, Nato, the United Nations Security Council, even the European Community, when it had only six members. What are the equivalent achievements in the 21st century? A pseudo-virtuous climate change agreement reached only because its members know it won’t be observed. A banking crisis resolved in the interests of bankers. A threat from Islamist terrorism which the outgoing President of the most powerful nation on earth still cannot admit even exists.

It does sound a little Marxist to talk about the elites in this way, as Charles Moore fears, until one remembers that with our decaying institutions and system of crony capitalism, the best and most able to serve the marketplace of goods, services and ideas are no longer the ones rising to the top. Therefore, to criticise them is not to criticise capitalism or the free market, because if you were to strip away the privilege of those at the top of the political, legal and commercial worlds and force the inhabitants to fight their way back up to the top from a level playing field, most of them would be living on the streets within a year. This is the dismal calibre of people we now allow to rise to the top of our society; to criticise them is not Marxist, it is to yearn for some semblance of a meritocracy.

Moore continues:

The response of elites to their failures is too often to stigmatise the people who complain. Those who protest at immigration levels ten times higher than 30 years ago are treated as racists. Even the ballot box itself is seen as ‘populist’. Remainers argue that the referendum issues were ‘too complicated’ for voters. They seem actively to dislike the idea that our nation should once more be governed by its elected representatives. Having failed electorally, they turn to ‘lawfare’ — preferring a case before the Supreme Court to the direct implementation of what Parliament handed to the people to decide. Voters now believe that their rulers really do not like them very much, so the feeling becomes mutual.

Yes, a thousand times yes. And it is hilarious watching tone deaf politicians openly disparage the same parts of the electorate that they will be sucking up to in futility when the next general election rolls around. Most people possess a base level of social awareness. They know when they are being looked down upon, or worse, mocked. The experience shuts ears and hardens hearts against future persuasion. That so many MPs and commentators still do not realise this is a testament to the low calibre of people we have allowed to rise to the top of the political and journalism worlds.

Consider: Ed Miliband fought the 2015 general election on the premise that David Cameron and the Conservative Party were evil, far-right ideologues. Many respectable people who voted Tory in 2010 did not take kindly to the Labour Party suggesting that they were aiding and abetting evil, and now you can find Ed Miliband on the backbenches, giving forgettable speeches to a half empty Commons chamber. And yet the lesson has not been learned – many politicians now calling Brexit a calamity and deriding Brexiteers as either malevolent racists or useful idiots will be asking those same people for their vote in 2020 (or sooner). You don’t need to be Nostradamus to figure out how the electorate is likely to respond.

More from Moore:

In this respect, the culture war matters. You cannot go on saying that white straight males are brutes without eventually annoying them (and even a significant proportion of what John Prescott used to call their ‘womenfolk’). The cultural signals from the powerful are almost unthinkingly hostile to majority populations. This month, to take a minor example, a report into ‘diversity’ in the theatre commissioned by Andrew Lloyd Webber reported (reusing a phrase from Greg Dyke years ago) that it is ‘hideously white’. Why should the dominant racial characteristic of all western societies be considered ‘hideous’? If you said that anything was ‘hideously black’ you would (rightly) be shunned by polite society. Such asymmetry inspires revolt. The rise of Trumpery shows that the right has learnt a tactic of the left, which is to play up grievance to get power, money and attention. Grievance politics is extremely unattractive, but if western societies no longer deliver rising general prosperity and disrespect the people whom they are failing to serve, what do you expect?

And yet the Left continues to push aggressive multiculturalism and identity politics, even seeking to thwart Brexit so as to continue working towards their goal of undermining of the nation state.

This is dangerous. As Michael Lind once remarked, “the loyalties that succeed national solidarity are likely to be narrower, not broader”. Focus on individual racial identities, undermine the nation state, undermine Britain and any healthy sense of national identity and purpose we might otherwise have, and we very quickly descend into a jealously competing confederation of special interest groups, each one claiming some special victim status and viewing itself as oppressed by the others.

The Labour Party, which has long served the elites rather than the working man or woman, is currently in the process of falling down a chasm of their own making, between people who recognise and oppose this danger (their rapidly diminishing working class vote) and those who choose to remain blithely ignorant because they are not presently feeling many negative consequences (the virtue-signalling middle class clerisy). Both groups are coming to hate and scorn one another, yet Labour needs both to turn out in sufficient numbers if they are ever to win a general election again.

But indulge the populist side and the elitist side becomes enraged, and vice versa. Try to fudge the issue by making half-hearted gestures to each side (like Labour’s immigration coffee mug) and it alienates one side while failing to persuade the other.

In fact, populism vs elitism is rapidly becoming the new axis of our politics, which is a shame. There should be no question that when the interests and attitudes of the elite turn stridently against those of ordinary people, we should side with the ordinary people against the elites. That does not mean adopting every daft populist idea that comes along, but by actually taking into account the hopes, concerns and aspirations of ordinary people in regular policymaking we might hope to avoid finding ourselves in another situation where so many people see the likes of Donald Trump or Nigel Farage as their only salvation.

In other words, a certain amount of populism should be hardwired into our politics, so that it does not fester unseen and then break free to dominate proceedings and create destabilising uncertainty. The left vs right, authoritarian vs libertarian arguments remain far more interesting than the populism vs elitism shouting match, but it is currently being overshadowed as we debate idiotic questions like whether or not the wisdom of a powerful elite ought to cancel out the result of a national referendum. When we disagree about such fundamentals, worrying about what the government does and does not do for its citizens inevitably rather takes a back seat.

Moore concludes that “if, in a parliamentary democracy, the elites and the voters markedly diverge, one must surely bet that the elites are likelier to be wrong”. And the elites certainly have been short-sighted, self-serving and often outright wrong on a parade of key issues.

The political elite have perhaps one last chance to check their arrogant and selfish behaviour before they trigger an even bigger backlash, and things start to get really bad.

 

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Donald Trump’s Inexcusable Loyalists Deserve To Be Betrayed As He Chooses His Cabinet

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Donald Trump loyalists betrayed conservatism by supporting the president-elect during the campaign; if they are now betrayed by Trump and frozen out of his administration it will be sweet justice

As Donald Trump’s cabinet takes shape, some of those who sacrificed the most reputationally and ideologically to get on board the Trump train are angry that the president-elect is giving consideration to other people who refused to campaign with him, even those who may not have voted for him.

Sarah Palin (who, to be fair, didn’t have much of a reputation to sacrifice) has now belatedly rediscovered her commitment to small government after apparently finding out that there will be no place for her in the Trump administration. In response to this slight, Palin took to the newspapers accusing Donald Trump of promoting “crony capitalism” for offering incentives to business to keep production in the United States.

That’s not quite what she was saying a month ago when she was praising and supporting Trump, and it is slightly jarring to see her pivot effortlessly back to Tea Party talking points having previously embraced Trump so strongly.

But nothing has made the Trump loyalists as angry as the gnawing possibility that Donald Trump might pick Mitt Romney to be his Secretary of State over his dedicated henchman Rudy Giuliani, one of the only people to publicly defend Trump after the leaked ‘p*ssygate’ recordings made the news. Why should Rudy be overlooked, the thinking goes, when he did everything for Trump while Mitt Romney looked on distastefully from the sidelines?

The Trump loyalists deserve absolutely no sympathy in this regard – though Jonah Goldberg does an excellent job of summarising their predicament in this week’s G-file:

Consider the following thought experiment. A very rich guy makes you an offer: “If you eat this bowl of sh**, I will grant you a wish.” You think about it for a minute or two, and then you grab a wooden spoon and start to dig in, when the rich guy says, “Hold on. You’ve got to do it publicly.”

Well, you figure, “What’s the difference? Once I get my wish it will be worth it.” So, you head on over to a television studio with your plastic bib and your spoon, and you tuck into the steaming bowl like Mikey in the old Life cereal commercials.

Then the rich guy says, “Sorry, one more thing: I can only give you a coupon for your wish. But, I promise to honor it once I get the job of genie. Just keep eating.”

What to do? You’ve already acquired a reputation for coprophagia and no one else is offering wish-coupons, so you stick it out. Besides, you’re not alone. A bunch of other folks have been promised similar coupons and you’ve formed a tightknit group. You spend a lot of time talking about how smart you are for agreeing to this arrangement. You fantasize about what you’ll do with your wishes and how sorry the naysayers will be.

Then, the rich guy gets the job of genie. Woo-hoo!

Naturally, you want to redeem your coupon. But all of a sudden, the rich guy starts playing coy. He’s honoring the coupon for some people, but not you. That would be fine — one coupon at a time and all. But then you learn that the genie-elect is giving out coupons to people who didn’t partake of the fecal feast. Uh oh.

And then you see news reports that the big man is not only giving out wishes to people who never earned a coupon, but he’s considering granting a wish to the foremost guy who criticized the big man and tried to keep him from being able to grant wishes at all!

Okay, this getting belabored. But you get the point. If Trump remains the loyalist, Gingrich, Huckabee et al. have golden tickets. The last thing they want is Willie Wonka Trump letting just anybody into the chocolate factory.

This blog finds it very hard to generate sympathy for those big-name American conservatives who so comprehensively sold out their own ideology and their own party to Donald Trump.

If the likes of Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin now find themselves betrayed and left out of the Trump administration they helped to inflict on America, it is still nothing compared to the betrayal of conservatism that they committed by throwing the principles of freedom and small government out the window to worship at the feet of a thin-skinned, constitutionally illiterate big government authoritarian.

May their time in the wilderness be long and full of regrets.

 

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Donald Trump Has Been An Unmitigated Disaster For American Conservatism

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Donald Trump’s floundering presidential campaign is a self-inflicted disaster of the Republican Party’s own making

Of all the major American commentators, I think that Rod Dreher of The American Conservative comes closest to describing my own feelings about the rise of Donald Trump and the current wretched state of American conservatism.

In this great piece, Dreher blasts Trump’s ongoing refusal to state that he will accept the validity of the election outcome:

Donald Trump is going to lose on November 8, and he is going to lose badly. He is going to be soundly beaten by a terrible Democratic nominee, a woman who is unliked, tainted by corruption, and the most divisive figure in public life other than … Donald Trump. I believe it is true that the Democrats are capable of engaging in voter fraud, and I take it as given that somewhere in America on election day, it will happen.

But.

If the current polls hold up (Clinton ahead by seven points), the scale of Trump’s loss will far exceed anything that could be credibly attributed to fraud or any other kind of “rigging.” It is extremely reckless for Trump to be seeding the nation with doubt about the validity and legitimacy of the election. The only reason he’s doing it is to protect his own vanity when he is walloped, and walloped by a woman at that – and not only walloped by a woman, but walloped by Hillary Clinton, who would have been a pushover for any other GOP contender.

The Republican establishment has to realize that Trump didn’t rig or otherwise steal the party’s nomination: he won it fair and square, and he won it mostly because the party establishment itself fell badly out of touch with the mood of the country and its voters. You don’t have a fool like Trump defeating what was once touted as the deepest GOP candidate bench in history if Trump didn’t know something that that allegedly deep bench did not.

And yet, Trump has blown this race entirely on his own. In truth, he never really stood a chance, because the only way he was going to win it was to pivot towards being someone he’s not. No 70-year-old man is going to be able to do that, especially given that he has made his public reputation by saying outrageous things on camera. We all know Trump’s many weaknesses, so I won’t rehearse them again here. The point to be made, though, is that Trump gave Americans who might have been persuaded to vote for him 1,001 reasons not to. Hell, he rubbed the nation’s face in them.

Yes. Just as establishment Republican types must concede that Donald Trump won the GOP nomination fair and square – and then ask themselves some searching questions about how their “deep bench” of talent fell so flat with the primary electorate – so Trump supporters must concede that he is losing this election all by himself, through his own long-known and well documented personality flaws.

There have been occasional tantalising moments from the Trump campaign which hint at what a broad-based, anti-establishment candidacy might have looked like if it was headed up by a decent person of principle and moral standing rather than a vulgar and selfish man-child. Some of the stuff at Gettysburg was quite good. But Trump’s much-promised second, more presidential gear never materialised (as some of us warned it would not). And now Trump is thrashing around, lagging behind Hillary Clinton in nearly all polls and in most swing states, saying irresponsible things and weakening the collective trust in American democracy as a balm to his raw ego.

The great pity is that these anti-establishment moments do not always come around often. Britain was lucky inasmuch as that voting to secede from the European Union was a moral, democratic and small-L liberal thing to do; and because we were endorsing a political action, not electing any of the various goons who claimed to “lead” the Brexit movement. In America, no matter how much some conservatives may have agreed with Trump’s current positions (or the policies he now claims to support), the inescapable fact is that you don’t just get the policies. You also get the pugnacious, unstable man himself. For at least four long years.

And so whatever relief we might all feel when Donald Trump is defeated and the stench of his candidacy (hopefully) begins to recede, the fact remains that this electoral cycle has been a disaster for conservatives.

At a time of rising and often legitimate anti-establishment feeling in America and across the world (see Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and Brexit) they put forward a man who embodies the very worst aspects of populism, and who actually manages to make morally compromised establishment cronies with 30-year Washington careers look like vaguely sympathetic characters.

With the economic recovery unfelt by millions of middle class Americans and Hillary Clinton representing nothing so much as Barack Obama’s third term with an additional steer to the left, this election should have been eminently winnable for the Republican Party. Even Mitt Romney would have been a lock for this one, gaffes or no gaffes. But through a toxic combination of abusing, mocking, ignoring and working against its own lower middle class support base, the Republican Party caused a mutiny which saw Donald Trump become the face of American conservatism. And Donald Trump, utterly predictably, has steered SS American Conservatism into the path of a giant iceberg.

I recently wrote:

This blog has been intermittently banging on about the need for small government conservatism to come to terms with our modern, globalised world – a world in which supply chains and labour markets are international, and the kind of mass, semi-skilled manufacturing work which once paid well enough to support a comfortable middle class life has either permanently disappeared, or else barely pays a subsistence wage.

This is a particular challenge for conservatives, who believe in empowering the individual and restricting the overbearing hand of government. Left-wingers can simply wave their arms and promise a new government programme to retrain vast swathes of the population, or buy their silence with benefits. Conservatives do not have this luxury.

But the eventual answer will, I am sure, have to come from conservatives. Cranking up the size of the state until it is all things to all people is unsustainable, squelching innovation at best and provoking economic crisis at worst, as proven every single time it has been attempted. Globalisation continues apace and the burning question continues to go unanswered.

This is what the Republican Party should be working on. The political party which cracks this issue, or which is the first to present a viable-looking policy solution to the American people (assuming either of the two parties step up to the challenge) could enjoy an entire generation in power, and the opportunity to permanently stamp their mark on both the economic and political life of America.

If the GOP could only find it within themselves to stop flirting with dangerous populists or reverting to type and promising their voters an unattainable land of milk and honey, then instead they could impose a new Thatcherite / Reaganite consensus on American politics, one which the more statist Democrats would struggle to defeat.

But now the Republicans are the party which nominated Donald Trump in 2016. Their moral and intellectual standing has never been lower. And the uphill climb back to respectability and influence is a punishing long one.

 

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Mandatory Reselection Of MPs Should Be The Norm For British Political Parties, Not A Scandalous And Controversial Idea

Jeremy Corbyn - Mandatory Reselection Labour MPs

MPs do not have a divine right to represent their constituencies forever once selected by their local party, Jeremy Corbyn is quite right to consider mandatory reselection for MPs and all political parties that profess to care about democracy should follow his lead

The Telegraph leads today with a breathless piece warning of Jeremy Corbyn’s intention to press for mandatory reselection of MPs whose constituencies are changed as a result of the coming boundary review, assuming he prevails in the Labour leadership contest.

Jeremy Corbyn’s allies are planning to end the parliamentary careers of dozens of critical Labour MPs by approving plans for mandatory reselection by the end of the year.

The Telegraph understands his supporters will use their increased majority on the party’s ruling body to clarify rules about which MPs can stand for election after the 2018 boundary review.

Rhea Wolfon, elected to the Labour’s National Executive Committee [NEC] this week, hinted at the move by saying the party must have a “conversation” about “mandatory reselection”.

However Andy Burnham, Labour’s new mayoral candidate for Greater Manchester, said it would “pull the rug from under our MPs” and fuel a “climate of distrust”.

While Politics Home reports that Steve Rotheram, Jeremy Corbyn’s PPS and now Labour’s candidate for the Liverpool city regional mayoralty, has also made approving noises about challenging the “divine right” of MPs to remain in their position come what may:

Steve Rotheram, who serves as Jeremy Corbyn’s parliamentary private secretary, said elected politicians should not think Westminster is the “repository of all the best ideas”.

It comes after Rhea Wolfson, a newly elected member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee, said the party should have a “conversation” on the mandatory reselection of MPs.

When asked whether he was in favour of such a proposal, Mr Rotheram said he was “attracted” to Tory MP Zac Goldsmith’s 2014 plan that would see misbehaving MPs face a by-election if 5% of constituents signed a “notice of intent to recall” and 20% then sign a “recall petition”.

He said he did not support Mr Goldsmith’s defeated amendment to the Recall of MPs Bill amid concerns about the exact motion he was putting before the House of Commons.

The MP for Liverpool Walton added: “But yes, I think that MPs should reflect what the membership who select them are putting them into parliament to do. We shouldn’t believe that we’re down here and that we’re the repository of all the best ideas.

“We really should be looking at what our members are telling us to do and I think that’s part of the role as a Member of Parliament.”

Cue shock, horror and clutching of pearls from the political establishment – Andy Burnham, himself about to jettison a Westminster career cul-de-sac in the hope of municipal glory in Manchester, says that it would be “pulling the rug” out from underneath MPs. Well, perhaps MPs need to have the rug pulled out from underneath them. Perhaps they need the rug to be yanked hard enough so that they either become genuinely responsive to the party activists who work to get them elected or quit the field of play altogether.

The great thing about democracy at its best is that it rewards those who show up when the times comes to choose. Old people reliably vote in large numbers, therefore government policy when it comes to housing, welfare spending and any number of other policy areas is generously skewed in their favour. If only young people could put their Pokemon Go games down for long enough to make it to a polling station, government policy might begin reflecting their concerns too. But they don’t, so it isn’t.

Unfortunately, the way MPs are currently selected by Britain’s main political parties takes this important aspect of democratic responsiveness and throws it out the window. Once an MP has been chosen as their party’s nominee, they have very little use for their own party activists. These dedicated and principled people are hardly likely to ever support a candidate from another party, and therefore an unscrupulous MP can abuse and betray them to their heart’s content knowing that they automatically qualify as their party’s parliamentary candidate the next time a general election rolls around.

And inevitably this can lead to a growing gulf between the political stance of a constituency party and the views espoused (and votes taken) by that constituency’s Member of Parliament. This is what we now see happening to the Labour Party, where depending on your view either the parliamentary party has shifted to the right or the membership has shifted dramatically to the left (in reality a bit of both) and no longer stand for the same principles.

The brutal truth right now is that many Labour MPs, including some quite prominent ones like former leadership contender Angela Eagle, are now irreconcilably out of step with their own local parties. Why, therefore, should they have the automatic, divine right to continue to represent local parties who despise them and wish to put forward someone for parliament who more closely reflects their own priorities and positions?

When viewed this way, Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal seems quite tame. In fact, this blog would go further – MPs should not only face mandatory reselection in the case of constituency boundary review (the specific circumstance currently under discussion) but every five years ahead of a general election. This would bring Britain into line with other countries like the United States, where Representatives and Senators do not have “jobs for life” and must compete in party primaries if they wish to run for their seat at the next election. Such a move would put the wind up an often self-entitled political class, forcing MPs to justify their worthiness of a place on the ballot at regular intervals and forcing many of the older, less useful bench warmers off into retirement.

No constituency should be lumbered with a doddering old MP who doesn’t care any more, or a sharp-elbowed go-getter who ignores their constituency as they focus on climbing the greasy pole. Mandatory reselection goes a long way to solving those problems.

The current system, by contrast, is an abomination – incumbent MPs, often initially selected to stand for parliament in their constituencies through dubious, opaque or even downright corrupt means are then largely free from scrutiny by their own party for the rest of their career. As soon as they enter parliament they are enveloped in the Westminster self-protective cloak which serves to insulate parliamentarians from the consequences of their behaviour and political decisions.

If you know that nothing you can do will ever get you fired – if there is no political betrayal (like, say, pretending to be a eurosceptic during selection and then turning around and supporting the Remain campaign) for which you will ever be held to account – then there is every incentive to lie about your real political beliefs and motivations during selection, and then behave in as abominable and self-serving a way as you please as soon as your are elected to the Commons.

The status quo needs to change, and whatever else one may think of Jeremy Corbyn (and however self-serving his motivations may be), he should be applauded for taking a stand for democracy and accountability and against the entrenched privilege of the political class.

If political parties are to be accountable to their supporters then there needs to be an established process for the base to hold their candidates to account for decisions taken in office. Mandatory reselection – together with a proper right of recall, empowering constituents to recall a failing or unpopular MP subject to a certain percentage of the local electorate signing a petition – is an important aspect of that process.

Under a properly democratic system, MPs should fear the wrath of their local constituency party and be closely responsive to their priorities and concerns. At present, too many MPs take their local party for granted as soon as their selection is assured, shunning the activists who knock on doors and deliver leaflets on their behalf in order to cravenly pander to the centre.

This needs to change. This can change. And Jeremy Corbyn should be commended for trying to do something about it.

 

Ed Miliband Labour One Nation

Top Image: Huffington Post

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