Is It Time For Conservatives To Get Over Thatcher?

Theresa May - Conservative Party Tories General Election 2017 Manifesto Launch - Halifax

Theresa May is proving to be more Ed Miliband than Margaret Thatcher

Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman thinks that we should all flop around on the ground and praise Theresa May for tearing up tried-and-tested small-government conservative ideology in favour of an interventionist, paternalistic, stubbornly large state. Apparently at this challenging point in our history, when decisive leadership and a clear direction of travel is needed more than ever, we should swallow our reservations and lustily cheer on a pragmatist, paternalistic prime minister who still has not even properly articulated her vision for Britain.

On the day of the Conservative Party’s 2017 general election manifesto launch, Paul Goodman tells us that it is time for us to “get over Thatcher” and “get on with May”, because apparently a New Labour government with a blueish tint is the best that conservatives can now hope for.

Softening the ground in advance of what will surely prove to be a frustratingly unambitious general election manifesto launch – particularly given the paucity of opposition faced by the Tories and the near certainty that they will be returned to government with an increased majority – Goodman simpers:

Theresa May does not support a big state: in her very first major policy speech outside her ministerial responsibilities, she said that it should be “small, strong [and] strategic”.

Oh, well that’s fine then. She said it, so it must be true.

Nor, for that matter, is her so-called Red Toryism as crimson as is sometimes claimed.  Many of the headlines generated during the last few weeks will look less alarming to liberals if they peer at the small print.  May wants more council houses, but it isn’t clear where the land to build them on will be found.  She supports more rights for workers, but it isn’t evident whether taking leave to care for a family member, for example, will be paid – and nor is she planning to scrap the employment tribunal fees that David Cameron introduced.  She has resuscitated a requirement to put employees on boards, but it looks as though companies will choose them.  The red spray is mixed with blue paint.

So now we are to celebrate that Theresa May apparently wants to build more council houses? What about houses for upwardly mobile young people to buy – people who now find it exponentially harder to get on the property ladder than Theresa May’s generation? Where does Theresa May think that the next generation of conservative voters will come from when it is so difficult for so many to take the stake in society that comes from property ownership? And are we to rejoice that an unfunded pledge to allow workers to take family care leave could hurt small businesses and make companies quicker to fire in a downturn and slower to hire in an economic recovery?

She doesn’t want to state to get bigger, but she does want it to intervene more.  The industrial strategy won’t seek to pick winning companies, but it will search for winning sectors.  There will be an energy price cap – not the relative one floated by John Penrose and others, but an absolute one.

I’m sorry, but what is the functional difference between a bigger state and one which simply “intervene[s] more”? Most people judge the size and bearing of the state on the number and nature of interactions they must have with it over the course of their daily lives – everything from speeding tickets to planning permission to small business red tape to the amount of tax taken from their pay cheque every week or month. Even if Theresa May was technically shrinking the percentage of Britain’s GDP accounted for by government spending – and there is no indication that this key indicator is even on her main dashboard of concerns – her record as Home Secretary and subsequently as prime minister suggests that her “intervening” state will only seek to take on an even larger role in our lives.

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But while we agitate about the detail, the Prime Minister sees the big picture – and has assimilated its scale and size more clearly than her Thatcherite critics.  The Conservative Party travels through the landscape of its times.  These are not the same as they were in the era of Thatcher’s first landslide, over a quarter of a century ago, any more than they were a quarter of a century or so before that, when Harold Macmillan won his own overwhelming victory in 1959.  The world has globalised.  Family structure has been transformed.  The western world has low birthrates and high immigration.   Britain is a multi-racial country.  The Soviet Union has collapsed and Islamist terror has risen.  The crash happened and recession followed.

Free market absolutists will claim that the former took place because there is too much crony capitalism, and too little of the real thing.  They have a good point.  But the argument only draws one deeper into probing whether the system works as well for the working man and woman as it did in Thatcher’s day.  There are three big reasons why it does not.  First, relations between capitalism and nationalism are strained now in a way that they weren’t then.  Many of those who do well out of it feel they have more in common with their counterparts abroad than their fellow citizens at home.  If you doubt it, ponder the politics of immigration – and look, to pluck just one example out of the air, at how George Osborne at the Evening Standard now beats a pro-migration drum.

Second, the changes in the way we live now have created winners and losers.  The latter are simply out-wrestled by Iain Duncan Smith’s five giants – failing schools, crime, sub-standard healthcare, problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependency.  For those who can’t read or are mired in debt or trapped in substance abuse, the traditional free market nostrums of lower taxes, a smaller state and less red tape are not so much wrong as irrelevant: if a man isn’t working because he can’t count, cutting taxes won’t help him.  Finally, capitalism in the western world is simply not creating well-paid white and blue collar jobs on the same scale as it was in the immediate post-war period.  Welcome to the gig economy.

Nobody seriously disputes any of this, but Theresa May’s prescriptions are all wrong. Globalisation does present real social challenges in terms of ensuring that people are no longer left behind as they have been by many callous elites who otherwise consider themselves enlightened and compassionate. And of course Britain’s industrial makeup and labour market are very different today than in the 1980s, but this doesn’t mean that a heavily interventionist state is the answer.

This blog has often noted that the challenge falls hardest upon conservatives to come up with answers to the problems of globalisation – to find ways to retool and retrain a population so that they can participate in the industries of tomorrow rather than clinging to the dying industries of the past. This was clearly one test that the Thatcher government failed, and the legacy of broken communities left behind as side effects of the Thatcherite medicine is why there are still many people who would shoot themselves before voting Tory, and why the Labour Party’s electoral floor remains so stubbornly high.

But the answer to this challenge is not to steal wholesale from the left-wing playbook and seek to make the government the energetic auxiliary parent to millions of grown adults, people who should be expected to find their own way in life. The answer is to find the least invasive way possible of incentivising people to retrain and gain skills that make them competitive in the labour market – perhaps the kind of vocational adult education common in America’s community colleges, but either tied to the welfare system (so benefits become contingent on learning), made tax-deductible or a requirement for larger companies seeking to make redundancies. As this blog has previously noted, Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for a National Education Service connecting adults with further education is not actually a bad one – it is just the left-wing execution (funnelling everybody off to university, free of charge) which is wrong.

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We will have seen more of the Conservative Manifesto by the end of the day.  But what we know already is that May, if she can win her own landslide, wants to correct the liberal excesses of the Thatcher era by making peace with the state – of seeing it, as this site puts it, not as Big Brother, but Little Brother.  This ground has the merit of being where most voters stand: very, very few speak the Westminster Village language of making it bigger or smaller.  And the Prime Minister seems set to use her mandate to do much of what this site has been pressing it to do – such as dropping the tax pledge and ending the pensions triple lock, thereby setting the scene for more flexibility in deficit reduction and more fairness between the generations.

It doesn’t matter whether people speak the Westminster Village language or not. When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, most people had not read the “Stepping Stones” report – that influential document which diagnosed all of Britain’s economic and social ails, and prescribed a comprehensive cure. But the man in the street didn’t need to have read the report, or necessarily have a firm sense of the ideology behind it. What was important was the fact that Margaret Thatcher came to office with a pre-formed ideology already in her mind, while her government’s policies generally flowed from that same consistent approach.

Theresa May is the precise oppose of this – the anti-Thatcher, if you will. Theresa May ascended to 10 Downing Street as the ultimate pragmatist – somebody who kept her head firmly under the parapet while Home Secretary, almost never stirring the waters or causing controversy by ramming through serious reforms in her department and being notable only for her willingness to take advantage of terror attacks in Western countries to vest ever more powers in the security services and clamp down on civil liberties.

There is no Theresa May governing philosophy. While Margaret Thatcher somewhat vaguely quoted St Francis of Assisi as she entered 10 Downing Street for the first time as prime minister, Theresa May spoke quite specifically about helping the JAMs (people who are Just About Managing). But Thatcher’s vagueness concealed a deadly seriousness of intent, while May’s specificity seems only to hint that she will steal shamelessly from the Labour playbook in order to steal their voters.

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Thatcherism was right for its times, and has lessons for today.  But the world has moved on, and the Conservatives must move with it.  This is a Party, not a mausoleum.  None the less, the Prime Minister’s plan contains a stinging irony.  May, the former Remainer – as Thatcher also was – has not only embraced Brexit but grasped, perhaps more fully than any other British politician, what it means, what the British people wanted in backing it, and where it is leading.

It is Brexit that is empowering May within her own Party, because the free marketeers are so often Brexiteers too.  Since she has won their trust over the EU, they will forgive her views on the market – for the moment, anyway.

That’s not how it works! Even if one agreed with Theresa May’s ill-considered Brexit approach, merely agreeing to carry out Brexit in accordance with the referendum result does not and should not automatically build up reserves of goodwill ready for the moment that the prime minister chooses to chuck conservative economic policy overboard.

Brexit is incredibly important, but so is the day-to-day government of the country. And rejecting the lighter touch, non-interventionist policies which have benefited this country so much should not be done lightly, as Allister Heath warns in the Telegraph:

This jobs explosion [from 1975 onwards] is an extraordinary achievement, and one which, tragically, the Tories now take for granted. Their policies are no longer geared towards job creation – yesterday’s issue, they clearly think – but towards “improving” the labour market and making it “work” for more people.

[..] The answers from Mayonomics are much more simplistic. There is a demand for lower energy prices, so she will simply deliver them by fiat. The jobs market will be fine regardless of how much more red tape is thrown at it, the new doctrine asserts – after all, the minimum wage keeps going up and the roof hasn’t fallen in. The existence of invisible side-effects, or the fact that we may well be nearing a tipping point, doesn’t enter the calculation. Mayonomics advocates blaming business for “not doing enough for their workers”, but hitting them with yet more non-wage costs will merely put further downwards pressure on wages, in a dangerous vicious circle.

Heath concludes:

To make the most of Brexit, the UK needs to embrace free markets, not retreat to the quiet economic certainties of the Sixties. The Tories will eventually come to realise this, of course, but not before they squander an immense opportunity to retool this country into a 21st century trading superpower.

As I write, Theresa May is on her feet in Halifax, Yorkshire, launching the Conservative Party manifesto. People are standing and cheering. It is an election manifesto which will almost certainly receive the endorsement of the electorate on June 8. But contrary to the hysterical shrieks of the British Left, it will not be a Thatcherite manifesto. In some cases, it will barely be recognisable as a small-C conservative manifesto.

And small government conservatives should not take this lying down.

 

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Brexit Catastrophisation Watch, Part 11 – Neither Imperial Delusions Nor Fearful Retreat From The World

British Empire cartoon

Replacing one slanderous Brexit narrative with another

Janan Ganesh almost gets it right (for once) in his FT column, accurately warning people away from the myth – especially popular with many foreigners – that the vote for Brexit was some kind of reflexive grasp to regain a long-gone empire and adopt a more swashbuckling, colonial-style role in world affairs.

Ganesh writes:

There is a certain kind of Briton, often educated to the hilt, who believes that sick Americans are left to writhe around on hospital floors until they show the doctors a credit card. Even sophisticated people think in simple terms about foreign countries. They just need a plausible line-to-take that sees them through a dinner party as it turns to political chat.

Americans give as good as they get. To the extent that their smartest people talk about Britain, they focus on our imperial delusions: here is a country that never adjusted to its loss of empire and does odd things to compensate. In Europe and Asia, too, exit from the EU is read as a desperate lunge for a global role, an act nearer to therapy than to statecraft. Colonial nostalgia has become the one thing the world “knows” about modern Britain.

It just happens to lack the ring of truth if you live here. Vestiges of empire survive in public life and some Conservative ministers picture a new Commonwealth trade zone that diplomats call, in what must pass for office banter, Empire 2.0. But Britain is not Liam Fox. It voted to leave the EU for reasons that differ from those that animate the trade secretary.

Quite. In Britain, the only ones who really see Brexit as a ham-fisted attempt to reclaim the losses of decolonialisation are the pants-wetting, pseudo-liberal preeners at the Guardian and satirical news site the Daily Mash, who love to portray Brexiteers as angry, curtain-twitching retired colonels outraged by the sudden appearance of brown-skinned neighbours.

Talk to the average Brexiteer on the street, however, and this is not the justification that you will hear. Neither is the glib “hankering for empire” explanation borne out through the opinion polls, which – contrary to the race and immigration angle played up by the media – proved that freedom and national self-determination ranked most highly among the priorities of Brexit voters.

Unfortunately, in the course of refuting this particular misguided Brexit narrative, Ganesh goes off the rails and embraces a fatalistic “retreat from the world” narrative every bit as presumptuous and fatalistic as the original:

The regions that shaped and were shaped by empire voted to remain, including London, the old metropole; Scotland, the source of many settlers and administrators; Manchester, not just the empire’s industrial centre but its liberal intellectual heart; and the port cities of Liverpool and Bristol. Inland Birmingham voted to leave, as did the countryside and market towns of Deep England. What those communities seem to want is Nation 1.0 — the sovereign statehood that predated the globalised era —

So far, so good. Brexiteers do indeed want the United Kingdom to return to a norm which might be called Nation 1.0. In fact, this is not a dim and distant past but a present reality still enjoyed by every advanced country outside of Europe – enjoying the benefits of globalisation, but not plugged in to a supranational political entity with federalist ambitions to become the government of a united Europe.

Nobody ever argues that Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea need to be part of an homogeneous overarching political union with a shared parliament, judiciary and executive in order to thrive. Neither does anybody criticise these countries for “retreating from the world” or otherwise failing to play their full part in global commerce and cultural exchange. Only in Europe has the pernicious myth taken hold – helped along by media cheerleaders, both ignorant and cynically knowing – that to reject an explicitly political project is also to wish to sever all links with the modern world.

Sadly, this is the trap that Ganesh immediately falls into. To pick up the end of his previous sentence:

— when the population was more homogenous and the economy less exposed to foreign competition. Whatever these impulses are, they are not colonial.

[..] Since 1945, intelligent outsiders have overestimated Britain’s frustrated ambition and underrated its sense of resignation, its desire for a quiet life after a draining few centuries as a player. When the American diplomat Dean Acheson said the British had not yet found a role after empire, he rather assumed that we were looking for one. Insiders make the same mistake. The least effective argument for the EU in the referendum campaign centred on its usefulness as a power-multiplier for medium-sized nations. It is not that voters disbelieved this. They just did not care enough.

History keeps forcing countries into this choice between significance abroad and retrenchment at home. Imagine that it were possible to go back in time and make sure the empire had never happened, in return for much-reduced postwar immigration from the former colonies. I suspect that some of the voters now fingered as neo-imperialists would trade their nation’s record of world grandeur for what might delicately be called a more familiar population. A less extreme thought experiment is already in the news. If a UK-India trade deal were to hinge on freer migration between the two countries, would Mr Fox sign it? He must know his keenness would not be matched by his own voters.

[..] It is easy for foreigners to read imperial nostalgia into something much more parochial. The terminal point of empire is introspection, not a restless desire to do it all over again. Introspection is bad enough but the British cannot be guilty of that and the opposite at the same time. Outsiders are free to fault us, if they pick the right fault.

We now appear to be caught in an imperial / introspective false dichotomy where Brexit can be explained (especially to anxious faux-liberals like New York Times readers) only as a racist country’s dying grasp to regain imperial greatness or a shrunken, scared and insular country seeking to retreat from the dangers of the world.

(We’ll ignore the fact that it was America, not Britain, who just elected as president an authoritarian strongman who promised not to enhance citizens’ liberties but rather to keep them safe from any danger – particularly from China, Mexicans and Islamist terror – and free from all anxiety. But by all means, tell us again how Britain is supposedly the country in decline and fearful of the world).

In reality, neither of these two absurd characterisations get to the truth of Brexit. At its heart – and this is borne out by opinion polls which clearly showed “self determination” to be the key issue for Brexit voters – Brexit is about wanting to normalise Britain and cease participating in a federalist experiment which almost nobody wanted and for which even its loudest champions failed to properly advocate.

British voters simply did not understand – with good reason – why Britain’s participation in a modern economy and a globalised world requires us to dissolve our sovereignty into an explicitly political union, when other advanced countries around the world are not under any similar obligation. And the Remain campaign could give them no good answer, for they have none. The EU is a political project whose economic activities are but a means to the ultimate end. Knowledgeable Remainers could say nothing to the contrary without perjuring themselves.

But rather than admit the truth about the European Union, how much easier it is to sit at a keyboard and invent ever more daft reasons explaining away the vote for Brexit. How much easier for Remainers to use weak satire or hysterical doom-mongering to distract themselves from the vacuity of their own case and the failure of their campaign.

Janan Ganesh is right – Britain did not vote to secede from the European Union through some misguided attempt to timewarp back to the days of empire. But it is not good enough to refute this silly idea only to promulgate another equally lazy explanation, as Ganesh unfortunately also does.

Remainers have long tried to paint Brexit as some kind of aberration, an inexplicable and harmful departure from international norms. But in fact it is the European Union which is an aberration and which flies in the face of human instinct and history. It is the European Union which attempts to force on member states a model of supranational government for which no meaningful democratic consent was ever sought, which reliably becomes less popular the more it is understood and which no other countries or regions of the world have ever sought to emulate.

Brexit was a vote to return to Nation State 1.0, not because we never want to reach Nation State 2.0 but because the EU’s status quo (Nation State 1.5) is buggy, full of defects and leading us in the wrong direction. The European Union is the Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition of political governance systems, and deciding to uninstall it and wait for something better neither means that we are hankering for the past nor giving up as a country. It’s just the smart thing to do.

It may be difficult for self-regarding members of the political media establishment to accept,  but Brexiteers were right to vote as they did. Remainers were wrong. And columnists would do better to analyse the failings, inconsistencies and non sequiturs in the Remainer case – the timidity, the tedious declinism, the remarkable ability to ignore the example of any country in the world outside the European Union – than continue to invent imaginary flaws in the case for Brexit.

 

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Andrew Sullivan On The Importance Of Rediscovering Healthy Patriotism

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To move beyond Trumpism, Democrats (and forward-thinking conservatives) must look to embrace a healthy and inclusive patriotism, and end their love affair with a cold form of globalism which undermines nation states, communities and livelihoods

Andrew Sullivan remains my blogging hero and inspiration, but I must confess that until very recently I have not greatly enjoyed his recent return to semi-regular online writing for New York Magazine. The thinking and prose is generally as fine as ever, but Sullivan’s excessive hysteria (not to say that real concern is unwarranted) in the face of Donald Trump’s election victory and the start of his presidency has been offputting, as has his continued slow drift away from conservatism and overly-enthusiastic embrace of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election campaign.

That being said, last week’s Interesting Times column/diary is vintage Sullivan – beautifully poetic, well argued and undeniably valid.

Sullivan writes of globalisation and urbanisation’s losers, and in praise of patriotism:

I’ve always been unusually attached to places. It’s one reason I still call myself a conservative. Travel doesn’t attract me. I’ve now lived in the same loft in D.C. since I bought it, in 1991 (apart from an ill-fated year and a half in New York City); I’ve spent 20 consecutive summers in the same little town at the end of Cape Cod, and have no desire to go anyplace else. Even when I go home to England, I tend to spend around half my time near where I grew up.

I wouldn’t go so far as Malcolm Muggeridge, who famously said: “Travel, of course, narrows the mind.” (Don’t you love that “of course”?) But I would say that the reverse can also be true. Staying put allows you to really get to know a place deeply at different times and in different seasons, to capture, often serendipitously, a small detail you’d never seen before, or arrive at a street corner and suddenly remember that this was where you first met an old friend.

But staying home brings grief with it as well. Everything changes, and when your beloved tree at the end of the street is cut down, or a new Safeway replaces the corner baker, or, more fatally, the factory that used to be the linchpin of the place lies empty and crumbling, it stings and wounds and demoralizes. When I’ve visited my own hometown in England, so much is the same. And yet, on closer inspection, many of the once-vibrant shops are selling secondhand clothes, or given over to real estate offices. My old church has a broken window where the rain comes in. The services have dwindled to near nothing. Maybe it’s being away for so long, but it seems familiar and yet a little empty, as if something in it has somehow died, a continuity somehow lost.

And more and more, I suspect, the shifting winds of this merciless global economy and the impact of mass migration are bringing about similar changes all over the West. This beautiful but deeply sad story about how a provincial town in France has slowly died — as its young people flocked to cities, as its shops were supplanted by a supermarket, says a lot about the moment we are in: “Down another street is the last toy store, now closed, and around a corner is the last independent grocery store, also shuttered. Walk down the empty, narrow streets on some nights and the silence is so complete that you can hear your footsteps on the stones.” The town, Albi, is not alone.

In America, as Charles Murray has shown in his extraordinary book, Coming Apart, the young and the smart and the talented — the people who would once have formed the core of these small towns — have long since fled to distant colleges and cities. They don’t come back. They would once have been the police chief or the town librarian or the school principal. They once helped make the town a well-run place with a clear identity, where the same families and networks lived together, died together, belonged together. These connections have attenuated … as economics supplants culture, as efficiency erases the individuality of inefficient places, as Amazon rips the heart out of shopping districts, as the smartphone removes us from physical space, and as many more immigrants and their culture alter the feel of a place in ways that disorient those with memories and loyalties.

I don’t think we can understand the politics of this moment — Brexit, Trump, Le Pen — without noticing this abiding sense of loss. The middling city and small town are going the way of the middle class. Patterns of farming in rural America are being devastated. I loved this English farmer’s account of the changes he is seeing: “The future we have been sold doesn’t work. Applying the principles of the factory floor to the natural world just doesn’t work. Farming is more than a business. Food is more than a commodity. Land is more than a mineral resource.”

Jobs are vital not simply because of money — but because they give lives meaning, a meaning that now seems so remote people medicate themselves with opiates. People are grieving for a lost way of life. This is not racist or retrograde or even backward. It is, rather, deeply human. For it is in these places that a deeper identity forms, that Americanness, Britishness, la France profonde, endures. And what we’re seeing right now, across the developed world, is a bid to retain the meaning of a culture and a way of life in the headwinds of faceless, placeless economics.

And Sullivan’s conclusion:

Nationalism is one response. The answer to it is not globalism, which is as cold as it is remote, but patriotism, that love of country that does not require the loathing of other places or the scapegoating of minorities or a phobia of change, that confident identity that doesn’t seek to run away from the wider world but to engage it, while somehow staying recognizable across the generations. If the Democrats hope to come back, that patriotism is going to have to define them once again. But can they get past their racial and sexual and gender obsessions and reach for it?

This is the distilled question of our times.

The answer is not globalism – Sullivan is quite right. This does not mean a rejection of capitalism, globalisation and international free trade, on which our prosperity depends, but it does mean acknowledging that there are negative externalities to all of this aggregate economic progress. We accept that this is the case with the environment, and take measures to restrict environmental damage caused by economic activity, but until now governments have scarcely acknowledged the impact of globalisation on local communities, national identity and cohesiveness, let alone formulated meaningful ways to protect what we are unwilling to lose while still unleashing the best that globalisation has to offer.

This is a challenge – as I have repeatedly acknowledged on this blog – which falls hardest upon conservatives and small government advocates such as myself, who traditionally envisage a very limited role for the state in our lives. If corporations and cross-border economic activity create negative externalities as well as create wealth and material abundance, who if not the state will keep those externalities in check? Left-wing politicians can simply wave their hands and promise new economic programs to retrain workers or encourage labour mobility, inefficient or fruitless though they may ultimately prove to be. We on the Right have a more difficult job, relying as we prefer to do on individuals and the institutions of civil society.

And this is why Sullivan’s enthusiastic embrace of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign depressed me so. I also preferred Clinton to Trump because of the latter’s self-evident deficiencies in temperament, knowledge and ideological sincerity. But Sullivan was strongly for Clinton, and I found that fervour to be inexplicable. As Sullivan rightly notes in his latest column, the answer to nationalism is not more cold globalism. And yet that is precisely what Hillary Clinton and Democrats of her type offered. It is still all they offer – she who spoke openly of her desire for a borderless world where plane-hopping elites treated global megacities as their playground while the impoverished servant class were rooted to their dying towns.

Sullivan is quite right that patriotism – “that love of country that does not require the loathing of other places” – must be embraced again by all sides, not weaponised as a unique virtue by the Right or demonised as evidence of inherent racism by the Left. But right now we are moving away from that goal.

For as long as so many Republicans remain seemingly in lockstep with the Trump agenda, despite the president’s frequent deviations from conservative principle (let alone the normal standards of presidential decorum and basic decency), they effectively lend their tacit support to the administration’s more uncomfortably nationalist behaviour and rhetoric. And for so long as the Democrats and others on the Left choose to double down on their repellent formula of Maximal Globalism + Identity Politics, putting forward candidates like Hillary Clinton who are utterly incapable of speaking authentically to Middle America and the suffering working classes, their actions will continue to signal that they view rural and small town America as expendable so long as wealth and opportunity continue accruing to the urban, coastal elites.

For better or worse, the Republican Party seem to have made their choice. Though they may grumble about the ObamaCare repeal and replacement (or RyanCare, as some Trump loyalists insist on calling it) and some of the administration’s other ideas, it is hopeless to look to the GOP for an alternative to Trumpism so long as their man occupies the White House and they hold both houses of Congress.

That leaves it to the Democrats. The ideologically bankrupt, morally compromised Democrats, whose first response to a stunning repudiation by voters at the ballot box was to swiftly reconfirm all of the main architects of that defeat back into their gilded leadership positions, and who are too busy worshipping at the altar of identity politics to pay attention to the fears and aspirations of Trump’s America.

In short, embracing a healthy new sense of patriotism seems like a grand idea, and a necessary one – but Lord knows who in the American political and media class possesses the wisdom, foresight and bravery promote it.

 

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Quote For The Day

After the election, American conservatives cannot simply pretend that Donald Trump never happened. The Republican Party must fully reject Trumpism and then reach out to voters with a brighter, most optimistic conservative message

Jonah Goldberg, addressing an Ashbrook Center event in Cleveland, Ohio back in 2014, when Donald Trump was just a loudmouth birther and not, y’know, a major party presidential candidate:

I love first principles, I’m all about first principles, I think that’s great stuff. But people forget that politics has to be about persuasion, about bringing people to your side who don’t already agree with you. Otherwise it might as well be a Civil War re-enactment club or a Dungeons & Dragons society where we just play our little roles and then we go home.

And this is something that a lot of conservatives have lost. And one of the things we have lost is the ability to tell stories.

Goldberg goes on to criticise the excessive hagiography of Ronald Reagan, pointing out that Reagan’s recent reputation as an unbelievably principled conservative who never once sullied himself with compromise actually much more closely fits Barry Goldwater – who of course went down to glorious defeat.

The point, I suppose, is that Donald Trump fails both tests. He is not a conservative – or at least he has done absolutely nothing to prove that his Damascene conversion to traditional Republican values and talking points is remotely genuine, and not simply a convenient ploy to co-opt supporters.

Worse still, Trump is incapable of telling an authentically conservative story which might actually attract and persuade undecided voters, because every time he opens his mouth to tell a story a new victimhood-soaked conspiracy theory dribbles out instead.

I also post the quote as a reminder to myself. Lord knows that I have a lot of issues with the current British Conservative Party and the direction it has gone under Cameron and May (well, really since mid-Thatcher, when I was born). But when you rant on the internet every day it is easy to preach to the choir sometimes and forget that there are some good Conservative MPs of principle out there who do want to take the country in a different, more small-L liberal direction, and who have no truck with Labour’s vacuous centrists-in-exile or Theresa May’s flirtation with authoritarianism.

But more than anything, the Goldberg quote is a reminder of the huge rebuilding exercise the Republican Party will have to do after Donald Trump. Whatever story they previously used to connect with voters, however battered and dubious it may have been, has now been utterly obliterated. Some say that the GOP can (and will) simply forget that Trump ever happened, and move on serenely. I’m not sure that will be possible – not least because many Republican grassroots members may not let it happen. They may well find an heir to Trump, and throw their support behind Trump Mark II.

Besides, this crisis represents too great an opportunity for American conservatism to re-invent itself. 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.

Perhaps, once the Republicans are finished debasing themselves by their association with Donald Trump, they might care to have a crack at solving it.

 

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Why Alan Sugar’s Intervention In The EU Referendum Debate Matters

Alan Sugar - Amstrad Emailer

In the year 2000, when the internet was taking off and PCs and laptops were becoming more widely affordable, celebrity businessman Alan Sugar bet the house on his Amstrad Emailer device – an embarrassing, uneconomical and altogether pointless hybrid between a landline telephone and 1990s-era AOL. It didn’t go well. And now, in 2016, Britain’s facetious answer to Steve Jobs has something important to tell us about Brexit

People who host The Apprentice seem determine to shoehorn their way into our political discourse this year. First Donald Trump defeated fifteen human watercolour paintings to become the presumptive Republican Party nominee for US president, and now Trump’s British not-quite-equal, Alan Sugar, has parachuted into the middle of the raging EU referendum debate.

And Sugar certainly has Donald Trump’s ability to execute a 180 degree U-turn while vehemently denying that he has ever changed his position. Only six months ago, Lord Sugar could be found excoriating Brussels and ranting about how much the EU constrained his business. Fast-forward to today, however, and Lord Sugar 2.0 – newly appointed government enterprise tsar – is telling anyone who will listen that Britain leaving the EU is crazy and unimaginable.

From the Daily Mail:

Lord Sugar has urged voters not to be ‘daft’ by backing Brexit as he joined a host of high profile business figures who came out in favour of staying in the EU.

The businessman and Apprentice boss has produced a video making his pitch for Britain to stay in the EU.

He tells viewers they ‘could not be listening to a bigger gambler than me’ but says leaving the EU is a ‘gamble we can’t afford to take’.

Describing himself as an ‘East End chap’ who had built a business empire from scratch, he blasts the ‘daft ideas and duff proposals’ put forward by Brexit campaigners and said it would be a ‘massive mistake’ to quit the EU.

Lord Sugar, who was appointed as the Government’s enterprise tsar last week, says in the video: ‘Having lived in this country for 69 years, a country which I love, I just don’t want to see a massive mistake being made by the younger generation or, indeed, any of the generations who just simply do not understand the ramifications of leaving the European Union.’

Donald Trump would famously take any position, campaign for any cause, support any politician, donate to any political party so long as it won him access to people in power – that’s how a big Hillary Clinton supporter who was once on the liberal side of all the culture wars is now the presumptive GOP nominee. And it seems that Alan Sugar is an opportunistic sell-sword in the same vein.

But in many ways, there could be no more appropriate intervention on behalf of the Remain campaign than that now bestowed by Alan Sugar, the brains behind the Amstrad Emailer, that revolutionary and futuristic communications device. In fact, the comparisons between Sugar’s perennially unpopular “super telephone” and the European Union are quite striking.

Both the European Union and the Amstrad Emailer are anachronistic inventions, hopelessly outdated even before they saw the light of day (the EU as it is currently known came into force with the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, when globalisation was really beginning to take off and the idea of large, homogeneous regional trading blocs was already showing its age).

Like the Amstrad Emailer, the European Union takes something generally agreeable (tariff and barrier-free trade) and packages it in a fearsomely complicated design with a dozen unwanted embellishments such as all the additional trappings of a European state.

Like the Amstrad Emailer, persisting with a fundamentally flawed product in the form of the European Union reveals much about the stubbornness and contempt for democracy (the market, in Sugar’s case) held by the “founding fathers” and today’s leaders of the EU.

Like the Amstrad Emailer, nobody today would ever create the European Union as it currently exists. We only persist with it because forty years of steadily deepening political integration makes leaving a complex process and a daunting one for many – not to mention huge resistance from the establishment who like the status quo, which gives European leaders power with no accountability, and British politicians the trappings and rituals of office without the pesky responsibility.

So yes, we should welcome Lord Sugar’s intervention in the debate because the brains behind the Amstrad Emailer has inadvertently revealed an uncomfortable truth: engaging with today’s globalised, interconnected, multilateral world through the filtered lens of the EU is like trying to broadcast and receive in High Definition using one of Alan Sugar’s duff products.

For example: Norway, outside the European Union but maintaining access to the single market through EEA membership, does not delegate its voice in trade negotiations to a single EU position (itself an awkward compromise between the priorities of 28 squabbling countries).

Pete North gives a telling example of why this matters:

Not only is Norway an independent member of Codex, it even hosts the all-important Fish and Fisheries Products Committee. Thus, it is the lead nation globally in an area of significant economic importance to itself. When it comes to trade in fish and fishery product, Norway is able to guide, if not control, the agenda on standards and other matters. The EU then reacts, turning the Codex standards into Community law, which then applies to EEA countries, including Norway. But it is Norway, not the EU, which calls the shots.

Britain, meanwhile, sometimes even has to endure the indignity of seeing our own vote (on international bodies where we retain a seat) used against us by the European Commission, which controls that vote because the EU claims exclusive competency in matters relating to trade.

This is what remaining in the EU means – forsaking all of the benefits which could come from taking an active, fully-engaged position in all of the global bodies which pass down rules and standards to the European Union, and instead choosing to hide behind the EU’s skirts and accept an endless succession of fudged compromises because we lacked the confidence and skill to play the fuller role in world trade which is available to us.

Like the Amstrad Emailer, the European Union is the basic and highly predictable option, the kind of gift you might buy your grandparents (except nobody ever did) because you think that they would be overwhelmed trying to learn how to use a full PC. And now, while they could be buying things on Amazon, talking to the grandkids on Skype, blogging, editing holiday pictures in Photoshop or even setting up an online business, instead they are doomed to forever make low-quality, grainy video calls to one or other of the remaining six people in the country to own one of Alan Sugar’s devices.

That’s us. That is Britain, for so long as we remain in the European Union. A little old granny whose relatives didn’t think that she would be able to handle the complexity of a decent laptop, pecking out typo-strewn missives to the world on a rickety plastic keyboard and a monochrome screen while the richness and variety of the internet completely passes her by.

Why on earth would we vote Remain when we could vote to Leave the European Union and properly re-engage with the world as the influential, powerful and capable nation that we are? Why, when the brand new MacBook of Brexit sits wrapped with a bow on the table next to us, are we still fearfully clinging to our trusty, familiar Amstrad Emailer?

 

Postscript: This article in The Register provides a hilarious summary of the Emailer’s fortunes as the Next Big Thing in technology:

Since March 2000, he has tried tirelessly, and unsuccessfully, to sell the concept to everyone from journalists to politicians to the City – all have turned the device down.

Termed “the most important mass market electronic product since he kick-started Britain’s personal computer market 15 years ago” by some idiot on the Mail on Sunday, the emailer emerged in a blaze of glory at the same venue as the cheap PCs that made Amstrad a household name 20 years ago.

It cost £79.99 and still does and within a week we concluded it was far too expensive. With even low usage, it would put £150 per month on your quarterly phone bill. The public agreed with our analysis and no one bought the thing.

But the more it has failed to take off, the more fanatical Sir Sugar has got about it. He vehemently denied technical problems in August that year, then when the subsidiary set up to deal with the emailer, Amserve, put up a £2.3 million loss, he took up most of the company’s financial report explaining why the device was so wonderful.

The next set of results in February were even worse. Profit down 82 per cent from £8.2 million to £1.51 million. Again Sir Sugar waxed lyrical about how wonderful the emailer was – sales continued to be “encouraging”. This time Amserve took a £3.9 million loss.

He managed to persuade the then home secretary Jack Straw to back it up. Mr Straw said it was the perfect example of how technology could be used to “improve the flow of information and intelligence in a bid to decrease crime” at a Neighbourhood Watch photo opportunity. It made no difference to sales.

The IT correspondent for The Independent then incurred Sir Sugar’s wrath when he wrote, one year on from the launch, that the emailer had been a failure. Sir Sugar sent an email to all emailer owners, ranting about the piece and providing the journalist’s email address. Unfortunately it backfired because many of the received emails concerned the terrible problems they were having with the device.

As does this classic spoof article in The Daily Mash.

 

Amstrad Emailer

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