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Will The Snap General Election Damage Trust In Politicians?

Theresa May - Snap General Election 8 June 2017

Does the prime minister’s decision to call a snap general election damage trust in politicians? No, but the actions of those MPs fighting a desperate rearguard attempt to overturn the referendum result and thwart Brexit certainly will

The received wisdom among the punditocracy seems to be that Theresa May has seriously damaged the public trust in her own leadership, and in the character of politicians in general, by reversing her earlier statements and calling a snap general election for 8 June.

The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman seems to be taking particular offence, singling out this decision as being emblematic of why voters distrust politicians and hold them in such low regard.

This might be true on the margins, but I would argue that most people do not devote a huge amount of time to storing up resentments over acts of political skulduggery and gamesmanship which impact the careers of individual MPs far more than the country as a whole.

The real reason for flatlining public trust in politicians is the fact that successive ministers, parties and MPs have continually promised radical change and sweeping improvement while offering nearly identical variants of the same centrist political consensus. People distrust politicians because for years they have claimed to hear public concern and anxiety about numerous issues – immigration levels, EU membership, state involvement in the economy, foreign policy – and then gone and done exactly what they wanted to do in the first place, without taking those concerns into account. People get angry about the real, material policy betrayals, not the cosmetic political ones.

Promising to cut net inward migration to the “tens of thousands” (wise or not) and then missing the mark by a factor of ten is liable to make people distrust politicians because it is a real and tangible failure. Offering a “cast iron guarantee” to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and then performing a complete U-turn is liable to make people distrust politicians because it actively takes away something that was promised to the electorate. By contrast, electoral shenanigans barely register on the same scale.

And yet the narrative that Theresa May has supposedly mortally wounded voter trust in politicians continues to grow, like a massive snowball picking up debris as it rolls down a hill:

Meanwhile, Isabel Hardman writes:

Today Theresa May broke her own promise about there being no early general election [..] She had been so adamant that even those who thought they knew her best after years of working together in Opposition and government had taken her at her world and were insisting until recently that May believed in keeping her promises and that there would be no snap general election.

[..] Oddly one of her complaints was that Westminster wasn’t ‘coming together’ after the referendum, as though it would be better if everyone agreed on everything she suggested, because consensus is such a good way of refining legislation so that it leaves Westminster in good shape.

This is great snark, but poor analysis. While unthinking, automatic consensus are never good, neither is blind, unreasonable opposition. The task before MPs is to help ensure that the UK achieves the best possible form of Brexit, given the clear instruction given by the British people to engineer Britain’s exit from the European Union. Yet there are many MPs – the entire SNP and LibDem caucuses, for instance – who have zero interest in abiding by the referendum result, and in fact have openly declared their intention to scupper the result and prevent Brexit by any means necessary and via any opportunity which can be grasped.

This is not reasonable. This is not respecting the will of the people as expressed through a majority of voters in a referendum whose legitimacy none of them complained about when they expected to win. In fact, this is deeply unreasonable.

To use a comparison from America, the behaviour of many Remainer MPs can be likened to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell declaring that the GOP’s main objective was to make Barack Obama a one-term president – not to help ensure American success despite their ideological differences, but to blindly and angrily oppose everything just for the sake of it in order to weaken the president. A temper tantrum rather than constructive opposition.

One can also compare the attitude of die-hard Remainers to the US Republican Party strategy when ObamaCare was being debated in Congress. Here was a president with a mandate and a congressional supermajority, but rather than engaging with the legislative process to inject conservative thinking and ideas into the eventual bill, the Republicans again chose blind opposition – including opposing policy ideas (such as the individual mandate) which were once approved by conservative think tanks and enacted by conservative governors. The result was a flawed attempt at American healthcare reform, which fell far short of achieving universal coverage or access and giving almost none of the parties what they really wanted (either single-payer or a deregulated insurance market).

Remainer MPs have a chance now to engage with the Brexit process, to apply pressure to help achieve the best kind of Brexit – in this blog’s view, an interim Norway-style option which preserves maximal single market access and avoids having to draw up alternative trade, regulation and customs arrangements against the clock. But this already unlikely goal cannot be achieved so long as so many Remainer MPs openly salivate at the idea of blocking Brexit altogether and brazenly boast about their intention to blindly oppose everything that this “Evil Tory” government tries to do.

Theresa May was right to state that Westminster needs to “come together” – not in blind obedience to a Tory manifesto but in acknowledgement of a legitimate referendum outcome which must now be enacted. Under this umbrella of basic respect for democracy there exists a vast spectrum for disagreement and opposition of particular policies and ideas, as is right for a liberal democracy. But unless we observe common rules and accept certain undeniable facts then we cannot work together productively.

Presently, too many pro-EU Remainer politicians are choosing the path of blind opposition as opposed to constructive engagement. They refuse to live in the real-world universe where they lost the EU referendum and the Brexiteers won. Living in denial is certainly their right – but in doing so they have given Theresa May exactly the cover that she needed to call this early general election.

Hardman concludes:

Actually, politicians are decent people, and all people can end up breaking promises. But the problem is that the voters have the same childlike sense of justice that doesn’t easily forget those broken promises (remember what happened to the Lib Dems in 2015 after their broken tuition fee pledge?)

Anyone who has worked with children who have been neglected in their early years knows that keeping promises is even more important, as each broken promise hurts terribly and reminds the child of the pain they felt when they were younger. Voters as a whole aren’t vulnerable in the same way, but they consistently show the same frustration with politicians when asked for their attitudes towards them in polls. And whatever they may say about their commitment to public service, but Theresa May and David Cameron have in recent years made it even harder for politicians as a group to gain the public’s trust.

This is a little condescending to voters, but there is some truth in it. I wouldn’t necessarily describe voter anger at broken material promises by politicians as being “childlike”. Rather, I think it represents that innate sense of fair play which is common to children and decent adults alike.

Promises should certainly be kept, but let us not pretend for another moment that all political promises are created equal. David Cameron standing down as an MP after first promising to stay on, and Theresa May holding a snap general election after promising not to do so – these acts simply do not offend the public trust as much as other, far more significant policy betrayals committed by all parties of government in recent decades.

Perhaps it is easy to lose perspective as an establishment journalist used to following every detail of the Westminster Game of Thrones, but out in the country actual tangible outcomes matter far more than the kind of palace intrigue which fascinates The Spectator.

But as even some Remainers (at least those outside of Parliament and the political elite) now realise, attempting to thwart the outcome of the EU referendum – either through procedural shenanigans or attempting to roll the dice with a second referendum, ignoring the fact that Article 50 has already been triggered – deeply offends that sense of fair play, and does so far more egregiously than Theresa May’s broken promise about not holding a general election until 2020.

 

David Cameron confronted by angry voter

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The Economic Challenges Beyond Brexit

Bitter, swivel-eyed (and unrepentant) europhile he may be, but the FT’s Martin Wolf makes some valid points in his latest column, warning against any complacency that Britain’s persistent economic weak points will be automatically restored to health upon leaving the European Union.

Wolf writes:

British economic policymakers confront big challenges. They have to manage departure from the EU with the minimum damage. They also need to make the UK economy far more dynamic. The latter cannot be achieved if they do not abandon the myth that Britain is already an economic success, albeit one choked by the dead hand of an over-regulated European economy.

Simon Tilford of the Centre for European Reform provides a far more realistic picture in his Brexit Britain. Measured at purchasing power parity, the rise in the UK’s gross domestic product per head between 2000 and 2015 was smaller than in Germany, Spain and France. Over this period, the UK outperformed only Italy, among the EU’s largest pre-2000 members. In 2015, the UK’s GDP per head was lower relative to the average of the 15 pre-2000 EU members than in 2000: its GDP per head was a mere ninth within this group.

The UK also has the highest income inequality among these countries. Furthermore, notes Mr Tilford, UK real wages fell by 10 per cent between 2008 and 2014, before a tiny uptick in 2015, while German and French real wages rose. In 2015, only London and the South-East had higher GDP per head than the average of the EU-15 countries. Other UK regions were at or below that average. In all, it is hardly surprising so many UK voters feel left behind, as shown in the EU referendum.

True, the increase in French real wages has coincided with high unemployment. But that is not true in Germany. UK workers also work longer hours than those in other EU-15 countries. This is presumably to make up for low real wages, themselves largely due to the UK’s poor productivity. According to the Conference Board’s invaluable “total economy database”, the only EU-15 countries to have lower output per hour than the UK are Greece, Italy and Portugal, while the UK’s productivity per hour has stagnated since 2007. Again, of the biggest five EU-15 members only Italy performed worse on this measure. The UK also now runs the largest current account deficit, relative to GDP, in the EU-15.

The UK, then, has low unemployment. But it also has high inequality, mediocre real incomes, at least by the standards of its European peers, and poor external competitiveness. Above all, recent productivity growth has been truly awful.

These are hard, inescapable criticisms – particularly in terms of productivity growth and purchasing power parity, which is ultimately the only yardstick that matters in terms of whether people actually feel better off.

And concludes:

The implications of a realistic view of the UK economy is that, even without the looming shock of Brexit, the economy suffers from big weaknesses relative to the European economies that many Brexiters despise. Some argue that a real depreciation of sterling is mainly what is needed. If sustained, the post-referendum devaluation should indeed help, though it means a fall in real incomes and wealth. Yet devaluation alone will not cure UK weaknesses.

The UK has to rectify longstanding supply-side failings. The list includes: low investment, particularly in infrastructure; inadequate basic education of much of the population and the innumeracy of much of its elite; a grossly distorted housing market; over-centralisation of government; and a corporate sector whose leaders are motivated more by the share price than by the long-term health of the business. Not surprisingly, given all this, the UK economy is highly dependent on inward foreign direct investment, which Brexit would seem virtually certain to weaken.

If the UK is to thrive economically, it will not be enough for it to manage Brexit, hard though that will surely be. Its policymakers must also start from a realistic assessment of the UK’s mediocre performance. This is no world-beating economy. It is not even a Europe-beating economy, except on creating what are too often low-wage jobs. It will have to do far better if it is to deliver the higher living standards its people want in the tougher environment ahead.

The danger with Brexit was always that the sheer complexity of managing our secession from the European Union would prove too much for a mostly unremarkable generation of politicians and civil servants, nearly all of whom have never known life outside the EU and can scarcely imagine self-government. Even now, three months after the historic Brexit vote, there is little evidence that the government has started to get to grips with the challenge ahead of them.

Therefore, it is not unreasonable to ask – as Martin Wolf does – how much mental capacity will be left to tackle other burning issues like Britain’s low productivity, the low-skill / low-wage segment of the economy or decades-old weaknesses in British management, identified by Thatcher’s Conservatives in the late 1970s but still barely tackled even now.

And I’m not sure there is a quick fix to this problem. Brexit will inevitably dominate the political agenda, probably for the next decade, to the near exclusion of all else. And even if there was excess capacity, there is precious little evidence to suggest that Theresa May’s new government has a blazingly clear vision for reforming Britain anyway – as Isabel Hardman outlines in this excellent Spectator piece.

In short: many of these problems, though long-festering, are probably going to have to wait to be tackled, unless the government surprises us all with its radical zeal and far-reaching reform plans at the upcoming Conservative Party Conference, which seems unlikely at best.

If you wake up to discover your house is ablaze and smoke pouring into the bedroom, you don’t waste precious minutes ensuring that you are beautifully dressed and immaculately turned-out before evacuating the building. Likewise, in whatever shape Brexit ends up happening, Britain will likely emerge from the EU in much the same shape as before, with the same nagging issues and weaknesses clamouring to be addressed.

Inspiring? No. Ammunition for assorted bitter Remainers, EU-lovers and anti-patriots? Sadly, yes. But that is our lot. Brexit is likely to be a grinding, painstaking, lengthy process at the end of which the same Britain will be blinking back at us, largely unchanged, with all the rest of our work to realise the benefits of Brexit still ahead of us.

But does that mean the enterprise is not worth the effort? Hell no. And it is very telling to see those who are prepared to steel themselves for the work ahead, and those who seek to use it as a whinnying justification for giving up.

 

Thousands Of People Take Part In The March For Europe

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Isabel Hardman Is Right To Criticise The Labour Party’s Toxic Brand Of Feminism

Isabel Hardman has a great piece in The Spectator in which she rightly castigates Harriet Harman and the Labour Party for their narrow, possessive and parochial attitude towards feminism and gender equality.

Hardman writes:

Harriet Harman also described the Prime Minister as ‘no sister’, arguing ‘we’ve got a new Tory prime minister – and she’s a woman. But like Margaret Thatcher before her, Theresa May is no supporter of women’.

Now, it’s probably quite irritating for Labour to have to hold a women’s conference while the Tories are still crowing that they’ve got another female Prime Minister. But is this sort of ‘you’re not a real feminist’ moaning very, well, feminist? Naturally, Theresa May has a different interpretation of what a feminist politician should do to some Labour MPs: though perhaps not as different as they might think. After all, she did set up Women2Win, which has increased the number of female Tory MPs in parliament by lobbying the Conservative party and mentoring candidates. And after all, she did do quite a lot of work on domestic violence when in the Home Office, including working with the now Labour MP Jess Phillips when she was working as a national adviser on domestic abuse, and introducing the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour. And she also introduced a number of measures on female genital mutilation and forced marriage. But still, she’s not a Labour MP, so that means that obviously she’s not really a feminist.

Sorry, ladies, but feminism is even more important than partisanship. If you start claiming that only women who meet with your politics are real feminists, then you break into the People’s Front of Judea when feminists haven’t run out of problems to solve. You also alienate those on the right who are feminists but who you tell aren’t welcome in your special exclusive left-wing ladies’ club. Feminism has to span the political spectrum, otherwise it gets stuck in one party. And given the Labour party isn’t going anywhere right now, that’s not much use to the women who still need a politician who’ll show them what a feminist in government looks like.

Amen to that. Feminism (or egalitarianism) is much bigger than the Labour Party – thank God. And Lord knows that it needs to be.

Labour’s brand of feminism views women as weak supplicants and perpetual victims, helpless waifs entirely dependent on government largesse, social protection and financial support from the state.

It is a toxic creed of inferiority which imagines that women cannot make it on their own without help from enlightened white knights in the Labour Party to vanquish their foes and smooth their path in life. And that’s why Harriet Harman and other left-wing feminists hate Theresa May, and hated Margaret Thatcher before her. For here are two unapologetically conservative women who strove and succeeded on their own merits, and and overcame an (at times) extremely sexist culture and workplace by quietly getting on with the job rather than exulting in their own supposed fragility and victimhood.

Harriet Harman views Theresa May as a traitor to Proper Socialist Feminism because Theresa May (and other independent conservative women like her) never asked for Labour’s help on her path to success, and because Britain’s new prime minister is a living, breathing example to girls and young women (and men, for that matter) that success and full equality are not contingent on swallowing Labour’s nasty, backbiting politics of identity and victimhood.

For in reality, it has been the Conservative Party who have put egalitarian and meritocratic principles into practice when it really counted, electing not one but two female party leaders. Labour is the party of the all-woman shortlist, affirmative action, gaudy pink minibuses and thinly-veiled misandry. The Tories are the party of Britain’s two first female prime ministers.

So three cheers for Isabel Hardman reminding us that believing in gender equality should not and does not also require swallowing whole Labour’s politics of grievance, weaponised victimhood and government dependency.

Feminism and egalitarianism are bigger than the Labour Party, which is probably just as well – because Labour’s leading feminists are looking mighty churlish and downright small right now.

 

harriet-harman-labour-party-pink-bus-feminism-identity-politics

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Only In Britain

Isabel Hardman, writing in The Spectator’s Coffee House blog, is concerned that government ministers do not have any real power to effect changes to the London Olympic Games seating policy that would correct the scandal of so many seats remaining empty during popular and supposedly over-subscribed events:

The problem for ministers is that they do not have any official influence over this matter. Jeremy Hunt made this clear when he appeared on the World at One a few minutes ago. He said:

‘We want to be completely upfront with the public, this is a negotiation, we don’t have a right to demand these back, in fact contractually these seats do belong to the International Sports Federations and to the IOC. But, we got 3,000 back last night, including 600 for the gymnastics.’

Meanwhile, the Number 10 spokeswoman repeatedly said today that ‘this is a matter for Locog’, although when asked whether the government was powerless to change the seating situation, added: ‘We have influence: it’s the government.’ Whatever that influence is, it’s in the government’s interest to exert it as powerfully as possible: the public is unlikely to discriminate between ministers and Locog officials when apportioning blame for those empty chairs.

Come on, Spectator. Your Coffee House blog is one of the things that keeps me sane when I’m following British politics. You espouse sensible, Conservative, common sense solutions, and you echo my own beliefs that government doesn’t need to run everything.

The British government has already done enough for the Olympic Games organisers, even going so far as suspending the right to free speech and freedom of expression in some cases with provisions banning small businesses from using certain words or phrases which, if uttered by a non Olympic sponsor, would now constitute a criminal offence.

Of the various possible culprits responsible for the fact that far too many seats at Olympic events remain empty despite massive demand from the British public, David Cameron or Jeremy Hunt’s respective doorsteps are probably the last place I would think of pinning the blame. I would dare to believe and hope that a majority of Brits, despite Gordon Brown’s attempts to turn us into a state dependent society, also would not look to government to be the solution to this or every other problem, even ones that may impact on our national prestige.

Maybe in the case of the “empty seat fiasco”, the British people are not looking to the government for a solution, but to the people organising the Olympic Games. A quick solution, brought about by the people responsible for the problem.