National Populism. The revolt against liberal democracy.

National Populism. The revolt against liberal democracy.

This book, by Roger Eatwell and51PPqhzUq0L._SX305_BO1,204,203,200_ Mathew Goodwin, deserves to be widely read. It is a sober and informed look at the growth of national populist movements  which have occurred all over the globe. It does primary focus on Europe and America and particularly on the surprises, to many, of Donald Trump’s election and the result of the UK’s Brexit referendum. However, its reach is much broader than this and it tracks the growth of this movement much further back, over two centuries, and considers its growth in very many countries.

Roger Eatwell is professor of Politics at Bath University and an acknowledged expert on fascism and the development of right wing politics. Mathew Goodwin (His PhD student) is similarly a Professor of Politics, at the University of Kent, and also a specialist on right-wing politics and Euroscepticism. The book they have produced is well researched and obviously the product of men with academic rigour. The ideas discussed and considered with good historical detail and opinions are not ventured without significant and adequate hard evidence.

This may sound as if the book is going to be data heavy, full of facts and figures, and in many respects this is true. However, in part this is why it is readable. Much of the data given is there to challenge the reader’s presumptions and to make them rethink what they think they know about national populist movements; whether it is Americans stunned by Trump, British people shocked by Brexit or the French worried about the Gilets Jaunes. The authors show that there are very many, largely well-meaning, myths held about these movement and present the data to show why these are wrong.

The myth that these movements are simply angry responses to the economic upheaval that followed the crash in 2008 is belied by their existence and growth well before that event. The myth, or possibly fond hope, that this is a movement of angry old white mean is not supported by the data on the demographics. The hope, likewise, that simply waiting for the more liberal young to grow and displace the more conservative elderly is not supported by the evidence. (There is data in the book to suggest that the degree of difference between the young and elderly in viewpoint is largely accounted for by a rightward shift in people’s outlook as they age. Rather than there being two different cohorts of people). Myths that these movements are simply fascist or racist trends are likely shown not to be in accordance with the known facts.

If we are to understand this movement it is important to know when we are wrong. We will not be able to preserve liberal democracy if we misdiagnose the threats that face it and, as a consequence, apply the wrong remedies. These are the types of failures we have seen happen in recent referenda. For example, in the Brexit referendum a belief that all this resentment stemmed simply from economic damage lead to a campaign primarily warning people they would be worse off (By £4000 a family) if they voted to leave. This was an error, cultural and political factors were far more important in the anger that was being felt, and had people listened they would have known this. There was even polling showing that people who supported Brexit would do so even if they were certain that there would be a negative economic impact to them personally. This lesson hasn’t been learnt and, still today, many of those petitioning for change of direction think that if they just point out economic hazards minds will change – there is little evidence that this strategy has proven any more successful second-time around.

The biggest myth that the book challenges  is that this movement is a temporary disruption and, as things get better (or through things worsening people see the light), shortly the status quo ante will be returned. The myth that this is an aberration and soon we will be back to ‘business as usual‘ is the most dangerous myth the book lays bare. Our political parties are no longer aligned with our populations political beliefs,  and thus the apparatus we have for running our democracies is out of step with the wishes of large swathes of public opinion. There is an increasing loss of connection between the electorate and the politicians, and it is likely populists from either the right or the left that will try and bridge this gap, and we should be surprised when we find that this continues to happen. The negative consequences of globalisation, and there ae many, have given a new fire to the ideas of nationhood and the importance of the nation state.

This book helps the reader understand this important strand of political thought and helps them correct some of the errors they may hold. It is a very valuable read in our continuing volatile political climate.

5star

In praise of junk mail.

It is often the case that someone’s rubbish is someone else’s treasure. This sharing of rubbish is well  organised in our valley. The woman above us keep horses she need to get rid of large amounts of horse manure, we shift it and convert it into a valuable feed for the vegetable garden. The joiner who lives to the north creates lots of wood chipping and sawdust which he needs to move. We take it to augment our animal bedding. There are few things which don’t have a use to someone.

This week our neighbour down the valley was felling a large old oak to make a lintel for their new hearth. Prior to felling the tree they needed to clear the decades of ivy which had grown on it and, as a consequence of the2502-2019-0808183222008064419247413253524316527699.jpeg prevailing winds, was unbalancing the tree which would have made a simple felling awkward. They had trailer-fulls of ivy which they were considering taking to the dump. Fortunately, they discussed it with us first and we happily informed them that goats and sheep are extremely partial to ivy. At this time of the year there is little else green for the goats, as they are not keen on grass, and both they and the sheep find it an excellent supplement to their diet.

The pleasure of finding a new use for something discarded has even extended to junk mail.  I am not a very good consumer and don’t get very much of this unsolicited bumpf, but my wife daily receives leaflets and brochures urging and luring her to buy the new 2502-2019-0838372221709954908861409722766250977981.jpegfashions. I am not sure that the sheep and poultry will find the new styles in the Johnny Boden catalogue to their taste and, to be fair, my wife rarely does more than browse these booklets. But there brochures have their uses. After shredding they help bulk out the poultry bedding. Once they have been well soaked in bird poo they compost down well for further recycling. They can also be made into briquettes, if they are made into paper mache blocks, which are a good replacement for firelighters in starting a fire. For both of these purposes it would be better if they had less glossy pages, indeed newsprint would be better, and I will need to write to them to suggest they use less expensive paper and fewer inks (It could save them a few bob and me a bit of work;  a win-win situation).

However, the best thing about this junk mail is simply its delivery. When it appears on the mat it dilutes the other mail and reduces the obviousness of bills which is to be welcomed. It also ensures that nearly every day we have some mail rather than none. It also lets us know that the postman has been even on days when nobody in the real world had wanted to communicate with us. However, this is a double edged sword – is it better to know that the postman has been and nobody in the world wanted to talk with us ? Or is it better to look at the empty mat and think, he’s not been yet,  perhaps that important missive will arrive later on?

A growing rift.

We still have a long way to go but we are making some progress in dealing with the poor representation of some groups in government. Although the number of women and those of minority ethnic groups has increased they are still not properly represented in our governing class. Thankfully we are aware of this and are starting to address this. However, there is an area where we are making no progress and, if anything, seem to be going backwards. It is an important area, as it is possibly part of the reason that underpins much of the disengagement and distrust people have with our political class.

The last two generations have witnessed the growth of a professional political class. Our politicians may be a closer mix, in terms of gender and race, to ourselves, but are further away in terms of class and wealth. Over the years our representatives have become less and less like us, when one considers their background, and much more like each other. We may have seen some inadequate improvement in gender and race diversity, we have seen a worsening in terms of social class.

When the Labour Government took power in 1945 and started major works which set up the modern British welfare state half of the member of the cabinet had previously held blue collar jobs. In our most recent cabinets not one member has held such a job. All the parliamentarians have been white collar workers and, more than this, previously worked in law, politics, education or journalism. They are drawn from a very small and apparently select pool of the population.

It is not just in the UK that this trend has occurred. At the time of John F Kennedy 71% of senators held university degrees, by the time of Barack Obama took office the figure was 99%. In France and Germany it is a similar tale. Not only are our ‘rulers. far away from us in terms of their occupations but increasingly also in terms of incomes and wealth. In 2014 all those elected to Congress were in the top 1% of America’s income distribution. It is sobering to think that the median net worth of a senator in 2018 is $3,200,000.

The concerns of the top 1% of the income group and those working in the realms of law, politics,  or journalism are not likely to be reflective of those working in blue collar manual jobs, or the poor without jobs at all. I think this is the reason that our politicians are seen as distant and non-representative; because they are distant and non-representative. They do not live in our communities, nor come from them, they do not share the lives and experience of the majority of us. If this trend continues, and there is little evidence to suggest it won’t, then increasingly populist politicians will be able to tap into this gulf. A rift is developing between the public and those who rule them. This rift could prove a powerful fault line for those who wished to gather and use the growing alienation and anger which exists. Allowing politics to become a specialist pursuit of the wealthy, educated elite could prove to be a very dangerous mistake. We need to push for more involvement of the demos, the crowd, the common people, in our democracy if we are to ensure it stays safe and healthy.

 

Buried Treasure

It has been an odd day today. Although still February it has felt spring like. No, correct that, it has been like a summer’s day today. All day it has been warm and sunny, in North Wales even in Summer this is unusual.

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Turkeys waiting for the Goldoni to start.

I decided to take the opportunity to start preparing the vegetable beds. I got the Goldoni fired-up and after 2 hours we had the first pass completed. The poultry also enjoy this task as they can follow the rotary plough and take their pick of the insect life that it reveals.

I was glad to have this task to do for two reasons. Firstly, I am due to restart the goat house bedding. We use a deep bedding system for the goats. This means we add to the straw bedding on a regular basis over the year and the bedding gets deeper and deeper. It also stays warm and dry, if topped up, which the goats like. But after a period there is the task of  mucking out a few tons of straw which has been liberally mixed with dung and urine. This is a hard, back breaking task, that must be done in one go (as otherwise the goats would have nowhere to sleep that night). I can’t avoid it for much longer but breaking the ground did give me an excuse for today.

The second reason was the Six Nations International Rugby competition. I knew, in my guts, Scotland was not going to perform well today and I could not really stand the stress of watching this. It was marginally less distressing to listen to it in the radio and being busy did distract and ease the pain. I could hear Scotland valiantly fighting, but losing, and this was rather less unpleasant than watching it happening in all its gory detail. Fortunately, I am now of two nationalities.  My Scottish persona felt the bitter disappointment of loosing to France but my Welsh persona had the great pleasure of watching Wales win again England an hour or so later. This was a wonderful antidote and lifted me enough that I thought I might tackle the goat house tomorrow – possibly.

To round off the day nicely, whilst rotavating I uncovered a small buried treasure. I thought that I had collected all of last years potatoes but I was mistaken. In the middle of a run there was a small cache of some img_20190223_141604220501442304030975.jpgPentland Javelin and Red Désirée potatoes. Not many but enough for a couple of meals. I had intended to be well behaved in my diet today and keep my carb count to a minimum. This, however, was obviously a sign, just like Wales’ win, to allow me to disregard my diet at least for tonight. I decided to have the potatoes fried in butter. These small delights had gone to all the bother of keeping themselves hidden until today just to cheer me up. I really had to eat them, despite my diet, it would have churlish not to.

I can, unfortunately, be pretty certain I’ll find no pleasant surprises when I shift the tons of dung and straw from the goat house later this week. Unless another comes along and takes priority.

 

 

 

You made your bed .. ..

You made your bed .. ..

When the story of Shamima Begum first broke, I am sorry to say that, my first thoughts were much like the majority of people; having seen the depravity of the action of the Islamic State, I was angry and horrified that she might return back to Britain. My first thoughts were, “you made your bed, now lie in it“. However, as I have thought further I realise I was in error and now am in the very unusual position of agreeing both with Jeremy Corbyn and Jacob Rees Mogg (And it can not be often that those two find themselves on the same side of an argument!). Further, I know I am going to lose a lot of peoples’ sympathy in saying this, however, it is clearly right that she is brought home and investigated and tried here.

I think Javid Sajid, the home secretary, has made a mistake in attempting to revoke her U.K. citizenship. I imagine he felt the same revulsion as I did and saw this as a quick measure to appease the mounting hostility he could sense rising from the British public. In his situation this may have looked like a godsent opportunity – he could appear strong, he could appeal across both sides of the political divide, and he could demonstrate that he, as a Muslim, was eager to protect British values and society. There would be few people trying to take the side of a “bride of ISIS”. This must have seemed the obvious thing to do. Indeed, I myself, thought similarly.

Then my doubts started. This was not particularly about her age though this did give me some concern. She was an adolescent when she left to join and was married to an IS fighter and pregnant before she was of legal age. There is some argument that she was, at that time, too young to be held responsible for her actions. Some would argue that, in some ways, she herself was abused when she arrived there. I do not know what responsibility should be apportioned to her but, in fact, this is not really the point. At the moment we do not know what she did. We do not know if she undertook unspeakable butchery and crimes, or whether she spent her years childbearing and childrearing. What she did is important. It is not reasonable to say all those on the losing side of a war are equally culpable. Hitler and the Nazis were responsible for unimaginable atrocities and barbarism. Would we say that after World War II every German had to be equally punished for their country’s actions ? No. After the Khymer Rouge’s reign of horror and terror do we hold all Cambodians equally responsible? No. We would not say “just shoot him he’s a German / Cambodian” ; we would want to find out who participated in what, who initiated this or that, who ordered what, and who did what ? Only knowing this do we know who to punish.

To make an example of someone, no matter how tempting this is, is a major breach of our Western values. We hold that everyone is equal in front of the law and that you are only punished for that which you are responsible. If we make this girl the scapegoat for IS we break this tradition and become closer to the barbarians we have been fighting. We fought them because they punished people simply for being members of a particular  group. They killed or punished people just for being a Christian, or a homosexual, not for any criminal acts. There  would be no sense that we had won a war if the price of winning was that we started to behave like those we fought.

We need to know what she did. Paradoxically the more she is culpable for the more we need to bring her back here.  If she did nothing then her youth may have been a mitigating factor and her treacherous actions may be limited. If this is the case then her punishment also should be limited. However, if she was complicit then she requires to be punished and this will not happen in a Syrian refugee camp. If she did little or nothing and we leave her there what will be her future? Will her third child die of malnutrition, will she ? Should we worry ? If we worry about the radicalization of our youth then we should.  If we bent the rules to make an example of her then, were she to come to harm, she will act as a symbol to any who question our society. They could argue that, for all our highfalutin statements, we are unjust and biased against people of the Islamic faith. We would be writing the script to create a martyr and to create new fanatics for the future.

If she is guilty of heinous acts then we should wish her back. If you doubt this try this thought experiment. Say a young woman had exploded and bomb in a shopping centre in Cardiff killing a number women and children. Now we find she has fled Britain and is hiding in Syria using the cover of a refugee camp. What would you want to happen ? Should we just say “good riddance, we are well shot of her” ? Or should we be striving to get her back here to face justice ? I think that when we consider this the prime motivator is to ensure justice is done. So if there is any hint that she has committed crimes we need to get her back to ensure justice for her victims. We seek the extradition of criminals all the time. It would be easier not to, it would be easier just to let them escape justice, and we could sit happy that another ‘bad lot’ was someone else’s problem now. But we don’t because we value justice. It is one of the things that makes us who we are and our culture what it is.

At this point we don’t know if she was a stupid adolescent duped into being an accomplice to horrible  events or whether she is an active agent of evil responsible for some of the barbarism which, we know, took place. It is important we find out and we are not going to be able to do this by shirking our responsibility. If we say we are too afraid to bring her back, lest she creates terror here, then we are saying that we have lost the battle. We are saying that our comfort and safety is more important to us than our moral beliefs and our system of justice. Sometimes difficult and unpleasant decisions have to be made, and we will only win this battle to protect our enlightenment ideas if we actually show how important they are to us.  We must hold to our beliefs in fairness and justice no matter how unpleasant the foe, no matter the temptation to gain the satisfaction of revenge, and no matter what the terror they threaten us with. If we stoop to their level we will have lost.

 

The Favourite – not mine

The Favourite continues to do well in the awards,the-favourite-poster gathering praise where it is shown, and seems likely to do well on Oscars night. It has garnered praise in most film reviews and on-line the critics are, almost to a man, bowed over by its greatness. Only PostTrak seems a little discordant, with its more cautious rating, but then this rating is given by audiences rather than critics and this may be the reason. Unfortunately, I too have to be much more reserved in my praise for the film, as overall I found it more of a miss than a hit.

I have been looking forward to this film as I have enjoyed the earlier work of the director (especially Dogtooth) and I knew that he was a capable and inventive movie maker. Indeed the visual production of the film is excellent and does warrant any awards in this area. There is clever scene composition and good use of the fisheye lens which does add to the pictorial elegance of the film. The music was effective  and used well in driving emotional tension and it to was possibly worthy of awards. The acting was fairly good and in no way let the film down but I don’t share the view that it was exceptional. It would have been difficult for the actors to shine as the characters and script were so poor. Characters were essentially caricatures and their dialogues were very poor and peppered with anachronisms. The three female leads are excellent actors but they did not display their metal in this film.

Unfortunately all of the excellent work above (the direction, the music, the settings and the actors) was then largely undone for me. This film presented a view of an important period of history as a combination period drama and ribald romp. As is almost de rigueur today, the power struggles were described as simply the outgrowth of personal and identity politics; the consequences of the machinations of the lusts of three powerful women. This might have worked if the period drama had been historically more accurate but it really omitted most that was important in this period. Preferring the scandal of a hint of homosexuality to any consideration of the true turmoil of the time.

Queen Anne’s reign was an important time. It followed the Glorious Revolution with the conflict that split Britain along religious Catholic/Protestant  lines. It was the time when England’s relations with Europe were changing , especially with the Dutch and the French. Indeed Anne was married to Prince George of Denmark in an attempt to create a Danish-English alliance to try and contain the maritime power of the Dutch.  Indeed the whole scene at home was changing with the Union of the Crowns and the creation of a single sovereign state of Great Britain; Anne was Queen of Scotland, England and Ireland at the start of her reign but by the end she was the first Queen of Great Britain and Ireland at her death. Her reign also saw the development of the two-party political system, with Whigs and Tories, in Britain. Queen Anne took an active interest, and played an active role, in politics and did receive considerable criticism as a consequence. None of this really appears in the film. The viewer could leave the cinema ignorant of all of this and with the impression that Anne was a silly, demanding lady lead by her girlfriends.

There are precious few times when women have played important and pivotal roles in British history that we know about. This era was one of them. Queen Anne, The Duchess of Marlborough and Baroness Masham were key players in defining aspects of British history. These women were significant agents in the religious and political power struggles that define much of British Society today. They did this as intelligent thinking individuals who knew the basis to these religious and political differences and clearly took principled stances in these battles. To portray them as scheming harpies belittles their success. It is reminiscent of the misogynistic criticism Queen Anne experienced during her lifetime. She was often derided as a weak woman, not of the stuff to rule and govern. It is terrible that today when, as usual, we try and rewrite history as we would have liked it to have been, rather than as it was, we end up belittling the very women who did manage to overcome the oppression of the age and take charge. This meant the film, despite it technical merits, left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I was left with the feeling that I had just watched a titillating tale of sex and swearing, wrapped up in good production values to give the illusion of class and worth, which told us nothing of the individuals then, nor anything about ourselves now. This lack of content made it difficult to end the film which comes to an unsatisfactory abrupt stop with the superimposition of some inappropriate rabbits (If you see the film you will understand).2-stars-out-of-5

 

The SDP : a new home ?

The SDP : a new home ?

British Politics has become increasingly tribal. Both of the main parties now  have been dragged by their extreme wings away from the centre-ground and towards increasingly exaggerated positions. Both seem to have drifted away from their core purpose and now appear to pander to powerful sects as their leaders try and remain in control. The Conservative leader, Theresa May,  is constantly harried by the European Reform Group whilst the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is kept in position by the Momentum group. Neither leader commands the respect of the majority of their party and only survive by compromising vision and honesty for pragmatic coalitions which allow them to remain in power.

We were in a similar position in the 1980’s when Labour had its troubles with the hard left Militant Tendency and the Conservatives were being dragged further rightwards by the strength of the Monday Club. There was considerable unhappiness and it looked as if the large parties might split asunder into different parties.  In 1981, four senior  labour MP’s  (David Owen, Bill Rogers, Shirley Winters, and Roy Jenkins ; the Gang of Four) did break away and set up the Council for Social Democracy by issuing the Limehouse Declaration. This subsequently established the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the UK which had considerable initial success. 28 Labour and 1 Conservative MP joined the party and over the first few years  it had growing electoral success. In 1983 it took 25% of the national vote. However, this was not sustained and by 1987 the party merged with the Liberal Party to become the Liberal Democrats in 1987.

I have some personal experience of these events as I was one of the Labour Party election organisers who helped in the 1987 general election. I worked with the team to make sure that Roy Jenkins lost his Glasgow, Hillhead seat to the Labour Candidate George Galloway. In those days I saw the SDP as turncoats and traitors who were splitting the left vote and was quite convinced that my mission was to get a true socialist goverment into power. How life has changed ! But why am I thinking about the SDP in 2019 ?

It seems the SDP never went away. I was listening to a podcast, by the Anglican priest Giles Fraser, and learnt that the SDP continued and recently issued a renewed declaration. In his podcast he wondered if the SDP would provide a home for many people who, like him, find themselves politically homeless. I read the declaration and had to agree with him; there was nothing objectionable and much with which to agree.

They recognise the failures of our current two major parties :-

The Conservative party has conserved very little and instead, has put everything up for sale. Labour has abandoned the nation’s working men and women.

and recognise that if we are to preserve democracy it is important to keep it local :-

We consider the nation-state to be the upper limit of democracy. Along with the family, we regard it as indispensable to the solidarity of our society and concern for our fellow citizens. We regard supranationalism as a neoliberal ideology aimed at neutering domestic politics and placing the most important issues beyond the reach of ordinary voters.

Socially and personally they  avoid the excesses of libertarianism whilst keeping true to socially liberal beliefs. They are aware that there has been increasing intolerance in our society and a tendency to fragment our communities  by the pernicious use of identity politics. They stress the importance of mutuality, rather than law, to bind communities together and this is an important aspect of politics which is rarely discussed by the main parties :-

We believe ‘fraternity vs division’ to be a key watershed question in all Western societies. Fraternity must prevail.

We regard kindness and mutuality as a political rather than a legal achievement which relies on free consent rather than legal obligation. Excessive individualism – of both the social and economic variety – has regrettably led some citizens to believe they don’t share a common fate with their neighbours. They do.

On the economic front they recognise the dangers of rampant neoliberalism, and the adverse effects of globalisation,  but appear also to recognise that there needs to be boundaries to the state’s intervention in a social market economy. They see the public and private sectors as complimentary and see a natural boundary between them :-

The correct frontier between the public and private sector is determinable. Natural monopolies – the utilities requiring universal delivery to citizens – should be returned to public ownership and operation or be subjected to significantly more effective regulation.

There are interesting and positive bits on the family, the welfare state, culture and mutuality. On reading it I felt that there was really little to which any reasonable person could take objection. So is this the start of a change ? Or will this be like the 1980’s again ? Can a party which tries to push for a middle-road out of our present chaos ever gain enough traction to get moving ? I would like to think so and will watch their progress closely, although I am aware that in these acrimonious times they are going to have an uphill battle to make any headway. If they do, I will find myself, 30 years later, in the unusual position of being on the exact other side of a political divide. Perhaps my team will win again.