Saturday 30 November 2019

Living in the wrong place?

Driving to the shops yesterday, I happened to catch a snatch of an interview by Jeremy Vine of Ed Davey, the deputy leader of the Lib Dems, discussing the major issue of the election, cycle paths.  Davey and the Lib Dems are, apparently, in favour of more cycle paths, but Vine rather unhelpfully pointed out that, where he lives, the local Lib Dems are opposing the creation of new cycle paths.  Davey’s response was roughly as follows: “But where I live, the local Lib Dem council is building new cycle paths.  You should come and live in my constituency”. 
It was a quick-thinking riposte, but it’s actually quite revealing, not to say damaging.  He’ll probably regret the words he used.  There was no attempt to deal with the implicit question that what the Lib Dems stand for varies from area to area, and it even managed to express a vague hint that if the Lib Dems in your area aren’t doing what you want, then it’s your fault for living in the wrong place.  The Lib Dems have, of course, campaigned for many years on a hyper-local platform; they are willing to say whatever will win them votes at any given time and place, even if it’s the exact opposite of what their neighbouring branch is saying up the road.  And there’s nothing wrong with hyper-localism as such, as long as the voters in a particular constituency or ward know what they’re voting for – unless and until a party espousing it claims to have a clear national platform.  If a party’s candidates are elected on widely differing platforms in different constituencies, you can never be certain what their policy really is on some matters until you know which of them is elected; the manifesto is an irrelevant diversion.  He may have been caught out accidentally giving an honest answer - probably a disciplinary matter.

Thursday 28 November 2019

BBC - it's worse than an anti-Corbyn bias

Politicians like to claim that the BBC is biased against them, and the BBC’s usual response is that, as long as all parties are saying that, they’re probably being balanced.  That seems a bit simplistic to me.  Two recent complaints involve the use of archive footage instead of actual coverage of the PM laying a wreath at the Cenotaph and the editing out of laughter when the same PM was asked about the importance of truth in politics.  This week has seen a suggestion that when Corbyn agreed to be interviewed by Andrew Neil it was on the basis of the BBC having indicated to his team that Johnson would be subjected to the same interviewer; a suggestion which it appears may not be true.  Any one such incident ‘might’ be excused as an innocent ‘mistake’, but at what point is it reasonable to highlight an emerging pattern of bias?
Andrew Neil is a tough interviewer, and whilst some of us might enjoy seeing our least-favourite politicians skewered, it would also be nice to see them given time and opportunity to answer a question or two.  And Neil’s questions are often loaded as well.  I remember my English teacher over half a century ago talking about loaded questions, using the classic example of the journalist asking someone “When did you stop beating your wife?”, a question which, however it is answered, leaves the listener convinced that the interviewee is indeed a past or present wife-beater.  Neil’s loading is a bit more subtle than that, but it’s there, nevertheless. 
Take his questions on nuclear weapons or dealing with the leaders of ISIS as examples.  The implication behind the questions is that no-one is fit to be PM unless (s)he is willing to confirm that (s)he would order:
a.    The incineration of millions of civilians in a nuclear strike, and
b.    The extra-judicial killing of foreign nationals in the territory of another sovereign state.
Both are, of course, illegal actions for any government to take under accepted international law, but the demand is that the interviewee give a categorical answer regardless of the complexities of the situation at the time – and the assumption is that there is only one ‘correct’ answer.  This is more than party political bias – this is bias towards a particular view of the world which refuses to accept the validity of any other viewpoint.
I wouldn’t argue that the BBC should treat all world views as equivalent; giving the same weight to an ISIS viewpoint as that of a more general ‘western’ viewpoint would be an absurd requirement (although it might help the BBC in its mission to inform and educate if it just occasionally made an effort to understand and explain alternative viewpoints rather than simplistically labelling their adherents using a catch-all word like ‘terrorists’), but the argument is rather different when it comes to domestic politics.  Corbyn’s world view is clearly not the same as Johnson’s, and the Greens, SNP and Plaid also have their own world views.  Failure to treat all of those as equivalent, particularly in the context of a general election, goes beyond mere bias for a ‘British’ view rather than a ‘foreign’ one and directly intervenes in domestic politics, something which a state-run broadcaster in a ‘democracy’ simply should not be doing.
The BBC is unquestionably biased, but it isn’t as simple as being biased towards a particular party and against others.  It’s more of an insidious, institutionalised bias in favour of one view of what the world is and should be, and it’s a bias which delegitimises alternative views.  And it’s much harder to deal with that sort of bias than a simple party-political one.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Is Labour's manifesto achievable?

A lot of the coverage of Labour’s manifesto has concentrated on the question of affordability.  Where, people ask, will all the money come from?  It is fundamentally the wrong question to be asking.  As Professor Richard Murphy explains succinctly here, a government in control of its own currency can always afford to do whatever it wants to do; the question is whether, when, and how the money subsequently needs to be recovered from the economy.  The distinction between finding the money in advance and recovering it after the event may look a small one, but it’s key to understanding the way government finances work – spending always precedes taxation, and spending creates economic growth and jobs.
More importantly for me is the question about how practicable the Labour manifesto is.  There’s much with which I’d agree (although why, oh why, did they feel the need to throw in support for Wylfa Newydd?), but it’s a highly ambitious program which will not only require a huge amount of legislation to be passed through Parliament, but also a huge amount of energy and time to implement on the ground.  I seriously doubt that a government – any government, even a highly competent one – could do all that in the short timescale apparently being promised, even if it hadn’t already committed itself to spending at least the first six months preoccupied with Brexit.  That’s a minimum of 10% of the parliament gone before they could even start on the other stuff.  It’s not that any of what they promise isn’t do-able (and affordable!) in itself; it’s rather a question of whether anyone can really change as much as that as quickly as that.  It left me with the impression that they are happy to promise the earth knowing that it’s unlikely they’ll be called on to deliver.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

An honest liar?

It’s been something of a mystery to me trying to understand how someone so patently dishonest, so willing to lie and then double-down on the same lies when challenged, as the current Prime Minister can nevertheless be so far ahead in the polls and apparently set for a win.  Part of it, of course, is the fact that his main opponent is seen in such a bad light after the comprehensive demolition job done on him over years by the Tories and their allies in the press.  That’s not enough though. 
I find myself wondering whether, in some curious way and at a subconscious level, the nature of his lying doesn’t end up making him look honest.  What I mean by that is that ‘everybody knows’ that ‘politicians lie’, but their lies aren’t always obvious.  Weasel words, dodgy selection of statistics, evasive responses to questions, spin – these are all techniques used which lead people to suspect a lie is being told, even if one can never be entirely certain.  With Johnson, however, there is never any doubt.  If his mouth is open, then he’s lying.  Blatantly, obviously, demonstrably lying.  Making up ‘facts’ on the fly, rewriting the past, simply repeating the lie even more emphatically when challenged.  Could it be that the very obvious nature of his complete disregard for the truth makes him appear, in the end, more honest than the rest, generating a feeling that ‘at least we know he’s lying’?

Thursday 21 November 2019

More like fudge than iron

One of the PM’s attack lines on Labour is based around the idea that Labour and the SNP have stitched up a deal to allow a second independence referendum next year in exchange for the SNP supporting a minority Labour government.  It’s an outright lie, of course, but that’s only to be expected of Johnson.  There is no agreement, and Corbyn has been saying clearly and repeatedly that he will not allow such a referendum for at least a few years.  Johnson has gone so far as to give a “cast iron pledge” that he will never permit a second referendum, which sounds impressive until one tries to ascertain whether cast-iron is stronger or weaker than “do or die”, and “dying in a ditch”.  Most people would probably consider a cast-iron pledge to be a weaker promise than “do or die”, so I guess that means that we can safely assume that there will indeed be a second independence if the Tories win the election.  Assuming that he means the opposite of everything he says is always safer than taking it at face value, and only causes a problem on those frequent occasions where he manages to contradict himself.
Whilst both Johnson and Corbyn are legally correct in assuming that they can simply deny the Scottish government a second referendum (it merely underlines the old truth that power devolved is power retained), it seems a curious approach to be telling the Scots in advance that it doesn’t matter how many times or in how many ways they elect a clear majority of representatives on a pro-independence platform, their votes can and will be simply ignored.  It’s almost as though they are trying to strengthen the perception that the Scots don’t count in the ‘precious union’ of nations and encourage Scots to give their support to the SNP.  Telling people that they can’t have what they vote for may give them a way of avoiding debate about alternative futures for Scotland, but it simply means that that debate is likely to happen without them.
I assume that it’s an argument tailored to English voters rather than the Scots, but all the polling evidence suggests that English voters, by and large, aren’t particularly exercised about whether Scotland stays or goes anyway.  In Johnson’s case, it’s presumably an attempt to appeal to English nationalists who feel that Scotland should not be able to influence politics in England, but that is hardly an argument which strengthens the union.  Indeed, the best way of implementing that view is to get rid of Scottish MPs completely – another reason for believing that his pledge is probably made of soft fudge rather than cast-iron; if it is in his personal interest to get rid of Scotland, he is unlikely to hesitate for long in doing so.
It is Corbyn’s position which is the more curious, however.  This is a man who has supported national liberation movements across the globe, including the reunification of Ireland.  Why does he have such a blind spot when it comes to Scotland and Wales?

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Lying is a deliberate strategy

If there’s one certainty in life, it is that, around the middle of November each year, anyone perusing the newsstands will see banner headlines in the Daily Express proclaiming an imminent whiteout as snowmageddon assaults the UK.  This year does not disappoint.  One might think that at least some of the paper’s readers must remember last year’s story, even if they’ve forgotten the years before that, and they must surely remember that the predicted snow-driven chaos never happened.  Yet every year, the story gets shared widely and people believe that it’s going to happen, because the paper said so.   On the simple law of averages, they must inevitably get it right very occasionally, but a good general rule would be to assume it’s nonsense. 
It does underline, though, how easy it is to get people to believe something which is, on the basis of all the evidence and their own personal experience, likely to be false.  And the fact that they can be so easily persuaded to believe something which is in direct conflict with their own personal lived experience serves to demonstrate how easy it has been over decades to get people to believe the lies served up by the same paper about the EU, immigration and so on, where people do not even have the same direct experience to draw upon.  It is in that context that the Tory press’ willingness to report without challenge the lies being spouted daily by the Prime Minister goes largely unrecognised by the readers.  The individual lies may often be accidental – I don’t think he even knows, let alone cares, what is or is not true by now – but the strategy is entirely deliberate.

Monday 18 November 2019

Universal services really aren't safe in their hands

There are those for whom the words ‘communist’ and ‘Marxist’ are words which have no meaning other than as insults to be hurled against political opponents in the belief that they will spark all sorts of associations with the old Soviet Union.  So when Boris Johnson refers to Labour’s plans for a full fibre internet service to every home as a “crazed communist scheme”, it’s more than possible that he is giving little thought to the detail and is just seizing on another opportunity to paint Corbyn as an unreconstructed pro-Soviet socialist from the past.
It’s also possible, though, that even if that was the limit of his intention, the use of the word does reveal the way he thinks, because he’s far from being the only person on the political ‘right’ who believes that all services should be provided by private companies in a free market, and that universal provision by the state is indeed a step towards communism.  It’s a belief which underlies health politics in the US – a standard element of opposition to all attempts to extend public health care is that a universal service is a ‘socialist’ idea, and therefore inherently bad.  His comments on Labour’s broadband plans suggest that Johnson and his followers hold a similar belief that universal provision is ‘socialist’, and the only reason that they are reluctant to apply the same criterion to health care is that they know it would be a step too far for public opinion.
The basic idea behind Labour’s proposal – that a broadband service of a particular standard should be seen as something available to all – is one which makes a lot of sense in the world as it stands today; digital exclusion is an increasingly serious divide in society.  Whether the best way of achieving that is by nationalising the provider is another question entirely, and had the Tories come forward with an alternative proposal for achieving the same thing, one might be able to believe that they want to do something about that divide.  Dismissing the end because they oppose the means serves only to suggest that they are basically happy with the increasing divide.

Friday 15 November 2019

"...not of our own making"

At the end of last week, Tory advisers were congratulating themselves on overcoming the problems of the first week of campaigning, claiming that “They weren’t problems of our own making. So we did the only thing we could to make them not problems any more as fast as possible”.  They were obviously feeling proud of themselves, but with another week full of problems following on from the first, they may have spoken too soon – underestimating the gaffe proneness of the PM is a huge mistake.  But the phrase which caught my eye was the bit about not “of our own making”, implying that the problems had somehow been caused by someone else.  I wondered who else they had in mind, given that the two incidents to which they were referring were the Rees-Mogg comments on Grenfell and the circumstances of the resignation of Alun Cairns.
If it wasn’t the crass comments of a Conservative minister (Rees-Mogg) about the residents of Grenfell Tower, amplified by the ‘defence’ of him by another Tory MP, who exactly was to blame for the problems faced by the Tory campaign?  Are they blaming the media for daring to report what Tories said?  Or are they blaming the Grenfell Tower residents for creating a situation where Rees-Mogg had no alternative but to criticise them?
Turning to the Cairns affair, who are they blaming?  If it isn’t the Tory aide/candidate who wrecked the rape trial, and if it isn’t the Tory minister who supported the candidacy even after the trial incident, who caused the problems to the campaign?  Are they blaming the media for reporting what happened?  Or are they blaming the victim for reporting the matter to the police in the first place?
In both cases, what has actually caused problems for the Tory campaign is the lack of judgement shown by Tory cabinet ministers, and the underlying attitudes revealed by that.  Claiming that the problems were not “of our own making” merely shows that those making the claim are guilty of the same poor judgement.  It has, though, become typical of the current government’s approach.  Everything that happens – even their own words and actions – are the fault of someone else.  In one big sense they are right – it won’t be their fault if they end up being re-elected, despite all their apparent efforts to avoid that outcome; it will be the fault of those silly enough to believe anything they say.

Wednesday 13 November 2019

Boris' incompetence more significant than Farage games

I’m not sure that the decision by Nigel Farage plc to opt out of fighting Tory-held seats will turn out to be the unalloyed advantage to the Tories as which some have presented it.  It will undoubtedly assist them in some seats, but some ex-Farage candidates are talking about standing as independents, and the impact on those seats where former Tories are standing as independents is also unclear.  And allowing Farage plc to concentrate on a smaller number of seats may damage the Tories' chances in those seats.  But the legitimate labelling of all Tory candidates in 317 seats as being “officially endorsed by Nigel Farage as the best route to a no-deal Brexit” will leave some of them (yes, there are still a few remainer candidates amongst the Tory ranks) feeling uncomfortable, and its impact on the sizeable minority of committed Tory voters who are remainers is also yet to be seen.  (As an aside, why does there appear to be no police investigation into what looks to be a corrupt attempt by the Tory Government to bribe Farage with a peerage?)
The bigger advantage being enjoyed by the Tories at the moment is the disarray amongst their opponents.  Last week, the Lib Dems’ leader declared, not for the first time, that Corbyn is unfit to be PM, and when pressed as to why, the first thing that came into her head and out of her mouth was that Corbyn would never launch a nuclear strike.  I agree with her assessment of Corbyn on this issue, but for many people, that’s one of the few positive reasons we could find for voting Labour.  It also reaffirms that, for all the talk by the Lib Dems that their priority is stopping Brexit, their true position is that even a no-deal Brexit would be preferable to having Corbyn as PM, and that is influencing their decisions on standing or not standing in constituencies.  It’s not a good position from which to seek the support of Green and Plaid voters in relevant seats in Wales.  And that's without even mentioning their strident opposition to allowing the Scots another vote on their future, and their transparent attempts to ally themselves with both Labour and Tory in Scotland to undermine the SNP.  ‘Stopping Brexit is the top priority apart from the other ones’ is sadly typical of muddled Lib Dem thinking.

The polls are currently suggesting that the best hope of avoiding a Tory victory is that the Tories’ own gaffes and incompetence will cut their poll lead and we end up with another hung parliament.  The good news is that, so far at least, they seem to be trying hard to oblige.

Monday 11 November 2019

Small truths can hide big lies

In a speech last week which was widely described as ‘rambling’ and ‘incoherent’, the PM managed to give the impression that he either doesn’t know what’s in his own deal, or else that he’s simply lying to mislead people.  Rambling and incoherent seem fair enough descriptions to anyone who’s seen him perform recently.  It turns out that the man whose erudition and great oratorical skills were going to turn around the fortunes of his party either doesn’t possess those skills or else is, for some reason, unable to deploy them when they’re needed.  He simply doesn’t do what those party members who voted for him thought that it said on the tin.  Who’d have thought it (other than, of course, those people who were actually paying attention to what’s happening, which by definition excludes the membership of his party)?
Not understanding his own deal or lying about it are also highly credible accusations against a man known for his lack of attention to detail and his propensity to dissemble, but I wonder if the accusations are missing the point.  It could be simply that the small truth obscures the bigger lie – he knows that his deal requires checks, and he’s telling the truth about not implementing such checks, and the bigger lie is what he told the EU.  He simply has no intention whatsoever of honouring the obligations to which he has agreed in his discussions with the EU (which is not to say that he won’t expect them to honour theirs – this is the essence of cakeism).  The EU’s problem is that they thought – silly them – that the PM of the UK could be relied upon to be honourable, not realising that the habit of referring to all MPs in the House of Commons as ‘Honourable’ members was just for show in his case.

Friday 8 November 2019

Could Boris be an alien?

A conservative candidate, Nadhim Zahawi, found himself struggling yesterday to deny that he thought that Jeremy Corbyn would have all billionaires shot.  The possibility had been put to him on the basis that his party’s leader had claimed that Corbyn was a bit like Stalin.  In fairness to Zahawi, the rules of probability decree that nothing which has a non-zero probability can ever be entirely ruled out, even if the probability is vanishingly small.  In the same way, the probability that Zahawi possesses a functioning brain cell to call his own is hardly backed up by the evidence on display in this interview, but again, it cannot be completely ruled out.
Meanwhile, one of the Nigel Farage plc party candidates who has bailed out since the election was called apparently claims to be from the star Sirius, and given that party’s candidates’ reputation for honesty and truthfulness, I’m sure that we should take her at her word.  In any event, on what we might call the Zahawi protocol, it cannot be entirely ruled out.  It is significant, is it not, that in all that party’s references to immigration from elsewhere on this planet there is no reference that I can see to extra-planetary immigration? 
But if one party can be fielding aliens as candidates, how can we be certain that others are not also doing so?  It is surely notable that the Tories have nothing to say on extra-terrestrial immigration either.  Can we be certain that they have not been taken over by shape-changing lizards?  Perhaps we’ve been given a clue all along in the oft-repeated description of Rees-Mogg as ‘other-worldly’; it would certainly explain his complete lack of human empathy and understanding, to say nothing of Boris Johnson’s shifty eyes.  Like Labour’s alleged desire to shoot billionaires, it cannot be completely ruled out, and may even be marginally more probable.
Perhaps we’re not really having an election at all - just caught up in one of the weirder episodes of the Twilight Zone.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Confusing wealth ownership with wealth creation

Elections inevitably draw out hyperbole and given the future former Prime Minister’s reputation as a ‘journalist’, the use of the technique against Corbyn is only to be expected.  That doesn’t make it fair or reasonable, of course, and his comparison of Corbyn with Stalin is a case in point.  It’s also unfortunate in that the invitation to think about the key attributes of Stalin – a hatred of democracy, a tendency to purge his party of those who don’t agree with him, and a demand that parliament does as he tells it - do indeed ring a bell in relation to a current prominent party leader, but it isn’t Corbyn.
More specifically, however, he interprets Corbyn’s antipathy to billionaires as meaning that Corbyn is an enemy of wealth creation, an accusation which reveals more about Johnson’s own lack of understanding of economics and wealth than it does about Corbyn.  Simply equating the possession of personal wealth with wealth creation is a fundamental error.  There are many ways of accumulating extreme wealth, and not all of them are honest, to put it mildly.  Even amongst the ‘honest’ routes to extreme wealth there are methods which owe more to redistribution of wealth created by others than they do to actual wealth creation, a fact which many of the conservative party’s donors demonstrate well.
Of course, there are some billionaires who have had a brilliant idea, set up a company to exploit it, sold millions of whatever, and ended up filthy rich.  To the extent that they personally created the personal wealth that they enjoy, it is through the original idea and its exploitation, but did they really personally create all that wealth?  Did their employees not contribute at least something to that success?  There’s another aspect to the question as well.  As Chris Dillow wrote last week, the very existence of so many billionaires could be seen and interpreted from a Conservative viewpoint (let alone a leftist one) as being a symptom of market failure, not its success.
Most economists would define ‘wealth’ in terms of GDP or some variant on it; the country as a whole is wealthier if its GDP is higher.  It’s a definition which says absolutely nothing about how that wealth is then distributed.  Corbyn’s opposition to the concentration of wealth in an increasingly small number of hands is not anti-capitalist in the sense in which Johnson tries to portray it; indeed a more valid critique from a socialist perspective might be that trying to make capitalism work more fairly perpetuates the system, making Corbyn a better friend of the system than Johnson.  Protecting the interests of the super-rich, as Johnson seems to want, is actually a bigger danger to capitalism in the long term.

Tuesday 5 November 2019

Pacts are a poor substitute for proper reform

With an election in the air, politicians’ fancies, it seems, turn inevitably to the subject of pacts and deals, and in Wales, that raises the perennial question of the ‘progressive alliance’ (whatever that actually means) between Plaid, the Lib Dems and the Greens.  The Labour Party can probably be relied on, as ever, to take its ball home.  How useful all this is is another question entirely.  It seems to me that the approach being adopted to assessing this is far too mathematical.
I agree with the premise of the would-be pacters that Brexit is a defining issue for a generation, and that the ‘wrong’ outcome will be seriously damaging to Wales, although I also fully understand that not all independentistas see things that way.  But even if we did all accept the monumental importance of defeating Brexiteers, will a pact actually deliver that objective?  In practice, the objective comes down to defeating Tories (on the basis that Labour MPs will, even if not part of the formal pact, be likely – although not certain – to vote for a second referendum given that that’s part of their policy for this election).  So, in order to make a difference to the outcome, the basic equations boil down to (in terms of votes cast for each party):
Lib Dems + Plaid + Green > Conservative, and
Conservative > Labour
Based on previous election results, the number of constituencies where these will both be true is vanishingly small, and even if we try and project forward from some of the latest opinion polls, such a pact doesn’t seem likely to make a huge difference.  To make things worse, the outcome isn’t just a mathematical one – voters aren’t ‘owned’ by their traditional parties and can’t be ‘instructed’ to vote in a particular way.  Many Lib Dem supporters are die-hard unionists and will vote Tory rather than Plaid; and there are more Plaid supporters than the party would wish to acknowledge who would prefer to vote Tory rather than Lib Dem.  A more accurate equation would be (using the Lib Dems as the chosen ‘remain’ candidate in this case, but the same applies in principle to other options):
LD + a* PC/100 + b*Green/100> Con + c*Plaid/100 + d*Green/100
Where a, b, c, and d are the percentages of supporters of the parties concerned which will choose to vote for the anointed or unanointed alternatives.  And here’s the thing – a, b, c, and d are unknowns; they might be what Rumsfeld called ‘known unknowns’, but no-one has a clue what values to assign to them.  If the numbers fall the ‘wrong’ way, a pact could even end up achieving the opposite of its aim.
I don’t blame the pacters for their feeling that ‘something’ needs to be done, and there is always, I suppose, the hope that being seen to be forming a pact will appeal to voters by giving the appearance of a qualitative change in the style and nature of Welsh politics, although I’ll admit to being doubtful about that.  And there’s always the complication that people can see what is going on elsewhere – Wales can’t be isolated from the impact, for instance, of a tacit LD/Tory (+Labour?) pact against the SNP in parts of Scotland, giving the absolute lie to the suggestion that the Lib Dems’ number one aim is to stop Brexit.  Pacts are a poor substitute for what is really needed – an electoral system which allows for the more accurate representation of electors’ views rather than a majoritarian system under which the winner takes all.

Monday 4 November 2019

Half-honest isn't much of an improvement

In a strange few days, both Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage have been caught out telling half the truth; and being halfway honest is a huge step forward for both of them, although I doubt that it will last for long.
In Johnson’s case, he has been claiming that a future trade deal with the EU will be easy because the UK and the EU start from a position of complete alignment on rules and regulations.  The second part of that is the true part; the first part is only true to the extent that it is his intention that the regulatory alignment will continue.  And given that his whole rationale for Brexit is to end that regulatory alignment, it turns the easiest deal in history into the hardest, because it is the first time ever, as far as I’m aware, that two trading blocs have deliberately set out to negotiate a weakening of trade ties between them.  It’s a point which Michel Barnier has already made.
In Farage’s case, he has claimed that consumers and businesses will all benefit from lower prices once the EU tariffs between the UK and the rest of the world are lifted.  And he’s right, of course he is, to argue that if goods on which tariffs are currently paid can be imported free of tariffs, then those buying them will be able to benefit from lower prices.  There is an unstated assumption, though, which is that the buying power of those consumers and businesses remains unaltered.  However, if cheaper goods compete with UK produced goods and UK producers subsequently go out of business, than those employed by them will see their buying power reduced.  It won’t affect everyone (we can be reasonably certain that the likes of Farage and Johnson will not be impacted), but an increase in company failures with a consequent reduction in total employment reduces overall buying power. Many individual consumers may not be affected, but others will be dramatically impacted.  And on the basis of many economic studies, the probability is that those most directly and significantly affected will be precisely those who were persuaded to vote for this 'new improved' future.
Both men are clearly selling cakeism to the electorate at large – the idea that there are no trade-offs and that we can enjoy all the benefits without the costs.  It’s a con trick, of course; but con tricks work, and many are taken in by them.  Contrary to popular belief, the most successful cons aren’t like the one in The Sting which targeted a single rich crook; they depend instead on taking comparatively small sums from large numbers of honest individuals.  Those individuals are often those who can least afford to lose anything but are also most in need of the good fortune which the conman promises them.  They fall prey because they want to believe that they are being offered a way out.  A desperate person would sooner believe a promise of great fortune than a cold hard analysis of the reality facing them.  Both Johnson and Farage instinctively understand this – just look at which electors they are targeting in the coming election.

Friday 1 November 2019

Avoiding the argument is a cop-out

A fundamental part of the argument, insofar as there is one, for an electoral pact between the Tories and Nigel Farage plc is that many of what are over-simplistically referred to as ‘Labour leavers’ in places such as the north of England and Wales will never vote for the Tories, but will willingly vote for a completely different party which stands for much the same things.  And I’m afraid that it’s probably right.
It’s hard to find a better example of why the Labour Party’s demonization of ‘the Tories’ is such a bad idea (and it’s a demonization which has been copied by others, including, sadly, Plaid here in Wales).  Concentrating on the party and basing opposition to it on historic folk memories rather then engaging with the political disagreements in their own right has been far too easy a cop-out for decades.  As long as there was only one party representing a particular viewpoint, making that party the basis of an irrational and emotional hatred has ‘worked’ for Labour in Wales.  But because the arguments for conservatism have, as a result, gone largely unrebutted, when those arguments are put forward by a different organisation trading under a different name, that hatred is essentially non-transferable.  Treating the electorate like tame committed anti-Tory sheep, and assuming that they will blindly follow for ever an argument which is both emotional and at an ever-increasing historic distance, is a recipe for allowing the growth of an organisation like Nigel Farage plc.  The Labour Party can and will blame everyone else for this, but that party is the midwife which has allowed ‘the right’ to grow in strength in Wales as elsewhere in the UK.