Saturday, 22 November 2014

Thoughts on libertarianism

Libertarianism is a big tent. There are minarchists who believe in the concept of a night watchman state (and no that's not as sinister as it sounds) and then there are those more concerned with civic and civil liberties, but do not extend as far as low taxes.

But there is also another school of thought in that good government is invisible government, which can be as big as it likes so long as it facilitates the creation of wealth and stays out of the way.

One of the great liberties in this country is the supremacy of the pedestrian in the street. My own experience encounter with a yellow cab in New York was a sharp reminder of this particular cultural difference. Say what you like about the officiousness of this country and it's adherence to petty rules, it is precisely those rules that have created the safest roads and the best driving standards anywhere in the world.

It's also a matter of standard road camber and regulation for signage universality. That didn't happen by accident. So much of what you see around you but don't acknowledge is regulated, and it's these little bits of invisible government that facilitate trade, greater freedoms and a safer existence.

The art of politics is the mechanism to mediate the line between nanny state and individual liberty. Sometimes it goes too far and that's why we have rudimentary mechanisms that are not democracy but based loosely upon the concept.

While libertarians are quick to scoff at the notion of a social contract, there is a tacit contract in that we accept a normative level of personal infringements for the common good. The law that says I can't keep my neighbours up til 4am with 90's acid techno is an infringement I accept with the expectation that I also have the right to a good nights sleep.

Granted, this example is reductio ad absurdum, but it goes to show that we each accept a degree of regulation. What lies between is politics. And this is why vigilance and participation is a necessary function of civics to ensure that good governance remains invisible and unintrusive.

The dogmatic notion that deregulation necessarily creates more wealth fails to acknowledge the complexity of the modern world and the fact that so much regulation is not only desirable but also essential. You might think it is in the manufacturers own interests to build a car that didn't kill the driver or for airline builders to build aircraft that fall out of the sky, but it is only through mechanisms of the state such as the air crash investigation bureau that findings have been transposed into global regulation, which means that when we do occasionally see a passenger liner fall out of the sky, we find it shocking because we have come to see it as unthinkable as well as inexcusable. Left to their own devices, they would still be killing us and getting away with it.

Of course to the dogmatists, this makes me a raging authoritarian. But like all dogmatists, because their ideology is a well mapped out schema of assumptions and absolutes, it means they never have to compromise or think beyond lazy assumptions, or mucky themselves with technicalities or the inherent contradictions of modernity. It is for the same reason the socialist cries "underfunding" each time there is an NHS scandal. It is the simple, easy and lazy answer. It is no more respectable than the libertarian who cries "red tape" for the failure of their business.

Liberty is a subjective term and there are many permutations. I wholly embrace the ideal of liberty, but the notion that in a world of internet, aviation, genetically modified foods and global banking, we can simply dispense with internationalism and global regulation and all will be well, is not just optimistic, it's childish.

Friday, 21 November 2014

DDOS attack

EU Referendum blog is down again and it's a big attack. Somebody REALLY doesn't like us. Our host can't do anything about it so we are in the process of moving to another provider (again). As if I wasn't having enough fun already.

Rochester: no room for complacency

One thing I didn't say but should have is that Reckless's majority will not be a large one. But that was predictable. This leaves the game wide open for Rochester in May and it is not by any means guaranteed he will keep his seat.

What we see here is a very sharply focused vote with Ukip having galvanised all of the protest votes with only the Greens making a respectable job among the minnows. I'm not sure what it tells us for a general election and reading the runes on the basis of a high turnout by-election is probably not very sensible anyway. But this result doesn't prove very much for Ukip. Politics is littered with defectors keeping their seats. The test is in whether Ukip can defeat a sitting MP with a challenger. This we have not yet seen and we are not looking at a good sample here.

The result is in keeping with the Euro elections in that Ukip can now take all of the protest vote to the bank and any MP in a marginal seat is likely to lose to their next biggest opponent. I expect an analysis by constituency on that basis will be the best indicator of who is going to win.

This blog has long made the case that peak-Ukip is an inevitability. Mark Pritchard MP thinks it is almost upon us. I have a hunch he's right. There is room for a few surprises and Ukip can still do some damage but this result will bring minds into focus. The smears don't work, but careful and forensic analysis of what Ukip says, and what it does, will unearth the vulnerability everyone has been in search of. 

Left Foot Forward has finally noticed that Ukip has little in the way of substance and is trying to be all things to all people. The penny finally dropped for The Telegraph yesterday when they noted Ukip's lack of policy can and will hurt them. And what will hurt them more is their amateurish and stupid policies when they do finally release some. Meanwhile, the lack of message discipline will see more unforced errors from Ukip. All of which was predictable and predicted on this blog long ago.

Ukipists, of course, have had their heads buried in the sand and only the immediate poll results speak to their minds. When the bubble bursts the only people who will be surprised are Ukipists. And that is a matter of when, not if. There's a way to go yet, but if there is a fatal mistake to make, Ukip will make it. That you can bet the farm on.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Losing the plot on foreign aid

Ok. Here's the deal. Before we can decide how much foreign aid to give we must first remind ourselves what foreign aid is for. It is not a charitable donation to make ourselves feel good. It is a foreign policy tool that must be used toward specific objectives. Therefore, there should be neither a maximum or minimum budget for it.

In some instances, developing third world (West African economies) is in our national interests because it stems the flow of immigration. That kind of proactive investment costs less than putting up barriers and making immigration more bureaucratic.

We can also use it as a bartering chip to persuade Turkey to grant asylum to more Syrian refugees. Or we can use it to help build effective immigration administration systems and border patrols for North Africa. Targeted aid does serve a function. To set an arbitrary spending threshold makes no more sense in this instance than it does to set an arbitrary "must spend" threshold on golf balls or socks.

The notion that it should go toward a decarbonisation agenda means that money which could otherwise be directed toward foreign policy goals in the direct national interest is instead directed at baloney vanity projects, which serve neither us nor the developing world - and will likely be spent by supranational authorities who have nobody's interests at heart but their own. It is precisely this kind of boneheaded vanity politics that gives foreign aid a bad name and it's why we get little-englander Ukipists calling for foreign aid to be stopped.

Foreign aid is much like military procurement. You can't decide what kit to buy until you have defined the enemy. Similarly, we cannot define how much foreign aid to spend until we have adequately defined our foreign policy. (answers on a postcard)

Foreign aid is the art of buying political favours. If done cleverly, it works well. The Romans called it 'subsidies' and we did it quite effectively in buying peace and assistance with the Iroquois against the French in the New World. The problem is the lack of honesty about it, and dressing it up as something altruistic.

Presently our foreign policy is defined by our allegiance to the NGOcracy, a soft-left wing populism - which serves neither the national interest or any strategic foreign policy goal. It is wristband politics, and "decarbonisation" is essentially Western cultural imperialism to stop the third world industrialising; another form of rampant protectionism dressed up as care for the environment. Meanwhile the issue of real pollution, where most nations are poisoning rivers and lakes into oblivion, goes ignored - in favour of the fictional threat of CO2.

We need to leave the EU, but not for any of the reasons you thought

We need to leave the EU. Is it because according to Ukip we're paying billions a day for membership? No. Is it because we're forced to send aid money to space programs in "bongo-bongo land"? Nope. Is it because it's "swamping" us with criminal gangs and Roma? Not really. Is it because of it's harsh austerity policies placed on Greece and Spain? Nope. Is it because of how it's trade policy is bankrupting small African nations? Well, a bit yes, but still no. Is it because the CFP has made a complete economic and ecological mess of the North Sea? Nope.

The maladministration of the EU is well documented. As a eurosceptic of twenty years I can't begin to recall the multifarious reasons for disliking the EU. And it's not even about the loftier issues of sovereignty and nationhood either. This "we want our country back" shtick from Ukip is cute but it's naive.

For sure the EU is a federalist project, hell bent on becoming the United States of Europe, but that is an equally naive vision. It's so blindly optimistic that it is actually funny if you think about it. There is no shared European demos. There are cultural similarities but the notion that the French and Germans would ever consider themselves fellow countrymen is laughable and the idea there could ever be any political convergence between Italy, Spain and Germany is a howler. You just have to look at the EU's attempt to take a united position over Libyan intervention to see that a single foreign policy is a non-starter. Moreover, French defence industry interests trump any EU foreign policy.

As far as "ever closer union" goes we're about as close as we're ever going to get. Britain isn't the only nation that has a bone or two to pick with the European Union. The left wing have some eurosceptics among them too. Mehdi Hassan complains about the failed economic ideas of the EU, but these aren't really credible reasons for leaving the EU either. Were you to do a serious analysis of all the EU's criminal malfeasance you would be appalled but I would argue that the effects thereof are only marginally worse than what our own governments do.

The simple fact is that large bureaucratic governments suck wherever they are. Whatever the EU's own ambitions, that government is never going to wholly replace our own. So essentially we have two useless centralised governments. This is why I am opposed to an English parliament and indeed the Scottish and Welsh assemblies. We are actually talking about triplicating governance and this is not forgetting our corporate scale "local" authorities.

These are obsolete ideas in an internet age. The world is shrinking while markets grow. We would would never wish for a global government but there is a continuing need for global governance and international standards to facilitate trade, regulate it and to police it. Violent crime and robberies have decreased globally in recent years but internet crime has exploded, as has people trafficking, the global drugs trade, piracy and of course mass immigration. These are international problems that require international solutions, and so we must be free to negotiate the deals that best tackle the problems that affect us rather than have the EU do it for us.

Similarly, the majority of EU law isn't actually made by the EU. It is made at an international level, along with trade rules by ASA, Basel2, UNECE, Codex Alimentarius, WTO, NAFO and whole host of bodies few have ever heard of, where the EU takes our seat and negotiates on our behalf. Norway has more say than we do at an international level - and it's Brussels sitting by the fax waiting to be told what the law is. Moreover, Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, a Norwegian minister, flatly denies Norway has no EU level influence. Norway has more influence than we do.

This is not to say that we simply close ourselves off from the EU or Europe. Leaving the EU does not mean leaving the single market and as a strong player in the EEA and EFTA we have enough clout to play the EU at it's own game while being free to join the global community. We would still keep the four freedoms of the single market. Those are good things, but we can easily lose the ECHR that prevents us putting rational constraints in where necessary.

This doesn't mean we lose workers rights or human rights. We would still be a large player in the International Labour Organisation (where EU labour laws come from) and Britain has always been at the very forefront of human rights in the modern era. It's offensive that the left wing suggests these concepts would cease to exist without the EU.

The EU is a relic of a the post-war world and it has nowhere to go. It has served its purpose. It's a talking shop to decide what to do with international law passed down to it, and our effort in Strasbourg amounts to bickering about how to gold plate it before we accept it on national level - where we add our own gold plating. It simply doesn't have a purpose in the modern globalised world.

It isn't a even post-cold war Marshall plan for Europe either. It is the freedoms of the single market that have done more to increase the wealth of former Soviet bloc nations than this pointless entity with a blue flag. The EU handouts are inconsequential and in fact the EU is taking credit for something that is not its own achievement - while bribing the citizens of Europe with their own money.

Like it or not, mankind is progressing more toward open borders, free trade and free movement of goods and capital. It is unstoppable. We don't want to waste our lives in queues at the borders, and there isn't any value for the consumer to be paying more just because goods cross a line on a map. But we can have all of those without surrendering what we are as a nation and we don't have to abolish the nation state to do it.

And then there's one critical thing. Our society is evolving beyond the need for leaders and flags and parties. We're becoming more educated and more advanced thanks to the internet and we don't see why we should have politicians speaking for us on matter of significance. Direct democracy is coming. It can be no other way. The people want their say and they won't accept a proxy speaking for them.

Our blueprint for real democracy, The Harrogate Agenda, is made of six demands to bring true democracy to Great Britain. Demand number one is that "The peoples of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland comprise the ultimate authority of their nations and are the source of all political power. That fact shall be recognised by the Crown and the Governments of our nations, and our Parliaments and Assemblies". 

Now that may sound tokenistic and lofty, but without such recognition of this fact there is no democracy, and the other demands cannot be enacted without it. But that singular first demand is totally at odds with the European Union because the EU, while it has democratic furniture like elections and voting rituals, is not a democracy. There is no demos, and there is no actual power for the people. And so our transition to democracy makes us incompatible with the EU and its structures. If we are to progress into a new age of empowered peoples, anachronistic relics like the EU must be abandoned so that we can embrace the future.

The post-Ukip scenario

We've crunched the numbers, we've looked at the demographics, we have examined the issues and we don't see much of future for Ukip. Surge politics have two inevitable outcomes. Either they become successful enough to be absorbed into the existing political landscape or they fold and gradually disappear.

You can see from the graphic above that Ukip is still predominantly a conservative outfit but is now drawing half of its support from a number of disparate factions. Such alliances are fragile and when you have sacrificed sustainable growth for ready publicity without a solid definition it wont take much for the vote to fragment and collapse (as happened with the Lib Dems).

In a five party split for the next general election the polls are not a great indicator for which way the election will go. All it can do is measure overall sentiment which does not account for the vagaries of local boundaries, local politics and the minnow effect (vote splitting). All we can say for certain is that nobody will be a clear winner.

If it's a Labour government, there's no EU referendum and the fight goes on. We will then likely see more defections to Ukip and a Conservative civil war. It is impossible to predict the outcome of that so it's senseless to even try. It may be that it comes back as a more robust Conservative party with a eurosceptic leader or an even more centrist party. We do not know.

We will see Ukip established as a small Ukip parliamentary party who could possibly force a referendum, but that is by no means guaranteed. Ukip has made plenty of unforced errors thus far and more exposure with their MPs in the public eye could actually hurt them.

It could be that the Conservatives win in which case there will be a referendum. Given how a newly motivated Ukip is more confident in displaying its ugly side, their overall popularity will decline even if their vote share goes up (they are independent variables). Consequently a referendum win is by no means a dead cert. So the actual likelihood of the UK leaving the EU before 2018 are small.

The only other certainty is that despite their enthusiasm and capacity for self delusion, Ukip is not going to break its own glass ceiling, it is not going to be a party of government and it is highly unlikely it will take enough parliamentary seats at this or the next general election to form a coalition with any minority government. So if you were hoping for a revolution in governance or a new dawn in a brave post-EU world you might as well put your feet up. It's not going to happen any time soon.

Already the cracks are showing. Ukip's lack of written policy is leading to gaffe after gaffe and the Teflon coating is wearing thin. Worse still, the only thing worse than a Ukip with no policies is a Ukip with defined policies. It's a dead-cert they will be so insufferably weak and inconsistent that the media will have a field day with them. The Guardian noticed last week with Ukips's health "policy" and today the Telegraph has noticed. There is nothing to be done For Ukip.

We are of the view that there is no shortcut to reform. Any movement for change is going to have to be based on a new vision and a big idea. The task will be to convince the people to demand that vision and force the establishment to concede to our demands. It will not be achieved with party politics and it can't succeed on a negative premise. Ukip has been a twenty year lesson on how not to do it.

Even in the remote scenario that we leave the EU soon, the day after that referendum will be day one on a long march to democracy. It would be nice to have one obstacle out of the way, but really we should expect that we will have that referendum soon, Ukip will ensure we lose it, and the eurosceptic movement will be buried. Now is the time to decide what shape the movement to replace it will take. We think the Harrogate Agenda is the best vehicle for true democracy. It's as good a place as any to start.

Why direct democracy will work

One of the most common arguments against direct democracy as proposed in The Harrogate Agenda is that it will result in the usual 20% of committed activists taking over the machinery and eagerly voting on every proposed law while the rest of us let them do it. It's true. That's exactly what will happen. For a while at least anyway.

Most people who dismiss The Harrogate Agenda do so because they have not fully understood it. While we have six points on the agenda, they are not by any means unconnected and one demand in isolation of the other does not lead to the transformation we are seeking. Direct democracy is only a part of it and it is our view that it cannot work without real localism. Where local referendums are concerned, we redefine the term "local".

When we generally talk about local authorities we are not really speaking about a local entity. For instance our hometown of Bradford, it is an authority that governs at least four satellite towns and several suburbs larger than those towns. We hold the view that any "local" authority which takes two hours to drive from one border to the other is not one you could in any reasonable sense call local.

We hold the view that the closer a decision is made to where the effects are felt, the better that decision will be. Consequently properly local referendums will most likely produce results that most favour the local residents. For a time, we expect that a self-selecting few will dominate the outcomes of these referendums, but the point is, if the power is in the hands of the people, they own that decision and by way of not voting take responsibility for that. There is no more democratic deficit and voters can't say they had no voice in the matter. Bad decisions over time will encourage greater participation.

Over time, as we see bad decisions made, the public will no longer be able to blame "the establishment" or corrupt politicians. There power is theirs to wield as they choose. We propose a mechanism whereby the public can force a referendum by means of a residents only petition meaning decisions can be overturned with second referendum if the public so demands, and turnout minimum thresholds for a motion to pass.

Moreover, since we include in our six demands the ultimate veto on spending and tax rises, we do not anticipate low turnouts. It is already the case that councils must put council tax rises to the public if they exceed 1.9%. There's a very good reason why we have not yet such such a referendum. They know full well they would lose. Therefore, the very existence of a referendum lock system means that only propositions with a realistic chance of passing will be put before the public. The more unpopular or popular the proposal, the higher the turnout will be.

By way of having real localism, the effects of bad decisions are also limited only to those in the immediate locality. It doesn't actually matter if the mundane issues are controlled by a self-selecting minority since such matters are not likely to have any great personal impact on the majority. Even if it becomes the case that regions are dominated by a self-selecting few, they will still be bound by constitutional constraints.

One of the other criticisms of what we are now calling Referism, is the cost of holding referendums. We see no reason why they cannot be held as batch referendums using tick sheets in the same way people use National Lottery terminals. Given what local authorities waste by way of spending without consent, and the cost to taxpayers of tax increases without consent, the cost of such a system ought to pay for itself.

One of the main reasons for voter apathy is that voters feel their vote does not matter. With properly localised referendums giving them direct ownership of their own affairs, it will very quickly demonstrate that not only do they have a voice, there is a consequence for not using it.

DDOS Attack

We're having some problems with with a DDOS attack. Somebody in Vietnam thinks our readership is the right target demographic for discount Ugg boots.

Until we have resolved the issue, our backup site is here...

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Politics is not just about big ideas.

One of the recurrent themes on this blog has been the dearth of big ideas and visions among our political parties. The supposedly revolutionary upstart party (Ukip) has such a depressingly pedestrian set of policies, it's not difficult to see why they haven't inspired a renewed vitality in what we laughingly call a democracy.

Were there any big ideas on the table, I expect we would see a more vibrant public debate and more engagement, but part of the reason no big ideas are on the table is because, actually, quite a lot of government (the mundane stuff that you don't see) actually works. Tinkering with that stuff is very much a procedural and dull process. By and large, the public don't really give too much of a toss whether wing mirrors on lorries should be an inch wider or whether manhole surrounds on road tankers should have 15 bolts or 20. But that stuff still needs regulating. We don't get involved because we don't need to be. Some of this stuff has to be delegated. In many respects democratic interjection is neither desirable nor necessary.

As to the big questions, many of them are settled. The things that are still in any serious dispute are actually witheringly small in number. All but the crackpot fringes are agreed that we need some kind of healthcare costs mitigation system even if it is not in the form of an NHS. Similarly just about everyone thinks that there should be a welfare system of a sorts. What shape that takes and how we eradicate fraud and dependency are pretty mundane technicalities, which again, most people have a vague preference on but not enough to actually want to get involved.

So because the big matters are settled, the mundane acquires a greater significance. Most people would rather get on with whatever it is that gets their rocks off rather than blogging on a Wednesday night about the need for more cycle paths on the A38 (southbound) or whether a park and ride system is the right way to go for Chipping Norton.

A more educated population, thanks mainly to the internet, is starting to demand more choice, more say, more freedom and more of everything. Whether you care to admit it or not, capitalism is giving us that. If you doubt me, pull that smartphone out of your pocket and marvel at what it can do for the pittance you paid for it, and how little it will cost in just a couple of years time. Whatever big idea you have cannot possibly compete with that.

The problems arise when the systems and the people we entrust with the dull managerialism get it wrong. From NHS Staffordshire to the Rochdale scandal, the people we entrust who have failed us find ways and means to avoid accountability and proper scrutiny. And somehow they get us into deeper debt, spend too much, waste too much and tax too much without consent.

Collectively, the people have little or no power with which to put road blocks in the way of politicians and their vanity excesses. All we get from them, is that you must pay and you will pay. The lack of that essential power is essentially a lack of democracy. We can vote out the councillors and the MPs but the system remains the same and so does the real executive - the obscenely overpaid anonymous manager clones. They do not listen, they merely transmit, and the message is "obey".

We have defeated socialism, communism and all the other isms that simply don't work, and there is no longer much room for big ideas, but for one. Democracy. It's the one thing we have never had and never so much as tried. We have electorally mandated reshuffles but we have no power over them or the decision making system in which they work. That is not democracy. Now if any party were to present a real blueprint for real democracy, one that gives us the control when it mattered, I expect that would see a surge in voter participation. A system in which our voices actually mattered would be quite the novelty.

But here's the rub. Democracy means people power... Meaning the establishment must relinquish it and trust the people. That is something they are fundamentally incapable of doing and will never allow us to vote for it. So we shall have to take it by other means. We cannot vote our way to democracy. Nothing worth having was ever that easy.

Did someone say "Harrogate Agenda"?

The activists are the least of Ukip's problems

According to Buzzfeed (yes, I know)...

ROCHESTER – UKIP campaigners at the Rochester & Strood by-election have been banned from speaking to journalists to prevent them embarrassing themselves, a party spokesman has admitted. Activists are prohibited from speaking to the media until after tomorrow’s by-election because the central UKIP operation fears they are too radical and “too UKIP-y”.

This is essentially an admission from Ukip that Ukipists are stupid and ranty and a bit racist and a complete liability. Now as you know, I've been talking about this little thing called message discipline for a while, and getting Ukipists to STFU is probably not a bad idea.

But as we have seen from Paul Nuttall, Mark Reckless and Patrick O'Flynn, allowing any of them to speak with the media is not turning out to be strategically wise. This is where it might have helped to have written a few of those "policy" things and have a little bit of professionalism. But this is Ukip we're talking about.

Meanwhile, deep in the Tory bubble...

In a break from what is turning out to be the norm on this blog, I'm turning my guns on Johnny C. Lately (Mark Wallace) of Conservative Home on the subject of rebuilding party grassroots. Lately's navel-gazing article is a fascinating insight into how a bubble dweller thinks. It's bone-marrow dissovlingly wide of the mark.

If there's one thing Ukip can say, it is that it is a grass roots organisation. Or was for a long time. It has in recent years proven that it is happy to budge aside local candidates in favour of their own drinking buddies, but much is left in the hands of local party branches. But in the main it's activists are enthused by a sense it is going somewhere and achieving something. It isn't and it's not, but so long as your activists believe, that's half the battle won. But even Ukip has a pretty poor showing. Democratic participation on the whole is in trouble. It's less to do with the state of political parities as it is to do with the state of democracy.

The view that all parties are the same is not an uncommon one. Nor is the view that one's vote makes no difference. There are subtle differences to the parties, but the outcomes are nearly always the same. Taxes going up, spending going up and borrowing going up while services progressively get worse and more expensive. You can vote out your MP or councillor but it won't make any substantive difference. Voters don't engage because they're not stupid.

The main participants in democracy are mainly in it for themselves. The main reason to join a party is to have an organisation behind you in promoting your own agenda. It's easy done too. I'm quite sure I would be doing quite well if I joined Ukip, changed my name and started writing the sort of toss that Ukipists want to hear. When you're without an organisation and saying things people don't want to hear, you might as well not exist - so you have to play the game.

Parties are a ladder to climb for self-serving social climbers. They are no longer value based or objective driven and unless there is a personal incentive for joining a party, you just wouldn't bother. Councillors don't have any real power so what the hell is the point in trying to get one elected?

Mark Wallace has it arse end up. You can't revitalise political parties without first revitalising democracy. Ask yourself when you last saw a truly radical proposal from a political party. Just looking at Ukip's "policies" they are fairly pedestrian, procedural tinkering with no big vision and no big ideas. Similarly, the Tories notion of devolution for Manchester is essentially a bland rearrangement of the political furniture. And what makes Manchester worthy of more self-governance than anybody else?

Not that they are actually proposing devolution. This is power to a regional authority and for once I am actually in full agreement with the Ukipists. Regionalisation is the exact opposite of devolution in that it sucks decision making powers away from councils, further away from where the effects of bad decisions are felt, and the power is on license from central government - rather than a recognition that the people themselves are the source of all power.

We get stunted, timid, unimaginative ideas dressed up as radicalism from the Tories, but to call them radical is an abuse of language. Until we get to such a place where people's votes matter, rather than the present model where councils like Birmingham stay Labour run rotten boroughs whichever way you vote, we will continue to see a decline in participation and an increase in voter apathy.

That the Tory party is having to bus activists around the country is a symptom, not a cure. But Wallace thinks they are part of the answer. Put simply, if you cannot enthuse activists locally then something more fundamental is broken. Moreover, it's a bit of a nerve having a Tory blitzkreig squad from London coming to town to tell you who you should have representing you in your local affairs.

The rise of Ukip tells you most of what you need to know. It is a protest vote against unresponsive government. Voters are tired of being taken for granted, overtaxed and not consulted. Fix that. Let's have proper local democracy rather than these mega councils and mega police authorities. Let's have direct democracy over tax rises and borrowing. Why not have a referendum on HS2 since we're being asked to cough up eighty billion quid? Let's have a constitution, let's have separation of powers and let's have meaningful local politics.

Give us local democracy that matters and soon you will have local media that matters and then you'll be able to take your pick from grassroots activists. While power is centered in London, so is the media, and so is the culture. Consequently the concerns of government are divorced from ours and the "democratic" voting rituals become meaningless. Why exactly should we go leafleting in the rain for that? What's in it for us?

The voters aren't stupid, but Ukip is.

Never let it be said that I have lost my objectivity. If I am wrong I will say so. And sensible comments from Ukipists are welcome. It's just that all I tend to get from Ukipists is the usual litany of excuses their leaders make mixed in with some toxic personal abuse. I'm live in hope that perhaps one person from that party will demonstrate some self-awareness and actually engage in the issues I raise.

Each day a new Ukip story comes out that adds weight to the arguments I have made that Ukip is going to hit the wall without a solid policy base and it's amateurism will have a damaging effect on the case for leaving the EU.

The reason for this piece is to address a post on Conservative Home where political smart-arse, Peter Franklin, chastises other political smart-arses for scoffing at the notion that 33% of Ukipists are worried about leaving the EU.

Admittedly I was a bit hasty, but I have to take Franklin with a pinch of salt. He remarks that:
"Wanting to stay in the EU but voting for UKIP is perfectly consistent if other issues like immigration are your priority or you just want to register a protest vote. Indeed, some of this group of voters may have been expressing a general distrust of the Government instead of the specific concern mentioned in the question."
He's about right, but the point is that this could only have happened by positioning Ukip as a populist dustbin for protest votes which is was a serious political blunder.

What we saw from the Euro polls was not so much a bite out of the traditional party share but a galvanisation of the minnow parties, and the actual growth of the protest vote was minuscule. We measure the success of Ukip by what remains afterward. We can see from polling demographics that Ukip basically represents Mr Working-class Angry Man. I don't deny that's a big constituency, but it is also one with a glass ceiling of appeal. However popular it might be, it is not popular enough and there's not much you can do to expand that base.

Essentially, moving away from objective based politics to become a generic protest puts a choke on growth which is why we'll soon see a stagnation in Ukip growth. We can't say exactly when but peak-Ukip isn't far away. That's just how surge politics works.

The mistake was to assume that you can take shortcuts without winning the arguments. What now remains is a party without a solid base, and one which deliberately has to keep policy quite vague to avoid a fracture, but then is left in the weak position of having to navigate it's own wake of flim-flam, as we see from Mark Reckless this morning.

And here's the problem: As Peter Franklin affirms, voters are not stupid. They may cast a protest vote when a protest vote is safe but without loyalty to an idea, Ukip does has nothing to hold onto when things get serious. The Lib Dems should be a clear warning. It only takes one policy u-turn to send a long standing third party into electoral oblivion. A house built on sand cannot stand.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Is the penny dropping yet?

Here is a classic example of what I have been saying about Ukip for some time now.
Ukip parliamentary candidate Mark Reckless has caused outrage by suggesting migrants who have lived here for several years could be repatriated. The former Tory, on course to win the Eurosceptic party’s second seat tomorrow, said if Britain left the European Union they should only be able to stay for a ‘fixed period’. Asked if his party would want to deport a plumber from Poland who owned a home and had children at local schools he did not rule it out, but said this would be a case ‘we would look sympathetically at’.
When you don't have a thorough policy, and you haven't got anything to brief your people on, with no message discipline, when it comes to questions and answers, they're left with their arses hanging in the breeze, making things up, getting it wrong and saying stupid and embarrassing things that can easily be distorted. It is exactly what happened to Paul Nuttall on Any Questions on the matter of Brexit and on foreign aid.

When you're in the spotlight of mainstream media, you can't afford to sound like you don't know what you're talking about. This kind of arrogance and incompetence from Ukip is what loses us an EU referendum.

Ukip: A Major concern

John Major thinks Ukip is "un-British". "They are anti-everything. They are anti-politics, they are anti-foreigner, they are anti-immigrant, they are anti-aid. 'I don't know what they are for, we know what they are against. That's the negativity of the four-ale bar, that's not the way to get into Parliament and not the way to run a country." I might have said exactly that myself over recent weeks. But I don't think being a perpetual moaner is un-British. Moaning is one of the things we excel at.

We all know the multifarious reasons why people vote Ukip. It boils down to the fact that government is unresponsive to our wishes. The simple answer is to change the people in government. But we've done that a few times now and it hasn't really changed anything. That's because the simple answer is the wrong one.

Any fans of The Wire will recall a young, energetic, idealistic councilman, Tommy Carcetti (pictured) and his battle to become Baltimore's mayor. He makes all the promises in the world to the city police department only to discover that there's a hidden $54m deficit in the school system and has to to strip the police bare to stop teacher layoffs. To add insult to injury, because he's a white mayor in a black city he has to govern by consensus, which prevents him from sacking the dead wood, and in fact has to bump the police commissioners salary as a maneuver to get him to stand down. In the end, having promised to end the manipulation of crime statistics finds himself doing exactly that to save his skin at the ballot box. He becomes what he set out to replace.

We see this same dynamic in Yes Minister, with Sir Humphrey sticking flies in every pot of ointment. No matter how good your intentions, events happen. I'm sure the Environment Agency had wholly different spending plans before the Somerset floods, but now there's a twenty year plan to stop it happening again, and that's going to cost money. Which means cutting somewhere else and breaking promises.

Voters have a naive of what politics is like and how civics work. Ukipists will taunt the Prime Minister over his "cast iron guarantee" of a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, which was a stupid thing to say because it was always going to be ratified by the time Cameron was PM. And in a democracy, holding high office does not mean you have supreme executive authority.

Democracy is very often about compromise and you while you could go in and clean out the dead wood, sack all the civil servants, you're still at the helm of a vast bureaucracy that will resist change every step of the way. I've seen this in my own career.

I work in a large aerospace organisation and just a week into my contract all those years ago, a retiring manager told me that it, like any other bureaucracy is like a jelly mountain. You can apply pressure to change the shape of it , and it will keep that shape so long as you keep applying the pressure. But if you take the pressure off, it will wobble back to it's original shape, and at best you will leave an imprint.

He couldn't have been closer to the mark. Whatever solution you might put in place to save money eventually becomes part of the problem. Every innovation has a lifecycle and when it's embedded into the system it's near impossible to carve out. We see empires within empires and those know don't care and those who care don't know. Eventually everyone sees the futility and settles down into a routine just to keep the paycheques flowing, keeping a low profile so nobody notices their job is completely pointless. It gets to the point where all you can do is take an axe to it.

It's almost like governance is like managing a large forest. Great ossified oaks must be cut down to make way for the new saplings. But it must be carefully tended. The problem with democracy is it's one of those processes where everyone demands a say and everyone claims expertise. Such a system is only ever going to produce mediocre outcomes and if you are achieving mediocrity then you're doing quite well. You cannot possibly satisfy everyone and you will fail if you try.

So the job then falls on politicians to manage the expectations of a public with unrealistic demands. Everyone wants a free NHS, but few think they should be the ones who pay for it in taxes. Very often the demands of voters are not just unreasonable. They're wholly irrational.

We've had suggestions from Ukip that for a while immigration be managed on a one in, one out basis. But do they have the first idea of what that would entail? And how much it would cost? So much is easier said than done. But an upstart populist party appealing to the unreasonable and the irrational does not have to acknowledge such nuances. It can simply stoke the fears and prejudices of the left behind and whisper in their ear how much better things would be if only they we running the show. This is the politics of cynical manipulation.

Course, it's not unreasonable or irrational to expect that sex traffickers and child abusers are arrested and locked up. It's not unreasonable to expect a welfare system that doesn't fire-hose money at immigrants. And it's not at all unreasonable or irrational to want a say in whether we effectively abolish our own nation to become part of a federal Europe. Immigration might well be a boost to the economy, but nobody was asked if we wanted open door immigration changing the face of our communities.

But again, there are nuances, complexities and obstacles that mean whatever is on your policy shopping list, it's not going to happen quickly and without consequence. Supertanker captains don't envy politicians. Whatever we do is going to take time and cost money. Something like the NHS probably does have too many ossified oaks and pointless chair warmers. It's easy to say you'll slash them all, but large organisations do need effective management, so you'll need to say who and how.

We like to complain about "career politicians" who have come from law backgrounds or big business, but watching half an hour of Ukip health spokesman Louise Bours's witless ranting about the health service and all of a sudden, a lawyer or an army officer, or captain of industry seems infinitely preferable to a thick-as-pigshit nursery school matron.

The MP's we get are in the main decent people coming to politics to work within the established system. Consequently we will get similar results each time, not all of them unacceptable. If we do want different outcomes then we shall have to change that system. But the fact is that modern governance is blisteringly complex and it takes skill and patience to produce even mediocre outcomes. For a party to come into politics with radical demands but with no policies, no expertise, and no blueprint for a systemic overhaul of government is rightly a laughing stock.

To say we can simply repeal the European Communities Act and take a guess how things pan out afterward is insufficient. To say that we will simply pay for a ring-fenced NHS by slashing foreign aid (a foreign policy tool) is irresponsible. And to say you will give the state the power to decide what people industry needs, and to put the burden of immigration administration on them is dangerously naive. To say you will increase defence spending without an outline of what you spend it on and why is equally irresponsible (and stupid), and introduce referendums on local matters without setting out the context in which they are used is just a fantasy fiction.

What we see in Ukip is a nihilistic petulance. It is a party that would rather taking a wrecking ball to government than to acknowledge the complexity and engage in policy. It is born of a pessimism which is uniquely British, and the very reason we have such an impenetrable first past the post system is to ensure it never takes a foothold unless the establishment has got it too far wrong. That Ukip is polling well makes it the canary down the mine that the establishment would do will to heed, as a signal to do better, but certainly should not be stealing the clothes of Ukip. Ukip is popular to Ukipists, but it is not a popular party in the broader sense and it's miserly and stunted vision for Britain is not one shared by the majority.

I confess I am heartily sick of the establishment as we know it, and when something comes along that sets out a better vision, I will vote for it. But to vote for a band of professional miserablists who are motivated out of fear, rejection and loathing is something I can agree on with John Major. It is wholly un-British.

The Ukip delusion

Some interesting findings here from the Ashcroft Poll. The only thing more unpopular than Farage is Clegg and Clegg's numbers are improving. It may be that in the age of four or five party politics this index is a more reliable indicator of overall sentiment.

L.Ron Farage is riding high within the cult but their own personal estimation of him does not, as they imply, transpose to the rest of the public. There is a gulf between reality and the view from the Ukip bunker. I think this demonstrates quite clearly why Ukip shouldn't be let anywhere near a referendum campaign.

Not that this will send any signals to Ukip who can only see in terms of the immediate polling objective, unaware that their success is an independent variable to EU sentiment. So what you can expect is for them to win Rochester hands down and be even more insufferably awful in the public sphere and further beyond the reach of reason than every they were. The message they will take is "steady as she goes". Having learned no lessons and shut themselves off from criticism, they're in for a shock when they finally collide with reality.

While nothing seems to dent Ukip in any big way, a number of factors they lack the self-awareness to acknowledge will be eating away at the base of the cliff. And like coastal erosion, eventually the forces of nature will have their way. With Lunchtime O'Flynn and Raheem Kassam steering the Ukip ship, there's a certain inevitability to it. It won't be any big blunder that will hurt them. But over time, they're painting a picture of a rootless party that doesn't know what it wants. It is this that will feed back into public sentiment more than anything and the steady drip of unforced errors will be their undoing.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Charge of the lightweight brigade

As soon as those ridiculous immigration posters came out it was easy to see what the Ukipist game plan was. Farage himself admitted he was chasing the BNP vote, looking to consolidate Ukip as the official vehicle for disaffected losers. He succeeded. We now learn from this YouGov demographic analysis that Ukip has cornered the market on grumpy old white men who failed at life, largely by pandering to their prejudices. More high brow types call it "the politics of the left behind". But that's just a polite way of saying "loser".

We now have grumpy, ranty right-wingers joining forces with old Labour types from oop North. The plan worked a treat. But the problem here is that while shouty, ranty misanthropic politics is attractive to white lower middle-class men who failed at life, it isn't very attractive to anybody else.

This blog maintains that in order to win an EU referendum we will need to broaden the appeal of euroscepticism but Ukip seems dead set on making it the sole province of people who think the Dambusters is the greatest movie ever made. Ukip's pandering to the basest prejudices of one demographic might well have galvanised a voting bloc enough to make a surge look credible, but the big question is how to break through that glass ceiling. This demographic alone cannot win a general election and it certainly wont win an EU referendum.

Ukip hasn't thought this far ahead. How can it now present a less toxic manifesto without looking even more inconsistent and ridiculous than they already do? And how can it now make a rational policy for leaving the EU without telling their ranters what they don't want to hear? A leader capable of listening would be able to answer those questions. But Ukip has Farage. Ho-hum.