Quotulatiousness

March 20, 2017

Scotland … here they go again

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is eager to get the voters back to the polls for another go-around for Scottish independence (well, not independence-independence, but separate-from-Britain-but-desperate-to-stay-in-the-EU-independence). Stephen Daisley comments on the situation as of Saturday:

The SNP has managed to spin normally sceptical hacks the line that Downing Street was caught on the back foot by Miss Sturgeon’s Monday surprise. It’s true that the timing was news to Number 10 — received wisdom ran that the Nationalist leader would unveil her gambit at the SNP annual spring conference in Aberdeen this afternoon.

But the UK Government has known since 2014, when Miss Sturgeon’s party refused to accept their 55% to 45% defeat, that another push for separation was a matter of ‘when’, rather than ‘if’. Contingency plans have been in place for some time, both to push back a referendum do-over until after Brexit and, if need be, to fight one immediately. The Nationalists are not dealing with that nice Mr Cameron anymore.

And Theresa May’s response to Miss Sturgeon’s demand was more cautiously-worded, better thought through, than the contributions that became common from David Cameron during the first referendum. Crucially, she did not dole out a flat No; instead, she said Not Yet.

[…]

Next week, she will ask MSPs to vote for a Section 30 request, petitioning Westminster for the power to hold a second referendum. There is no mandate for the Scottish Parliament to pursue such a policy. The constitution is reserved to the UK Parliament; a party winning a Holyrood election on a manifesto of surrendering Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent or withdrawing Scottish troops from an international conflict would not be thought to have grounds for pursuing such policies.

Even if this point were conceded — it is done so from first principles by the eager constitutionalists who populate the Scottish academy — there is another flaw in the Nationalists’ argument. True, they came first in the May 2016 election and their manifesto envisioned ‘Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will’ as cause for a re-run of 2014’s ‘once in a generation’ poll. But the Nationalists failed to secure a majority of seats at Holyrood for that proposition, winning only 63 out of 129. Fortunately for the SNP, they have six to spare in the shape of the Scottish Greens, once a conscientious party of the Left but, under Patrick Harvie, a Me-Too faction for the most triangulating government since New Labour.

Every time the Nats get themselves into a jam, every time it looks like they might finally have to stop girning and start governing, up pop the six little anoraks, festooned with CND badges and brimming with good intentions, and they come to the rescue. Time after time, Mr Harvie drags the SNP out of a hole and gets nothing in return except a pat on the head. That isn’t leadership; it’s the political instincts of Lassie.

The Greens’ amening of Miss Sturgeon’s gambit is different from previous acts of handmaidenry because it breaks the party’s pledge to the voters. In the manifesto they were elected on last May, the Greens promised:

‘Citizens should be able to play a direct role in the legislative process: on presenting a petition signed by an appropriate number of voters, citizens should be able to trigger a vote on important issues of devolved responsibility. As we proposed on the one year anniversary of the Independence Referendum, this is the Scottish Greens’ preferred way of deciding to hold a second referendum on Independence. If a new referendum is to happen, it should come about by the will of the people, and not be driven by calculations of party political advantage. In such a referendum the Scottish Greens will campaign for independence.’

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

February 6, 2017

“Compulsive believers … should terrify you”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Guardian, Nick Cohen says you shouldn’t be concerned about compulsive liars: it’s the compulsive believers you should worry about:

Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars’ enablers. Their votes give the demagogue his power. Their trust turns the charlatan into the president. Their credulity ensures that the propaganda of half-calculating and half-mad fanatics has the power to change the world.

How you see the believers determines how you fight them and seek to protect liberal society from its enemies. And I don’t just mean how you fight that object of liberal despair and conservative fantasies, the alternately despised and patronised white working class. Compulsive believers are not just rednecks. They include figures as elevated as the British prime minister and her cabinet. Before the EU referendum, a May administration would have responded to the hitherto unthinkable arrival of a US president who threatened Nato and indulged Putin by hugging Britain’s European allies close. But Brexit has thrown Britain’s European alliance into crisis. So English Conservative politicians must crush their doubts and believe with a desperate compulsion that the alleged “pragmatism” of Donald Trump will triumph over his undoubted extremism, a belief that to date has as much basis in fact as creationism.

Mainstream journalists are almost as credulous. After decades of imitating Jeremy Paxman and seizing on the trivial gaffes and small lies of largely harmless politicians, they are unable to cope with the fantastic lies of the new authoritarian movements. When confronted with men who lie so instinctively they believe their lies as they tell them, they can only insist on a fair hearing for the sake of “balance”. Their acceptance signals to the audience the unbelievable is worthy of belief.

[…]

As their old world is engulfed now, the sluggish reflexes and limited minds of too many conservatives compel them to cry out against liberal hypocrisy, as if it were all that mattered. There is more than enough hypocrisy to go round. I must confess to wondering about the sincerity of those who protest against the collective punishment of Trump’s ban on visitors from Muslim countries but remain silent when Arab countries deny all Israeli Jews admission. I too would like to know why there was so little protest when Obama gave Iran funds to spend on the devastation of Syria. But the greatest hypocrisy is always to divert attention from what is staring you in the face today and may be kicking you in the teeth tomorrow.

The temptation to think it a new totalitarianism is too strong for many to resist. Despite readers reaching for Hannah Arendt and George Orwell, strictly speaking, the comparison with fascism and communism isn’t true. When I floated it with the great historian of Nazism, Sir Richard Evans, he almost sighed. It’s not just that there aren’t the death camps and torture chambers, he said. The street violence that brought fascists to power in Italy and Germany and the communists to power in Russia is absent today.

The 21st-century’s model for a strongman is a leader who makes opposition as hard as possible, as Orbán is trying to do in Hungary, but does not actually declare a dictatorship, for not even Putin has done that.

H/T to Guy Herbert for the link.

January 26, 2017

Poor old Jeremy Corbyn’s bad time in the Commons

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Guy Fawkes’ blog on Jeremy Corbyn’s latest terrible outing in the House of Commons:

Karl Marx famously remarked that history repeats itself, “first as tragedy, and then as farce”. He was right. So right in fact that even his own ideological movement would be subject to the same principle. We had the famines, and the massacres, and the icepicks in the skull of the twentieth century: Marxism as tragedy. And now we have the farce, of which there is of course no finer a proponent than Jeremy Corbyn.

In this spirit, the Labour leader decided to come to PMQs today dressed in the most lurid brown suit known to man. One can only imagine the conversation in Holloway Road market:

“Morning Sir, how can we help you?”

“Oh hello there, I was wondering if you had any tailoring in the shade of human excrement? Preferably oversized too, of the sort a Uzbek goat herder would wear at a funeral? You know, a real statement piece?”

“Why you’re in luck Sir”, the merchant would say, his eyes lighting up, “we have this exquisite lounge suit right here, hewn from the very finest turd-brown Soviet polyester sent straight from Vladivostok. It’s going to set you back a grand though I’m afraid. Currency fluctuations post Brexit, you see sir, they really hit us humble artisans hard”.

Having parted with his cash Corbyn marched straight to Parliament no doubt feeling particularly buoyed by his pal Seumas’s six solid questions demanding the PM present a Brexit white paper immediately. But then, no! Disaster struck!

Up popped professional brown nose Chris Philp (formerly of the Remain campaign) to get things underway with a planted question about the need for a “government white paper laying out our vision for a global Britain”. The PM spent a few sentences name-checking other Tory Remainers who had also made such calls before calmly responding: “I can confirm that our plan will be set out in a White Paper published for the House”. This is the point at which more hip leaders would have dropped the mic or said “boom”.

November 30, 2016

“Bush is full of surprises”

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

That’s Kate, not George or W or ¡Jeb!:

Name: Kate Bush.

Age: 58.

Appearance: Rare.

Occupation: Artiste.

This is the Kate Bush, right? That’s right. The art-pop prodigy and now reclusive doyenne.

What has she done? Is it a new tour? It’s a new tour, right? Please can it be a new tour? Nope. It’s a political opinion.

I’d have preferred a new tour, ideally. Yes, but you’ll have to wait.

It’s not fair! And political opinions are so boring! Just about every artist in the world is either leftwing or very leftwing. Not so fast. Bush is full of surprises, remember. And the latest is that she loves Theresa May.

October 10, 2016

British “One Nation Conservatism”

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Sean Gabb on the “choices” available to a theoretical British voter who might still pine for a smaller and less intrusive central government:

The truth is that, since the 1960s, Conservative and Labour Governments have alternated. In this time, with the partial exception of the first Thatcher term – and she did consider banning dildoes in 1983 – the burden of state interference has grown, if with occasional changes of direction. In this time, with the exception of John Major’s second term, the tax burden has stayed about the same as a percentage of gross domestic product. I cannot remember if Roy Jenkins or Gordon Brown managed to balance the budget in any particular year. But I do know that George Osborn never managed it, or tried to manage it, before he was thrown into the street. Whether the politicians promised free markets or intervention, what was delivered has been about the same.

A longer answer is to draw attention to the low quality of political debate in this country. It seems to be assumed that there is a continuum of economic policy that stretches between the low tax corporatism of the Adam Smith Institute (“the libertarian right”) and whatever Jeremy Corbyn means by socialism. So far as Mrs May has rejected the first, she must be drifting towards the second. Leave aside the distinction, already made, between what politicians say and what they do. What the Prime Minister was discussing appears to have been One Nation Conservatism, updated for the present age.

Because it has never had a Karl Marx or a Murray Rothbard, this doctrine lacks a canonic expression. However, it can be loosely summarised in three propositions:

First, our nation is a kind of family. Its members are connected by ties of common history and language, and largely by common descent. We have a claim on our young men to risk their lives in legitimate wars of defence. We have other claims on each other that go beyond the contractual.

Second, the happiness and wealth and power of our nation require a firm respect for property rights and civil rights. It is one of the functions of microeconomic analysis to show how a respect of property rights is to the common benefit. The less doctrinaire forms of libertarianism show the benefit to a nation of leaving people alone in their private lives.

Third, the boundaries between these first two are to be defined and fixed by a respect for the mass of tradition that has come down to us from the middle ages. Tradition is not a changeless thing, and, if there is to be a rebuttable presumption in favour of what is settled, every generation must handle its inheritance with some regard to present convenience.

The weakness of the One Nation Conservatives Margaret Thatcher squashed lay in their misunderstanding of economics. After the 1930s, they had trusted too much in state direction of the economy. But, rightly understood, the doctrine does seem to express what most of us want. If that is what the Prime Minister is now promising to deliver, and if that is what she does in part deliver, I have no reasonable doubt that she and her successors will be in office as far ahead as the mind can track.

July 18, 2016

Britain’s new Prime Minister

Filed under: Britain, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Theresa May has become the second female prime minister in British history after the victory of the Brexit referendum campaign in late June (although she was a Remain-er herself). In The Spectator, Harry Cole indicates what Brits should expect from their new head of government:

There are plenty who have been left bruised by May’s decade and a half at the top of the Conservative party, but even her worst enemies concede that the woman who is to become the next Prime Minister has shown a remarkable durability in high office. She’s the longest-serving Home Secretary in half a century, and has made a success of what’s very often a career-ending job.

A long-retired party grandee recalls May, then newly elected to Parliament, approaching him in 1997 to ask what she must do to succeed. ‘Ignore the little things,’ he replied. It’s advice that her critics reckon she has firmly ignored ever since. When he resigned as a Home Office minister, the eccentric Liberal Democrat Norman Baker described trying to work under May as ‘walking through mud’. There are Conservatives, too, including ones in the cabinet, who accuse May of being a territorial micromanager. But the wrath of her colleagues has only increased her standing with grassroots Tories.

‘She’s a boxer,’ says a Home Office mandarin. ‘She’s got her gloves up all the time. Not much gets through. Always defensive.’ ‘Any special adviser in Whitehall who didn’t make it their business to know exactly what is going on in their department is negligent,’ contends Nick Timothy, a long-term aide and friend. ‘She wants to know what’s going on and wants to have a handle on things.’

[…]

‘As long as I have known her she has always refused to allow herself to be pigeonholed by saying she is in this club or that club or on this wing or that wing of the party,’ says Timothy. ‘It confounds some people, it especially confounds the Left, that you can be so sceptical about the European Court of Human Rights, but you can care so passionately about the rights of the citizen. It confounds them that she thinks immigration needs to be much lower, at the same time as introducing the first legislation of its kind on modern slavery. I don’t think that’s inconsistent, I think that she’s a sound conservative who believes in social justice.’

This is one of the secrets of May’s success. While she may be a defensive boxer with her gloves up, her feet are also moving incredibly quickly. That lack of pinpointing makes it very hard to define her, and thus attack her, though some will always try. ‘We will never ever forget the nasty party comment,’ says one prominent right-winger. ‘No matter how many terrorists she sends back or tough-sounding speeches she gives. She gave a name to our branding problem and it will be hung around our neck for decades by our enemies. It has damaged us as much as the misquoted “no such thing as society”.’ But while she may not be of the traditional right, there is certainly something very traditional about May as a person and as a politician. ‘If you say you are going to do a dinner, you can’t cancel it. She gets enormously annoyed if it looks like she might have to cancel something which has been a commitment she has given,’ says Cunningham. ‘I wouldn’t go as far as old-fashioned, but just a very traditional — do the right thing, you can’t let people down.’ ‘Strong sense of a proper way of doing things,’ echoes a friend.

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