Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Whatever happened to Social Democracy in the UK?

I'm trying to observe a vow of silence about The Opposition Leader Who Shall Not Be Named (from now on referred to as TOLWSNBN) , as quite frankly I'm bored of talking and writing about him.

Today tho, I wonder if Labour have completely given up on Social Democracy and instead are opting for Socialism, and this is why his acolytes love him so much? I'm not a social democrat, but think it's a valid and sometimes useful political position - socialism, not so much, mostly because of the problem of the "brief period" of state control before the ownership of the means of production is devolved to the actual workers, never seems to come

I spent ages yesterday reading a blog post about why someone loves TOLWSNBN and I'm currently working through Nick Cohen's polemic "What's Left?" about the crisis of the Left.

For me, the cult of TOLWSNBN is actually self-described as being because they haven't seen anyone to represent their views in recent Labour leaders. Now, if one is an avowed socialist and actually believes in seizing control of the means of production, than it does seem to follow that their desire to achieve as many seats as possible in a Parliamentary Democracy would be less than that of a social democrat.

Social democracy to me, means starting from socialist principles (equality for all) moving towards what is more electorally possible, such as cash transfers to poor and disabled people and equality of opportunity.

But I'm concerned that seems to be being eradicated in the Labour Party in search of a pure socialist mindset.

But I suppose I should just reflect on it not being my party, and leave them to it.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Should it be so difficult to leave the EU?

Someone said to me the other day that an institution so hard to leave as the EU was wrong. I wasn’t so sure, as I thought of several associations that are hard to leave – i.e. hard to leave or not take part in without significant downsides. Trade bodies being one, or adhering to international standards.

We’ve also entrenched EU membership into a lot of our internal agreements, and hence in a way have “done this to ourselves”. 

So, what next? Joseph Stiglitz on Today this morning was remarkably upbeat about the prospects of coming to a “rational” agreement with the EU with a kind of looser arrangement, similar to that Gus O’Donnell was proposing the other day.

I’ve been searching for a while for a note about 5 economists from Europe who suggested there could be a “two-speed” Europe with the UK on the outside track from further political integration – an idea that seems to have been around for as long as I have been alive. I cannot for the life of me find this note, so any advice or links would be helpful?
In short I feel there are three takes from the story so far:

 1. Brexiteers’ Singapore fantasy - plus harnessing the British pathological love of nostalgia (sops such as blue passports or going back to imperial measurements). This involves turning Britain overnight into a low tax, low regulation economy. As much as libertarians will welcome this nirvana, I’m not sure that’s what anyone was voting for bar some people in government……

2. Remainer's Two Speed Europe / Norway. I think this looks desperate right now but practically and pragmatically preserves what Daniel Knowles was on about – making sure there isn’t suddenly a lot of faff involved in trading in Europe.

3. Fundamentally it's our issue at the moment. We don't know what we want, are stuck in decision paralysis and that will start to cost us

P.S.  I have decided to stop worrying about Labour and leave them to it. So what if we don’t have a functioning opposition holding the govt to account through Brexit?

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Corbyn's not for turning, neither are the Hard Brexiteers

People like consistency. I think this helps explains Corbynmania amongst his supporters in the Labour party, and also to an extent Brexit.

I think that because Corbyn refuses to compromise, he engenders support amongst people who dislike compromise. This could also apply to those who want "Hard Brexit" or mean to bounce Theresa May into it.

This is my theory, so much as it is. It's not meant to apply to everyone, but is after trying to think through how I'd end up supporting Corbyn or Hard Brexit, that I thought if I was someone who believed in no compromise, I might have come to that POV.

In pretty much everyone's daily life, they have to compromise. Perhaps a person is slightly overweight and needs to have a salad rather than a burger for lunch? Perhaps a person can't afford to go see Bruce Springsteen because they have to pay the mortgage? Perhaps they'd love to go to Turkey for the family summer holiday but their spouse vetoes it due to fear of terror attacks?

Plus of course, there are all of the roads not taken - the job they didn't take, the course not pursued, the person not asked out on a date. All of these may inform a self-image of "I didn't do that = I can't do that = someone's preventing me from doing that"

Perhaps they don't like this and feel anxious about (as they see it) not getting any autonomy  - and autonomy is a key human need.

Back to politics, I think flexibility (most of the time) is an important skill in politics- as you have three main interested parties in what you do : yourself (which includes family needs), your party and the country. Balancing the needs of the three is a continuing challenge and part of the skill is getting it right.

Jeremy Corbyn doesn't even seem to try the last two. I think this makes him a bad politician.

So, in the face of the daily, grinding compromise, people and causes arise that arise that people can project onto. People like Corbyn who don't seek to find a consensus, appeal to those who think that's all you need to get what you want, be that equality for all or exit from the European Union.

Being inflexible tho, is not a good thing. Getting to a "win/win" situation is much the best outcome if possible. Of course there are some cases, such as the UK being under mortal threat, where you don't really want someone to be seeking a compromise, but mostly, it pays to see the other side and "get you both to yes". It's harder than banging on about what YOU want, of course.

It was suggested to me that Corbyn has compromised on having a free vote over Trident and also on campaigning to Remain in the EU. I think tho, that neither were compromises that he believed in - on Trident he is continuing as if he has changed Labour party policy without taking his party with him, and the free vote was more of a cop-out than a compromise, and on Remaining in the EU, I think the problems with his attitude have been covered elsewhere, but his support was lukewarm at best and totally scuppered by his call for immediate hard Brexit after the vote.

So, perhaps no compromise is a sensible attitude if you want to attract fervent, single-minded support, but is it really a good way forward?

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Imagine there's no countries - how do we get there from here?

There's been some astonishingly good analysis on the Brexit decision in the last couple of days, here are some of my reflections.

I'm struck by the fact, as the IFS outlines, that the government wants to take a lot of time, effort and money to shoot ourselves in the foot on the back of one vote about #Brexit, a non binding one at that. But the most startling thing to me is that the choice that seems to be surfacing, albeit probably impossible, is being part of the single market but not having free movement of people.

As Daniel Knowles points out spectacularly well in The Times, it seems Brexiteers don't understand international trade, only it's discontents. I've noticed this before, namely that even David Cameron and his "global race" don't seem to understand that all economies gain from trade, and that includes people moving across boundaries.

People don't seem to like immigration across the world, and there's probably some political leadership to be done there- as per when Free Trade was advocated in the 18th century by the likes of Adam Smith. Sometimes it feels as if without ideology as we are, more or less; we don't seem able get across ideas in the modern world, but it's in my view that the economic world has far outstripped the political world with globalisation. It is better to have the free movement of people, the question is how we get there from here?

Watching Out and Proud, the Sky documentary with Faisal Islam last night I was struck by how many people genuinely had based their vote on the ahem, misspeaking of the Leave campaign - people referred to the £350m for the NHS (discredited) and apparently the fact oil, gas and food will become cheaper after Brexit.

I'm not sure many people think we are actually a great economy in the world, because they look around their local area and see poverty and lack of investment. The Pareto Principle leads people to invest where money can "do the most good" which seems to inevitably mean loads of investment for the South East of England and less/not much elsewhere. The EU seeked to balance that by investing in our deprived areas, areas that will lose out as a result of Brexit.

It seems there are many reasons for voting out and that they often stem from a mixture of misconceptions ("We'll be better off out as we aren't that well off as a country") prejudice ("immigrants taking our jobs") and ignorance about how free trade works - ignorance that extends to the people charged with Brexit.

I can only hope eventually our very pragmatic PM, Theresa May, comes to appreciate that Brexit could cost us very badly, that is if she doesn't already, and potentially provides the very leadership we spoke of. It's a small hope, as our previous PM, despite being on the surface more outward looking, didn't really get it either.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Post-fact politics and the end of stability

I haven't written a blog post since the referendum because, to be quite honest, I've not really known what to say.

It feels like the end of an epoch, but how can I say that, have never seen the end of an epoch before.

Globalisation and Its Discontents was a very influential book for me about 10 years ago when I first read it. It outlined, in Stiglitz inimitable style, what globalisation (which I think some call "neo-liberalism") meant and how it was affecting some people that weren't very happy about it. It mainly focusses on the transition as managed by such organisations as the IMF, World Bank and others. He is critical of them, but not globalisation itself.

One of it's key quotes was thus,

"“...decisions were often made because of ideology and politics. As a result many wrong-headed actions were taken, ones that did not solve the problem at hand but that fit with the interests or beliefs of the people in power.”  

Therein lies the rub, I believe. Many of us are so caught up in the dream of globalisation and imagining a world with no countries, I believe we've overlooked that some people feel left behind. We've overlooked that as much as our dream is real to us, and we are living it, potentially the problems have not been thought through and short-term political expediency has won the day.

We can see this time and time again with early retirement pensions potentially causing the productivity puzzle - as outlined superbly by @flipchartrick on his blog The Great Pension's Cock Up or with the planning rules making it harder to build the houses we need, making them ever more out of reach of young people which means it's harder and less likely that they will vote - a perfect storm of favouring one group over the other.

In addition, stepping away from the travails of the middle-class, poverty and decline in some communities, especially here in the North, is endemic. Home ownership a very distant dream. And our voting system meaning very little attention paid to those in safe seats that only vote the same way.

Everything is inter-related. People talk of not feeling connected to their communities when there are many immigrants not putting down roots - well due to the housing crisis I didn't have permanent home (i.e. I hadn't bought a home) until 2 years ago, more than 10 years later than my parents did. I felt rootless and unconnected to my community, and feel better connected now, as I am more committed to putting down roots. My libertarian friends may say this is all necessary for labour market movement, but I'm not so sure. I think I was  ready to buy a house at 27, but it was only at 35 that I was able to. I think I'm pretty typical

This is so complicated, a truly Herculean task. Too many problems have gone  unchallenged. Too many short cuts have been taken.

And yet, the same problems are arising worldwide, in country after country. It truly feels like the end of an era of stability. It feels like those days are gone. I do hope I'm wrong but I fear I am not.

Friday, 17 June 2016

My Britain is the Britain of Pied Beauty. Give me my country back.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote my favourite poem, Pied Beauty.

"GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;        
    And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:        
                  Praise him."

This is my Britain,  a land of dappled things. A land of beauty, a land where some things lie unchanged for centuries.

As Larkin spoke of what will survive of us is love, I understand what he means in the outpouring of love, kindness and thankfulness for Jo Cox MP, who was murdered yesterday in an act of brutality that I cannot understand, nor really want to, however many times it forces itself upon me.

Others have written today about the political discourse, about the smallness of men like Nigel Farage, juxtaposing their "common sense" rhetoric with it's incendiary aspects and this horrific act in a typical British street, on a mundane Thursday in June.

How can this happen? we ask ourselves. And all too clearly comes the answer. We let it. The challenge when identity is under debate is how we present ourselves, a country adrift in a globalised world it used to rule. I don't understand really why people cling to British-as-Imperialists or even if that's what people think they are doing,  or what stories they tell each other about who we used to be. I don't understand white supremacists either, to be honest, it not really being the case that white people are oppressed by anything other than other white people...

But I understand MY decent, tolerant country. My Britain has beauty and an unchanging constancy underneath. It has survived the worst of times from outside in the Second World War, and from inside during the Civil War and what feels like is happening now. Things are changing, plates are shifting. But the Britain we want is about attitudes and kindness and love, things that Jo Cox clearly had in spades. We need more of her sort. We need more of her kind.

I want my country back. Give it to me.

Put down the pitchforks. Stop listening to the man with the easy platitudes and the false bonhomie he switches off when someone asks him a pointed question. Get off the bandwagon- this isn't us. This isn't what our grandparents and great-grandparents fought for. Now it's our turn to fight to hold onto what we love.

Give me my country back.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Why I'm voting Remain

I'm voting Remain in the EU referendum and here's why

1. I want the ability to live and work abroad for myself and my family. Selfish, maybe. But I also think the flipside of that is others should be free to do similar, unless they are criminals.

2. Brexit would cause a recession in the short term

3. Since the Single Market began, in real terms* the UK has gained 62% in GDP.  Source here

4. In today's globalised world, it pays to work as a group to negiotate with other, much larger, more diverse economies who have economies of scale.

That's what I can think of at the moment, I'll add to this post if I think it needs further explanation or I think of further reasons.

*in real terms means with inflation taken into account