Archive | politics RSS feed for this section

Memoirs of a Political Bag carrier

26 Jul

 

Political bag carriers and gatekeepers have a new patron saint. Step forward Alyssa Mastromonoca. The inside cover of her book claims  “ if your funny older sister were the former deputy chief of staff to President Obama, her behind the scenes political memoir would look something like this …” and with that she nailed it.

Mastromonaco writes in a fluid style and takes us all over the place, not just in a geographic sense but in her own world as well. She’s open and honest about herself ( there is no such thing as too open and honest ) and takes you inside the world that seems both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time.

If you ever find yourself undertaking a job like this ( even if its for a small place local body politician ) you will benefit from Mostramonaco’s guide as to how to explain your job. Don’t go into detail just say it slowly, in hushed tones and with some inclusive hand gestures.

The human side of the book is wonderfully self-deprecating and funny. How could fighting the urge to need the toilet whilst waiting to meet the Pope not be both ? How could you possible end up married when your first date is gate-trashed by Jim Messina ?

Behind this though are some more serious points. She is put down in the press mainly as a scheduler because, well hey she’s a Woman. And the stress and strain of the job remind me of Stephanopolousis also wonderful insider memoir. They burn them out in the White House. It may not be intentional, it may be it craves a certain type. Not just funny older sisters who pretend to be hedgehogs. And even if you don’t share her love (obsession) with lists, you’ll still find something wonderful in this book.

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea ? Alyssa Mastromonaco, twelve books,2017

Advertisements

Harold Wilsons Minority Queens Speech

28 Jun

…and its dodgy advice.

0a47e0061df16cd154801c844e9b3d56--harold-wilson-queen-elizabeth-ii

There never seems to be a situation in British Politics that we haven’t been in before. In 1974 Harold Wilson was given the opportunity to lead a minority Government. Of course Wilson had been in opposition in February 1974, however like Teresa May Harold Wilson was confident of passing a Queens speech. Wilson did not seek agreements with any of the minor parties, and it is likely none would have been keen to do so. The Queens speech was set for 12 March. Wilson understood that his tenure leading a minority administration was likely to be short, and that much of the manifesto commitments wouldn’t be enacted. However, he also didn’t want to table a mini queen’s speech. Indeed, Wilson wanted to act big and put much of the legislation down even of it wasn’t going to get passed into law. The electoral cycle continued! (and Teresa May seems to be following by tabling a 2 year Queens Speech). Most of the Cabinet expected another election by the end of the year.

Heath as leader of the opposition warned that they would seek to defeat the government on the speech and force Wilson out of office. Wilson was adamant that he would seek a dissolution if this occurred.

The Civil Service though gave Wilson quite a lot of duff advice. Robert Armstrong advised that if Wilson lost a confidence vote the Queen might send for a senior figure to form a Government ( Jenkins/Whitelaw) . Armstrong and Crowther Hunt (his Minister at the Cabinet Office) argued against resigning in the event of defeat. Indeed, Crowther Hunt wrote the first draft of a note to the PM on the train into work on the morning of 15 March.

Crowther Hunt saw 2 alternate courses of action if a Conservative amendment was carried. Alternative A was to simply ignore the vote and Alternative B was to call a confidence vote. If defeated in the confidence cote Crowther Hunt advised Wilson stay put and ask for a dissolution. He then uses some fairly dated commonwealth examples of the risk the Queen would have in saying no. Namely that if Heath couldn’t form a Government (which he couldn’t) there would need to be a dissolution anyway. Crowther Hunt thought the Queen would be acting constitutionally improper to call for say Whitelaw or Jenkins to try and form a Government, given the accepted practice of electing party leaders. Crowther Hunt thinks the only way the Queen could refuse would be to call a Round Table Conference to seek all-party agreement, but even then he sees it as a precursor to dissolution.

Crowther Hunts memo then gets the Armstrong tinkering and is slightly expanded for Wilson. Armstrong adds 2 other alternatives as a subset of the defeat on a vote of confidence, namely forming a “broad based” Government and advising the Queen to appoint Heath as PM. These are then instantly dismissed as not being what Wilson is interested in. Armstrong though doesn’t give up, he adds a paragraph that says the Queen would be looking to avoid another election and that she might take soundings amongst good Tories. She would be reluctant to so so with Labour as it “would be hazardous in the extreme”. Crowther Hunt notes his view that the Queen wouldn’t call someone else to form a Government but Armstrong is less certain. Perhaps he’s hoping rather than being rational? There’s even a suggestion that the Queen might then enter into a complex game with Wilson testing his nerve around the dissolution versus a Whitelaw style Government. Wilson would need to consider his position in relation to the “Government of National Unity” a favourite idea for many in the early 70s.

 

4 days later Armstrong came back with a confession. After being pressed by Crowther Hunt on the precedents Armstrong realised he had cocked up. His understanding ( i.e. advice) to not resign after losing a vote on an address was based on a misunderstanding. He was using the precedent of Peel being defeated on an amendment in 1834, who didn’t resign on that but on a later defeat on an appropriation resolution (supply in modern DUP terms). Defeat on the amendment have been seen as confidence after all. His draft note on this claims both he and Crowther Hunt believe this doesn’t change the earlier advice. The final note only relies on Armstrong being confident on this manner.

 

The actual speech featured a youthful Neil Kinnock as one of the 2 star opening turns, Nigel Lawson wondered if Zetland might declare UDI and the ever popular Dennis Skinner wondered of the Liberals had gone off streaking.

 

In the end Heath didn’t call for a division on the speech but instead the amendment to the vote was defeated by 295 to 21 with the Conservatives abstaining. On 18 March.

 

References

Harold Wilson FINAL TERM THE LABOUR GOVERNMENT 1974-1976

Prem/16/231

 

The 2017 UK election …what happens now

16 Jun

The DUP shouted about state sponsored murder…they up the ante and make the situation much harder to cope with …slowly over time you don’t even bother to register the outrages..but the slow dripping of bile and insinuation undermines the process.It makes people more uncertain and fearful, shakes their belief that progress can be made.

DB6BL0YW0AIqeDz.jpg-large

This is from Mo Mowlam. The DUP are now the King maker in UK politics, how did this come about and where will it end ?

Its like a great tragedy. The 2017 election is likely to be written about and talked about for many years to come. Whether its the starting point for some new politics or just a punctuation on the way to a return to normal service time will tell. It was an election no one won, everyone lost. Yet some of the losers are clear winners, and the most reactionary Party in UK politics ( quoted recently but I can’t find where as the political wing of the 17th century ) the DUP are going to have power. Yes this might not be a coalition or a formal power arrangement , but there votes are required and they will extract a great price. They are the most Socially Conservative of all the elected parties at Westminster. They also have a fundamentally hardline view on the governance of Northern Ireland. And to those who weren’t watching, they are responsible for one of the biggest scandals in recent UK times. https://www.renewableenergyhub.co.uk/blog/norther-ireland-the-rhi-scandal-and-what-it-means-for-renewable-heating/

More worrying though is that if the Government is reliant on one Northern Ireland party it will upend the peace process and current Governance arrangements. One of the great moves forward in the peace process has been to include wider shades of nationalism and unionism. However by utilising FPP, the DUP will have a monopoly not only on Unionism but on Northern Ireland issues with the UK Government. Do we need to go to this ?

And what of  Teresa Mays backbenchers? They will make sure the coast is clear and that Corbyn can’t touch power, but at some point she will leave. To be replaced by who or what ? Does the lack of majority mean another election ? Well you’d think so, especially if a new leader gets a poll bounce. But wasn’t that what just happened ? Who is going to trust a poll bounce now. May’s monumental cock up will reverberate for years. We could be faced with a slow Parliamentary death like the 74-9 Parliament. Defeat extracted one day at a time.

And I had hoped this was as bad it was going to get.

The Tories will plough on but look unlikely to be able to deliver on big policy. Of course the election was meant to be about Brexit. It quickly wasn’t, yet the implications for it will be massive. This Brexit Parliament ( if it remains in place ) will deal with it all. The clock is ticking on Article 50 and suddenly the divisions that are in the Tory party between the soft and hard Brexit camps will become real. Parliamentary arithmetic is claimed  to favour soft Brexit. The current Prime Minister was a remainer. I doubt there will be an appetite for big risk. However the position is unlikely to be between soft and hard but more consensual. The Brexit deal will almost certainly have to be cross party or certainly pan-party. Even those curiosities the Liberal Democrats may need to be onboard.

DB6GC-JXsAAV7ID.jpg-large650

And suddenly everything Teresa May touches turns to disaster. The Confidence and Supply agreement doesn’t materialise, the Queens speech is delayed and the awful Fire disaster has found her lacking in just about every area she was needed in. Does this shorten her shelf life ? Undoubtedly, but from what to what is unclear. Don’t expect this means another election though, not yet anyway. What are the odds on a new leader arising to bring the Lib Dems onboard ( also under a new non religious leader we assume ) and moving forward with a cross-party Brexit before calling for another election in say 2019/2020 ?

What does seem certain is that despite having a wonderful result by historic standards, the SNP took a pasting and Indyref2 finds itself in some slightly longer grass.

An eccentric and elegiac election

5 Jun

The UK is going to the polls (again) and these plebiscites are becoming high entertainment spectacles even if they are low on political x factor. Many will of course wonder why now, and as many reply why not. Teresa May must have agonised over this. Had she come in and cleared the decks then this might be seen as acceptable. But she didn’t she told us over and over that no election was coming. Then suddenly we were having one because Parliament might not continue to keep agreeing with her. It takes some time to follow through all the issues she raised here. Of course the cynical way to look at this is that she decided to cut and run. 20 point leads in the opinion polls don’t come very often. All she could see in front of her was the downside of leaving the EU, the end of free movement, recession, possible criminal charges against sitting MPs and a Labour opposition that could only go up. Mrs May decided to cash all this in, but she’s gone in a short space of time from being Mrs Thatcher to Ted Heath. Remarkable that perhaps the PM who took us out of the EU has made the same blunder as the one who took us in. A snap election to focus on a key issue that then gets little focus, whilst your leadership slowly drains away.  Even if she wins unless she wins big the writing is on the wall. She started the campaign with talk of a 1930s style result and now were looking at February 1974 !

IMG_6756

Never trust a person who doesn’t know how to eat chips !

The election seems to be witnessing the death of UKIP and the Lib Dems. UKIP have seen a lot of their policy platform hoovered up by the Tories. We now have a protectionist anti-foreigner, anti free movement, isolationist Government. Kippers no longer need to protest. But what of the Lib Dems, the hope they would bounce back as the sensible voice of remainers doesn’t look likely. The electorate seems to have moved on, or not fully comprehended the leaving of the EU. This is becoming a fictional election, fought on a fictional issue brought about by a fictional Brexit.  I’m sure the Lib Dems will survive, but a massive success for them would end up with something like 15 MPs. It doesn’t seem worth sniffing all those spaniels for does it ? The leader seems to get caught again and again on theology. It doesn’t seem to make a great deal of sense. Why he hasn’t developed convincing lines on it is beyond belief. Which reminds me of the UKIP manifesto. A one in one out immigration policy  ( then someone presumably gets shaken all about ) A ban on covering your cheeks in public, a brexit day national holiday.

Some people are trying to keep BRexit alive 

There will be lots of focus on the result in Scotland, there is a big challenge for the SNP as they are coming off an unbelievable high. However the prism of Independence will be cast over the result. The Conservatives look like being the main beneficiaries, but its hard to see the SNP not being the 3rd largest party again. And by some margin.

I enjoyed the spectacle of the Jeremy World Cup. First Jeremy Corbyn went up against Jeremy Vine. He obviously did ok because he played Jeremy Paxman in the semi-final. I eagerly await the clash with Jeremy Hanley ( who has his own fan club remember ) but hope we can avoid Jeremy on Jeremy violence as its unnecessary.

Teresa May has unravelled in a way no one thought possible. How the Tories must be cursing the choice they made. How Boris Johnson is enjoying providing the outgoing aggressive insensitive foil to her introverted aggressive insensitive character. First there was Mugwumps then he insulted a whole audience by talking about “ Clinky Clinky “ of bottles of imported Scotch to India. But he’s gone much further as the TV debate spinner. All arms and finger-pointing and aggressive gestures. He called Corbyn’s chance of governing dependent on  the tutti fruity coalition. He doesn’t realise how appealing that sounds. Tough the Italian Tutti Frutti coalition was more like the modern Conservative government. Populists and nationalists all held together by fear of foreigners. A group who can’t decide on what their policy position is on anything. The shambles of the Dementia Tax said it all.

Many Tories would have rather had him calling the shots, he couldn’t have been worse than May. Well perhaps he would.

620

or perhaps he wouldnt 

But the 2017 oddest attraction seems to be Zac Goldsmith. He probably deserves a post all on his own, which I will do shortly. He’s back again campaigning as a candidate for the party he resigned from and tried to stand against last year. He’s a trier if nothing else !

Without doubt  the oddest attraction, but in some ways the most heartwarming has been Grime for Corbyn.

The polls are all over the place and there’s a good article by Nate Silver ( have I just typed that !) on it all at https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/are-the-u-k-polls-skewed/

It might be worth coming back to if Mrs May doesn’t have an 80 plus seat majority.

And then there are the grotesque terrorist attacks. Impossible to comprehend. The issue of security has now come to the fore. No one can win this debate by being binary. Its not a binary issue.

Jeremy Corbyn has been the undoubted star of the campaign, he has been humorous, engaging and realistic and offered hope. The Tories have hit him in a predictable Crosby style ( whose also going to be worth a separate post ) but it hasn’t landed. The public understand him warts and all. Perhaps the public have realised that the bogeymen myths about left wingers just aren’t true ?

Perhaps they don’t feel there’s anything left to risk or lose. Perhaps they like him after all. What has the voter to make of it all. The Brexit election, which isn’t really about Brexit at all, the Tutti Frutti election where the 2 parties will probably get more of the combined vote than in the last 40 years. The election is likely to show the huge divisions across the UK in starling Technicolor while  providing a result in monochrome. You’d still have to say this is Mrs Mays victory for the taking, but it’s no longer straightforward. Oddly the awful terrorist attacks have exposed May. She can’t blame anyone else for security failures. She sounds odd standing outside Number 10 saying enough is enough. The public may agree with her. The hardline rhetoric hasn’t worked, maybe something else will. The grandstanding over nuclear weapons mixed with the mock horror that Corbyn wasn’t always keen on shoot to kill policing shouldn’t be surprising.

2 years ago the media and pundits were obsessed with the idea of a hung parliament, now there may well be one that sneaks up on us. May deserves the hung parliament, the UK perhaps doesn’t but who knows ? The joy of a Corbyn led Government may be short-lived, I doubt a hung parliament would allow it to happen but we could hardly have 5 years of a Conservative DUP coalition….or could we ?

If I had to call it I would say small Conservative majority, but punditry is for the brave.

 

26 Hours 9 Minutes and 22 seconds with the Kenneth Clark(e) s *

27 Feb

I blame the Los Angeles Review of Books. Earlier this year I noticed a link to a review of a biography on Kenneth Clark. Lord Clark of Civilisation as he was hilariously known. Alan Clarks dad as he was also hilariously known, though mainly posthumously. Clark, was an interesting character and the review was good.It reminded me I had volume 2 of Clark’s Autobiography in a box somewhere. I located it and read it firly rapidly. Published in 1977 and dedicated “ To Alan “ it covered the years from before the second world war to publication.

Clark is a lucid writer and you enter a world as bizarre and out of touch as anything his son ( The racist Mr Toad ) conjures up in his diaries. He bought a castle for gawds sake ! How many of us will be able to put that in our autobiographies ?

Clark takes us through his time as a wartime Civil Servant. He doesn’t seem to have enjoyed it or been very attentive at it. He wrote If the Invader Comes  a pamphlet sent to every household. Its a document worth further exploration, but he dismisses it as useless. He put on films and Concerts during the war to keep up morale. It seems he had little problem with his own morale.Away from his wife he claims to have been “ the least Strindbergian of men”….and he got into a trouble away from his wife that he “need not specify nor describe”. Im sure this is his way of saying he met nice ladies and they were nice back to him. Its not quite in the Princess Diana/ Prince Charles league of admitting adultery by semaphore …its more like by cryptic crossword.

Anecdotes abound, normally about the great and the good. He hears that the war has ended after lunching with Ernest Bevin and then taking his wife Jane to a German Surgeon to remove a broken needle left in her backside. He continues post war in a variety of public service roles and each of these brings fascinating tales.

Clark though doesn’t see himself as a powerful person. He tells of his mission to ask De Valera ( Irelands Premier ) to change his mind over the issue of port access not to reveal power but to reveal the lack of power. Indeed as Chair of the Arts Council he says he had less power than a lollipop lady ( who oddly he says enjoy using it ?).

Like his son, Clark sees the world darkly. He claims to have seen “Death” enter Maynard Keynes opera box the night before he died. A natural optimist he is not. I must confess to never having watched Civilisation, but I did allow myself one clip after reading this book. Clark gives a rather gloomy view of the world today. He is a stick in the mud and quotes Yates second coming, before looking reflectively around his Castle. He owned a Castle !

At the same time as reading this I also received a free trial download of an audiobook. I currently don’t have much cash to buy new books so decided to try this out. I am not a fan of audiobooks in general but decided to spend my daily commute with that other Kenneth Clarke. Partly because I seem to recall a story that he sued Trivial Pursuit for claiming he was Kenneth Clarks son, or perhaps Alan did or some such combination. A rubbish anecdote I digress but a perfect connection for the Clark/s.

Clarke was a “big beast” political figure. His autobiography read in a rather sing song and friendly tone provides an entertaining if not revelatory account of life in British Politics since the late 1960’s.His early life was content and happy he enjoyed everything it seemed from trainspotting (not the film) to sport and joined the elite very easily. He ran up an enormous overdraft as a student that he didn’t pay off until he was in his 40’s ( a sentiment I can concur with ) and then had a bizarre life as a QC in Birmingham by day, MP for Nottingham at the weekend and on a train to westminster for the evening session each day and back to Birmingham for bed. Oddly he thinks this was good for democracy.

His reminisces about the 70s political scene are rather stereotypical, but then maybe they were compared to the current times.

Audiobooks create an odd relationship, at times I miss large chunks of what is being said either through concentrating on the road or over concentrating on what had been said. I almost career into a ditch when Clarke recalls standing dripping wet with no clothes on arguing with Mrs Thatcher. He was on the phone I think and not in the same house but it was mental torture and not easy to just skip back. Clarke enjoyed the Thatcher years and rose to prominence, he then became chief smartarse during the Major years. Im not sure he really respected Major and always seems to be the smartest guy in the room whether its at Euro meetings or on Black Wednesday. As Chancellor he enjoyed tinkering and claims that all students during his Chancellorship smoked Drum roll ups. I know this to be a lie. I was a student during his Chancellorship and my tobacco of choice wasn’t Drum, however I can’t recall its name it was in a more yellowy packet. Drum of course was not available in the UK and was all bootleg. Clarke wanted his duty.

Later Clarke stood for leadership of the party 3 times and lost in rather different circumstances each time. When rejected he nursed his directorships, most controversially at British American Tobacco, though its hard to see why a man who loved smoking so much wouldn’t have done this job.

Each chapter is named after a Jazz classic and Clarke introduces them like a poor mans Alan Partridge.  If only he had slipped a few John Zorn titles in. Fuck the Facts about his time as Chancellor or bonehead . Maybe he did and I had drifted off mentally on the commute home.

Throughout the book the real star is his now deceased wife Gillian. Gillian sacrificed an academic career because Ken wanted a political one. She travelled second class while Ken flew business and she put up with his working hours, overdraft and raised the children.

Clarks return to Government under David Cameron paints him as a crazy uncle tolerating the noisy kids. He likes Osborne, seems contemptible of Cameron and eventually moves on. Clarke is now the hero of Bremainers, I personally will miss his midlands sing song voice on the commute tomorrow, though I still have to remember the name of my 1990s Tobacco taste.

***comprises

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/when-people-wanted-civilisation-reassessing-kenneth-clark/ …5 minutes

 

this at 5 minutes 22 seconds

 

Ken Clarks “Audiobiography” is an eyewatering 23 hours and 29 minutes

And reading Kenneth Clark The Other Half  took 2 and a half hours.

 

Notes on Gramsci,Fascism and Trump.

12 Feb

 

Many in the West are now experiencing for the first time what a Fascist Government may look like. There is debate over whether the Trump regime is a proto-fascist or some other classification which seems at times pointless and sterile when the pace and projection of events is clearly giving concern the world over.

We are though living in an era of “Populism”. Populist may be the new fascists ? Certainly the ultra nationalist ones give lots of indications. I have written before on the idea that the likes of Farage and Powell before him, send off the all the smells of fascism, all the signs and signals even if they couldn’t pull all the levers. It makes little difference but these debate go on and on. Normally to agree nothing more than we don’t like it, and how unpleasant and incompatible with liberalism it is. But I don’t look to Liberals and Liberalism to resolve it. I have no real desire to make sure potential Fascists are, or are not, filling in all the boxes on a matrix.

I am reminded at the present time of the debate a few years ago around the work of Michael Mann. Mann had written a second significant book on Fascism and “ the dark side of Democracy “ (Mann 2005). The idea that a failing in Democracy may sustain the conditions for Genocide. Democracy was no longer a bulwark against the rise of violent tyranny. Was it ever one might ask ? Indeed the failings are in our narrow concept of Liberal Democracy, of which the USA is seen as the mothership. The pushing of the neoliberal boundaries within a democratic context has led to the conditions of collapse. When politicians and the public feel the local supermarket owner understand them better than the political class then we are going somewhere else. The events in Greece in 2015 were a stark reminder of how financial markets and the associated administrators react to the will of the electorate.

America as we all know has a constitution that starts “ We the People”. Now we are letting politicians decide who “We” are and who the “People” are. These are never expanded nomenclature, always retracted ones ! They just ripen the conditions for discontent. Global organisations and international groups are easily badged as “them” and the WTO has failed us all. In other directions “we” are born here, or sometimes something even more complicated ( as in the current referendum in Switzerland giving third generation immigrants voting rights). But these are the empty politicians. Not only those selling us the “populism” with its neat, to them, models of the Demos and who is harming who. It’s also those holding the supposed mainstream and the middle-ground. They have been complicit in the suicide of liberal Democracy.

Trump has played this tune all the way to the White House. Now he’s there he’s not stopping. Those , and lets call them idiots for argument’s sake, who said that Trump was merely sending a signal that his voters knew wouldn’t be acted on,how are they feeling now. Like idiots I hope. But were all complicit in the idiocy to some extent.

And what idiocy it is. Not content with building a wall across the Mexican border,or of accusing the media of being liars, indeed even having a senior adviser who sees himself as Darth Vader doesn’t seem to be the ends of the lunacy. We are left with random immigration bans, state agencies working a gale force 11 and a world of alternative facts.

It’s at times like this then that I turn to Gramsci. His legacy as a writer who understood the nature and challenge of Fascism and how it poses problems that Liberal Democracy cannot easily answer is often unduly neglected. Attempts have been made to re-stake this claim but they still fall short.(Adamson,1990) I am not skilled enough to finish the job, but maybe leave a few signposts on the way.
Gramsci lived through the rise and implementation of Fascism in Italy and Western Europe. Something we hoped had been an event consigned to history. With each step in the development of first the party then the state, lines were drawn which survived only until the next move. From an Industrial lobby to totalitarianism in a series of remarkable unchallenged moves. Italy represented a microcosm of world capitalism. It was urban and rural, developed and backward, it hosted fragmented national elements, was fast dealing with industrialisation and a declining agricultural sector. Its relationship with the power of the catholic church also illustrated the wider political cultural dominance that can come into play. Gramsci saw this through the lens of hegemony. I have borrowed heavily from Hobsbawm here and will note his comment that Italy was a “laboratory of political experiences” (Hobsbawm ,2011)

Gramsci also understood in a remarkably prescient analysis the role of “subversive”. This was a negative class position, the “people” define themselves by empirical enemies. In the Italian context this was a dislike of country over town, of appearance standards and of officials and officialdom. Peasants and small farmers hating the civil servant.Not the state for they don’t understand that but they do understand its functionaries. (Gramsci,1971)

Gramsci saw the rise of Fascism as something more than Mussolini and something more alarming than the next phase in capitalism’s destruction. Writing in 1921 his analysis was brutally honest. The Fascists were involved in criminal activity, had moral and material accomplices in the state functionaries and a military hierarchy and command structure. In the face of this great threatening development, Gramsci was horrified at the lack of response from the Socialist party. Well that’s not wholly true, he called it a low moan. ( Gramsci,1921).

Like Trumps proto-fascism, Italian Fascism had a flaw. Unlike the death star it was not one so easy to explode. Though it carries the potential for its own destruction. The middle class disgruntled white-collar workers and small business owners on one side and the disposed rural class on the other. Both had come together under Mussolini’s umbrella but both had fundamentally different resolutions to their grievances. The parliamentary element will make political allegiances, the working class element will be left floundering. This coming split is, for Gramsci, an opportunity. We will no doubt see this with Trump. The quick wins for deregulated bankers wont help the New Hampshire underclass. They need something to turn up to take advantage of real class struggle ( Gramsci,1921 b) This is more than the broad alliances that any political movement or party makes and needs to be numerically successful. The two demands are contradictory. The current debates about the disconnected or “leftbehinds”, the white social conservatives of the Brexit vote, angry at not having a voice amongst a more educated elite provides another view of the people. They are the outcasts of the modern capitalist world, without a role or either perceived political or economic power. In a sudden moment they seem to have an outlet and a change to exercise some political power if not some economic power. Do they consider that the exercise of one may further hinder the other ? Perhaps not.To get their needs met requires entrenchment on “liberal” values. The commercial service elements to this support group need to continue exploiting them to make a profit. Otherwise they wont trade out of the situation. The two groups can’t be winners without the rules and social structure fundamentally changing. A trade war with China is not likely to benefit unemployed Americans to any great extent.

In 1926 Gramsci widened this debate again. The two elements were a set of tensions but actually Fascism had another split. Another group with even darker motives. This group wanted to merge the party with the state and create a bourgeois position of strength against all other political parties. Fascist action then becomes a totalitarian regime. Gramsci is still convinced that the other faction is represented by two contradictions. The first between landowners and capitalists in particular over the issue of tariffs. The second between the petite bourgeoisie and capitalism. (Gramsci 1926) Keep this in mind as we see movements towards a Trumpian judiciary, a battle between those who will be stymied by the raft of tariff and trade deals that are, or are not, entered into. When the media are taunted for being in opposition to the President were moving into Gramsci’s dark space.Creating industrial jobs, something Trump has promised his dispossessed, left behind supporters, is going to be done in an environment of pro-america trade deals. Quite who and how these new jobs will trade their output with remains to be seen, unless America will manufacture and trade only within its one borders, then everything else falls at the feet of capital(ism).

This of course leads to Gramsci’s much wider political point. In dealing with the “crisis” that has arisen, the traditional ruling interests will still be at an advantage. The Fascist challenge, however badged, still leaves a swamp with many of the same inhabitants before the proposed draining. We may be experiencing what Gramsci observed as the masses moving from political passivity to certain activity.The demands they present may seem revolutionary ( banning immigrants, tearing up trade deals, full employment) . However watch carefully how the traditional ruling class will solidify around this new position. Will big business and the corporate banking sector lose influence over trade deals ? Will the insurance companies be impacted if Obama care vanishes? Of course not, they have numerous “trained cadres “ ready to reabsorb control. (Gramsci,1971)

The debate moves then to what is to be done ?

Once the airport protestors go home ( or get arrested ) do we carry on a low moan and turn to TED talks and Facebook comments. Indeed a website designed to help people complain about Trump policy has been created. All you do is click the issue you don’t like. It has 100,000 visits in Trumps first 10 days (Vara,2017). Is it likely to do anything other than make people feel better ? Gramsci would wonder if registering your unhappiness online will really undermine the power structure. It might make a minor addition to the war of position, the tactical civil society focus needed to bring about change. However its going to need more than this. Ultimately if Trumps Presidency isn’t to take the world into either an American Fascist state superpower or a disjointed return to the corporate elite, it will require a vanguard leadership to bring together the war of position and deliver the war of manoeuvre. If these forces come together then Trump will have to resort to force. Gramsci saw the revolution taking place against a backdrop of economic catastrophe only when the counter-hegemonic revolution had been undertaken. (Mahoney,1995) What remains to be seen is if a couple of websites, John Oliver and a raft of Academy award speeches will be enough.

Bibliography
Adamson,WL (1990) Gramsci’s Interpretation of Fascism, Journal of the History of Ideas,41:4
Conversi,D (2006) Demo-Skepticism and Genocide. Political Studies Review 4:3
Gramsci,A (1921) Socialists and Fascists 11 June 1921
Gramsci,A (1921 b) The Two Fascism 25 Aug 1921
Gramsci,A (1926 )A study of the Italian situation
Gramsci,A (1971) Selections from Prison Notebooks ,Lawrence & Wishart
Hobsbawm, E (2011) How to Change The World, Abacus
Mahoney,S (1995) Gramsci’s Theory of Revolution, .
Mann,M (2005) The Dark Side of Democracy, Cambridge University Press
Vara,V (2017) To Complain about Trump,just click, Bloomberg, 11 February, 2017

Modi 2.014

15 Jan

The Modi Effect: Inside Narendra Modi’s Campaign To Transform India , Lance Price, Hodder & Stroughton, 2015 

The Indian election of 2014 will long be remembered as a turning point in Indian politics and society. I have written about a previous book on the election The Indian Election of 2014 so was wondering whether Lance Price’s book would make me think any differently. Price a journalist and ex Number 10 communications manager is given access to Modi but provides at times a critical assessment of the man. More critical than the 45 page comic Bal Narendra which painted the childhood of Modi as a heroic saint saving drowning boys, wrestling crocodiles and folding his clothes neatly. It comes across as an Indian Enid Blyton.

Modi is a populist and a fairly odd one at that. He kept his wedding a secret for 40 odd years, though is still ambiguous about the status of it and his wife. His Government it seems is intent on replacing Mahatma Gandhi with Narendra Modi and the election campaign illustrated some of that thinking. Modi is marketed as being the outsider, or rather one of you not one of them. So long as you are okay with militant Hindu nationalism, and they are Congress,muslims and catholics. The cloud hovering over Modi and his role in the Gujurati riots never seems to be removed. He seems to have re-invented himself though and risen above the disaster of the 2004 national election.

The election took the BJP into Government on its own, a remarkable achievement in Inidan politics. The BJP though is its own coalition, made up of various sized cell groups. The cow protection cell, the naturopathy cell and the weavers cell being just 3 of them. Price looks at the rather more sinister support role of the Rashhtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which is like a 1970s TUC to the Labour Government of the day. A massive interest/lobby/control group behind the BJP. It operated a ground campaign for Modi that was unlikely to have been disinterested.

Modis cult of the strongman was perhaps the major theme of the election. (56 inch chest ) His leadership vs Rahul Gandhi. Gandhi the non-existant captain. Modi the man. Modi the t-shirt image, the plastic doll, the alarm spray superman. Modi the crocodile whisperer and chai wallah. Gandhi the disapointment to his mother. Modi used disparaging Muslim terms against Gandhi at some points. You dont need to be an expert in Indian politics to see the negative attack stance of this. Modi rides off criticism and scandal like, well like Donald Trump. The ” snoopgate” affair being just one example. The Gujurati police were undertaking surveillance on a young student in great detail at his behest. Her father was worried about her ? Oh ok. But then criminal activity is no bar to success in Indian politics. 13 of Modi’s 45 ministers were facing pre-existing criminal charges including rape,attempted murder and intimidation. If only Super Modi could sort it out.

img_5239Theres a great story of one of his Ministers Smriti Irani, she was something of a media personality and had in 2004 decided to fast to death in protest at Modi. Now he describes her as his younger sister and that the whole fasting to death thing was a faux pas. As faux pas go, thats not insignificant. I presume she has stopped the fast ? In her new role she has added six new yoga departments to Indian universities. Long live Irani.

Much has been made of Modi in 3D. Price details many of the technical problems that this raised and also the juxtaposition that at the same time as his virtual appearances he was also big box office in the flesh. Crowds of people came to see him in the flesh, often at risk to life. And while the election was at times run on a social media agenda, perhaps unlike any other in the world before it, this aspect was more self-fulfilling than transformative. A great example being the selfie with Modi, it was more Pokemon go than a new way of doing political narrative. The selfie is the selfie, rather than the embarrassing off the cuff snap it is a processed often formal event. Though Price tells us it isn’t really in the use of technology that Modi connects to the youth, it is in his ability to express optimism and hope. Indeed his campaign slogan was “ Good Days are Coming “ ( though he seems to have stolen this off his predecessor.

Never forget that the Modi who electrified his province stood to end open defecation. India may have gone hi-tech but its as consistent as any other political future we are offered!

Listening to my inner Trump ?

25 Dec

This is something I wrote in April which I abandoned at the time, I wish he had as well ….

 

Listening to my inner Trump?

 

In August 2015 I abandoned myself to the idea that Trump for President was more than a marketing gimmick. This was going to be real. Trump did what only a serious contender could do. He went to the temple of the farm people of Iowa and paid his thanks at the feet of its rancid butter cow.

 

Now let me explain, over the period since then I have returned to the question, and asked anyone else who cares to listen (which isn’t many people) , how is a candidate that in any other time would not be taken seriously making the political weather? Or am I wrong? Do I need to learn to love my inner Trump? Trump the stand up populist, Trump the clear crowd tickler, Trump the Rancid butter cow worshipper.

 

So there he was in August 2015. He wore his cap with his name on, looking like a man who may be escaping from a rest home, clear identification being helpful to assisting his safe return. In 2015 American politics may be run on smart data, the gurus of world electioneering fall at the feet of data geeks like Jim Messina. While Indian Premier Modi does 3D virtual campaign speeches in multiple venues at the same time, Trump aspires to more simplistic methods. Building a wall being a prime example. Let’s return to that though.

 

The pre-primary phase saw all the potential candidates descend on a farm fair and seek the endorsement of the butter cow. Sculpted some say from Butter that in parts is over 100 years old. The cow represents, well butter and farming I guess, but mainly votes. A very basic, rural and small town matter yet everyone comes. It used to be to have a photo taken with some Beer and Chicken Wings, chatting to happy farmers. Now this is seen as a starting point for serious candidates, for who would dare defy the Cow. The butter cow even has its own twitter account. It has several. Hang on it’s a sculpted Cow, made from butter that is rumoured to be up to 100 years old. It doesn’t really have a twitter account does it? It was even claimed that candidate O’Malley (no I don’t remember him either) had a selfie taken with the butter cow.

 

 So reality is suspended. This is Democracy in the electronic age. Newspapers built up democracy with a growing literacy, social media may be dumbing us down and asking us to suspend our reality. But for how long? I can suspend my reality and imagine the Cow is tweeting, I can even assume that the politicians and public join me in this. But from that point on the reality has stayed suspended.

 

Trump has been suspending our reality on a daily basis – but am I being unkind. Do I need to look for my inner Trump?

 

Here’s some examples – The Wall. Of course no ones going to build a wall between the US and Mexico. And if they were they would need to be more debates about joint construction standards, what materials would be suitable? maybe advertising could be displayed, but no its not going to happen. We know it, he knows it, we know he knows it and he knows we now he knows it. Yet he persists, should I just laugh at being in the know? Should I trust a politician who is clearly telling me something he wont do, but pretending he will, more or less than a politician who deludes himself into thinking he will deliver on something that I clearly know he wont-gun control for example.

 

How about another example? Well I heard Trump talk the other day about American companies using Indian call centre works. That Trump told the audience is going to stop. Of course it isn’t going to stop, how could it? If American businesses can’t employ cheap labour from India they will just become Indian businesses selling cheap services back to America. But we know he has fired another prejudice at us and it scatters like a water bomb a splash here, a soaking there. Its no longer dog whistle politics, its Pavlovian.

 

By giving us the far fetched unreal version of reality Trump takes a whole group of people with him, those who perhaps want to believe. Or simply don’t care. Indeed 30 years ago Trump wrote “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest…I call it truthful hyperbole”. Ponder that – a truthful extreme statement not to be taken truthfully. Cheering Muslims, criminal Mexicans, Obamas schooling, Tax. Is this what populism looks like? Get a statement that is clearly wrong out in the open and stare at it until enough people become convinced it has merit. It’s the blue/grey dress of the political world.

 

Michael Parenti used to argue that entertainment concealed political statements because we were too busy being entertained to challenge it. At a time when many election campaigns are driven by concentrating on a few people who may be persuaded to change their vote, whose thought process may be more susceptible to an advert during a soap opera than a sports program along comes Trump with a roller brush and a pot of paint and just daubs across our vision. Its hard to see behind the zig-zag lines. Now we are left peeking into the unknown. I blame the Cow.

Corporal Jones guide to the Euro

13 Dec

Disclaimer : I won this book earlier this year in a rather surprising caption competition from the wonderful Lion and Unicorn peeps.

Not another Brexit book but one on the policy,history and issues that have arisen for Countries engaged in the single currency. At times this book is like the Corporal Jones guide to the Euro, the authors ” Do not like it, they do not like it.” over and over. Not the cold steel but the Hard Euro. At times this gets in the way of some insightful and important analysis. The Euro has been a flop, it could never have worked on the terms it was created on, and the participants seem to have few if any options. The negative impact of the Euro on countries like Ireland and Greece are covered in a readable way. The authors have concluded that divorce is the only option left and despite the pain and the mess this might cause, it should be worked through.

20150221_eud000
They are contemptuous of those who have tried to make the Euro more palatable, withering put downs of Yanis Varoufakis abound, the most quotable being ” No amount of swooning over Varoufakis can disguise the fact he’s a politics lecturer in a leather jacket” Ouch. I know its a quote in the book but clearly a position shared by the authors. The left it seems, much like the right is split on this issue ( The Euro not Varoufakis !).

The Euro looks to be in deep trouble at the moment, if it bounces back it will be a whole new Europe that emerges with it. If it dies then so too does the current version of Europe. In light of Brexit, the Italian Referendum and as we near the French Presidential elections, Corporal Jones of the Euro is returning.Only this time its “ Don’t Panic”

Incumbency in NZ Local Elections

10 Dec

Incumbency in New Zealand Local Elections

New Zealand Council elections operate in what at times feels like a vacuum. There are no party names to guide voters intentions, though this is slowly being chipped away at.One issue considered of significance,though little analysed or understood is the power of incumbency. The low number of candidates, the lack of party infrastructure to “ get out the vote” and the relatively low-level of political combat means that those studies that have been undertaken have indicated that incumbents do well.

Graham Bush tested the idea that incumbents did well even in partisan contests looking at the 1980 Local Body Elections. (Bush, 1981). In the late 1970s Auckland had a 59% incumbency rate, and other cities were showing that Councillors left by death or retirement not through voters at the ballot box. Bush showed that in the main cities in 1980 incumbents had a 79.2% success rate whereas non-incumbents had a 26.6 % success rate. Where party or group labels were not applied to candidates then he found the advantages of incumbency were compounded. “Notability will normally be the leading criterion, and being a sitting councillor is an obvious mark of this characteristic.” (Bush, 1981) Bush found nearly 90% of non-partisan incumbents were re-elected. He also found a high proportion of sitting members offered themselves for re-election, making entry into local body politics restrictive.
Whilst there are more complex models for  measuring the impact of incumbency, Bush’s crude analysis provides something of both a framework and also poses some interesting questions.(For example Boyne et al ). However caution needs to be held over attributing a lot of weight to the comparison between incumbents success rates and non incumbents success rates. Generally there is 1 incumbent and 1 seat, and a higher proportion of contestants than incumbents.
Updating Bush’s figures to look at the 2013  elections for Auckland City Council shows that 17 of the 21 members stood for office and 14 of them won.So 66.6% of the Council returned and of those that chose to stand 82% were successful. In 2016 the figures were similar with 17 members standing for election, but this time 15 winning, or 88%.

Having taken a rather unscientific look at District Councils in the Upper North Island at the 2016 elections we find an even greater correlation between incumbency and re-election.

District Members Stood Elected % success % incumbent
Far North 10 9 9 100% 90%
Whangerai 14 14 11 79% 79%
Thames Coromandel 9 6 5 83% 56%
Hauraki DC 13 10 8 80% 62%
Waikato DC 14 9 8 89% 57%
Matamata piako 12 7 7 100% 58%
Hamilton city 13 8 8 100% 62%
Waipa 13 11 11 100% 85%
Waitomo 7 6 6 100% 86%
Otorohanga 8 5 5 100% 63%
South Waikato 11 6 6 100% 55%
Tauranga 11 8 6 75% 55%
Kaweara 9 7 6 86% 67%
Western Bay of Plenty 12 9 7 78% 58%
Whakatane 11 11 9 82% 82%
Taupo 11 9 8 89% 73%
New Plymouth 15 9 8 89% 53%
Wanganui 13 9 6 67% 46%
South Taranki 13 7 6 86% 46%
Stratford 11 6 6 100% 55%
Total 230 166 146 88% 63%

Some stand out things here, firstly 88% of those that choose to stand again were successful. This is a challenge to democratic renewal. You would also wonder why out of the 20 Councils looked at 8 returned all those members who chose to stand . Fine I guess if the public are 100% satisfied with what those Councils are doing.

I haven’t looked at the number of contestants in these seats which may also be a bearing on contestability and choice. I was struck though by a recent essay which considers that Local Government is now more Governance than representation ( Johnston 2016 ). Theres something to ponder here ?

 

References 

G Boyne,O James,P John and N Petrovsky, Democracy and Government Performance : Holding Incumbents Accountable in English Local Governments,

GWA Bush “ Incumbency in the 1980 Local Body Elections”, Political Science 33,1981

Karen Johnston, The Nature of Governance in New Zealand’s Local Government , in Local Government in New Zealand eds Drage and Cheyne 2016