Monday, 14 October 2019

On the Fake Queen's Speech

It's just as well the Queen wasn't wearing the proper crown. After all, it wasn't a proper Queen's speech. Instead, thanks to Boris Johnson's disposal of his majority, what we were treated to was Queen-fronted party political broadcast on behalf of the Tory party. Which, despite its being a silly stunt in the grand scheme of things did furnish one service: it showed us what the next Conservative manifesto is going to be. Useful.

The big ticket item of course, is Brexit. But with talks ongoing based on the current plan, we'll no doubt return to that soon enough. The second eye-catching item were Johnson's police and crime proposals. Ever-playing to the racist gallery, there are hefty new penalties for deportees who return to the UK, more protections for the police and tougher sentencing. It could be the Tories in the 90s, or New Labour under Blair. Tough talk is perceived as popular, so giving criminals no quarter is always the smart political choice. What works always, always comes a distant second. There is to be some tinkering with the railway franchise model too, some laws on patient safety and drugs trials (including implementing Theresa May's inadequate mental health plan), some more moving of the furniture when it comes to adult social care, more powers for mayors in England, more regulation of high rise residentials, and the controversial plans on voter ID. Colour me inspired.

Nothing more demonstrates the cynicism in play here than the last proposal. Voter fraud is so prevalent that one person was convicted of it after the 2017 general election. The Tories know well that those not as likely to possess photo ID of the sort they have in mind - a passport, a driver's license - happen to be people more inclined to vote Labour. Young people, poorer people, minority ethnicities, instead of doing the hard yards and actually appealing to younger voters and those not well disposed to Johnson's Conservatives, it's simply easier to make them entirely inconsequential. A good job then an election stands between proposal and implementation.

As for the rest, calling this an "ambitious" programme does nothing to repair the Prime Minister's casual relationship with the truth. It is, essentially, dull. Not even the customary bombast is present, the scenes of dug up streets to pipe in full fibre broadband - gone. The battery factories, electric cars, nuclear fusion reactors, space elevators, and anti-matter rocket motors all absent. And even where there is policy that, at a stretch, could be described as an improvement it's barely a shuffle forward. A NHS crisis and a looming winter beds cataclysm, and we're talking about extra drugs trials? The collapse of adult social services and councils are being allowed to raise a pittance to try and make good? Truly we're in the Chris Leslie 'give zero contract workers advance notice of shift cancellations' territory of dismal policy making.

This then is obviously a plan aimed at the Tory core vote. Get Brexit done, appear to do something about the NHS and social care (for older people), and stick the boot in on sundry undesirables. After all, a bit of vicarious brutality never hurt anyone. Bold and ambitious? Not in the slightest. But what it might be suggesting is a roll out of the Australia strategy. Don't promise a great deal, and spend your campaign poking holes in the extensive programme offered by your opponents. Being a little bit racist won't hurt your chances either.

The problem with this is steady-as-she-goes is at cross purposes to the disruption Johnson has over-promised with regard to Brexit, his wrecking ball approach, and his own "exuberance". This programme is about shoring up the loyalists and the Brexiteers, has no broad appeal and, even less, doesn't even try to disrupt and disorganise his opponents. True, the Tories might not think they have to as they've got Brexit to rely on. No doubt the Einstein of Downing Street thinks so, but when the election comes it will be after the almost inevitable Article 50 extension. Matters then get much stickier for Johnson's chances with a strengthened Brexit Party menacing him from the sidelines.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

New Left Blogs October 2019

What new interventions into the world of blogging, podcasting and the like have presented themselves since last time?

1. Contemporary Rebellions (South Korea) (Twitter)

2. Material Girls

3. Momentum 4 Corbyn (Twitter)

4. Scram News (Twitter)

If you know of any new(ish) blogs, podcasts, Facebook pages or whatever that haven't featured before then drop me a line via the comments, email, Facebook, or Twitter. Please note I'm looking for blogs etc. that have started within the last 12 months or thereabouts. The new blog round up appears when there are enough new entrants to justify a post!

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Saturday, 12 October 2019

What is John McDonnell Playing At?

You've seen that interview by now with Alastair Campbell, and the ritual denunciations from the ritual denunciators on Twitter. Chances are many Labour members, even those who do not support the Corbyn project and long for the the good old days, are asking what the bloody hell is going on? Here are some observations.

1. If there is a significant difference between John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, it comes down to party matters and the handling of the never ending cold coup. During these last couple of years, John has struck the more conciliatory tone. You will remember how shortly before her departure to form Change UK Luciana Berger faced a no confidence vote in her constituency party - John was one of the leading voices urging restraint. On the anti-semitism crisis more generally, John is at the forefront of urging tough action. For the Birmingham Metro Mayor selection, Liam Byrne got his endorsement over the popular local trade unionist, Pete Lowe. And on Brexit, his positioning has been subtle and not-so subtle, skirting around the outer edges of hard remain, and suggesting he would campaign for staying in regardless of the deal Labour might secure with the EU in any upcoming referendum.

2. The interview with Alastair Campbell fits well within this pattern. Going from calling him out to his face on Question Time for the damage he inflicted on British politics to a casual conversation for GQ isn't going to sit easy with many Labour supporters, especially when you remember how recently Campbell spat his dummy out. Indeed, if the possibility of such an interview was mooted this time last week plenty of people would have chalked it up as likely an encounter with Boris Johnson where each question was answered truthfully and straightforwardly.

3. Has John booked a weekend in sell out city, as his detractors like to claim? Obviously not. We know an election is around the corner, and we know that while the Tories are in disarray their vote has firmed up. The anti-Tory vote, however, is split. It can move in Labour's direction, and it must if we're to stand a chance of forming the next government. John's attempts to reach across the party's divides and granting an interview to one of the most loathsome characters in British politics isn't aimed at the likes of us, but more at that noisy section of soggy centrism whose votes the party needs. Because of First Past the Post lesser evilism is unavoidable. If Labour can appear less evil to centrist voters, then the party benefits in target seats instead of disgust at the Tories getting dissipated among the Liberal Democrats and other parties.

4. It also comes from a place of frustration. Labour's programme is bold and radical by the standards of British politics. The next manifesto not only promises positive change, it can establish the country as a world leader in green industry and what the wonks call ecological modernisation. We have a model, and the rest of the world can follow. Much more important than flying the flag for policy sensiblism, a Labour victory under current conditions would represent the greatest blow struck for working class politics in 75 years. It would shatter the confidence of the there-is-no-alternative brigade, shake the self-belief of our class enemies, and boost the left's resurgence everywhere - and particularly in the United States where a historic breakthrough is still possible.

5. These are the stakes as John sees them. And he's right to, because they are the stakes. Another five years of Boris Johnson shafting our people and downgrading climate catastrophe is unconscionable and doesn't bear thinking about. The despair, the demoralisation, we've had enough of that for 40 years. If a bit of conciliation now can help get us across the line later, then why not?

6. As plenty of folks know, there's no reconciling some people. And this is a hard lesson the left has been forced to learn by the Labour right since we won the leadership contest. Yet I strongly suspect John McDonnell knows a bit more about this topic than any hashtag-festooned keyboard warrior calling for his head. Give the man some credit. He knows the likes of Campbell or Mandelson aren't about to embrace Labour's programme, but again, it's not about them. It's about snatching back centrist-leaning Labour voters and others seemingly open to giving the LibDems a punt. If sitting down with Alastair Campbell might help Labour's chances, wouldn't you do it too?

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Thursday, 10 October 2019

Can Labour Win a General Election?

Name things better than Prime Minister's Questions? Very well, there are infinity of riches more interesting and useful than this tedious simulacrum of accountability. Like speeches by Jeremy Corbyn, in which he set out Labour's own programme of government. If you thought the 2017 manifesto was a good thing, the next one is set on being an altogether more radical document: the green industrial revolution is in there, the scrapping of Universal Credit, house building, better public transport, nationalisation of the rail and utilities. It is all very good stuff, and might turn the heads of some sections of business given the disastrous Tory alternative. And yet we need to win the next election, and the polls aren't looking too clever at the moment. Can Labour win?

This is a question also asked by academic friend to centrism, Glen O'Hara. Unlike his Twitter stable mates, he does remember Labour were in the doldrums in early 2017 and yet surged into contention, giving the Tories a bloody nose and tipping them into an intensive crisis from which they are yet to emerge. What chance for a repeat? Well, no doubt much to his Corbyn-sceptic frustration, his argument concedes the possibility of a repeat.

Glen's argument follows a four-fold analysis. First, the number of 2017 Labour voters who don't know which way they're going to vote at the next election is smaller than it was for 2015 voters, and the number of 2017 Tory voters in a similar place is higher than 2015. Furthermore, thanks to the LibDem surge and research suggesting referendum identities are stronger than party identities, it's looking like this quarter will prove harder for Labour to squeeze. Second, while Corbyn's personal ratings are again poor there is some movement in a positive direction. Third, while Labour have some popular policies it also has some that are not - Glen cites the abolition of private schooling, and the big offers on the four-day week and more tax liabilities for the rich. Radical, but not reasonable or tangible - at least according to focus group work done by The Times. And lastly polling now, if anything, probably overstates Labour's share - most pollsters were way out on the EU elections, for instance.

Doom and gloom, gloom and doom then? Not quite. He concludes Labour's numbers are bound to recover in a general election, but we won't see as sharp a surge as last time. Yet this isn't necessarily as disastrous as you might suppose, especially when the Tory lead is not what May enjoyed in 2017, and Johnson is a much more polarising figure. Also, one thing Glen forgot to mention - if Johnson has to extend Article 50, despite expending all the rhetoric against, no matter what he says and does subsequently the Brexit Party are well placed to make the Tories pay.

Or are they really? Assuming the scenarios of a reworked version of Johnson's new proposals don't come to the Commons, and therefore doesn't win over the "ex"-Tories and Labour's own any-deal Brexit tendency and pass, there is a possibility we could see the Brexit Party perform as similarly and unevenly as per UKIP's 2015 outing. Then, you might recall they polled four million votes and though while they predominantly appealed to disgruntled Tory as opposed to Labour voters, more of the ex-Tories went Tory than ex-Labour went Labour. Yet, unexpectedly as far as punditry were concerned, Corbyn's Labour proved more adept at getting these sorts of voters back than centrist Labour ever did. Might the party's repositioning around second referendum undo this, while failing to satisfy those attracted to the LibDems on the basis of Jo Swinson's embrace of hard remain?

Yes, it might not work. Labour's best chance is to hammer its second referendum position, opposing it to the Tories' Trump-first Brexit. The galaxy brain of Dominic Cummings knows the potential power of populist insurgency and sharply polarised politics, has been helpful in telling the world what kind of campaign the Tories are planning on running, and so Labour have to play the same game. The LibDems can simply be excluded from the terms of these debates (indeed, Corbyn should only agree to TV debates with Johnson with this in mind) with Labour offering both the possibility of leaving or remaining vs the extremes of either. The second strand of Labour's strategy plays to its strengths - the Tories have nothing to offer outside of Brexit, and nor do the yellow party. Labour does, and without rolling back on policy commitments that might invite scepticism it, again, must emphasise its popular anti-cuts/renovate Britain positioning. The Tories are vulnerable on public services, economic policy, inequality, housing, and the general and diffuse sense of fairness. Labours temptation is to escape Brexit and believe this agenda will do the heavy lifting, when in fact both have to go hand in hand with one another. The other good reason for Labour going down the sharp, populist route on Brexit and policy allows for the stakes to be starkly drawn, and that's more likely to mobilise the membership. Two years of backbiting and parliamentary shenanigans has demobilised Corbynism to an extent, a result we're seeing in the turn out for trigger ballots, but a general election matters. Again, the party's subterranean strength as a mass body with members on every street, every workplace, every circle of friends and acquaintances can reach parts a Cummings social media campaign can only dream of.

The lesson of 2017 was how a sharp and insurgent strategy can work - it can capture the polarising mood. It can again. Clear and consistent messaging on Brexit, and clarity when we push our policies helps us create our space and make the political weather. By the end of the last campaign, May was forced into responding to Labour on Labour's terms. If we're adroit, savvy, disciplined, and committed to emphasising the sharp differences between us and them, history doesn't have to repeat as tragedy or farce. It can end in victory.

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Monday, 7 October 2019

The Tory Party's Young People Problem

I have a favourite genre of politics writing. It's quite niche, and doesn't even manage the meagre numbers Trotskyist sectariana can command. It is neither a big seller in the so-called quality press, nor the combustible stuff of a Twitter knock about. Enough scene setting. The commentary on which I'm commenting is writing by Tories on the future of their party, and particularly how they should engage with young people. The miserable attempts we've addressed in the recent past include thin gruel on the fourth industrial revolution, and a hodgepodge of initiatives and minor policy tweaks designed to appeal to young people. You can judge how serious the Tory party takes its own reproduction when you know none of this, slim as it was, never got taken up.

The latest entry in the Tory futures genre comes from Harry Phibbs, courtesy of CapX begins promisingly enough. His argument is the Tories aren't just weak with young people, the problem is that they haven't even tried. He notes some in the party aren't likely to care, especially when the Tories are handsomely ahead in the polls. They don't need to pander to the snowflake generation because what they lack among the young is more than make up among the old. And as anyone who knows a little bit about politics will tell you, the old vote. Nevertheless, Harry says it would be a mistake to dismiss the young, but he cannot articulate why - he relies on a touching fealty to One Nation Conservatism and how, if it means anything, the party should advance the interests of all sections of society. More obviously, one might suggest alienating younger people now poses problems for the party over the long-term. 60 year olds 20, 30, 40 years hence are still going to have memories, and few are going to look back with fondness upon what the Tories did to them.

After a sensible observation, and at least the acknowledgement of a pull in the direction the Tories need to travel in, Harry goes off the deep end. Apropos of nothing, he starts ranting about how the education establishment is in the "hands of the left", leading to a "pernicious distortion" of education and a pushing of "socialist ideology". It's funny how the more education at all levels has become subordinate to the demands of business, with the building of curricula around vocationalism and employability, and underpinned at all times by market competition between courses and institutions, these sorts of observations by rightwingers grow more frequent, and is a compulsive tick any Tory writing about education, particularly tertiary education, can't help but indulge. Nevertheless, the implication is clear. Schools, colleges and universities are factories for brainwashing, and if tackled the Tories' task of winning over young people becomes easier.

Nevertheless, this is not enough. While Boris Johnson has the va-va-voom to win over younger voters, the Tories need to contest the battle of ideas too. Buying the usual 'the young are more idealistic, the old more practical' assumption, he believes the Tories can resonate on individual freedom (look at Hong Kong!), on the party's promotion of new technologies to help the environment, the increase in youth employment, and a universities' free speech tour by prominent Tories. There is an almost ethereal character to such breathlessness. Commitment to individual freedom, in so many cases, is the freedom of atomised individuals divorced from lives outside of shitty jobs on shitty wages, commitment to the environment is aggressively pushing fracking and cheering on heavy-handed policing of Extinction Rebellion protests, and most young people would snort with derision at boasts about more insecure non-jobs and university stunts no one but right wing and centrist middle age hack men care about.

The Tories need to do more than this, Harry says. Too right. Central is the programme of home ownership and on this, he's right. His party is hit by a triple crisis. There is the split in the core constituent of the Tory party, and this comes against the backdrop of long-term decline understood as the tendency of the party to shrinkage and shrivelling, and the non-replacement of its vote. The second crisis of the Tories is the changing class composition of British society, combined with the fact time and again, especially these last nine years, the Tories have been seen to be trampling all over young people like a malevolent ogre wanting to deny the young their best years out of the spiteful fact that theirs lie long in the past. The values of the rising generation and the Tory party do not align, and the Tories have done their damnedest to remind young people of this fact. And last of all, the breaking down of the conservatising effects of ageing. The tendency for most people to acquire property as they pass through life is broken, and without that the "idealist" young people of today are never going to replace the massed grey ranks of Tory voters tomorrow.

Again, Harry acknowledges this at an instinctive level. And yet with his party imperilled and staring into the abyss, he can't bring himself to advocate the kind of programme that could secure the health of the Tories in the medium to long-term. Yes, increase the housing supply. But by tearing up planning restrictions, as long as future buildings are beautiful not brutalist. What was that about planning rules? And selling off surplus public land for building, et voila. No state-led strategies for house building, let alone anything about a right to buy for private tenants.

And that is it. Another feebly weak prospectus, and more proof how - as if it were needed - the Tories cannot attend to a modest policy agenda that might tackle some of the problems underpinning the party's long-term decline. In fact, so far removed from anything resembling an accurate picture of political realities is how Harry "forgets" Brexit and how Tory positioning, like so many other things, puts them on the opposite side of the fence to most young people. The truth of the matter is the Tories cannot adequately address their youth problem precisely because they are constitutive of the policy environment screwing them over. The party is dependent on petty landlordism for its base, poor employers for their cash, and an old vs young culture war promulgated through Brexit and stirred up by its shrinking but still powerful press. Perhaps one day someone will come along from the right that frankly and honestly address the party's problems free from comforting illusions and clustered delusions. If this piece is anything to go by, it won't ever come from the brain of Harry Phibbs.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

The Genius of Dominic Cummings

No sooner had Boris Johnson presented his Brexit proposals to the world, the EU kindly handed them back and asked for more detail and some revisions. More significantly, on Friday at our old friend the Court of Session in Scotland, the latest round of legal challenges to Johnson's approach - this time exploring what happens should he refuse to extend Article 50 in line with the law - the government produced documents that say the Prime Minister will in fact apply for an extension if a deal isn't done at the upcoming EU summit. Do or die, eh? One is reminded of the time Johnson said he would lie in front of the bulldozers to prevent the expansion of Heathrow from going ahead.

And so, the government have rumbled themselves. The documents even state the Tories would be saying one thing to the British public, i.e. we're leaving come what may on the 31st, while telling the EU we are prepared to go for an extension. Black and white, bang to rights, the PM's duplicity is stated boldly and starkly. Nevertheless, despite showing their hand Johnson and friends are carrying on as if nothing has happened. "The government will comply with the Benn Act", so goes a Number 10 "source". There is a "narrow duty" concerning a letter of delay, they carry on, but the government aren't prevented from doing "other things". Eh? "People will have to wait to see how this is reconciled." What? So the government's response is an application for an extension shall go ahead if no deal is coming, but at the same time it will try its damnedest to make sure we leave on Hallowe'en, such as moving mysteriously outside the provisions of the law. And to top it all off Johnson is quoted as saying "new deal or no deal - but no delay." Having had their real position exposed they're doubling down on the deception and insisting we're still leaving. Incredible. Future historians simply won't believe it.

What might the government have up its sleeves? One presumes they're carrying on with the Brexit advertising campaign hitting the ad breaks, newspapers, and electronic hoardings up to the last minute. Others, however, are scenting a scurrilous move of leaning on the Hungarian government (one bunch of anti-semites the Tories never get prissy about) to veto the extension. NB. Even Nigel Farage thinks this is most unlikely.

This is where the genius, if it can be called that, of Dominic Cummings comes into play. Following his successful stint heading up Vote Leave, and penchant for writing 10,000 word blog screeds, he entered Number 10 with an aura of invincibility, mystery, and diabolism about him. At least as far as establishment hackery were concerned. His legend has circulated around the village for years as the irascible side kick to Michael Gove when he was at Education, and then providing the strategic nous to wrong foot the remain campaign and get leave its unexpected win. Because of his track record, his blunt style and position as the power behind the Johnson throne, time and again we see commentators and politics Twitterati assume everything that happens is part of the Cummings master plan. As if the utter failures and sharpening of the Conservatives' long-term crisis since the end of the summer are jives, twists, and lurches in a merry dance, the purpose of which is only going to become clear when it's too late. Cummings isn't losing. He's merely playing us.

If you're one of the people who think this way, stop. Cummings is not Malcolm Tucker, let alone the Mekon. And neither is he particularly good at what he does. There is a tendency in politics to mistake inflexibility for leadership, low cunning for tactical mastery, and dogmatism for strategic wizardry. Qualities Cummings has in spades. Consider matters objectively. The first Prime Minister in history to lose their first seven votes in a row, the first to have been found in court to unlawfully prorogue parliament and lying to the Queen, the first to have forced the largest split in the Tory party since the 1840s and cancelling his majority, and now the first to have got caught lying brazenly about his plans ... and continues to lie about them! These are on Cummings. In his blinkered, unidirectional way he simply assumed he could bounce anti-no-deal Tories into backing Johnson, and the opposition into a general election on the ground of his choosing. Not once did it occur that Labour and the rest might have other ideas, and sidestep the clumsy traps Cummings thoughtfully signposted for them.

It's poetic how the worst possible Prime Minister is served by the worst possible chief strategist. The only talent Cummings possesses is the destruction of Boris Johnson, their shared position, and the medium to long-term viability of the Tory party. The only genius he has demonstrated is an ability to convince others he is a genius. In other words relax, grab some popcorn, sit yourself down, and enjoy watching this agent of chaos go about his work.

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Friday, 4 October 2019

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Boris Johnson's "New" Brexit Plan

Were it not for the fact Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister and the leader of the Conservative Party, he needn't have bothered with his speech at his party's conference. It was certainly the most vacuous pitch any leader has made on the eve of a much-expected election, ever. Policy announcements? There were none. But we heard about a battery factory and the way Johnson's mum voted in the EU referendum, so that's okay. Also missing was virtually any detail about the government's new positioning on Brexit. Yes, we know Johnson can be economical with the actualité, and facts have a tendency to breeze through his brain like recollections of hands a-wandering under the dining table, but come on. He stood there under a slogan of "Get Brexit Done" and it almost entirely passed him by. Good job our fearless press and broadcast media were on hand to take him to task.

What then are Johnson's new proposals about? Well, for a moment let's suspend the politics surrounding it and assume his is a serious and genuine attempt for arriving at deal, and could plausibly persuade the EU27 and enough parliamentarians to give it a tick. Folks who've followed the finer points of toing and froing under Theresa May will recall her approach involved treating Northern Ireland and the UK mainland differently. Goods and people would, theoretically, continue to flow between north and south unimpeded, and the rest of the UK could and would diverge if it decides to go its own way while the north remains within the EU's economic orbit. This, and our coughing up £39bn (not all at once, it has to be added) to cover the UK's liabilities and obligations to the EU were enough to get rebellious Tories, not least the hedge fund elite of the European Research Group, all in a lather. Why was this a bad deal? Part of what May advocated were greater restrictions on state aid than what the EU currently allows, the regulatory divergence was a recipe for driving down protections of workers as well as standards for goods and imported foodstuffs, and gave the UK the dubious freedom of striking trade deals with whomever it pleased. In other words, Johnson is playing catch up when it comes to a Trump-first Brexit. Also, for sovereigntists of all political hues, including within Corbynism, the idea a state's control over and regulation of part of its territory is ceded to another state or supranational actor is anathema. Nothing says 'reduced status' quite like a constituent (half) nation of the UK lopped off and effectively run from elsewhere.

Contrary to what the BBC says, Johnson's plan does not get rid of the backstop. The backstop is whatever deal we end up with. What May proposed and Johnson is now proposing is a particular form the EU and Ireland's insurance policy should look like. Assume we leave with this new deal on time on 31st October. As the sun rises on 1st November, nothing will have changed. The UK would be outside of the EU and the MEPs will bid adieu to their parliament, but everything else is going to carry on as normal. This is because we have a transition period between the date of actual Brexit and the enactment of the new permanent relationship struck between the UK and EU - the much advertised but short-on-detail trade deal. As The Graun observed back in April, the problem is May's Article 50 extensions have eaten into the 21 months set aside by both parties to come to an agreement about this relationship. If, nevertheless these negotiations go fine and we have a new deal, then everything is tickety-boo. If not, extending the transition until an agreement is reached is possible, but it would likely cost the UK extra dough. And if that isn't extended the backstop governs the relationship between the two sides in perpetuity. Well, until it is replaced by a comprehensive trade deal or, lol, the UK rejoins the EU.

Given the farcical and lackadaisical approach shown by the Tories since Article 50 was triggered, I have zero confidence they'd negotiate a deal in time to prevent the backstop from coming into play. And, in all likelihood, the EU must be thinking the same. And so what does Johnson's deal have to offer? The UK as a whole will leave the customs union, which means the setting up of a border, um, away from the border. Cross border traders would require special licences based on existing trusted trader schemes, and exemptions for smaller businesses. And the actual checks themselves would take place in either special facilities physically situated away from the national border, or even in the premises of the firms concerned. Despite the customs border, Northern Ireland remains within the EU's single market and is tied to its regulations concerning food safety, food production, and manufacture whereas the rest of the UK leaves. Just like May's deal, mainland UK retains the freedom to do its own thing. Also, unlike May's deal, Stormont has a veto over the deal - every four years it will be asked whether it wishes to stay within the EU's orbit, or move back toward the UK's regulatory regime.

You can see the issues here. While it does advance a proviso for the north so it won't be "trapped" in the EU indefinitely, most criticisms made of May's deal apply here. The border in the Irish Sea is expanded, which would trouble a few of the sovereigntist squad. And it means a job creation scheme for some as a new layer of officialdom is added to police these arrangements. There are new problems too. It violates the agreement May signed in December 2017 guaranteeing no border infrastructure, and as Jeremy Corbyn noted in his Commons response, it stops the free flow of goods across the frontier. Indeed, the proposals are silent on the movement of people. Can Irish people from both sides nip back and forth across the border as they do now for work, shopping, family visits and the rest? And, given Priti Patel's blood curdling immigration speeches, how are the movements of non-Irish EU citizens going to get policed? Not technically insurmountable problems all told, but politically tricky.

Nevertheless, it was interesting to find our friends the ERG and DUP are supportive of the Johnson plan, despite replicating many of the problems they had with May's deal. Could it be their opposition was motivated by her catastrophic stumble at the last general election, the burning resentment at how she strung them along with talk of a hard Brexit, or even by simple sexism? I'm sure each of these have a role, but with polls now consistently giving remain a slight but stubborn lead, and opposition to their no deal dreams so firm it commands a substantial Commons majority, for them and the interests they constitute and represent getting a (still) hard Brexit across the line is crucial as backsliding looks ever more probable. Even if, as Stephen Bush has argued, it means making every Stormont election into a referendum on a united Ireland and one that, sooner rather than later, will see the unionists sink to a permanent defeat. Likewise from Johnson's point of view, if a deal is done his team have calculated that enough of the "ex" Tories (perhaps with the promise of restoring the whip), and recalcitrant Labour MPs are going to support any deal and give him the Commons majority that so eluded May. Indeed, not everything has to be worked out, goes the reasoning. The finer points of the backstop could be discussed and prepped for behind the scenes while most eyes are focused on the trade deal negotiations.

The EU, at least, were smart enough not to dismiss the proposals out of hand with some going so far as to welcome them as the basis for a new round of negotiations. Politically, it would suit Johnson more if Brussels was outlandishly noisy in their rejection of them - not just people vs the parliament, but the UK vs the EU would see the Tories mop up great swathes of the Brexit Party vote with ease. However, as the EU is much cannier than most British political pundits, they're not about to make it easy for Johnson to blame them for the failure of his scheme. Likewise in the Commons this afternoon, while setting out the terms of the plan he took an uncharacteristically conciliatory and calming tone, almost entirely as if he wanted his calm countenance to get assailed by insults, shouts and the rest. If he fails, Johnson can at least pretend to seriousness, and try and hang the no deal albatross on the opposition parties - to much, he hopes, electoral reward.

Where do we go next? Ireland aren't too keen, but we'll see what the coming rounds of "intensive talks" throw up. Either way, Johnson thinks he's played a blinder. The right are now on side, and he gets the kudos for piloting the UK out of the EU with a deal, something no one thought possible up until now, or it falls due to EU opposition and/or Labour-led Commons chicanery and he gets the plaudits for someone standing up against foreigners and traitors. The only thing preventing him from manoeuvring his way to this position is the lock down of the Article 50 extension by law. The game now is winning back the "ex" Tories and getting Brexity Labour on board. Can the opposition to Johnson remain firm, or are we about to see chunks of it fall through cavernous openings of their own timidity?

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Neoliberalism and Institutional Design

An interesting episode in which Alex interviews Quinn Slobodian about the intellectual history of neoliberalism. It covers its peculiar roots in the experience of the Hapsburg empire, the stress on law and constitutionalism despite a consistent misrecognition of both as strong versus their being weak and amenable to the machinations of "bad actors", and neoliberalism's dependence on 'double government' - the separation of politics and economics

As always, Politics Theory Other could do you with your help to do please consider supporting via Pateron.

Dear Jo Swinson

Dear Jo,

Examining your recent pronouncements on what might happen after Boris Johnson is no-confidenced, you again reiterate your opposition to Jeremy Corbyn getting made an interim Prime Minister to see through an election or a second referendum. You say the LibDems can only support an alternative "compromise" candidate because the Labour leader "does not have the numbers". Your new friend Chuka Umunna has proven enthusiastic in pushing this line too.

You're probably not familiar with the work of Louis Althusser, the celebrated Marxist philosopher who made his reputation through a series of productive but controversial close readings of Marx's corpus. So what?, you might say. What's he got to do with the price of Liberal Democrat principles? In the course of his work, he borrowed the method of the symptomatic reading from Sigmund Freud. This entails a close reading of a piece of work paying attention to not just what is said, but what is unsaid. The silences of a text can, therefore, be as significant as the arguments articulated. And occasionally, more meaningful. How this applies to you and your hard remain posturing is the avoidance of any political arguments justifying your refusal to back a caretaker Corbyn premiership. Time and again, all we hear are the bland statement that it's all about the numbers.

Poppycock. Your silences are screaming like a klaxon. Because "the numbers" is the line to take, why this studied sticking to what is a technical argument? Might I suggest your positioning is motivated by Corbynphobia? That is to say you won't countenance supporting the Labour leader because an experience of office, however brief, removes the taboo of his being in government. You know, as well as anyone else, that the sky won't fall in. What we would see instead is Corbyn assume the mantle and the props for avoiding a no deal Brexit. Not the deranged extremist you want to paint him as, but as a statesman. And one the Rubicon is crossed, the chances of Labour winning the next election under his leadership go up.

You have other tactical considerations in play too. Labour's position, as you know, remains forcing a general election before we have a second referendum. That doesn't suit you, above all because of the frighteners the SNP are putting on you in your own Dunbartonshire seat. And while the LibDems do look set to gain seats, particularly in the South West, your new friends - Sarah, Chuka, Sam, Phillip, Luciana, Angela - are pretty certain to get dumped out of the Commons. And that would be a terrible shame. Indeed, one might suggest among the conditions and reassurances you gave these clowns, particularly the Labour turncoats, was there are no circumstances at all you would back a Corbyn government. Even if it meant risking and causing a no deal Brexit.

You know none of these arguments would fly in public because they expose you for the slimy, self-interested opportunist you are. Party before country is a term you occasionally like to bandy around to criticise the Tories and Labour, but in your short tenure as leader this has proven to be your raison d'etre. You even know how facile the numbers argument is. When "ex"-Tories like Guto Bebb and Ken Clarke are willing to accept a limited Corbyn government, this leaves you looking awkward. The truth of the matter is were you to say the LibDems should go where Bebb and Clarke lead, the rest of the former Tories and the flotsam and jetsam of independents are likely to "provide the numbers" too. And your entire strategy as the most remainy of remain parties unravels.

That you refuse to and at this hour are happy to play Russian roulette with the livelihoods of millions of other people shows you're unfit to organise a tea party, let alone lead a political party. Make no bones about it. Should you persist in this line, it won't be Jeremy Corbyn who gets the blame for not preventing a no deal Brexit. It will be you.

Yours sincerely,


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