Wednesday 26 April 2017

Waiting for Jolyon

Political parties are more or less the expression of classes or class fractions. They organise classes, articulate and arrange their interests, and are a means by which they become conscious of themselves. The durability across nearly all the advanced nations of parties that represent business, that represent labour, that represent small employers and layers of professionals, and how all party systems have seen the eruption of left and right populisms tied to changes in class composition confirms the durability of that insight. Even in the more open party systems of Continental Europe, where parties seemingly appear over night and carry all before it, Emmanuel Macron's En Marche, Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement, and previously Berlusconi's Forza Italia, do not escape this sociological truism. These parties and movement/party hybrids succeed where they succeed because they speak to and condense constellations of interests and conflict that exist in the real world. Politics is concentrated economics, and why it's a nasty, filthy, unprincipled affair.

If only politics wasn't like this. That, instead, it was a nice debate among nice people who only mean nice things. Is there a saviour among us who could transcend chronic division, cast aside the muck of ages and guide us along the golden path to full liberalism? Readers desperately casting around need not worry any more. There is a man, and what's more, he has a plan. I give you Jolyon Maugham, Queen's Chambers and Graun/Twitter celeb, and the Westminster-trembling news that he's (sort of) launching a political party. Yes, if liberal ex-ministers with loads of insider experience and a big media profile can get through to the final round of the French presidential elections, so an occasional guest on the Daily Politics sofa can shake up politics. And like Macron and sundry others, Jolyon's even given his party its own stupid name: 'Spring'.

Jolyon originally intended to stand in Theresa May's Maidenhead constituency but, after telling us he has "some great friends in the music and creative industries. Serious people ...", he reluctantly decided that Spring will not get its outing at the general election. Come now Jolyon, to announce a new party and then declaring an intention not to stand, what have you to lose apart from your deposit? If it had stood, it would have been a corker alright. Honest. Theresa May, politics as a whole would not know what to make of it. His shtick? According to the strategy document, Spring's debut campaign was about throwing a party. This would be
a joyous, optimistic thing. Not political.
Not talking about politics then, during an election. Great start. 

He goes onto say his party's, um, party would be about
celebrating unity. 28 days long, each day ‘hosted’ (food, drink costume) by one of the member states. We have bands, and comedians, and writers, and thinkers, and artists, and designers.
Foreign stereotype cosplay is perhaps best left for UKIP socials.
And to deliver focus, and urgency, and to frame the contrast with the nation at large, and to make the party a national event, we stand a candidate (Jo Maugham QC) in Maidenhead against Theresa May.
Are you going on the doorstep with your berets and bicycles?

On the feasibility of toppling Theresa May, Jolyon knew he was against a sheer face with jellied eels for grips. But he has positivity on his side, a can do mentality!
There are local pro-Remain groups. The seat has great symbolic value. And – most importantly – if we can inspire people with our celebration they will come again. They will come early, tomorrow. And knock on residents’ doors, and smile, and talk
I can imagine what most residents will say back when you let on you're part of the 28 day freak show parading through town.
The celebration will lay the foundations for a new political party. The strength of those foundations are our metric of success. We will collect members. We will build a brand. And we will raise funding. Spring. A new start. A brighter future.
Inspiring. Sign me the fuck up.
Spring is a party of the radical centre. Solutions for the world today and tomorrow. Not yesterday.
New Labour sloganeering to stir the soul.

After saying they're honest, fair, and progressive, he subjects the mainstream parties to withering critique.
Like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, Labour’s left and moderates are bent on one another’s destruction.
Hark at that on trend telly reference!
No one knows what the Lib Dems are for – other than the Lib Dems.
Nope. Everyone now knows Tim Farron very definitely, definitely loves gay people. But not in a gay way.
And we vote for the Tories reluctantly, lacking an alternative.
Do you now, Jo? Such declarations make your progressive creds look ropey ...

Then he moves to wrap up the strategy document.
Step One: Jolyon announces to The Maidenhead Advertiser that he’s standing. It filters out to the National Press. The website goes up, with a short biog, a teaser, a ‘register’ button and a ‘donate’ button.
Step Two: We announce the festival and some acts.
Step Three: We begin to release policies.
All of which would have got Spring off to a flying start.
There is a lot to do. But. If you build it, they will come.
Field of Dreams. Generations of political people who've read all the notorious tracts from The Prince to What is to be Done? have been doing it wrong.

Yes, there are a layer of people who'd love to see the EU referendum result reversed. And if it wasn't for the utterly foolish and downright dangerous precedent ignoring a clear majority result would be for a democracy, it might be a good idea. The problem is for these folks, remainiacs if you will, the European Union is more than a trading bloc with an opaque bureaucracy. It's their Soviet Union, their City on the Hill, their Jerusalem. In their minds, the EU condenses Enlightenment values and liberal internationalism. It's an achievement standing above the nationalisms and tribalisms of old, that proves we can all get along on the basis of common humanity. And they have the nerve to look down their noses at Leave voters and call them deluded. It's stop-the-world-we-want-to-get-off, liberal-stylee.

Jolyon might think he's putting down a flag and showing leadership, but the laughable awfulness of his foray into party politics shows he's rudderless and without ideas. The remainiac milieu not drawn into the LibDems haven't a clue what to do next, and from that flows confusionism and sense-denying idiocy. At least those taken in by the yellow party, albeit under a false prospectus because they think the referendum result should be honoured too, have a focus. They're getting stuck into politics and helping shape the post-Brexit landscape. What is Jolyon and his oh-so modest "party" doing, apart from parading his naivete?


Morgan said...

Look, I'll say it - is this a joke? And if so, who's joking?

Speedy said...

"The problem is for these folks, remainiacs if you will, the European Union is more than a trading bloc with an opaque bureaucracy. It's their Soviet Union, their City on the Hill, their Jerusalem. In their minds, the EU condenses Enlightenment values and liberal internationalism. It's an achievement standing above the nationalisms and tribalisms of old, that proves we can all get along on the basis of common humanity. And they have the nerve to look down their noses at Leave voters and call them deluded."

You laugh, but the EU is a tremendous achievement, bringing peace to Europe, and does prove we can all get along on the basis of common humanity. That is why Brexit was such a tragedy. It wasn't just about the trade, it was a rejection of all that. Certainly, it has its faults, but you ignore how different Europe is from 70 years ago. So much for universalism!

John Rogan said...

As a "Remainiac", I'm beginning to think you're right. "Brexit means Brexit" and it does look like no matter what deal the EU27 say the UK is getting, we will be leaving the EU. We are assured on that by the Conservatives and Labour's Shadow Cabinet. The one problem that both Parties don't seem to have come to terms with is that EU leaders are also quite clear that "Brexit means Brexit". Namely, there is no "cake and eat it" Brexit that any UK Govt can offer.

Look at the report from the Guardian today. Merkel and Schultz (SDP leader) are both against any compromise on Brexit. Macron is too. Anyone who doesn't think that this will not have a devastating effect on jobs and living standards in the UK is living in cloud-cuckoo land. Whether it be Blue Riband, Ford saying that the UK needs to have tariff-free access to the single market to stay or Deutsche Bank announcing that they may move 4,000 jobs from the UK because of Brexit, we will see jobs migrating and inflation rising because of Brexit.

Labour's paper promises to protect worker's rights come across as naive at best and cynical at worst. What's the point if many thousands lose their jobs?

On a personal note (and I usually try not to go into these things) I'm married to a German who works for the NHS in Wales. On the morning of June 24th, she felt she'd really been told to "fuck off" by the majority of Welsh people. She still feels like that. That same morning, I had to look at our children differently. They were not just our children any more but the children of an immigrant. They were now a problem that Labour hadn't been discussing as much as they should. The kind of problem that people like Yvette Cooper said needed to be discussed. The "Labour Heartlands" had said such in the vote.

So this "Remainiac" (great new insult, btw) is now moving from the "anger" stage to the "acceptance" stage. It won't be long though before the UK hits the reality stage about Brexit and, unfortunately, by then it may be too late for those whose jobs have migrated.

Angela Merkel attacks British 'illusion' of keeping benefits of EU

Anonymous said...

I like Jolyon. He writes a good blog, has a lot of good things to say about taxation and has been very insightful and interesting about Brexit. He (like Ian Dunt who is well worth following too) has consistently warned about the downsides of leaving the EU. I think they will become clear over the next year or two when it becomes obvious that we have few cards to play, and that the other 27 countries will be putting theirs and the EU's interests first.

But a new political,no.


Anonymous said...

"If you build it, they will come." Isn't that what supply-side economics was all about?

Lidl_Janus said...

"Isn't that what supply-side economics was all about?"

Yes - but in fairness, all the best pornography operates on this principle too.

James Semple said...

I am an immigrant from a deeply racist society - South African white "settlers". In getting away from using race as an index of entitlement I was greatly assisted by post-graduate study of psychometrics, the measurement of psychological attitudes.

Race, I learned, was a construct - an artifical grouping of assorted elements with some common factors. Constructs had no real existence but could be useful: atomic theory in chemistry and physics was one example of this. Faced with a mass of similar data it can be simpler to wrap it all up in a single box, put a label on it and deal with the label.

But as I had seen, the construct of race could be deeply damaging, both to individuals and to a society, and I was glad to emigrate to the UK (courtesy of my father's birth in Cambuslang). Here I found social constructs were alive and well - working class, public school, "one of us" etc. However, racism was negligible (by SA standards) so I did my best to adapt and blend in.

But I know constructs are always unreal - purely mental assemblies of associated data into convenient chunks to simplify thought. I know this as I constitute a counter-example - fitting neither the SA white "master" construct nor any UK class construct. Yet I exist, so they do not.

I therefore find it very disturbing to read above "... condense constellations of interests and conflict that exist in the real world." Interests and conflicts do exist but as themselves, and any construct formed from them has no objective reality. It may be useful to form technical constructs but they don't exist in reality, anymore than atoms or electrons do.

My philosophy group in U3A has been discussing truth, and some struggle with electrons. You can fire electrons towards two slits so slowly that they emerge from the source one by one, yet they still form interference fringes on the other side. So, did one electron go through both slits at the same time and interfere with itself? I did not shout out "It's a construct, not a little ball!" because that would undermine the lecturer's authority, but I'm interested in seeing how he deals with it.

Science has lots of constructs which were once useful but are now obsolete - phlogiston, pre-Copernican cosmology, the ether. And what of sociology: how well founded are your ideas of social class.

I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, consider it possible you may be mistaken.

David Parry said...

James Semple

Are you telling me that there's been a successful socialist revolution in Britain? If so, then I must have slept through it because, the last time I checked, British society remained as divided as ever between those who own/control the means of production and those who operate them, between those who enrich themselves through the labour of others and those others who must, as a condition of their own survival or that of dependants, provide that labour, between those who make economic decisions affecting workplaces, whole communities, British society as a whole or even, in some cases, the world and those who are subject to them and have little to no say in them.

Are you telling me that that division no longer exists?


Boffy said...

According to Marx, Capital III, Chapter 27, a social revolution, i.e. a fundamental change in the relations of production and social relations based upon them, had already occurred by the latter half of the 19th century, i.e. the abolition of private capital, and its replacement by socialised capital.

The most obvious manifestation of it was the worker owned cooperative, where the workers owned collectively, the capital, and also controlled it. As Marx says, with socialised capital in the form of the corporation, the capital is similarly collectively owned by the workers, but they do not exercise control over it, that control being exercised by shareholders instead.

In short, the social revolution has already happened, but what has not yet occurred is the political revolution to bring the political superstructure into alignment with the underlying reality of those social relations.

Dipper said...

@ Speedy "You laugh, but the EU is a tremendous achievement, bringing peace to Europe, and does prove we can all get along on the basis of common humanity."

There's a lot of this kind of logic out there at the moment. Action X was followed by outcome Y. Therefore outcome Y happened because of action X.

Japan hasn't been involved in any wars since WWII. It hasn't agreed a quasi-federal arrangement with its neighbours.

Boffy said...

Actually, it did. Firstly, it suffered a long period of being militarily subordinated by US imperialism, but it has also been a long standing member of ASEAN, which fulfils a similar role in the Pacific to the EU in Europe.

It has also just signed up to a huge new free trade area with China and other Pacific and Asian economies. Pretty much every area of the world is now organised on that basis, such as with Mercosur in Latin America, the new African Continental Free Trade Area, covering 1.5 billion people in Africa, which also intends to create fee movement within it, and movement to a single currency and so on.

Its only the reactionary Brexiters like those of the Tory Party, and Starmer's Labour that are trying to swim against the tide of history, and about to get rolled over by the waves, possibly to sink forever.

George Carty said...

Japan isn't in ASEAN, which is a bloc of South East Asian countries: Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Boffy said...


Quite right. My mistake, though it has always had close trading relations with ASEAN, which forms its second largest trading partner after China, with whom it forms the centre of the Asian economic hub.

It is part of the RCEP comprising ASEAN along with Australia, China, New Zealand and South Korea. Japan is also a member of APEC.

In short, the point is that the days of the nation state as the normal form of the economic unit are long since over, having been replaced by the super-state and transnational state, along with the development of the multinational corporation.

Dipper said...

@ Boffy. What????

ASEAN is a trade bloc. It does not have its own parliament, its own courts, its own currency, its own centre bank, its own social rules and mandate to interfere in the internal affairs of member nations. It does not have written into its foundation an ambition for continued political integration.

If the EU was like ASEAN, there would be absolutely no problem about the UK being a member. But it isn't. It is completely different.

Boffy said...

The EU started off as the EEC. The EU is the logical consequence, just as in the 18th and 9th century the formation of national economies inevitably resulted in the formation of the nation state, as their rational expression.

The Brexiters like Farage always said that what people voted for in 1975 was only the EEC - untrue, because by that time the legislation to move towards the European Union had already been passed - but, when that option was put to them, of remaining in the Single market and Customs Union, they have rejected it! And, of course they did, because why would you belong to such institutions without any political structures to participate in to determine the rules of those institutions?

This is why the Brexiters fetish of sovereignty is idiotic, because even with the EEC, it required the surrender of sovereignty in order to pool it, to agree, external tariff regimes etc. Inevitably, it implied a Single Market, as Thatcher argued, and a single market requires a level playing field of agreed rules and regulations, which requires political structures to determine them, as well as a court to arbitrate them. Indeed, a level playing field also requires, as nation states themselves realised, a single currency, as well as a single fiscal regime, i.e. a state.

All of the countries that participate in the economic blocs created across the globe have surrendered part of their theoretical individual sovereignty in order to pool it, and achieve greater actual sovereignty, which is a feature of economic and political power. That is why nearly every country across the globe is joining such blocs, whilst the Brexiters are ripping Britain out of one, and creating the conditions for the more rapid decline of Britain along with it. Its the death rattle of British imperialism.

George Carty said...

Isn't what I like to call "high" Euroscepticism (ie Euroscepticism as it was before Farage and the nativists took over) rooted in the old 19th century feud between Richard Cobden and Friedrich List?

Richard Cobden was the founder of the Anti-Corn Law League, and advocated free trade even with countries with very different political systems (such as Tsarist Russia or the Ottoman Empire). He also believed that there was no conflict between free trade and sovereignty: in 1860 he negotiated a free trade agreement with the French Second Empire (the Cobden-Chevalier Agreement) which made for free trade between the UK and France, but without affecting British or French trade with third countries in any way.

By contrast Friedrich List was the founder of the German Zollverein: this was a customs union which didn't just introduce free trade between its members but also a common policy towards external trade. This does impose meaningful restrictions on sovereignty, and List did indeed see the Zollverein as a stepping stone to the upcoming German Empire.

Most of the world's trading blocs – including EFTA, NAFTA, ASEAN and the abortive TPP – were built following Cobden's model, but the EU (and the EEC before it) were very much following the Listian schema. It is also notable that a nation-state can be part of multiple free trade areas: the TPP planned to include Canada and Mexico (already in NAFTA) and Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia (already in ASEAN). By contrast the nature of customs unions that while the EU in its entirety could join another free trade area (CETA being an example, being a free trade area of the EU and Canada) no individual EU member state could do so.

Boffy said...


There is, in reality, no difference, other than stage of development. A nation state that negotiates an FTA with some other state acts according to its sovereignty, and neither affects the others ability to negotiate deals with other countries.

But each of these states, similarly retains the right to set its own external Customs Tariffs. An FTA is simply an expression of it, i.e. a decision to impose no tariffs in trade with some other state. IF we take the current incarnation of NAFTA, the MCA, then the US has written in clauses that enable it to restrict what third party agreements Mexico and Canada can strike, and a right to veto them, where it believes it is against US interests.

the nation state was simply the political expression of the development of national economies, and bodies like the EEC, ASEAN, Mercosur are the expression of thee fact that the nation state, other than for super states like the US or China, is no longer adequate for the forces of production. It is a reactionary fetter in the development of the productive forces, and thereby on human development.

Economic unions like the EEC, ASEA, Mercosur, AcFTA and so on, are led to create a common external tariff as the concomitant of their own internal FTA. That is incompatible with members of those organisations having separate deals with non-members that conflict with it, and mechanisms have to be established that enforce that reality. The Customs Union/Single market can negotiate itself deals with other blocs or economies, in the same way that a nation state can do. But, increasingly, and necessarily, these deals are done between blocs not nation states, for the simple reason that smaller states join blocs in order to get the negotiating heft that brings, and which they lack as an individual state.

nation states themselves did not arise automatically or immediately, but were part of the bourgeois-democratic revolution itself, as the bourgeoisie sought to create a political superstructure consistent with its creation of a national economy, and the requirement for a single currency, single set of laws, fiscal regime and so on within it, so as to create a level playing field for all capitals. The same process applies to these larger economic blocs, and it is simply a question of time, and historical development.