Posts Tagged ‘conservative’

It certainly seems so. Coming on top of losing the appallingly mis-handled referendum on PR for the UK Parliament, they also recently lost Council seats in the UK by the bucketload, confirming that it is they, rather than the majority partner in the governing Coalition – the Conservative Party – that is wearing the opprobrium of the public for the austerity measures currently wracking the country.

 

From smiling chumminess in the garden at No 10 with his new mate David Cameron to contemplating the worst Council election results in his party’s history – is this mid-terms blues or is the party really over for Nick Clegg?

 

As nobody ever expects the Tories to do anything but ruthlessly “cut, cut, cut” when they are in power, (especially when they inherit Government from an utterly profligate and incompetent Labour Government), and the Liberal Democrats have for years portrayed themselves as nice, warm, wooly middle-class people who are in favour of just about everything sugary and nice and against anything nasty and pooh-bum-ish, then when they were pitchforked into the maelstrom of handling an economic crisis this outcome was, of course, utterly predictable.

As the inestimably wonderful Tony Benn once said to me over a beer in Harrogate  – although, as a teetotaler, he was drinking a mug of tea, of course – “The people don’t want us to be the Bastards, Stephen, they know we’re no good at it. If they want the Bastards, they’ll go for the proper Bastards. The ones who do it naturally. Left wing parties have no job being Bastards. Not you, not Labour.”

And he was spot on.

I sent an email to a friend commenting that the very good Lib Dem candidate for the London mayoralty really shouldn’t have come fourth behind the Greens. He commented by return:

You think London is bad? In Edinburgh (where the Lib Dems were the largest party until Thursday), one Lib Dem candidate received fewer votes than “Professor Pongoo, the Six-Foot Penguin”.

Well, I have endured some pretty awful election results as a Liberal in my time. However, I am pleased to say I was never beaten by a Six-Foot Penguin, no matter what his level of academic achievement. It reminds one fearfully of the wonderful Monty Python “Election Night Special”.

Eerily prescient. Anyway, since almost the very day that the deal was done between Clegg and Cameron and the Coalition came to power, worried Lib Dem campaigners with generations of experience have been tearing their hair out to convince the left-of-centre party’s central leadership that they need to be effectively – note, effectively – differentiated from their bigger Coalition partners or inevitably face an electoral backlash of considerable proportions.

The problem is, the Lib Dem leadership (with a very few exceptions) generally seem to show every sign of being perfectly convinced that the Government’s parsimony is the only way forward for Britain, when what was needed, of course, was an intelligent re-direction of spending priorities away from massive, flabby bureaucracy but back into the economy, to ensure adequate investment in national infrastructure which would duly trickle through to a variety of private enterprises.

Yes, the country must live within its means, or at least, very close to them. Ultimately, all countries must. However, there was and is still a deal of work to be done deciding exactly what that entails. Economies are like hungry bellies – they need feeding or they grind to a halt. Private business just doesn’t pick up the slack. Sticking up a few stadia for the upcoming Olympics will not cut it: on the basis of its transport infrastructure alone, for example, the UK lags far behind its European competitors. What was needed was a measured, thoughtful re-direction of investment. What Britain got was a wholesale panic shut down of Government spending.

In short, Clegg has singularly failed to convince anyone that his party is doing a smart job of ameliorating the Government’s excesses, or of creating smart outcomes that lock in a future for Britain as an innovative, manufacturing nation. He is now a figure of sarcastic fun, and electorally tainted – probably, in my opinion, damaged goods beyond repair.  There will be a gradually growing pressure for change within the party from the “ABC”  tendency – “Anyone But Clegg”  – not that many of the leading Lib Dems look well poised to take over.

In the historic scheme of things, the Lib Dems will recover from this experience – eventually – although they may have reached their modern high water mark at the last two general elections. In future, what positive effect they have on legislation is unclear, and probably subject to the concomitant electoral success of an eclectic bunch of nationalists, greens and anti-European bombasts, who will all make uncomfortable ginger-group colleagues.

(Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the UK Independence Party is that they are not the British National Party, which did very badly at the Council elections. However, those who enjoy watching the fringes of British politics might like to consider this story before they try and keep their kippers and toast down.)

In our opinion the Lib Dems should have resisted joining a coalition and supported legislation on a case by case basis, playing honest brokers between the two major parties, and demonstrating what it is that makes them different from the big boys.

Yes, it would have been messy, untidy and complicated, and the arrangement would have been roundly criticised for not being “stable”  enough.

But on the other hand the British public might have learned something about non-majority Government, (as Australia has in the last two years), and they would have kept their soul, and their uniquely independent and refreshing view of the political landscape in the UK. I know I will be accused of 20-20 hindsight, but I did say it at the time.

In the end, though, the lure of the Government benches was too strong. Being treated like grown ups for the first time in three generations was a heady brew.

Sadly, though, the hangover may go on for a very long time.

I am often criticised (in 99% of cases by ironed-on conservatives or Republicans) for being too critical about the quality of American politics, (which I freely admit fascinates me), and the performance of the right in particular. So I was pleased to see today’s report that the most popular politician (by opinion poll) in Australia appears to completely agree with my point of view.

Malcolm Turnbull says American politics is becoming 'profoundly dysfuntional'.

As reported in The Age, re-reporting an interview with The Monthly, published today, Malcolm Turnbull says American politics is becoming ‘profoundly dysfunctional’. 

He has sharply criticised the corrupting power of money in the US and described America as looking ”like a country that is barely governed”.

The former Liberal leader and member of  Tony Abbott’s shadow cabinet (note, “Liberal” in Australian political terms means the main Conservative party, and current Official Opposition, and not the “progressive” position it means in America, nor the centrist position it means in the UK), says American politics is becoming ”profoundly dysfunctional”.

He attacks the Republican idea that the budgetary situation can be improved by cutting the taxes of the wealthy as ”just bizarre”, and describes the right-wing Tea Party as extreme, reactionary and radical.

Author of the interview article Robert Manne writes: ”He thinks that American voluntary voting encourages Republican extremism and the search for ‘hot-button issues’, like abortion or guns or gay marriage or Obama as a secret Muslim.

”He is concerned about the fragmentation of opinion and collapse of the rational centre. He is profoundly concerned about the ‘self-evident’ corrupting influence of ‘the power of money’.”

Mr Turnbull is also very critical of the Iraq war – in which Australia was an enthusiastic US ally under the previous conservative Howard government.

”The argument for saying it was a mistake and misconceived is a very powerful one … There are plenty of people on both sides of politics in the US who take that view.’

I am delighted to hear a conservative politician break ranks on this, which is surely now one of the most accepted facts in international conflict studies. The Iraq war was launched on lies, conducted without adequate legal authority, with no exit strategy, managed appallingly badly by Rumsfeld and others, and has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Hardly a family in Iraq has been untouched.

Mr Turnbull, who agreed to the interview on condition he would not be asked about his leader Mr Abbott, says climate change denialism is ”contrary to the views of, I think, just about everybody in the Coalition party room”. Manne however notes Mr Abbott once described as ”absolute crap” the view that climate scientists had a consensus position.

The interesting thing for me is how much more mainstream Turnbull is than the current leadership of his party. I have little doubt that were they to dump Abbott for him, (Abbott having only defeated him by one vote in the party room, remember, after a well-organised right-wing coup), that they would be elected in the largest landslide in Australian political history, regardless of how well the Government does in the next 18 months.

Almost unthinkably by current received wisdom, as things stand, I firmly believe Abbott is on track to lose the un-loseable election.

We will see.

G K Chesterton

Neither "progressive" nor "conservative" ... Chesterton was a thinker.

As we contemplate the future of Western society … well, I am, even if you aren’t … then it is worth pondering, I think, what GK Chesterton once wrote in a piece which has become known as “Chesterton’s Fallacy”.

Read one way, it is the most cogent argument for conservatism I have ever come across – and I am not wildly in favour of conservatism, as anyone can tell you. Nevertheless, whether we are debating the way we deal with society’s rioting miscreants, how to refocus our businesses’ activity, what do do about the global financial system, or how to respond to matters as diverse as global climate change or the apparently inexorable rise of Asian economies, we would do well to dwell on these comments. As I get older, I find myself, for example, instinctively lending additional weight to the arguments of those who have “been there, done that”, rather than the arguments of those who argue merely from first principles, with the delightful arrogance of youth,  unwashed and ungrimed by the messy waters of practical experience. (I never thought I would write such a sentence, and I stand ready to be shot down in flames for premature fogeyism, but there it is.)

So to my eyes, this is not an argument for resisting change, but it is an argument for not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, until we have checked the baby for signs of life. Anyway, what do you think?

“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox.

There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road.

The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense.

The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable.

It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious.

There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.”

Time magazine, in a review of a biography of Chesterton, observed of his writing style: “Whenever possible Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories — first carefully turning them inside out.” For example, Chesterton wrote “Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.”

Chesterton, as a political thinker, cast aspersions on both progressive and conservative styles of thought, saying, “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.” Writer and philosopher George Bernard Shaw, Chesterton’s “friendly enemy”, said of him, “He was a man of colossal genius”.

How we need such thinkers today. Food for thought, huh? Comments welcome.