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Doing referendums differently so the oiks don’t win again

The Electoral Reform Society has released a report about the conduct of the EU referendum called “It’s good to talk: Doing referendums differently after the EU vote”.

The title “It’s good to talk” suggests a conversation, a dialogue. Unlike some commentary by prominent Remain supporters, it does not seek to rule that some people are not qualified to take part in the dialogue at all and their votes should be disregarded. In fact if I chose to use this particular document in order to criticise a paternalist tendency in British politics, it is because it shows this tendency at its most well-meaning. But however reasonably expressed, the purpose of the measures suggested by the Electoral Reform Society is to stop the wild voters ever getting loose again.

So it’s time for a root and branch review of referendums, learning the lessons of the EU campaign to make sure the mistakes that were made in terms of regulation, tone and conduct are never repeated.

“Regulation, tone and conduct.” How very British, how very Sir Humphrey! Yet the people who wrote this probably object to being called “The Establishment”. The report assumes that the referendum was ill-regulated and that the referendum was something that should be regulated. By people like them.

We’ve made nine key recommendations to improve the conduct of future referendums. They are:

Laying the groundwork

1. Mandatory pre-legislative scrutiny for any Bill on a referendum, lasting at least three months, with citizens’ involvement

2. A minimum six-month regulated campaigning period to ensure time for a proper public discussion

3. A definitive ‘rulebook’ to be published, setting out technical aspects of the vote, as soon as possible after the passing of any referendum Bill

Better information

1. A ‘minimum data set’ or impartial information guide to be published at the start of the regulated campaigning period

Written by their sort of people, containing the information that their sort of people think is relevant, impartial in the sense of being in the middle of the spread of opinion that is socially acceptable for their sort of people.

2. An official body should be given the task of intervening when misleading claims are made by the campaigns, as in New Zealand

“An official body” means a body with power. “Given the task of intervening” means given the power to silence. And, of course, the official body will be staffed by suitably qualified people. So some more of their sort of people will have new powers to censor the unenlightened.

3. Citizenship education to be extended in schools

I don’t really need to say it, do I?

alongside UK-wide extension of votes at 16

With the result that those who have only known a life where the majority of their waking hours were spent under the control of the clerisy will mostly vote as directed. There is another point, too. The extension of the franchise to children is no longer an anomaly if all the voters are treated as children. Like children, all the information they receive will be censored and filtered by their wise teachers, who get to decide what claims are misleading.

More deliberation

1. The government should fund a resource for stimulating deliberative discussion/debate about referendum

2. An official body should be tasked with providing a toolkit for members of the public to host own debates/deliberative events on the referendum

“Providing the toolkit” for debates is an example of the agenda-setting power.

3. Ofcom should conduct a review into an appropriate role for broadcasters to play in referendums, with aim of making coverage/formats more deliberative rather than combative/binary

It’s a referendum, for goodness sake. How can it be other than binary? Ah, I think I know. I came across many comments by Remainers saying that the simple option “Leave the EU” was too easy and the question in the corrective referendum should be broken up into multiple different flavours of Leave plus one flavour of Remain. This would have the happy effect of splitting the Leave vote.

We think our new report, ‘It’s Good to Talk: Doing Referendums Differently After the EU Vote’, will be a useful resource in tackling the big questions about where we go from here when it comes to referendums. We hope you agree.

I do not agree. The report suggests various measures that would reduce the chance that polite conversation will be interrupted by shouting. Another way of putting that is that the report puts forward measures to make it harder for angry, inarticulate people to be heard, harder for them to sense that they are not alone, harder for referendums to fulfil their function of yanking the people’s representatives back into contact with what the people actually want.

More than that though, we hope the recommendations we suggest lead to some genuine change so that the public get the referendum debates they deserve in the future.

The wording is revealing. Although the mention of the public getting what they deserve is meant politely rather than literally, debate is seen as something the public get given to them, not as something they do themselves, however raw and “combative” and “binary” it may be.

What is that sound I hear off in the distance?

Hurrah! The struggle for the leadership of the Nationalsozialistische Britisch Arbeiterpartei has been won by Jeremy Corbyn, and the re-branding as the Party of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists is now complete! I look forward to reading of this momentous moment in the Great Leader’s memoirs, which I assume will be titled “My Struggle”. Our friends from Hamas and Hezbollah are thought to be very happy with this outcome, as well they should.

But what is that sound I hear off in the distance? Gunfire? Has the revolution started already? Ah, no, it is the pop of champagne corks coming from 4 Matthew Parker Street in London!

this-is-socialism

Update: strangely not everyone is happy ;-)

Corbyn is terrible, but so-called “heavyweights” aren’t much better either

Nick Cohen is one of those socialist writers I read because he has a core of decency – he is right on the money around Islamism – although he is uneven and his spit-the-dummy turn over the Brexit vote did not impress me one jot. He has an article out about the awfulness of Jeremy Corbyn and his circle, and of course he is right, but he has lacunae of his own:

“The last upsurge of left-wing militancy in the 1970s had Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson and other formidable socialist thinkers behind it. Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty and Danny Blanchflower looked like their successors. They too have produced formidable work on how to make society fairer. They agreed to help Corbyn, but walked away after discovering that Corbynism is just a sloganising personality cult: an attitude, rather than a programme to reform the country. That attitude is banal in content, conspiracist in essence, utopian in aspiration and vicious in practice.”

These four men’s reputations are greatly overblown. All of these men were or are capable of producing work and comments of quite outstanding levels of imbecility. Thompson was a prominent supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament during the 1970s and 1980s at a time when the Cold War was very far from being obviously won; his Marxian treatment of English history, for example, while not without its merits, infected a generation of students. Hobsbawm, whose treatment of history could be equally tendentious, to the end of his long life was an unrepentant defender of the Soviet Union; Stiglitz, while he might produce good work (I cannot think of any off the top of my head), is not renowned for his judgement, as his praise for Venezuela’s catastrophic socialist regime a few years ago attests. And finally, we have Thomas Piketty, whose immense book on inequality, while it gives a sort of spurious intellectual cover for leftists looters, contains fundamental conceptual errors and its policy prescription of massive wealth taxes would be catastrophic.

In other words, some of the people on the Left may sound as if they have more intellectual gravitas than, say, Jeremy Corbyn. This is not exactly difficult. But the fact is that in varying degrees, these men were/are deeply wrong and their ideas are dangerous nonsense.

As an aside, Dr Roger Scruton has issued an updated edition of his excellent study, Thinkers of the New Left, which goes into a lot of detail about this sort of intellectual. By the way, he has praise for some aspects of their work and tries to see merit where it exists (he is fond of EP Thompson on his understanding of the English working class, for example). Recommended.

 

Discussion point: is there any good reason why Momentum shouldn’t have a children’s wing?

From the Guardian:

Momentum to start children’s wing to boost ‘involvement in labour movement’

Momentum, the social movement set up to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, is launching a children’s wing called Momentum Kids.

Momentum is organising a fringe festival, The World Transformed, alongside next week’s Labour party conference in Liverpool and Momentum Kids will launch with a creche for parents attending the event.

Momentum claims it will then spread nationwide, aiming to provide cooperatively run childcare, including breakfast clubs, for parents who want to get involved in political activity but find it hard to fit around their caring responsibilities.

The new group is also aimed at “increasing children’s involvement in Momentum and the labour movement by promoting political activity that is fun, engaging and child-friendly”.

Regret is not a policy

I just heard, on the telly, the leader of the Lib Dems repeat his support for a return by Britain to the EU. Other Lib Dems on the same show are echoing him. The Empire Loyalists of our time. They’ll attract a small lump of enthusiasts, who will spend the rest of their lives insisting that they were right to oppose Brexit. And everyone else will watch and say: so what? Even most of those who voted Remain themselves. Regret is not a policy.

Brian Micklethwait

This was too perfect not to warrant a little post of its own.

Samizdata quote of the day

Let’s be clear: No deal is better than a bad deal.

Richard Tice, discussing Brexit.

As a Londoner myself, this resonates rather strongly

battle-of-britain-over-london

How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party

A friend of mine reckons that Ex-Prime-Minister David Cameron’s plan was, all long, to extricate Britain from the EU. This theory reminds me of the similar things that were said about Gorbachev and the collapse of the old USSR. If Gorbachev had been a CIA agent, working to contrive the exact USSR collapse that happened, what would he have done differently? Very little. It’s the same with Cameron and Brexit. How could Cameron have done a better job of contriving Brexit than he actually did do?

You may say: Cameron might actually have argued for Brexit, in public. But if he had done that, then many of those north of England Labourites who hate Cameron might have voted Remain instead of Out, just to stick it to those out-of-touch Etonian bastards, the way they actually did feel they were sticking it to the Etonians by voting Out. And Britain might now be chained to the sinking ship that is the EU rather than liberated from it.

But, whether by design, as my friend thinks, or by accident, as most others assume, Brexit has unified the Conservative Party. With that observation, I move from the territory of undisprovable speculative diversion into the land of out-in-the-open truth. And I am not the only one who has noticed this.

For all of my adult life, the Europe issue has divided the Conservative Party. Until now.

→ Continue reading: How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party

Mr McDonnell, are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

A perfectly justified question to put to John McDonnell in the light of this report from the Telegraph:

John McDonnell welcomed the financial crash and called himself a Marxist, newly found footage shows

John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, welcomed the financial crash that wrecked Britain’s economy and insisted he was a Marxist, newly uncovered footage shows.

Mr McDonnell, who is Jeremy Corbyn’s closest political ally, is seen in the 2013 video saying that the economic upheaval proves the faults with modern capitalism.

At one point Mr McDonnell, who was a backbencher at the time, says of the crisis: “I’ve been waiting for this for a generation!”

The comments are documented in a YouTube video viewed less than 60 times which was posted on the website on March 16, 2013.

Here is that video: John McDonnell MP Speaking at communities against the cuts meeting 16-3-13. The relevant extract is between 07:10 and 07:35.

In a video entitled “John McDonnell MP Speaking at communities against the cuts meeting”, the man now in charge of Labour’s economic policy is seen discussing the crisis.

“We’ve got to demand systemic change. Look, I’m straight, I’m honest with people: I’m a Marxist,” Mr McDonnell is seen saying at one point.

“This is a classic crisis of the economy – a classic capitalist crisis. I’ve been waiting for this for a generation!

“For Christ’s sake don’t waste it, you know; let’s use this to explain to people this system based on greed and profit does not work.”

Most of the comments I have read seem to think that his “welcoming” the financial crash of 2008 is the main story. I don’t see it that way. He could reasonably claim (added later: he has claimed) that it was said as a self-mocking joke about the way Marxists have been predicting the imminent demise of capitalism for years and only now, it seems, has it finally happened. No, I think the damning part is “I’m honest with people: I’m a Marxist.”

My title for this post was also intended as a historical joke. There is no doubt about what party Mr McDonnell belongs to, the Labour Party. The doubt that arises in many people’s minds is whether under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership this is still a party normal people can vote for without going the full Venezuela. We know he is now and has long been a member of the Labour party, but someone will inevitably now ask Mr McDonnell, “Are you a Marxist?”

In 2013 his straight and honest answer was “Yes”. If he answers “No” three years later, will people believe him? When did he change and why?

If he answers “Yes”… this man is Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

*

Update: Mr McDonnell appeared on Question Time last night. He was asked by David Dimbelbly if he was a Marxist, in the light of that video. Watch the first half minute of this clip to see how he responds. At 15 seconds in we have:

Dimbelby: “Are you a Marxist?”

McDonnell: “No, I’m a socialist.”

Dimbelby: “Well, why say, ‘I’m a Marxist'”?

McDonnell: “Because actually I was trying to, I was demonstrating, a prediction of the capitalist crisis at the time.”

Anna Soubry’s lengthy attack on him afterwards becomes tedious, but she got a solid round of applause for her initial indignant restatement of fact in the face of this farrago: “You said, ‘I’m a Marxist'”.

Trade does not require trade agreements

Douglas Carswell makes some excellent points about the perils of any post-Brexit trade agreements with the EU:

So let’s spell it out. Access to the single market means being able to trade with single-market countries. Membership means being bound by single-market rules.

Why is this difference so important?

Because access is consistent with the vote to leave the EU. Membership isn’t.

Access clearly doesn’t require membership. Countries around the world trade with the single market. Many do so freely, with no tariff barriers, via bilateral free-trade agreements. Britain can do the same. We don’t need to be part of the single market to trade freely with it.

In fact, we will have freer trade once we leave the single market. Because the single market doesn’t enable commerce, but rather restricts it.

The single market is a permission-based system. It stops suppliers from selling things people want to buy unless they conform to standards set by bureaucrats in Brussels. Rather than remove trade barriers, the single market creates them. Not between countries, but between producers and consumers.

The effect is to limit competition. Big corporations with expensive lobbyists rig the rules to shut out disruptive innovation from upstart rivals. Economic progress is impeded.

Indeed, and as Peter Lilly wrote not all that long ago:

How important are trade deals? As a former trade minister it pains me to admit – their importance is grossly exaggerated. Countries succeed, with or without trade deals, if they produce goods and services other countries want. Thanks to the Uruguay Round, tariffs between developed countries now average low single figures – small beer compared with recent movements in exchange rates. So the most worthwhile trade agreements are with fast growing developing countries which still have high tariffs.

Quite so. The sooner we are out of the EU the better.

Why don’t they just knock it down?

In central London there is an clapped-out old building. One option would be to demolish it and replace it with something nice in steel and glass. Another option, as Michael Jennings likes to point out, would be to demolish it and replace it with tarmac. The building in question stands bang in the middle of two major thoroughfares causing a huge bottleneck.

So, what do our politicians think should be done? Well, they’re not thinking in terms of steel, glass or tarmac. They’re not even thinking of demolition. They think that £5bn of taxpayers’ money should be shelled out on its restoration. Which means it will be at least £10bn by the time they’re finished. If we’re lucky. You could build a lot of hospitals for that kind of money.

You may be familiar with the building in question:

london_parliament_2007-1

Now I accept that for the time being we have a state and that representative democracies are usually better than the alternatives. I also accept that it is probably difficult to do politics online so Parliament needs some kind of physical location. But where?

Luckily there is a place that seems to cover all the bases. It is easy to get to. There is plenty of land for development. It would take politicians out of the metropolitan bubble. And it would gently remind them of the consequences of over-regulation. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the location of the new Mother of Parliaments:

Milton Keynes.

“Climate change is a racist crisis: that’s why Black Lives Matter closed an airport”

Alexandra Wanjiku-Kelbert, who will help train you as a socialist campaigner for three thousand quid, has done a beautiful thing. Not only has she caused the left to lie down with right on the Guardian comments pages, she has made the left to lie down with the left. Verily, the Corbynite and the Blairite shall dwell together and jointly speak trash of Ms Spellcheck-Kelbert.

Here is the article that gave rise to such wonders:

Climate change is a racist crisis: that’s why Black Lives Matter closed an airport

Today we are saying that the climate crisis is a racist crisis. On the one hand Britain is the biggest contributor per capita to global temperature change.

Those who closely follow the carbon dioxide emissions league tables (app available on Android and iOS) will have been surprised by this sudden promotion of Britain to the top spot. All will be explained if you click on the link. You will see that the figure she quotes for each nation is calculated over all time. Seriously, they are blaming Britain for having been first with the industrial revolution.

It is also one of the least vulnerable to the effects of climate change. On the other hand, seven of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change are in sub-Saharan Africa.

We’re not saying that climate change affects only black people. However, it is communities in the global south that bear the brunt of the consequences of climate change, whether physical – floods, desertification, increased water scarcity and tornadoes – or political: conflict and racist borders. While a tiny elite can fly to and from London City airport, sometimes as a daily commute, this year alone 3,176 migrants have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean, trying to reach safety on the shores of Europe.

Got all that? Climate change causes racist borders.

We are coming under fire for the fact that the protesters on the runway today were all white. That is not an accident.

True enough. The SWP (for it is they) can’t be fussing with their lineup of professional protesters every time there’s a black theme month.