Monday, October 20, 2014

Odd concepts are emerging in British politics

Back in the days of the numerous People's Democracies and People's Republics (one or two of which are still with us) it would have seemed bizarre to envisage a time when similar concepts would be used by a political party that claims to be serious (i.e. not one of the numerous Communist, Stalinist, Trotskyite entities) but that is exactly what has been happening. Yes, indeed, I am once again referring to our friends in UKIP or as they sometimes decribe themselves, the People's Army. Presumably, even their political strategists (a.k.a. friends and drinking cronies of the Dear Leader, Nigel Farage) shied away from the People's Liberation Army. Even without that, the naming is not, in my opinion, a happy one.

The people's this and the people's that figure largely in UKIP's pronouncements. One can only assume that knowledge of recent history is not required by its Central Committee NEC.

Not so long ago (about a week or so) I saw comments about UKIP being unique in British politics in that its policies are for the people and are created with the people in mind. I could not help recalling the great Louis Armstrong's comment in response to some dumb-fool question as to what he thought about folk songs and folk music (a big concept in popular political music in the 1960s: "All music is folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing a song." For whom do other parties create policies? Horses? Dogs? Pandas? Nightingales, perhaps, though that appears to be a UKIP policy, as Mr Mark Reckless has realized.

However, the most frightening term that has emerged recently and is being used by supporters and quasi-supporters of UKIP is the People's Will. UKIP, apparently, represents the People's Will, unlike the other parties. The argument that the other parties still get more votes than UKIP is irrelevant here because the People's Will is not to be measured in votes or support by individuals.

The history of the term is sinister. Its origin is the concept of the General Will, made popular by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and used to devastating effect by the Jacobins in the French Revolution until the General Will was turned against them. The most important and to tyrannical rulers most useful aspect of the General Will or the People's Will is that there is no appeal from it: there is nothing higher either in the state or in political morality. What the General Will or the People's Will (or, let us be clear, the Working Class) wants and requires is absolute and is to be imposed on all. It is the complete denial of democracy, which is based (however we define the details) on the concepts of individual rights, duties and liberties. Or, as far greater people than I said: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happines, all of which is denied by the concept of the General or the People's Will.

The most famous or, rather, infamous group that called itself the People's Will was a Russian terrorist organization whose greatest or, rather, worst achievement was the assassination of Alexander II on March 1, 1881 as he was about to sign a limited constitutional document, thus setting Russia's political development back by a number of decades. In fact, one could argue that the country never recovered fully from this set-back.

The expression works better in Russian as Народная воля (Narodnaya Volya) means both People's Will and People's Liberty. As it happens the group had no interest in anybody's liberty as their political, economic and social ideas were almost as oppressive as the ones imposed on that unhappy country by the Bolsheviks. Lenin was contemptuous of the idea of individual terrorism but that does not mean he disliked other aspects of the People's Will. Not least, he agreed with them and with such theoreticians as Pyotr Thachev about the need of a closely knit organization at the head of the revolutionary movement and, subsequently, the state that would interpret the People's Will (or the Will of the Working Class) with complete disregard for individual members of the People or the Working Class.

Could it be that UKIP political strategists do not know anything about this? Not anything?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lord Pearson speaks

In this week's Spectator there is an article by and an attached podcast by Lord Pearson of Rannoch, a man who appears frequently on this blog. He explains why it will not be UKIP's fault if David Cameron and the Conservatives lose in the next election (at present that is still unlikely but one cannot tell what might happen in the next seven months) and why they should have listened to him and Lord Willoughby de Broke in 2009 and formed some kind of an alliance.

Curiously, he explains that the offer was to stand aside in 2010, something that most of UKIP would not have agreed to in any case, if the Conservatives were to make a binding promise to hold an IN/OUT referendum.

Neither UKIP nor the Conservative grass-roots would have agreed to a deal. When Lord Pearson, as temporary Leader of UKIP, called for candidates to stand down in constituencies where, according to him, the Conservative candidates were Eurosceptic, there was an uproar in his own party. I wonder if Lord Pearson recalls that uproar and his attempts to soothe his own party's sensibilities.

Secondly, there is no such thing as a binding promise or a promise that UKIP members will believe to be binding. David Cameron has promised to hold a referendum in 2017 and UKIP do not believe him. Neither, apparently do Douglas Carswell MP, who believed it until this April or Mark Reckless former MP, who believed it till August.

I admire Lord Pearson for the good work he has done and continues to do but even he cannot make much sense of what UKIP's intentions are as is clear from this:
But now the moment has passed; Ukip is no longer largely a Conservative protest group. We are supported by many former Labour voters and a chunk of the 40 per cent who have never voted before. Once again Cameron has said ‘absolutely not’ to any hint of co-operation and I’m afraid most people in Ukip now feel: ‘What the hell — what’s the difference between the others anyway?’ The party’s message has become ‘Vote Ukip and get Ukip, with enough seats to hold the balance of power.’
Nothing on the political scene indicates the UKIP will get enough seats to hold the balance of power (one Conservative MP keeping his seat under a different flag is no proof). Nor do we know what exactly do they intend to do should such a miracle occur.

Still, readers might be interested in reading the article as a whole and listening to the podcast.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Another earthquake

Oh, I beg your pardon: this time it is an "electoral storm cloud" gathering over Westminster, according to Paul Nuttall, UKIP Deputy Leader. [scroll down]

Well, as predicted Douglas Carswell for UKIP overturned the Consevative majority held by Douglas Carswell and when he is introduced to the House on Monday (by whom, one wonders) he will now sit on the Opposition benches. I am rather looking forward to Mr Carswell calling for British jobs to be saved for British people, an end to "austerity" and an immediate referendum, not to mention appeasement of Russia.

Here are the results in full, for anyone who has not seen them yet:

Douglas Carswell (UKIP) 21,113 (59.75%) Giles Watling (C) 8,709 (24.64%, -28.38%) Tim Young (Lab) 3,957 (11.20%, -13.84%) Chris Southall (Green) 688 (1.95%, +0.71%) Andy Graham (LD) 483 (1.37%, -11.57%) Bruce Sizer (Ind) 205 (0.58%) Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 127 (0.36%) Charlotte Rose (Ind) 56 (0.16%)

UKIP maj 12,404 (35.10%)

Electorate 69,118; Turnout 35,338 (51.13%, -13.05%)

A very clear victory for Mr Carswell, who replaced the UKIP nominee for this very purpose.

And here are the results for Heywood and Middleton, also very good for UKIP:

Liz McInnes (Lab) 11,633 (40.86%, +0.75%) John Bickley (UKIP) 11,016 (38.69%, +36.06%) Iain Gartside (C) 3,496 (12.28%, -14.88%) Anthony Smith (LD) 1,457 (5.12%, -17.59%) Abi Jackson (Green) 870 (3.06%)

Lab maj 617 (2.17%)

17.65% swing Lab to UKIP

Electorate 79,170; Turnout 28,472 (35.96%, -21.57%)

David Cameron has already warned the country that a big UKIP vote will bring in a Labour government, which is probably true but unlikely to be a problem for UKIP and its supporters, given their recent policies. If anything, they might consider Ed Miliband to be a little too liberal in his views and not nearly socialist enough. After all, he has not called for the renationalization of the Royal Mail.

The Boss is his usual gentle self.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A crucial day in British politics?

To some extent, we can argue that if Douglas Carswell manages to hold Clacton this will be of some importance as he will be the first elected UKIP MP in the House of Commons. There is a little too much hyperbole around with Carswell himself quoting Henry V and urging "team Clacton" to defeat the "Westminster machine". That, I presume, would be the Westminster machine that he was a fairly successful part of until about two months ago and the one that helped him to win Clacton in the first place and to hold it in 2010 with a very good majority. The Westminster machine that, in short, helped to place him into the position he is in now: a man who may well become the first elected UKIP MP.

Nothing wrong with that, one might say. All is fair in love, war and politics, which is war by any other name. He used the machine then when he decided for whatever reason that he wanted to go beyond it he did so and continued to use the benefits he had been given by that machine. Hardly the first politician to do so in the long history of British politics. Most of them, one has to admit, ended badly though not as badly as losers have done in other political structures.

One elected MP, at least until May, is not going to make that much difference: Westminster has managed to survive individual rebels before and even new parties (the highly successful Labour Party, which by the stage of its history that UKIP has reached was forming its first government, springs to mind). Nor has it been unknown for MPs to change parties and fight seats under different banners. If Churchill could go from Conservative to Liberal and back again, I see no reason why Douglas Carswell should not be able to.

What I find slightly disconcerting is the hysteria around this particular by-election. Admittedly, UKIP has not been particularly successful in Westminster politics, having had one MP in the past who had not bothered to call a by-election and lost his seat in the General when he stood under his new banner and having three Peers. Nevertheless, the idea that today will be as important in British politics as Agincourt was in the Hundred Years' War between England and France is more than a little fatuous.

My own prediction for what it's worth is that Carswell will keep Clacton until the General Election and will lose it then; UKIP will do fairly well in the other by-election today though the seat will remain Labour; and Reckless, when his turn comes, will lose his seat. That will be of greater import, as the likelihood is that he will split the vote and let in a Labour MP, which event will concentrate Conservative minds and even the minds of those who think having an IN/OUT referendum is the aim of our fight.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Gloomy election discussions

As we are coming to the end of the last serious conference season before the next General Election (those extras, like the winter conference or the spring conference are unnecessary extras and of little importance) everyone outside UKIP seems to be rather gloomy.

The choice, one must admit, is not particularly scintillating but it is my opinion that as things stand Labour has no chances of winning the election. Their own particular conference and the farce of the Leader's Speech, billed for 80 minutes but lasting for only just over 60 because two of the most important subjects were simply not mentioned though they were clearly there in the text handed out to the media, did not exactly inspire any one except those so committed to the party that casting their vote for anyone else would be like walking barefoot on broken glass.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are deemed by the media to have had a bad week-end because of losing Mark Reckless and because of the Brooks Newmark scandal. Until this story broke I had not heard of Brooks Newmark but the biggest scandal of all, in my opinion, is that we have such a thing as a Minister for Civil Society. What on earth is that?

On the other hand, I was pleasantly suprised to hear that the Mirror's sting operation (whose author, a free-lance hack has, as of this moment, not revealed his name) had been directed at several young Conservative MPs and only one was foolish enough to fall for it, the aforementioned former Minister for Civil Society. It is good to know that the others had enough brains or just an instinct for self-preservation to steer clear of the whole fracas. That, of course, leaves us with the unfortunate young women, whose body parts were used to create the fictional twitter character without their permission and the fact that other newspapers, such as the Sun are virtuously explaining that the idea had been offered to them but they turned their noses up. Also, we have the first case to come before the new Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) and it does not involve a Murdoch newspaper. How they must be laughing.

Will any of this really help the Labour Party whose opinion poll results are nowhere near good enough to predict a victory next May? Somehow, I doubt it. There is far too much talk about "New Old Labour", which anyone with any kind of political memory will know to have been unelectable. Ed Miliband is seen as far too left-wing but also incompetent in the simplest political acts like delivering a speech at a party conference. It is particularly unfortunate that his flub should have come so soon after Gordon Brown's highly praised performance in Scotland towards the end of the referendum campaign.

We do, of course, have another "New Old Labour Party" now and that is UKIP who clearly intends to compete for that limited and ever decreasing vote.

Incidentally, the Boss and I discussed Patrick O'Flynn's speech that outlined those preposterous economic policies including the one about raising VAT on "luxury goods". Setting aside the obvious question as to what is defined as "luxury goods" and the obvious comment that a good many people from working class background like to be able to buy them, one cannot help asking why UKIP should be so supportive of VAT, an EU tax that is open to a great deal of fraud and is not particularly useful for the economy. Why not call for its abolition (and if you cannot do that within the EU well you know what we ought to do) and for competitive local sales tax? I seem to recall that the present UKIP parliamentary candidate for Clacton co-authored a book some years ago with one, Daniel Hannan, in which that was one of the policies outlined. One wonders how he felt having to applaud the economic spokesman of his new party who was making it quite clear that neither he nor the party were interested in any serious radical ideas.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

As UKIP moves left it acquires another right-wing Tory MP

Honestly, I was not going to blog about the UKIP (or any other party) conference but I did note that some of their policies meant that they have now morphed from the Conservative Party circa 1955 to the Labour Party circa 1955: big government, high taxation, do not touch the NHS, slap higher VAT on so-called luxury goods, tighten planning laws, introduce protectionism and appease Russia (that's Labour post Ernie Bevin). Apparently, this is done from the entirely non-politician-like idealistic principles of trying to grab some Labour voters who might be dissatisfied with no longer having the Labour Party their grandparents voted for. Of course, a good many people whose parents and grandparents voted for that old version of the Labour Party then proceeded to vote for Mrs Thatcher's Conservative Party because they no longer knew their place in life but UKIP seems to have forgotten that.

Yet it is not left-wing socialists who are joining UKIP (well, not any high-profile ones) but supposedly right-wing Tories. Mark Reckless, another well-known liberal (in the real sense of the word), free-mareketeer, small government, low taxation etc etc politician has just announced that he is joining UKIP and is stepping down as an MP for Rochester and Stroud (a seat that, I am told, had been stitched up for him previously, though I am not sure what that means exactly).

In May Mr Reckless proclaimed joyfully that the party now felt reasonably happy about things and was calling for an IN/OUT referendum (which, supposedly, is Conservative Party policy) and calling on Mr Farage to "to declare his hand: is he ready to thwart Tory candidates who will deliver a referendum, and instead allow a Brussels-loving Labour Party to rule?". To rephrase slightly the Weill/Anderson September Song:
But it's a long, long while from May to September.
I assume that all notions of local democracy and open primaries will once again be jettisoned and the local UKIP association will be forced to fall into line and select Mark Reckless as their candidate. Then we shall see.

What exactly will he and what exactly does Douglas Carswell campaign on: higher taxes, tighter planning laws, appeasement of Russia, fear of foreigners taking jobs? None of that sits well with their previous political pronouncements. Perhaps, they have simply changed their minds on every political issue (apart from wanting to be MPs) and this seemed the simplest way or making it clear to the electorate.

As of this moment the Boss has not commented on Mr Reckless and his behaviour (everyone has cracked that joke so I am not going to). As soon as he does I shall add a link.

UPDATE: The Boss has spoken and he is unimpressed.

Friday, September 26, 2014

News from Poland

Should we care about a government reshuffle in Poland? I am afraid so, because, as I never tire of saying, their Ministers are part of our real government.

As we know, Donald Tusk is no longer the Prime Minister of Poland, having been elevated to the supremely high position of President of the Council of Ministers. Naturally, that meant a few changes in the Polish government, with Ewa Kopacz as the new Prime Minister and Radek Sikorski, who did not become the EU's Common Foreign Policy High Panjandrum, stepping down (whether by choice or otherwise) as Poland's Foreign Minister as well.

His successor is Grzegorz Schetyna, a 51-year-old former interior minister who recently headed the parliamentary commission for foreign affairs, who is expected "to be conciliatory and soft spoken, in contrast with Sikorski, known for some internationally controversial remarks", which is a roundabout way of saying that Mr Sikorski (no relation to the war-time general and leader of the Polish government in exile until his questionable death) was caught on a mike he had forgotten to check, using language that was a long way from diplomatic.

The Economist, which has a soft spot for Mr Sikorski, is not happy about the choice:
POLAND'S outgoing foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, is a polyglot foreign-policy wonk who helped lead his country to its heftiest international presence in centuries. Grzegorz Schetyna is a party insider who has evinced little interest in international relations, and who, according to his mother, learned his English from the foreign basketball players on a team he used to help run in his native Silesia. But it was Mr Schetyna who was picked to replaced Mr Sikorski as foreign minister on Friday, when Ewa Kopacz, Poland's new prime minister, presented her cabinet (pictured). At a time when Russia is threatening neighbouring Ukraine, even Mr Schetyna's mother, Danuta, says her son was reluctant to take the job.
While I find it a little odd that the Economist, formerly a heavy-weight publication, should bother to interview the new Foreign Minister's mother but, it is a little hard to work out what the new Prime Minister's thinking is.

The Economist provides a fairly rational explanation, which involves the need to balance internal party forces (as well as getting the difficult Mr Sikorski under control).
In taking over the prime minister's job, Mrs Kopacz has had to ensure Mr Schetyna and other party bosses accept her leadership. She has taken care to put other barons besides Mr Schetyna into senior posts, which allows her to act as an arbiter among party factions and to cement her position. Mr Schetyna has already pulled in his horns. He had earlier called for an internal party vote as soon as possible to determine Civic Platform's leader, but now has fallen into line, allowing the vote to be delayed until after next year's parliamentary elections.
In the meantime, Mr Sikorski is being kicked upstairs. He has been given the second most important position on the Polish political scene, though this is not particularly well known internationally: he is to be the Speaker in the Sejm (Parliament), having been accepted as such by the Sejm with 232 votes for, 143 against and 62 abstentions.

I noticed some rumours on Twitter that he is expected to make the Sejm more powerful vis-á-vis the government, taking, as his role model, the British Parliament. Given the recent track record of that venerable institution and, particularly, of the House of Commons, Mr Sikorski will not have to work terribly hard to emulate it.