Pivot!

Hello all,

A quick update today. We’re moving to a new server and with that something of a spring clean is in order. Some may have noticed a lengthy pause on the First Ade then Paul podcasts. This is due to my refocusing upon the long-awaited (by me) Tote novel. The podcasts may resume in time, but only once the pages are written.

Politics has long been an obsession of mine, but over the past few years it had become increasingly nasty, bitter and divisive. For my own sanity, I aim to step back from the brink so far as online political activity is concerned. I’ll continue to knock on doors and have good chats with people in real life, but other than the very rare article, I shall be gearing this site more towards fiction. Believe me, this endeavour shall be much the harder on twitter.

In absence of First Ade then Paul, I recommend The Remainiacs Podcast for your political needs, for Brexit will dominate all for the next few years and these people know what they’re talking about.

Ta ta for now!

Ade

Choices for the Liberal Democrats

The last time the Liberal Democrats voted on party leadership a fair degree of guesswork and wishful thinking was at play. Guesswork for the Labour Party was also going through a much more protracted leadership campaign, the result of which would reveal the wisdom of the Lib Dem choice; and wishful thinking, in that the party was shell-shocked from the loss of support in 2015 and was very much in the stages of grief.

In that race we were blessed with two fine and distinct candidates in Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, both of which represented differing paths to recovery. Tim, having always stood apart from the Coalition and whose policy priorities were on the left flank, was the ideal opposition candidate. Norman, on the other hand, was a centrist and former minister who rather than distance the party from its government record would have been a reminder of it.

So from a strategic perspective, who was to be the better candidate? The first consideration was who would stack up best against our fellow opposition leader. At the time the candidates were Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall , Andy Burnham, and Jeremy Corbyn. Three were painfully dull embodiments of the detached managerial-style Labour that the public had come to loathe, and the fourth represented the hard left of the party, for whom the conventional wisdom was didn’t stand a chance.

In this respect our choice was very clear. Tim Farron would be best placed to exploit the bland managerial style of Cooper, Kendall or Burnham. Against any of these, Tim would be able to peel off Labour voters, just as the party had done in the era of Blair/Brown. One snag was if the unlikely event happened and the Labour Party picked Jeremy Corbyn, the embodiment of the protest vote. Under those circumstances the ideal candidate would be Norman Lamb, whose responsible reminder of economic stability would appeal to centrists uncomfortable with Corbyn’s hard left rhetoric.

The other consideration was much wider: should the party be proud of its record in government or seek to distance itself from it? At the time of the leadership campaign we had just been hammered for the failings of the Coalition whilst the Conservatives had been rewarded for its various successes. The economy was doing well and there was no suggestion that this was likely to change anytime soon. Like the personality consideration, this too seemed remarkably straight forward. If the economy continued to perform well, there was no mileage in continuing to argue the Coalition’s case considering the public were more than happy to continue letting the Conservatives manage it. The obvious strategy would be to draw a line under the past, conduct something of a mea culpa and try to rebuild trust. The only unlikely circumstance where this was the worse outcome would be if the economy took a sudden downward turn, or if the Conservative Party did something reckless and abandoned the sensible centre ground.

In both instances the party chose the obvious choice and selected Tim Farron (admittedly at a smaller margin than expected) and unfortunately in both instances the unlikely events happened. First Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, effectively neutering Farron’s USP, then the Conservatives embraced Brexit, abandoning their previous commitment to a healthy economy.

The Liberal Democrats had gambled and lost. Thinking it a flaw, we’d cast aside what could have been our greatest strength.

Now that was an extraordinarily long introduction to the conundrum that we face now, but the choices and lessons from that election remain relevant. Tim proved an energetic and inspiring leader, but this failed to translate into a sizable recovery. I do not put this down to his performance or policy choices, in most cases I believe he did exceptionally well. The problem, as illustrated above, was that he was specialised for a parliament we expected but didn’t receive.

Just as in 2015 we are faced with the facts of where we find ourselves – a small party in a polarised society, associated with the remain vote in the EU ref, the residue of the smear campaign against Farron’s private faith, and continued contamination from the Coalition – and two factors from which to choose our leader: how does he/she compare to the other leaders? and what direction are they to take the party in order to exploit our strengths and minimise our weaknesses?

The candidates are yet to be known (although some have already ruled themselves out), but we have a general idea of what the political landscape may look like. Jeremy Corbyn has solidified his hold over the Labour Party, but the movement is very much a cult of personality so his chances of passing the crown to a successor remain remote. Without some major scandal, he’ll in place for some time yet. Theresa May might struggle on until Brexit is delivered, but equally she might fall and be replaced, possibly by Amber Rudd, Boris Johnson or David Davis. If the Tories were smart they would choose Ruth Davidson, but much would need to happen to allow that. Most expect the candidate to be Boris in order to out-populist Corbyn.

Whilst Corbyn remains in place, the left is closed to us. While we still get attacked over tuition fees, reminding people of economic competence is going to be a major sell in an era of hard-left Labour and a Conservative Party determined to tear us out of the single market. We shouldn’t fear a candidate with Coalition experience; indeed it will likely prove to be an asset as the contrast between Coalition and post-Coalition becomes ever more apparent.

None can deny that the smears against Tim affected us amongst our key demographic (I believe quite unfairly, but this is something we have to accept and move on). Our next candidate needs to clearly be a social liberal, pro-LGBT+ rights and a feminist. Like us, the Labour Party has never had a female leader, so beyond ending our own shameful record, selecting a woman would make strategic sense as well.

Our record on the economy didn’t help us in 2015, but it might have done in 2017 if we’d held strong and owned it. This is likely to be the case with our commitment to an EU referendum as well. A Survation poll had support for a referendum on the final deal at 53% and as Brexit bites this figure is likely to rise. True, it is frustrating that this didn’t pay off in the election we just had, but it laid the groundwork for a more resonant message later. Our next leader should embrace this USP, not distance us from it. Otherwise we may very well find ourselves fighting an election without the one policy that could have helped us win.

So which candidate fills these requirements? A survey conducted of 2209 members found overwhelming support for Jo Swinson (57% of first preferences), who does indeed fit the bill. The problem is she has ruled herself out. Whilst understandable (no one should ever be forced into what is ultimately a deeply unpleasant job) it does present the party with a significant problem: how can any leader maintain authority when the membership so clearly preferred another? Also Jo Swinson seemed uniquely qualified for this moment in time (in a few years hence Ruth Davidson could be Conservative leader and Labour too may have moved on); to not take advantage of this fact seems ill-advised.

Whoever takes over the leadership of the Liberal Democrats will do so at a time of both extreme peril as society becomes further polarised and centrists squeezed, but also one of unique opportunity. The country needs an energetic, pro-European, social liberal with a record of competence. We don’t have the luxury of time.

FINAL SIDE NOTE:

In 2015 the candidate I would have most liked to support for leadership was Nick Clegg. Whilst critical of him pre and early Coalition, I felt that his unpopularity and political beatings had turned him into an excellent leader and perhaps the finest MP in parliament. With a renewed mandate he could have been a constant reminder of a more economically competent time and a thorn in the Tories’ side. Alas, and understandably, he never stood, and a sound strategy was never explored.

The Re-Alignment of British Politics

The British parliamentary system is in crisis. Labour is consistently polling more than ten points behind the Government; the civil war that broke out upon the election of Jeremy Corbyn continues to burn the party, albeit with the wind blowing against the moderates; Brexit divides them, with the top remain and leave voting constituencies held by Labour MPs, often with views at odds with their electorate. A recent report from the Fabian Society highlighted the magnitude of the problem, but also their one key advantage: the electoral system. The combination of first-past-the-post and 20% of the electorate pledged to vote Labour come-what-may means that the party currently is, in their words, “too weak to win, too big to fail.” If Labour and the Liberal Democrats each polled 20%, Labour would come out with around 140 seats compared to as low as 20 for the Lib Dems.

So should Labour panic? Surely they merely need to hold firm and wait for a scandal big enough to hit the Government and then the public will swing behind Labour as default. Arguably that what why they won in 1997 and it certainly seems to be Corbyn’s strategy for 2020.

The history of the 20th century indicates that this may be the case. Below is the philosophical spectrum upon which we can place all voters and MPs. It has two axes, the primary Left-Right divide, and the secondary Authoritarian-Liberal one. As the struggle between labour and capital came to define the 20th century, this Left-Right divide asserted itself as the dominant force, and the two party system solidified into two camps: Labour and the Conservative Party.

labour woe 01

The next image shows the Labour party as a coalition between the Liberal-Left and the Authoritarian-Left, whilst the Conservatives were made up of the Liberal-Right and the Authoritarian-Right. These coalitions endured successfully because voters principally defined themselves on the Left-Right axis. A Liberal-Conservative was quite happy to continue to support an Authoritarian Conservative government or candidate, because their main concern was the promotion of a free market over socialism.

labour woe 02

Dividing the elctorate in this manner meant that elections were fought upon the dividing line between left and right, and this sytem broadly kept the two parties in power until the powers began to shift in 2010.

2015 saw the election of Jeremy Corbyn and a split in the Labour party between factions in favour of reaching towards the right and those dissatisfied with the compromises involved. One method on which Tony Blair secured centre-right votes was to continue with the Conservative policy of privatisation, something that is anathema to many on the left. Fig 3 shows the party divided into two, both defining themselves as against the other on the left-right axis.

labour woe 03

The deeper red on the left is Jeremy Corbyn’s faction, a much more fervent group who’d like the dividing line between them and the opposition redrawn to the point between them and the centre-left. The lighter shaded moderates are trying to resist this, believing that this cedes too much ground to the Conservatives.

This was the Labour party in 2015-2016, but then something profound occurred across the Western world. The axis shifted. Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the rise of populism across Europe, all indicate a new dominant force on the democratic map, one that is struggling to exert itself within the current party system.

Donald Trump is not a typical Republican. His policies cannot be easily defined on the left-right spectrum. Sometimes they seem hard-right – extreme tax cuts – whilst the protectionism and high borrowing to finance grand infrastructure spending indicates the policies of the left. When it comes to the left-right divide, Trump is utterly without a philosophy. Instead he is pragmatic, seizing policies from both camps at will. This does not mean he is without any philosophy, however. The one thing that unites his entire platform is his extreme authoritarianism.

The same can be said for the populism sweeping across Europe. Is Marine Le Pen from the left or the right? Lazy journalists call her of the right because of her nationalist attacks on migration, but if (as appears likely at the time of writing) she goes up against François Fillon, a free-market Republican in the mould of Margaret Thatcher, Le Pen will be way to the left of him on economic policy.

UKIP began as a splinter-group from the Conservative Party, and much of the Euroscepticism and anxiety about immigration coming from the Tory leadership from 2010-2016 was intended to lure UKIP voters back into the Conservative fold. However, as the UKIP gained popularity, something curious happened: they started drawing votes from the left. Now UKIP is targeting northern Labour strongholds, combining policies of the left and the right, and all authoritarian.

In the wake of the Brexit referendum, Theresa May secured the leadership of her party – and thus the country – and promptly realigned her government. Rather than define it along the left-right divide, Theresa May has planted her flag firmly on authoritarian ground, combining leftist instincts such as seeking to use the state to help those ‘Just About Managing’ with a traditional tory platform. Like Trump, May moves along the left-right axis at will, knowing that the voters have become pragmatic on this divide, no longer defining themselves in this way. A voter might be in favour of keeping the NHS utterly nationalised, whilst being completely against the nationalisation of energy utilities. However, whilst voters are pragmatic along those lines, they are fervent on the authoritarian-liberal one, favouring either open or closed societies and willing to vote for a party that takes their preferred choice.

Below we can see the territory Theresa May has secured. Whilst personally owning the Authoritarian-Left and the Authoritarian-Right, she continues to keep the Liberal-Right who as yet have nowhere else to go. The vanquished Cameroons would be a good example of these, as would the venerable Ken Clarke.

labour woe 04

This should bring Labour’s problem into sharp relief. Theresa May currently dominates three quarters of the political landscape. Labour is making a desperate pitch to reclaim the Authoritarian Left by backing Brexit, but the more they try to gain this ground the more they highlight a more insidious divide. Labour currently believes it is waging a war along the left-right line, not yet fully realising that the true battle is being played out along the authoritarian-liberal one, and on that they have already lost.

labour woe 05

Regardless of whoever wins the internal Labour battle, the liberal-authoritarian divide is irreconcilable. Voters who support Brexit are not going to vote for an anti-Brexit party. In short, Labour defines itself along the wrong axis. In the first-past-the-post system this is a disaster. It means the party is unable to mount any kind of viable challenge to the government and the executive is not held to account.

So what is the solution? The only one that appears to be viable is that of slash-and-burn. If Labour is removed from the equation, a new party would be able to flourish, one that doesn’t define itself along the old left-right divide, but along the more relevant authoritarian-liberal one.

labour woe 06

Even this wouldn’t provide an electorate large enough to challenge the government, but a party that is philosophically liberal and pragmatic on the old left-right axis would finally give those on the liberal-right somewhere to jump. Only through uniting these two factions can a proper opposition be created to Theresa May’s Brexit government, a challenge that labour, by its very DNA, is incapable of.

labour woe 07

Cameron’s Stock Continues To Fall

It is all playing out like some great Shakespearian tragedy. The referendum David Cameron never expected to have to deliver continues to hover on a knife-edge, and so the ever more extreme methods the Prime Minister is having to pull out of the bag further destroys his reputation with his own party. Rumour is that there is a strong contingent of Tory MPs who are preparing to mount a leadership challenge on anything other than a landslide to the remain camp. Also bubbling along beneath all this is the Tory Election Scandal unearthed by Channel 4 News. With that in mind, Conservatives might want another election called pronto to draw a line beneath the murky goings on of the 2015 election. It all makes for some uncertain times ahead. Previously the Prime Minister could hide behind his popularity with the public, but as the video below shows, that shield is slipping:

Local Election Broadcast – The Greens

Contain your excitement, it’s political broadcast season! And the first of the bunch that is even vaguely worth talking about comes from the Greens. Have a watch below, and then let’s get stuck in:



They’ve gone with a humorous parody of the political landscape to form the bulk of the broadcast, and for the most part it works. The gags are funny and the children engaging. Then, in the last minute the message suddenly shifts gear to deliver a more sober appeal for votes. This is about what we’ve come to expect from the Green Party (in fact, didn’t they already do this concept before? Or have I just seen it on Newswipe or something?). In the last general election they parodied the other parties as boyband figures. The theme of “the rest are all the same and not as clever as us” is certainly the one they’ve been hammering away at for some time now.

So, does the video work? Well it’s funny, but I’m not sure it will switch many votes. If anything it makes these figures more sympathetic. It’s easy to loathe a politician, but a child dressed up as them humanises that figure. Most of the Green Party’s support will come from the left, and yet what left-leaning person wouldn’t sympathise with the well-meaning Corbyn child in the video? I think the Greens missed a trick by not including themselves. True to do so wouldn’t have fed the false assertion at the heart of clip (that the Greens are somehow grown up unlike other parties), but self-deprecation is a lot more endearing that being lectured at. Also, I come away from the video having been reminded of all these figures who I may or may not want to support in other parties, but with no green alternative, let alone who this random figure is at the end.

This brings us to the worst aspect of the video, which is the condescending speech. You can’t have an election broadcast which consists solely of dressing children up as your opponents and making them act silly, only to claim that you’re the grown up in the equation. The hypocrisy utterly destroys the video. It is as if late in the day someone pointed out, “In making this, aren’t we being the very children we’re making our opponents out to be?” and they panicked and quickly tacked on the end to make themselves look more serious. Not to mention the rather creepy way the children are being watched on the monitors.

But still, it got me writing about it so there’s that.

Lock Up Your Rodents!

In a bizarre twist to the US Election campaign, Ted Cruz has felt compelled to make a formal statement that although Donald Trump may well be a rodent (Were-Guinea Pig), Cruz doesn’t want to shag him.

Good to know.

There’s also some stuff in there about tabloid attacks which might shed some light onto where he’s coming from with this.

Bid to Legalise Cannabis in UK

I have endless respect for MP for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb, and this stand he took on the 23 March is a good example why. I’ll be addressing this issue on a podcast soon, but for now you can listen to the entire speech he made below:

You’ll also notice Labour MP Paul Flynn in the background, another courageous campaigner on this issue.

Jeb Bush Endorsement… kind of…

Jeb Bush has come out in favour of Ted Cruz as the man who can beat Donald Trump. Or at least, he kind of has, because he couldn’t be bothered to call a press conference, instead choosing to post this appeal on facebook, probably after a cocktail or two. Expect later this evening the occasional rant and some pictures of cats.