Friday, 5 May 2017

You and Your Mate go Shopping: A Parable About the Labour Party

It's time to go and get the weekly shop and, on this occasion, you've been put in charge by your housemates, having never done it before. Your friend, who has been the one in charge for all the recent occasions, insists on going along. He's not happy about this arrangement, as he makes very clear to you at the outset.

"You're going to fuck this up," he says, as you clamber into the car. "I know you're going to fuck this up. You should let me do it."

"Everyone said that they want me to do it," you reply. "At the very least, if you're not going to be helpful, you could be polite."

"It's not fair," he spits. "I build us all up. I got us the house. I ran all the operations well. Why am I suddenly being punished like this?"

"Because you and your American friend got drunk and drove a car through a shopping mall."

"But I installed insulation in the house," he whines.

You decline to point out that he lost everyone's money playing Three-Card Monty, lost the house and the new tenants had already ripped out the insulation and were converting the garden into a car park. You start the engine and set off on the road in silence.

Well, almost silence. Your friend is insistently tapping at his phone as he sits in sulky silence.

Your phone buzzes and you glance at it when you hit the lights. It's a pretty nasty message. You turn to your friend. "Did you tell Sasha that I called her a 'flatulent bitch'?"

"No."

"So why does she think I called her a flatulent bitch?"

"Because you did say that."

"No I didn't!"

"Well, it sounds like the sort of thing you might say."

You practice every spiritual technique you know to calm yourself. It doesn't really work but you reach the shopping centre without further incident.

Inside you check the list and pick up the items. You turn to your friend. "Should we get the Coke?" you ask, indicating the bottle.

Your friend shrieks and hurls himself to the floor. He slams his fists on the ground. He kicks his feet. "You're messing everything up!" he howls. "You're excluding me!"

Bewildered you look around and feel a bit embarrassed as a crowd starts to form.

"Leave him alone you fuck!" someone shouts.

"Why won't you just give him what he wants?!" another cries. "Stop being a shit-head!"

"You're ruining this for everyone, dickhead!"

They shout more abuse. Your friend kicks and screams even louder.

"But I'm not--I haven't--you stupid--!" you protest. One of the people clutches his chest, his eyes wide with horror, as if he's been shot.

"How, how dare you say that to me!" he roars. "Did you hear that abuse!? Did you hear it?!"

You turn to go away. Your friend grips your leg and refuses to let go. You drag him out of the shop, the crowd pursuing. You arrive at the car and you start to open the door when a pick-up truck arrives. The tenants who took the house off you hop out and run into the shop. Gunfire is followed by screams.

"They're robbing the place!" you say, pointing at the shop.

"Don't try and weasel out of the real issue!"

"We need to stop them!" you say.

"Yes, go and stop them," someone says.

"I can't do it alone!"

"Not up to the task are you? Maybe you should let someone who is take over."

"Can someone call the police?" you ask.

"Yes someone call the police!" a voice shouts. "What he's doing to that man is inhumane!"

You wrench open the car door and leap inside. Your friend scrambles into the passenger seat before you can drive off. You drive out of the area, the crowd running alongside, shouting and obscuring the view. You peer through the window, trying to see, knowing you're driving along a cliff-face.

"Let me drive!" your friend shouts. "I can drive so much better!"

"Will you just--!"

Your friend dives for the wheel and tries to grab it from you. The car whirls and skids before crashing into the side barrier and flipping over it. The car hurtles over the side and down towards the water.

The people outside shout louder. "Why didn't you do something?! Why didn't you stop this?!"

And on the seat next to you, your friend bounces with barely contained glee.

"I knew you'd fuck it up! I knew it! I knew it!"

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Intolerant Left

Thanks to Clive Lewis sharing a joke flow-chart on how to vote in the general election and Philip Collins fucking up reading it, the horror of the Intolerant Left is now back in the news.

Because naturally, calling people twats for voting to deliberately immiserate some of the most vulnerable members of society is a far worse crime, and far more intolerant, than actually voting to immiserate some of the most vulnerable members of society. And kick out immigrants.

I'm not going to go into a long discussion on whether or not the left really is more intolerant than the right: I have my suspicions about why this result perhaps comes out, and you can see an indication on that in the paragraph above, but without seeing the data or the research methodology I can't go in-depth on it. Let's just assume it's true and ask what would be the more important question here which is: are there reasons why the left might be more intolerant than the right?

I think there might be. As a lefty your concerns are usually with the more vulnerable, the poor, the excluded, the minorities and so on and what you're normally going to be seeing is the effect that various policies have on these communities. If you're actively seeing and reading about the effects that cuts, needless cuts as Chris Dillow points out, are having on people's lives then you're not likely to be all that considerate towards those who actively vote for these things.

The right on the other hand tends to much more concerned with processes, mechanics and, crucially, costing. Thus it is that they'll, generally, dismiss stories about the hardships of the poor and disabled or being on benefits as evidence of an inability to work hard or save properly, but will absolutely blow their gasket at the news that a government department spent two pence more on office stationary than was necessary.

And let's not even get started on the subject immigrants and refugees (the latter of which I've seen run the gamut from 'their just economic migrants seeing an opportunity to live a life of luxury' to 'they should stay and fight for their country').

So the left do have lots of things to be intolerant about (and that doesn't mean it's a good political strategy), but it's also that the discourse is structured in such a way that it promotes opportunities for the left to be intolerant, whilst keeping it on subjects that enables the right to speak with more tolerance.

In the brief moments when that shifts it's quite easy to spot right-wing intolerance, and it doesn't take long for it to emerge. It's just that, at those moments, it suddenly becomes an important discussion about 'very real concerns'.

And I suspect that there's all sorts of reasons why people aren't too keen to discuss why that is.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Action and Inaction with Military Humanitarian Interventions

Syria is the news again, first from Assad's horrific use of chemical weapons and then with mass cheering and celebrations as Donald Trump fired off missiles at an airfield, which is apparently the equivalent of drawing Excalibur from the stone in American politics. This has led to much warbling about the costs of inaction and pile-ons of Jeremy Corbyn, as is tradition.

First something to dispense with quickly, before the serious discussion: it is worth noting that there are always important lessons to learn from the consequences of inaction, but never any important lessons to learn from the consequences of taking action. It is notable that the people who have wailed and gnashed their teeth over what inaction has done tend to be the same people who get very shirty if you point out that the Iraq War led to ISIS, or who pretend that Libya is a country with the same status as Narnia.

The main thing about the inaction/action dichotomy, and the one that tends to get obscured, is this:

It's never a choice between inaction and action but rather inaction and a specific form of action. And that's the key point. Back in 2013, when the original vote was taken, it was a choice between inaction, and taking the time to rethink the plan and come up with something better, or firing a couple of missiles at Damascus and then slapping each other on the back shouting 'we did something! We did something!'

This is a point that is missed frequently--when Ed Milliband whipped Labour to vote against the war the position was not 'no war' but 'this plan sucks, come up with a better one'. It was Cameron who subsequently threw a temper tantrum and refused to do anything. Doing something other than firing missiles or dropping bombs would have, after all, forced him to actually think about the situation.

All wars are complex and civil wars especially so: they don't reward people bounding in without any clue of what they're doing or what their end goal is. And that is the level the discussion on action should take: what are we doing? Why are we doing it? What the end goal is? And how is this going to help? These are the bare minimum of questions that need to be asked and answered before military humanitarian interventions are taken. After that there is more planning. It's a time consuming process that requires a lot of careful thought, but all actions that directly involve human lives should be thought about carefully.

And even then, military humanitarian interventions are not the only forms of action that can be taken. There are others that can be just as helpful, if not more so. For example, we could have taken action to help Syria. We could have welcomed in the refugees. We could have set up humanitarian centres to protect people, give them food and safe passage. Instead we spent most of time actively making it harder for people to get out of danger, actively making it easier for them to drown in the Mediterranean and using them as an excuse to run racist campaigns and push personal agendas.

Firing missiles is not taking decisive action to resolve a situation. It's just virtue-signalling with a body count.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Motte and Bailey Rhetoric

There's a particular form of argumentative reasoning that's dubbed a 'motte and bailey strategy' and it works like this:

A motte-and-bailey is an old form of medieval defensive system. The motte was a raised area of earth surrounded by a stone wall, whilst the bailey was a larger, but more weakly defended, area in front of the motte. As a rhetorical strategy the motte contains a true, but trivial, claim that a person can retreat to in a argument if their bailey argument - the one they want to make, but the one that is shakier as it's a more outlandish and extreme claim.

Recent discussion in the UK on the subject of opposition pressure operate according to this principle:

Bailey: Corbyn is useless and its only thanks to brave Conservatives that thing x is being stopped.

Motte: Labour doesn't have a majority, so only Conservatives rebelling could have stopped thing x.

The second is true, but also trivial. This is standard stuff about the mathematics of majorities in the House of Commons. The first, however, is making a stronger claim -- namely that it is only because of Conservatives following their own hearts that they're rebelling, nothing to do with opposition pressure whatsoever. That claim is wrong, or at the very least much harder to defend, hence why there's so much stampeding to the motte.

The particular impetus for this is the NIC U-turn that Hammond has announced, but note that this is nothing new. After all, how was it portrayed with Osborne u-turned over tax credits? Was it pressure from the opposition spooking Conservatives into changing their minds? No it was brave Tories, concerned about the impact on the common folk challenging their leadership. It was wise George Osborne recognising his mistake and changing his mind. When the government u-turned over the prison deal with Saudi Arabia? Michael Gove, with his wise wisdom and stern love of liberalism, was the hero of the hour.

And when Article 50 was voted through, with all amendments being voted down, was the story about cowardly Conservatives refusing to defy their government, showing no concern for what damage they might do to people's livelihoods or using EU citizens as bargaining chips?

Of course it wasn't.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Centre-Man and the Spinless of the Universe

The post-Chuka, Reeves, Kinnock response is in from the Ideological Centrist pundits, after close to a week of silence: if you had money on 'they'd just redefine centrism to mean to mean disliking immigration and declare they're centrist credentials' then well done.

This isn't all that surprising. In Polly Toynbee and Jonathan Freedland's pieces on the response to the leadership you can almost taste the bitterness: here they've been, defending Labour's moderates through the whole year of their tantrum and this is their reward - being forced into supporting a position that they know is bollocks in order to continue pretending that they're all still sensible and centrist. It must also be galling to have the 'Corbyn critique' that they've raged against for so long essentially proven correct: that these MPs are junkies for power and don't care who they screw over to get their next fix.

Ian Dunt is the only one I've seen getting angry about this, but even that is essentially reduced to 'I am shocked, shocked that a group of people who prioritize power over principles would sacrifice a cherished principle in order to get into power'.

I mean, I suppose they could have written something along the lines of: 'there's still much that I disagree with about Corbyn, and I don't think he has a hope of winning, but nonetheless I will back his position on this because some principles are worth sticking up for'. But that would mean admitting error or folly and the whole point of being a member of the Very Serious Person club is that you need never do this.

Freedland's piece today is a truly execrable example. He flat out admits that he should be defending migrants and immigration, but finds he can't because some MPs have faced some anger about it in their constituencies [1]. Why, after all, bother defending a principle or standing up for something when you can just cravenly give in and hopefully reap the rewards. Freedland and colleagues, after all, are unlikely to be the targets of this anger.

Naturally, though, this isn't enough. Corbyn must also be branded. Thus it is we get some sort of 'political equivalence' where Freedland divines that Corbyn wants to lose single market membership and keep free movement. So, Freedland declares, it's about what's most important: do you want to keep single market membership? Or keep freedom of movement? And with a pat on his back he strides off.

Okay, let's grant for a moment that Corbyn wanting 'access' at an 'equitable level with other EU member-states' doesn't basically mean single-market membership. Let's grant that it means something less. Whose position is closer to getting single-market membership: Corbyn? Or the anti-free movers.

Well, given the EU has stated forcefully that freedom of movement and single-market membership are linked and you can't have one without the other, the answer is Corbyn. Even if Corbyn doesn't want single-market membership his position is closer to getting it than the anti-free movers.

Now if I know all of this than Freedland certainly does. That he doesn't just say this shows just how far the Centrist project is willing to abase and cave itself in its desperate bid for power [2].

Sometimes you can't keep doing that. Sometimes principles do matter and shouldn't be sacrificed.

In the words of Jean-Luc Picard, "The line must be drawn here! This far, no further!"

After all, it's far better to lose standing up and fighting for what's right, then lose kneeling and prostrating for what's wrong.



[1] His piece includes the line: "Yes, they include the likes of shadow cabinet resigner Rachel Reeves, who spoke of her fear that “bubbling tensions” could “explode” if the kind of angst over immigration she encounters in her Leeds constituency is not assuaged."

That, of course, is the anger that the Guardian couldn't find when they went for a look around Reeves' constituency

[2] And that's before we get onto whether Labour could actually win power with this strategy. Given how little they're trusted on immigration (before Corbyn as well), I suspect not.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Britpocalypse Now

British politics, at the moment, resembles the sort of thing you see in a corrupt state going through turmoil. David Cameron managed to lose a referendum on our membership in the EU, resulting in a horrendous blast at the economy, Boris Johnson has been exposed as having no clue what it is he wants to do with the Brexit, no plan or way forward, at yet for three solid days now the airwaves have been occupied with a meltdown in the opposition.

I'm not sure why I even bother with it any more.

The particulars of the case here are worth restating (as it appears lost): Hilary Benn (he of the Syria speech) was plotting a coup against Corbyn, irrespective of what the result of the EU referendum would be. This was leaked to the press, whereupon Benn admitted it in a phone conversation with Corbyn leaving him no option but to sack him.

It should come as no shock that this has somehow mutated into it being Corbyn's fault that Benn was plotting the coup.

The amount of bullshit being spewed from all corners is extraordinary, but is explainable by the simple fact that nobody is thinking. Everybody is currently wired up on emotions, hence why John McDonnell can encourage the protest supporting Corbyn (a silly thing to do) and George Eaton, political editor of the New Statesman, can see fit to announce solid evidence that Corbyn actually voted Leave in the EU referendum, on the strength Chris Bryant's imaginary friend saying so (or some such nonsense).

It goes without saying that period of everyone just calming down wouldn't go amiss here. The likelihood of that happening is probably nil.

It's quite clear as well that the Labour party have been taking lessons from the Boris Johnson school of politics: that of having no clue what to do next. They don't appear to have any plan on how they're going to achieve their aim, or what to fall back on if everything doesn't fall neatly into place. Whatever they may think, cocking up a coup is not a great advert for political effectiveness.

Where does it go from here? On balance Corbyn likely has to resign; chaos can't be allowed to continue at this time and there's virtually no benefit to be gained from sticking around. I'm slightly hesitant though a, in doing so, he would essentially be giving into a screaming temper tantrum from grown adults and I'm reluctant to see that sort of behaviour empowered.

And that's what makes me really angry about all of this. That if people had behaved like adults from the start then there would be no need for this. Had Corbyn been given a fair crack of the whip, and failed on his own terms, then he would have been easy to remove, or defeat in a subsequent leadership challenge. But he wasn't. Whether he could have won a general election is a moot point now; on balance I think he could have done - he has a better nous for strategy than is given credit and a willingness to confront and challenge issues head on, rather than going through the 'very real concerns' dance that the rest of the Labour party was happy to indulge - despite it being a reason for their defeat at the last general election. His execution of this has always been poor, and didn't show much sign of improving fast enough, but with the whole party pulling together it might have been possible.

Now we'll never know. And, being honest, the thought of it all makes me feel sick. Whether Angela Eagle, or whoever, becomes leader or not, or Corbyn stays, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Regardless of what happens I would only reluctantly vote for Labour. And this worries me, especially when the presumptive opponents look like their going to be the clown-car fascism of Boris Johnson, or the Poundland North Korea of Theresa May.

The party brand has taken a hell of a whack and all sectors of it are responsible for this.

I put this out there for the simple reason that, when the history of this period comes to be written, an enormous amount of blame is likely to be heaped on Corbyn's head. And true he has played a part in this mess within Labour occurring.

But it is, I think, the smaller part.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Bye Bye Missus Euro Pie

It's Leave...

I had a rather horrible feeling this would happen, sinking in. And now it has. For me personally this is a bit of a blow. I'm probably one of the few people who thought that a federal Europe, with directly elected presidents, enhanced parliament and so on, was a good idea. One that could have been a strong force for peace and prosperity and co-operation in the world. Growing up in Europe, I've always felt myself to be European first. It's an identity I'm comfortable with.

I have no illusions about the EU - it's not perfect. But then neither is the UK government. These things need work and it's important to remember that, in historical terms, the EU is very young. It needed work but it seems like many are not willing to work for it and make it the best that it could possibly be.It might still improve, it might still get better - indeed I hope that if there is a wider positive out of this it will be an impetus for some needed reforms. But the UK will take no part in that. And for me that's a sad thing.

The UK scene is already turning into a predictable blame game. Labour figures who would never have given any credit to Jeremy Corbyn had Remain won are already piling all the blame for the loss onto him. It, of course, has nothing to do with their own pandering to anti-immigration sentiment and racism, nor pissing a gargantuan majority up against the wall and doing nothing to solve Britain's fundamental structural problems in the economy. Oh no, no, no, no. Perish the thought.

I'm already seeing some pieces that are representing David Cameron as some tragic figure, who's vision has been horribly undermined. Well, sorry, but fuck him. He called a referendum he didn't want, on a tepid renegotiation he didn't want to have, and all to appease a party with ONE MP. And people ragged about how Ed Milliband would be a weak puppet of the SNP. Christ!

No, Cameron wanted a legacy. Now he's got one. He will forever spend his days being compared to Anthony Eden and Neville Chamberlain as the worst Prime Minister. He will be known as 'that fucking man'. And he can consider himself lucky.

For me this was the day that my dream, in all probability, died. It's the Leaver's dream that is ascendant now.

I just hope, for all our sakes, it doesn't turn into a nightmare.