Out of Touch Conservatives…

Right wingers often mock the left for how removed its values are from the concerns of common men. What Corbyn’s success has proved (as, to some extent, did Trump’s) is that right wing values can also be out of touch.

Opinion polls have shown time and again that the British public is far to the right socially – supporting massive cuts to immigration and an end to parole for murderers – and far to the left economically – backing the renationalisation of the railways and an increased minimum wage of £10 an hour.

The average British person over the age of 25 would be a one-nation socialist. Corbyn and his team – vastly exceeding my estimation of their political nous – appreciated this and downplayed their support for immigration and minority affairs in favour of a campaign built around public services. It paid off.

Beliefs are not wrong because they are unpopular. An opinion could be held by one man and yet be right. But I think Conservatives overestimated the extent to which the public cares about their cherished ideas of economic liberalism.

Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, reacted to Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal to seize the empty mansions of millionaires to house the homeless victims of the Greenfell Tower fire by saying that it would represent “the abolition of property rights” and was “genuinely frightening”. Later, he observed that this inspired “more abuse than anything I’ve ever tweeted”.

One can’t draw too much from this. Online pile-ons are often engineered by extremists. But I would bet half my head that if Britons were polled on who they agreed with more, most would choose the Labour man. They houses are empty! They don’t need them! They aren’t going to stay! As it happens, I agree with Pollard that the rule should be upheld but I still think that the average Briton cares about “property rights” largely when he sees somebody taking his stuff. As an abstraction it is worth far less.

Again, I am not so much of a democrat that I think public opinion need determine justice. But if Conservatives want to win back the voters they have to get “outside the bubble” and appreciate people’s “legitimate concerns”.

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An Election Post-Mortem…

Solipsistically I feel compelled to ask myself what I got right and wrong about the election. I was mostly wrong. At first, of course, I thought Corbyn was bound to lose and that the only questioned that remained was the scale of his defeat. The idea that the youth vote could swing it for him, I insisted, was downright comical. As the campaign progressed, my doubts flowered. I said that the Conservatives were “in disarray; as strong and stable as a bloated drunk”; that Corbyn had “measurably improved as a politician”; that I thought the youth vote would rise significantly and that the result was “very much in question”. Still, I predicted that the Conservatives would win a majority, just as I had predicted that Leave lose and just as I had predicted that Clinton would triumph. It had to happen didn’t it? It had to. Well, it didn’t.

Granted, Corbyn did lose. The Conservatives won. But if a football team was 4-0 up at half time and somehow managed to scrape a 4-3 win against their younger, hungrier opponents (in which half their players fell out with each other and their captain all but refused to take the field) is that a win? Technically, perhaps, but trivially.

The Conservatives were pathetic. They articulated no inspiring vision for the future but rambled incoherently on about Brexit. They avoided questions more than they answered them. They attacked Corbyn with shrill, slapdash abandon rather than efficient, measured ruthlessness, which made seem him more sympathetic to disaffected youngsters who liked the idea of free tuition and had no memories of the IRA. Some, like the ever ubiquitous Nigel Farage, argue that May was not enthusiastic enough about Brexit but this is where I sympathise with the Prime Minister. No one is sure about the consequences of the damn thing. Enthusiasm is for the most optimistic ideologues and even if one such ideologue did have popular appeal – which is dubious enough now the dust has settled – it would backfire on them if the economy took a hit. Brexit has reduced the right to monomania, even when, quite apart from the troubles that it causes, it does little or nothing to solve problems of housing, education, social care, jihadism and non-EU immigration. Those are the problems the Conservatives should have been tackling. Those are the problems that the public most want solves. As it is, May’s only policy that will be remembered is the “dementia tax”, while her worthless soundbites – “Brexit means Brexit”, “strong and stable” – will pop up, perhaps, on some future TV trivia show.

What a time. Brexit won. Trump won. Corbyn could have won. The most unsurprising election was that of France, where Macron’s neoliberal managerialism prevailed over Le Pen and Melenchon, but even then the dude was a political outsider leading a party he had fashioned for himself. Common wisdom has proved to be more common than wise and thousands of politicians, journalists and operatives from the supposed “centre” of politics have had their bland assumptions violently discredited.

What comes now? Right wing populism, as in the Trump campaign? Left wing populism, as per Corbynism? Desperate attempts by our managerial elites to cling onto whatever positions they have left? Well, all this and more, my friends. The future is one of division, conflict and desperation.

And uncertainty, of course. We should all be uncertain. We should treasure what we have, while, unlike Ms Clinton and Ms May, preparing to respond to new, dangerous phenomena. That, at least, is what makes me a conservative – though not, clearly, a Conservative.

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London

Someone wrapped lights around the trees
To make the streets more beautiful
For tourists relishing their weeks
And lovers savouring their lives.
Now, like hopeful, pathetic kids
In the red glare of police cars,
They shine with feeble innocence
And droop beneath indifferent stars.

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Drinks In June

Summer is almost as its peak.
The air is warm, and fresh, and clear.
Outside the bar we sit, and speak,
And laugh, and sip our pints of beer,

And talk about our future plans,
And where we want to drink tonight,
And pick the scratches on our hands,
And savour brief late evening light.

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An Election Pre-Mortem…

Corbyn’s loss, I wrote last month, is “all but inevitable”. “The only thing that is in question is the scale of the defeat.” Well, I still suspect that he will lose but the result is very much in question. How did we get from confident predictions of Labour’s demise to hurried, panicky analyses of its resurgence? Much as I am entertained by the humilation of “Labour moderates”, who, weeks ago, were insisting that Corbyn should resign and be replaced, I have to ask myself: how did I get this wrong? Here are lessons I have drawn from the campaign.

1. No one really likes Brexit. 

I thought enthusiasm for leaving the EU would empower the Conservatives, and split Labour between its Leave and Remain advocates. As it is, I think the bloom has left the rose of Brexit. The process is difficult. The advantages are unclear. People wanted to insult EU bureaucrats but now the deed is done they are (correctly) less enthusiastic.

2. The Conservatives cannot do populism.

The campaign to leave the EU, with Nigel Farage at its centre, was populist. There were dire warnings and big promises. I thought the Conservatives would ride this wave but they have not. They have, in fact, run a profoundly elitist campaign: arguing that only May can be trusted to lead the Brexit negotiations. This makes Brexit sound dangerous and complicated. It is, of course, but emphasising this means their campaign has been more negative than affirmative, and, I think, has left voters depressed and uninspired.

3. The Conservatives are an incompetent elite.

I thought the Conservatives were nothing if not ruthlessly, aggressively effective. After they had held and lost a referendum it should have been obvious that this was wrong. They are, in fact, in disarray; as strong and stable as a bloated drunk. Their one nation conservativism – while admirable, in some respects – is embyronic, and lacks an ideological base. They seem to have no idea what to do about Brexit. They are filled with incompetent careerists. They have so little confidence in themselves that they decided to promote themselves as the party of Theresa May. What an enormous blunder that turned out to be.

4. Theresa May is a bad leader.

Ms May’s abilities as a Prime Minister have not been seen extensively for fair evaluation. Her abilities as a candidate, though, are miserable. I thought she could project a measured, sober sort of confidence but she has been wooden, evasive and insincere. That she was popular, for a few brief opinion polls, was largely because voters had not been exposed to her and not found anything to especially dislike.

5. Negative campaigning is hard.

I thought the Conservatives would roast Jeremy Corbyn. He is, as I wrote, a man with “economically illiterate leftism and contemptible sympathy for IRA and Islamic extremists“. Well, it has turned out that campaigning is far more difficult than I had guessed.

First, it is more difficult if one is in rather than out of power; as it looks like bullying and as one’s criticism of potential errors exposes one to more serious charges of actual errors. Who could blame a voter for not being convinced by Conservative claims that the Labour Party is soft on terrorism when the Manchester bomber was allowed to swan out of the country to a Libyan training camp and then swan back in without the slightest inconvenience?

Second, voters are often indifferent to things that outrage those of us who are actually interested in politics. Historical things. Foreign things. Internet things. Corbyn sympathised with the IRA? A lot of voters are too young to even remember the IRA. They knew Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness as amiable Irish statesmen. Corbyn sympathised with Hamas? Who are Hamas? Is that the savoury dip? Corbyn fans are mean on Twitter? Boo hoo. Grow up. No one cares.

6. The Labour Party is not wholly inept.

I thought that given enough rope Corbyn would hang himself but he has measurably improved as a politician. His responses to accusations of IRA support showed formidable improvements in those essential abilities to lie and avoid inconvenient questions. He has a made a bold, consistent affirmative case for himself, which, even if it depends on the existence of a magical money tree, inspires young voters who want something to believe in. He has downplayed those aspects of his beliefs – like Republicanism and mass immigration – that would alienate socially conservative voters. He has better advisers than we might have guessed.

Without enthusiasm, I hope the Conservatives win. If they do, however, they will have run perhaps the worst victorious election campaign in history.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The EU’s Cosmopolitanism Gap….

My new article for Quillette

Senior figures in the European Union are growing impatient with its Eastern members over their refusal to accept refugees. Emmanuel Macron, the new president of France, has threatened sanctions if Poland and Hungary remain stubborn.

Why is this? I hope to avoid unduly extending generalisations. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe are all different. All contain multitudes. In Poland, where I am fortunate enough to live, I have met progressives, liberals, libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists and, perversely, given recent history, adherents of communism and national socialists; as well, of course, as many people who hate politics. Nonetheless, it is a matter of undeniable fact that nations of the CEE tend to be less receptive to mass immigration—and, especially, Islamic immigration—than their Western cousins, on the level of elites and on the level of the masses.

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Theocracy in the UK…

This is a lightly edited version of an essay I wrote in 2012. Some of it might be out of date but I think it is useful.

It has long been argued and implied that the threat posed by radical Muslims to our continent takes the form of terrorism. The New Statesman’s Daniel Trilling, in his analysis of the “counter-Jihad” movement, granted that there was a “tiny grain of truth” to their beliefs: “the existence of Islamist terror”. Bob Lambert, an ex-undercover policeman who was briefly taken seriously as a counter-terrorism expert, even argued that we should not criticise doctrinaire Islamists as they are valuable allies against Al Qaeda.

We have all heard of berobed firebrands proclaiming that the flag of Allah will be raised above 10 Downing Street but they are dismissed as fringe lunatics. The failure to treat the underlying ideas with any seriousness is an error. In mosques and universities across the nation they are being expressed and adopted in all sincerity.

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