June 27, 2016 | Nick

Brexit is not analagous to Trumpism

I think that much of the analysis of the Brexit is completely off-beam. Perhaps the worst is the comparison drawn between the success of the Leave campaign and the success of the Trump campaign for the US Presidency.
In fact, the Leave campaign is the sort of thing that creates movements like the one that has propelled Trump.
Boris Johnson and his cadre are not the same as Nigel Farage and UKIP. They are not committed to an anti-immigration platform. They are not committed to the kind of economic nationalism which puts international competitiveness at risk.
The thing is, they needed the people who do hold those views. There is no way that the Leave campaign could have succeeded otherwise.
The Trump campaign is, I think, what happens when people who are isolationist because they worry about international competition for their jobs, or for their land, or for the culture of their nation, are lied to again and again. Mainstream movements imply that they will do something about it, but they don’t agree with the people whose votes they are courting, so they leave themselves wriggle-room; and after they’ve won, they wriggle like crazy.
The Leave campaign, led by a fairly cosmopolitan set of Tories such as Boris, have been guilty of just that. There is little doubt that many who voted to leave expected that the decision will dramatically change Britain’s approach to immigration and to economic protection, but in the days since the referendum, figures such as Johnson, Michael Gove, and Dan Hannan, have been scrambling to reassure that there will be very little change on either front. Economic integration will remain. So will freedom of movement.
Leave aside whether that can possibly be true (why would Europe allow all the benefits with none of the commitment?), and consider this: the statements of Johnson, Gove, and Hannan amount to a repudiation of a constituency whom they actively courted.
The attraction of Brexit to people like me (and I suspect, to people like Johnson) is that it frees the UK from control by the Brussels superstructure, a means of government vastly inferior to the one developed by the UK over aeons. There were always going to be costs that came with that. Even if, ultimately, the continued engagement of which Johnson assures us is obtained, the lack of certainty will mean that commercial actors will seek to move some of their operations from the UK to avoid the possibility that Johnson is wrong.
A truthful campaign on behalf of the “Leavers” would have asserted that the possibility of economic pain was worth it. The problem is, that sort of campaign is hard to win. Electoral research would have told them that if they couldn’t guess at it on their own.
There will have to be a reckoning in UK politics in the not-too-distant future. Brexit leaves open the real possibility of significant economic harm, especially to some of the constituencies that were so keen on it. They will be all the angrier, and they will still be told that the same problems are causing their pain: immigration and free trade. Only then, they will also be open to persuasion that the Leavers lied to them, and that they need a Trump figure.

Posted by Nick at 12:52 pm | Comments (2) |

June 25, 2016 | Graham

Bremain redux a lesson for our political class

Brittania has voted to divorce Europa, and whatever you think of the result, there are lessons for our political class.

One is the strength of the coalition between the liberal middle class and the conservative working class. If you put the Tory party back together again, yet retain the themes of the Brexit campaign under a leader who can enunciate them – independence, self-reliance, local governance, broad democracy, less regulation and free enterprise – then the Corbyn Labor Party will be obliterated at the next election.

Another is the failure of progressivism against progress. Brussels represents the sort of polite future that our own elites would like to usher us into – lots of regulations; one-size fits all, except for minorities who often earn extra entitlements; an edureaucracy; and lots of political correctness and self-censorship.

Britain, if not the inventor of progress, has been one of the main practitioners. It is impossible to imagine the current world without the Magna Carta or the Industrial and Free Enterprise Revolution; or a reluctant King John signing one, and Adam Smith authoring the other.

While the beneficiary of British and Scottish intellectual entrepreneurialism, the European Union also bears as heavily the ancient weight and ancestral bureaucracy of the Roman Empire and the Roman Church. It can hold an empire together, but can it make it live?

The UK has chosen life, even though that may be less secure than the embrace of the continent.

Suddenly Bill Shorten, and to a lesser extent, Malcolm Turnbull, are on the wrong side of the tide. For how long, no one knows, but it should not only affect the outcome of the next election, but the way the parties conduct it.

Turnbull was elected on the presupposition that you win elections from the middle. While this is standard dogma in the departments of politics and peace and conflict studies, it is wrong. And the UK repeats the lecture, yet again.

You can pick up votes across the spectrum, and right and left are only rough descriptors for what is a much more messy reality.

Shorten is scrambling to protect his progressive left flank against the Greens, forgetting the solid, skeptical, working class voters somewhere on his right.

He could win from the centre, because he has the left flank secured, and a large slab of the comfortable middle class as well.

Turnbull can’t win from the centre because the segment of the middle-class loosely and inaccurately characterised as “doctor’s wives”, has deserted him because he has not changed Liberal Party policy on issues like climate change or refugees.

But he can do what Robert Menzies, Malcolm Fraser, John Howard and Tony Abbott were able to do and pull together a coalition of the liberal and conservative middle class with the conservative working class.

This is exactly the same coalition that the Bexiteers put together in Britain. It is the coalition that sustained Margaret Thatcher (and also Ronald Reagan).

It is a powerful coalition because it tends to value experience over theories, which is really to say reality over fantasy. It has a sense of the nation as a distinct entity, and values the common good in ways that can lead to postponing gratification and putting a high premium on the future, allowing it to put up with a bit of incovenience in the present to advance the prospects for the whole.

It is skeptical of those who presume to know best, and wants to control its own destiny. While it shares some narratives, its alliance is more about attitude than common belief.

So it can be persuaded to back things like budget repair. And whatever individuals may think about particular issues they are happy to see them debated openly, giving offence at times. It likes to punish the politically correct.

The coalition can use this decision as a pivot point for the last week of the campaign, enunciate clearly what the Brexiteers stand for and point out that the majority of Australians stand for that as well.

It would neatly sum up the themes that they have been struggling to articulate about the need for a well-managed economy, where everyone pulls their weight without expecting a handout, and where issues such as gay marriage are settled in the most democratic of ways. Where the nation is maintained as a self-governing entity with secure borders and people are trusted to make decisions for themselves.

The theme of the need for economic certainty in the wake of this decision is not sufficient. Indeed, when the markets go back to work on Monday after having thought about it, there is likely to be a bounce in the pound and the stockmarket, banishing the uncertainty argument to the corner.

The real earthquake in the Brexit result isn’t financial, it is democratic and cultural, as a population has reasserted its right to be heard and to be treated as part of a demos. Long live democracy.

Posted by Graham at 2:09 pm | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

June 14, 2016 | Graham

Manchurian candidate or just a cuckoo?

I said to my good friend David Davies that I thought Australia had been invaded by the whites. He looked at me and said he was sure it was settlement. This would have been around about 1978 or 1979. He was studying law, I was studying English literature.

I had a lot of respect for David, so I thought harder about the issue and came to the conclusion that we were both right. At times it had been an invasion, but mostly it was just settlement.

Two hundred years ago the world was quite different. There was a lot of spare land around, and the might is right model of international governance still held sway.

When the English turned-up in Australia in 1788 the continent was underutilised and there was little governance. Aboriginal tribes had areas that they tended to visit and live in from time to time, but there was no idea of title in the modern sense.

When the strangers turned-up the evidence is that the Aborigines tended to disperse to accommodate them. It wasn’t much different to what happens on Fraser Island in the summertime. People camped, and as long as it didn’t create too much trouble everyone was happy.

But what happens when the newcomers start putting in infrastructure and invite their mates over?

The camping model doesn’t work so well after a while. Tensions arise, and fights break out. Were these wars? Some might have been, but most were skirmishes.

One might just as well call the movements of refugees around the world today invasions, as to call what happened in Australia between 1788 and the twentieth century, one.

The end result might be dispossession, but it is much more a consequence of demography than it is military might.

I doubt whether the Anglo Saxon and then Danish settlements of England were much different. There was certainly more pillaging and looting, but most of it must have been poor families from Europe looking for a better life and finding plenty of spare land in England in 400-800 AD.

The idea that Australia was conquered is a political tool used by the opponents of current Australian society to deligitimise that society. As an English Literature student I was exposed to that culture in a way that a law student (at least at that time) wasn’t.

I wasn’t across the reality of what actually happened and was fair game for a fantasy version of how it worked out. Except that when confronted with a conflicting point of view I was capable of examining the facts anew.

Malcolm Turnbull is a law graduate. He has the tools to understand the reality of the settlement of Australia. What is he on about when he says it is an “invasion”, and more, that Australia is still “Aboriginal land”?

I do not know.

What I do know is that week by week this election is drifting away from him.

His position on this issue will further alienate him from the Liberal base, and from the minor party voters whose preferences he needs to win.

I’ve been poring over my polling, and he is not now winning votes in the middle and on the left, despite his early success, because they want him to go much further than he is on this and other issues like climate change.

So he loses preferences from minor party voters, because they see him as a less sympathetic politician than Bill Shorten, but one who has a similar political position, so where is the reason to vote for him over Shorten?

The end result, if this continues and the Liberal campaign fails to find an authentic voice which appeals to minor party voters, will be the first Shorten government.

If this happens it will be because Malcolm Turnbull was not a contemporary Liberal in the first place, so the campaign never had an authentic voice to start with.

Some people will suggest Turnbull was always on the other side, and others that he had  no idea in the first place.

Posted by Graham at 10:41 pm | Comments (4) |