Tag Archives: economics

Britain goes to the polls this Thursday, to mark #GE2017 I’m talking ELECTION CAKE on #r4today on Thursday morning. #foodforthemany

https://www.academia.edu/33356782/The_Changing_Shape_of_Election_Cake

 

The above is a link to a piece of research I undertook last year – during the US Presidential election – when placed on a research fellowship in the idyllic Winterthur Museum and Gardens in Delaware, USA.

It’s all about election cake – a New England cake traditionally baked at election time, a large fruit cake, often boozy, which historically served a civic function in sustaining voters at the polls.

The article includes historic recipes for anyone wishing to bake an election cake to mark the crucial UK election this Thursday – but make sure you have enough people to help you eat it, for the election cakes of yore were enormous.

Britain votes this Thursday in a crucial election and I am delighted to have been asked onto BBC’s flagship radio news show, the Today programme on Radio 4, to chat about election cake on Thursday morning.

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John Lewis Kimmel, Election Day 1815 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1815), Winterthur collection.

If you can’t tune in on Thursday morning at c. 8:50am GMT, the below links to a video I recorded with the Washington Post about the same topic last year.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/lifestyle/food/were-almost-at-election-day-what-america-needs-right-now-is-a-slice-of-delicious-cake/2016/11/05/1fd44622-a2d7-11e6-8864-6f892cad0865_video.html

Everyone loves a bit of cake and I have fond memories of Winterthur librarian Laura Parrish baking a delicious election cake, which we nibbled over tea, quite sure that Donald Trump would never get in. How wrong we were.

I hope that people listen in to Radio 4 this Thursday where they will be sampling the cake in studio: I also hope that the piece inspires people to get out there and vote …

Below are some heritage recipes if you fancy cooking a good ol’ election cake (all courtesy and copyright of Winterthur Museum, DE, USA):

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Doc828_election-cake

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On #Brexit, #Trump, #Slavery and Moral Courage

Just how mean can Britain’s Brexiteer Tory ruling elite get?  

It’s a moot point, but the meanness of the British government’s approach towards US President Donald Trump has been clear for all to see recently.

Vampirish Prime Minister Theresa May, who descended on Washington in an attempt to catch crumbs falling from Trump’s table, defended her actions as pragmatic; it’s economically and politically sensible to maintain good relations with Trump, she reasoned.

Image result for trump and may

This is, from a certain perspective, a fair point. For, in a sense, all history is the history of struggle over resources. And you tend to align with whoever shares your economic interests. And if your electorate decide to catapult you towards severing ties with your natural, cultural trading allies in your own continent, you might have to look elsewhere.

In the British Library last week I picked up a book by journalist Paul Marshall called Prisoners of Geography, which is the latest example of works which explain geopolitics by reference to geography and climate and resources. This approach to history risks being reductionist, but helps explain things like the inevitable imperialism of Japan in the 20th c (given its lack of natural resources); the lack of war between India and China (thanks to the Himalayas); and the likely 21st century conflicts in the Arctic (oil reserves).

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May’s ‘pragmatism’ vis-à-vis Trump is in the same vein and there’s a logic to it, of course. May’ stance has been triumphantly trumpeted by other members of her cabinet since the visit, most notably the government’s red-faced-reactionary-in-chief Sir Michael Fallon, secretary of state for Defence.

And yet. And yet.

Diplomacy doesn’t have to be craven. Politics may be the art of the possible, but that is not synonymous with mercenary meanness.

Let’s consider approaches to Trump.

To be clear, Trump is odious and should be challenged by the British government. May has failed to do this in any meaningful way.

His ‘travel ban’ – to take the most egregious example of his chaotic presidency – is not just racist and immoral, it’s also ill-informed and counterproductive. And the denial of climate change is simply horrendous.

Having said this, I’m fed up with some of the pathetic anti-Trumpism. From the sneering celeb to the trendy protester, it’s a badge of cloyingly liberal East Coast honour to be anti-Trump purely from a narrowly (neo)liberal perspective, and I’ve seen this at first hand in the States.

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This ignores the fact that – whatever about the popular vote – he is the legitimate US President. It also ignores his radical potential to shake things up. Clinton was a dreadful presidential candidate, a hawk hand-in-glove with finance capital hiding behind celebrity endorsed wafer-thin liberalism and the very fact that she was a woman; she was an establishment figure who would play the gender card only when it suited (there’s a great parallel with Theresa May here).

Whatever you may think of Trump – and many rightly oppose this thin-skinned narcissistic bully – he is doing a very rare thing for a politician and attempting to carry out his campaign promises in a full-blooded manner.

This is precisely why so many people voted for him – he’s not a professional politician. He’s not just there for career advancement, to become a contented member of the establishment. Many who oppose Trump, and other ‘outsider’ figures like Jeremy Corbyn, will never understand this.

But challenging Trump, for all that, is very important.

Standing up to Trump is not something that Britain’s political leadership have the courage to do, not only because of the risible notion of the ‘special relationship’, but because they are professional politicians who don’t let little things like principles get in the way of self-seeking.

In this regard, the Tory government is very different from the fundamentalist Brexiteer, deluded but at least principled.

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson may be a suck-up and a charlatan, as grasping and venal as his one-time cabinet colleague Michael Gove. But at least his careerism (Johnson only plumped for Brexit because he saw personal political gain from it) is a guard against the sheer delusion of the fundamentalist Brexit wing.

The fundamentalist Brexiteer is now a lesser spotted breed thanks to the fact that the mercenaries, the smooth political operators, the careerists have taken over the project. I’m referring of course to Prime Minister May et al, who actually opposed Brexit in the first place but now own it as a patriotic project.

By contrast, the fundamentalist Brexiteer can now be mainly spotted on the sidelines, usually outside the High Court protesting against the legitimate prosecution of British soldiers convicted of war crimes.

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Nonetheless, an example of the establishment pro-Brexit loon was witnessed earlier this week on the BBC’s awful but strangely compelling town hall debate show Question Time. Anne Widdecombe – Privy Councillor, former Tory MP and outspoken social conservative – was wheeled out and duly went about displaying some very bad history …

The abolition of slavery, said Widdecombe, took forty years or so but it was delivered. In the same way, she vowed, Brexit will be delivered whatever the legal and political prevarications

Now, Widdecombe is the sort of awkward country boutique conservative out of step with the PR-savvy May and her cabal, the sort of swivel-eyed believer in the holy grail of Brexit.

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There’s a certain charm to these fusty, fart-smelling old Tories when compared to their suave party leadership.

But comparing the Britain’s ‘independence’ from Europe to emancipation? Good grief!

But Widecombe’s bad history did remind me of an occasion when British attitudes towards America were motivated by moral principles as well as mercenary economic interest and where slavery was a big factor.

During the US Civil War of the early 1860s, the secessionist southern states gambled that withholding Cotton exports to Britain would have such a disruptive effect on trade that Britain could not afford to stand idly by and would be forced to intervene in support of the pro-slavery South.

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It was the sort of political calculation based on the immoral but reasonable logic of economic self-interest. With millions of British workers dependent on the Atlantic cotton trade, surely Britain’s hand would be forced.

But it wasn’t. Instead, the outcome of the American civil war was in no small part determined by the failure of the South’s ‘cotton diplomacy’ and the triumph of Abraham Lincoln’s naval blockade.

So, with the sort of ‘pragmatic’ economic logic championed today by May and Fallon and others, why did Britain not intervene to support the south and its lucrative trade in cotton? Why did the British political elite of the day not embrace Jefferson Davis instead of Abraham Lincoln?

The reasons are many. The moneymen of the City of London weighed their options carefully, on the one hand anxious about the losses from Cotton embargo, but on the other eyeing greedily the wheat coming across the Atlantic from northern Union territories. Meanwhile cities dependent on cotton, like Liverpool, considered a Pro-Confederate city, pressed for support of the South – not due to ideological commitment, but because of the economic interest of reopening the Cotton trade.

But economic self-interest was not the be-all and end-all.

Other cities dependent on cotton, in and around Manchester, for example, supported Lincoln even though it was against their economic self-interest.

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This is quite remarkable because the collapse of the cotton trade led to a ‘Cotton Famine’ in Lancashire, with mass unemployment and hardship the consequence. Nonetheless, cotton workers out of work backed the anti-slavery stance of Lincoln for moral reasons.

Lincoln would later laud the ‘sublime Christian heroism’ of unemployed Manchester cotton workers who wrote to him urging him to continue the good fight despite it resulting in them losing their livelihoods.

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Many workers had learned of the horrors of slavery through talks and pamphlets by escaped or emancipated slaves like the famous Frederick Douglass.

There is a leftist tendency to romanticise the workers as always on the ‘right’ side of history.

Nonetheless angry and bitter and disenfranchised working men didn’t just revert to reactionary politics because it suited them and there were very few riots by angry mobs.  Workers really struggled, and would have had every reason to agitate for the South. But they didn’t.

Gladstone later mentioned the ‘stoicism’ of these Lancashire cotton workers as an argument for the extension of the suffrage.

So, to return to Anne Widdecombe’s comments about Brexit being like the fight to abolish slavery, I suppose you can see her bad history as informed by the idea that politics does not have to be based on economic self-interest alone.

In the same vein, people didn’t vote for Brexit for purely economic reasons. Quite the opposite, in fact – the dire warnings from the Bank of England about the sky falling on everyone’s head were not heeded by 52% of people.

The problem is that now Brexit is being pursued by those whose only rationale is economic self-interest. May et al, the mercenary political operators steering Brexit towards a ruthlessly reductionist economic and political ‘pragmatism’, almost show the true believers like Widdecombe in a good light.

What’s perhaps most interesting about the very bad analogy between Brexit and the end of slavery is the stance of the captains of industry back during the Cotton Famine. Remarkably, owners of cotton mills – who had everything to lose from Britain not backing the slave-owning South – were in fact mostly radical nonconformist mill owners who took a moral stance against slavery. Like their workers, they took the ever-so ‘unpragmatic’ option of economic suicide because it was the right thing to do morally and politically.

It may sound a bit wet, but they thought about others first and put their own immediate material interests second.

Little evidence of that today. Where are the upstanding white knights of commerce?

For some, wearied and depressed by Brexit, a white knight arrived in the form of Gina Miller, a hedge fund manager who took the legal case against Brexit to the high court, and won.

And who was the noble captain of industry financing this crusade by an ‘ordinary woman’ against the government? Why none other than self-made man and chief executive of the plumbing giant Pimlico Plumbers, a cockney named Charlie Mullins.

Image result for charlie mullins pimlico plumbers

Except Mullins is no radical nonconformist mill owner. In fact, he’s just lost a court case himself. For Mullins was trying, unsuccessfully, to deny his workers their rights, claiming they are all ‘self-employed’.

Some white knight.

What all of the above shows is how morally bankrupt and ill-informed much of British politics is today.

The deluded but principled Brexiteers have lost control of the whole mad project. Instead it’s being controlled by the ‘pragmatists’.

But pragmatism, it seems, dictates grovelling to disgusting and immoral men like Trump (or the Saudi regime, for that matter).

Having Theresa May in charge may be preferable to having the country run by the Anne Widdicombes and Charlie Mullinses of this world.

But I can’t help feel that she is entirely lacking in moral courage.

A narrowly British ‘economic pragmatism’, let’s remember, could also encompass celebrating the melting of the polar ice caps because it’ll open up shipping trade routes, or celebrating China’s horrendous smog crisis just because it opens up opportunities for wideboy businessmen to sell the Chinese bottles of fresh air from the Yorkshire dales.

And then, ultimately, we’re all fucked.

 

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Trump’s #Gettysburg Address and the #USElections

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Donald Trump’s Gettysburg Address

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is a fairly bleak place; next to the tiny town are flat fields dotted with the occasional memorial and ambling tourist group stretching as far as the eye can see. But there are few places more emotionally moving for Americans than Gettysburg. It was here that the bloodiest battle of the American civil war took place, in 1863; here where President Abraham Lincoln sought to heal a divided nation with his famous ‘Gettysburg Address’.

And it was here, at the weekend, that Donald Trump delivered the landmark speech of his campaign. Trump has previously praised ‘Honest Abe’, contrasting the great Lincoln with his opponent in the presidential race, ‘Crooked Hilary’. The choice of Gettysburg was therefore telling. Trump is trying to present himself as the Lincoln of today, a fighter who will unite a nation at odds with itself, an outspoken champion of the many Americans who feel cheated by the political establishment and its commitment to pluralism.

Trump’s is a populist message in keeping with the resurgence of right-wing populism worldwide. He pits himself against the elite and his campaign calendar reflects this. A glance at the schedule of Trump and running mate Mike Pence reveals a very different agenda to that of Hilary Clinton, whose rallies are peppered with celebrity advocates like Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Bon Jovi and Jennifer Lopez.

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Trump’s theme of The People versus the corrupt elite was underscored most powerfully in his address to the charity Al Smith dinner last week. A traditionally jocular formal dinner where leading politicians indulge in self-deprecating humour, The Donald just about managed some self-deprecation (not his forte) before launching into gags at Clinton’s expense. His insistence that Hilary Clinton is corrupt drew boos and jeers from the tuxedoed notables in attendance but praise from his supporters, who relished this ‘roasting’ of the establishment.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was only two minutes and 272 words long. Trump’s was much longer because it finally detailed policy: something which the Republican nominee has been previously criticised for not doing. For example, we learned that a Trump Presidency would see Mexican illegal immigrants given one chance after first being detained at the border; a second attempt to enter would result in mandatory two-year prison sentence, and those caught three times would get five years.

Emotion versus Policy

But, when they vote, do people care about such details? Do we vote with our heads or our hearts?

While some were outraged at the choice of venue, Trump’s Gettysburg speech drew quite a few plaudits for its combination of the emotive promise of fixing a broken country with concrete policies.

And yet, still, Trump is hamstrung by voters’ emotional responses to him. While some see him as a saviour, key demographic groups are revolted by him.

By way of illustration, American politics can be dirty. Television here is full of adverts commissioned by local candidates, both republican and democrat, seeking to dish dirt on their rivals. Most take the form of the exposé, with grave music and dark tones informing viewers that Congressman So-and-So is corrupt.

But among these muck-raking efforts, one stands out. It’s commissioned by the Hilary Clinton campaign and starts with a voiceover stating ‘autistic kids often flap their hands a lot’. It then switches to a mother, Jennifer Kohn, talking about her autistic son. Subtitles tell us she is a republican, yet in a heartfelt message she explains why she can’t vote for Donald Trump. Then we’re back to that infamous Trump rally in November 2015 at which the republican candidate mocked a New York Times reporter with a disability by flapping his hands wildly and slurring his speech. It finishes with the mother explaining that she’s voting democrat for the first time because ‘I can’t let my child grow up in Trumpworld’. It’s an advert that tugs the heartstrings, and it works.

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The latest polls put Clinton comfortably ahead of her rival. Women voters, especially, are resolutely anti-Trump. This speaks to the fact that mere mention of ‘Trumpworld’, for many, conjures up images as horrific as Hieronymus Bosch’s depictions of Hell. Trump has been damaged more than his campaign expected by allegations of sexual assault against him. He responded at Gettysburg by saying he will sue every woman who has come forward to accuse him of molestation (eleven so far and counting): hardly a pledge befitting the place or the occasion itself.

Nobody likes a Bully

These are testing times in Trumpworld. Chiefly because the ruler of Trumpworld, Donald J. Trump, can’t stop acting like a child himself. This was made clear yet again at the third and final presidential debate last week. After a rather dignified start, Trump began snapping at his opponent like the proverbial petulant schoolkid, taunting back ‘you’re the puppet’ at Clinton after she accused him of cosying up to Vladimir Putin. He repeatedly rolled his eyes, interrupted and – most damagingly – muttered into the microphone that Hilary Clinton was ‘such a nasty woman’.

He also resorted to emotional language of his own, claiming federal laws on abortion allow doctors to ‘rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month’. But while Trump’s bid for Catholic votes seeks to represent Clinton as pro-abortion, many Catholics support Hilary because of her social justice agenda. In a further example of colourful language, Trump pledged that ‘bad hombres’ would be deported under him: language which will please his core constituency but endear him little to Hispanic voters. While Trump scored some successes on foreign policy, Clinton came out of the debate appearing more knowledgeable and substantial on policy, hence Trump’s elaboration on policy days later at Gettysburg.

Prior to the debate, many people were saying that Trump needed something of a miracle performance if he was to reverse Clinton’s poll lead. Instead, the headline was Trump’s continued refusal to say he’ll respect the outcome of the election on 8 November. Once again, he came across as something of a petulant, bullying schoolkid.

It’s a shame that Trump can’t help playing the school bully, because for all his faults he has succeeded in putting the wind up the American political establishment, both republican and democrat.

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Even in the bluest [democrat-voting] areas I’ve visited, people talk with disdain about Hilary Clinton. In one of the most stinging moments of last week’s debate Trump called the Clinton Foundation a ‘criminal enterprise’, citing a $25,000 donation from a Brazilian bank and her dealings with a Saudi Arabian regime which – to quote Trump – ‘pushes gays off buildings’. He claimed she was hypocritical to talk about women’s rights while supporting the Saudis and told her to ‘give back the money’.

For all his bluster, Trump is right to hold Clinton to account on potential conflicts of interest surrounding her Foundation’s links to big business and foreign states. We now know that among the multi-million dollar donors to the Clinton Foundation who used Clinton-connected lobbyists at the US State Department were corporate giants Microsoft, Pfizer, Exxon Mobil and even Mexican TV network Azteca.

The problem is, these points are being made by Donald Trump.

And nobody likes a bully.

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Desperation and Democracy: #Trump, #Clinton, and the #USElection

Each Wednesday lunchtime until US Election Day (8 November) I’ll be providing updates on the Presidential campaign for Liverpool’s Radio City Talk -105.9 FM- and on this blog

Meet Mike. A stocky US Military veteran aged 62, he has a neck as thick as it is sun-reddened. He loves his right to bear arms and he hates anything that resembles socialism, including wider health coverage under America’s Affordable Care Act 2010 (often dubbed ‘ObamaCare’). Mike is a private security guard in Wilmington, DE, and has voted for the Republican Party all his adult life. Until this election, that is. This time around, he tells me, his distrust for his party’s presidential candidate Donald Trump means he’ll be abstaining.

And yet he seems to match the stereotype of Trump supporter perfectly. So why, I ask him, won’t he vote accordingly? “Because I love my country” he replies. Mike explains further. He is worried that Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric risks him becoming a stooge for Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Although he agrees with much of what the property-mogul-turned-politician says, when it comes to national security and foreign policy he feels that Trump is simply too unpredictable.

The ‘Rigged Election’

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Mike’s distrust of Trump has found reflection in the most recent polls. The latest, from the state of Utah – solidly conservative, solidly Republican, predominately Mormon – indicates that Trump only has a 1% lead over independent conservative candidate Evan McMullen.

Trump has responded to this, and similar, indications by suggesting that the election race is not only being ‘rigged’ in his opponent Hilary Clinton’s favour by the mainstream media, but that such bias will operate at polling booths as well.

It’s an extraordinary claim, but one which speaks to the fact that this US Presidential race is unusually hostile.

On this score, it’s important to point out that not all the blame lies with the shrill Trump campaign. The USA does not have a moderate, supposedly ‘neutral’ media giant like the BBC to oversee things. Instead, the battle between broadcast giants ABC (traditionally Democrat) and Fox (traditionally Republican) has become as heated as some of the exchanges between Trump and Clinton.

And then there’s the menacing actions up and down the country which point to a wider resort to direct action. Two days ago, in Virginia, a Trump supporter stood outside the office of local Democrat candidate Jane Dittmar for 12 hours with his firearm exposed. However, as the recent fire-bombing of a Republican constituency office in North Carolina shows, resort to such behaviour is not the exclusive preserve of one camp.

Desperation and Democracy

What many observers worry about is that the growing sense of desperation around the Trump campaign, as he continues to struggle in the polls, will incite angry white men with guns to challenge the result of the election on 8 November.

Trump appeals to a strong libertarian streak within American culture – the corrupt federal government wants to tax us more, they want to take our guns. He also appeals to working class people who feel that it is too easy for African Americans to get ahead by playing the ‘race card’ and are tired of what they see as a decade of liberal political correctness that does not operate in their interests.

But those concerns are nothing new; where this election differs is the radical unpredictability of Trump, something that has alienated the Republican Party establishment and even rank-and-filers like Mike.

You know this is a different type of campaign when another Mike (Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate) assures people that their campaign will respect the election result only for Trump to undermine him a few hours later by claiming the election will be rigged not just by the media but at polling booths.

Trump’s resort to ‘Wikileaks’-inspired ruminations, often via Twitter, has led to an explosion in the humorous hashtag ‘Things Trump Claims are Rigged’ – with wits suggesting other spurious alternatives such as ‘door locks that are meant to prevent him walking in on undressed teenagers’, ‘the science that supports climate change’ and ‘his own multiple bankruptcies’.

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It’s easy to lampoon Trump, but the media circus around him is not just due to his policies or his indiscretions, it’s because he is a genuinely good performer. I’ve met plenty of black American voters, for example, who admit to liking him as a TV personality. By contrast the majority of Democrats I’ve spoken to – even in staunchly liberal eastern states like New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Connecticut – don’t like Hilary Clinton, viewing her as a merely the ‘least worst’ candidate. The Clinton team have certainly done their homework in the last few weeks in exposing Donald Trump’s past, but remain hamstrung not by their own candidate. It’s not just Hilary’s lack of ‘charisma’ that’s problematic but her knack, like her opponent, of offending huge swathes of the electorate; her past remark that she could easily have forsaken politics for a life of domesticity, seen as an insult to American housewives, is now regularly dragged up, as is her ‘basket of deplorables’ comment: now a badge of honour for Trump supporters.

But there’s a greater danger here in Trump’s rhetoric. Firstly, as many have suggested, it calls into question whether his supporters will respect the democratic result and the peaceful transfer of power. But remember, too, that Americans are going to the polls on 8 November not just to elect a president but to elect members of the House of Representatives and a host of local and state officials such as mayors. Rumours of ‘rigged polls’ tarnish democracy more widely.

Secondly, and much more likely than an armed Trumpist insurrection following his defeat, is a prolonged legal battle instigated by his campaign which will stall the swearing-in of the new President. Talk of ‘rigged polls’ seems a harbinger of this. And, again, the result of such a long process may be that people’s faith in democracy suffers.

We Can’t Rely on Polls

Ultimately, the outcome of this memorable US election will, as per usual, come down to swing states – most notably Florida (remember George Bush winning here in 2000?) and Ohio. And all the indications are that it’s not looking good for Mr Trump.

So with much of his party against him and even died-in-the-wool Republican voters worried about where he might take the country, it would appear that all Hilary Clinton has to do in the next TV election debate (9pm Wednesday ET / 2am Thursday GMT) is calmly rebuff Trump’s wilder accusations while coming across as the steadying hand.

If only it were that simple. If a week is a long time in politics, there are still three to go. If the polls are to be trusted, it should be in the bag for Hilary. But, as the results of the recent referendums on ‘Brexit’ and the Colombian peace process have shown, pollsters sometimes get it very wrong indeed.

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On ‘Postcapitalism’ and Recent Events – #Nice, #Turkey

I’ve just finished reading the book Postcapitalism by Paul Mason, and some
recent global events have got me thinking about the book’s arguments.
As America becomes more polarised, We’ve also just had two pretty seismic events unfold: the slaughter in Nice and the coup attempt in Turkey.

Paul Mason commentates regularly on the knock-on economic impacts of such happenings as the economics editor for Britain’s Channel 4 News. His journalistic written style perhaps explains why a book which discusses sometimes arcane economic theory is such a compelling read. 

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING

His basic argument is that the pace of infotech development over recent years has changed everything. Knowledge is increasingly free, and readily available at our fingertips. For example, the first I heard of the terror attack in Nice was while pootering about on Twitter: the news of the attack was not originally verifiable, but as it shot to the top trending topic it was clear that something very big and very bloody was unfolding in that city. 

Mason sees the free diffusion of knowledge (not just via social media but in the free exchange of ideas and science more broadly) as such a challenge to the privatise-at-all-costs mantra of neoliberalism that it could topple capitalism as we know it. He goes back to Marx’s Grundrisse and the great German philosopher’s meditation on how, if there were ever a machine invented that would never wear out, capitalism would crumble. He then points to the revolutionary potential of zero cost products in an economy based on information.

Mason did not have to convince me of the apocalyptic possibilities of capitalism if it continues as it does presently. Irreversible climate change, environmental destruction, the mass unavailability of lifesaving drugs, a new chasm between the ultra wealthy 1% and the rest of us: capitalism has to be altered, otherwise we, and the succeeding generations, are all heading to hell in a handcart.

But it does not necessarily follow that the revolution in infotech will deliver Postcapitalism, or even a better capitalism. The Apple corporation, for example, constructs a walled garden around free music, literature, ideas and art by forcing people to buy a variety of its products in order to harness them at all. Mason, to give him his due, notes this; more importantly, though, he notes the prospect of governments clamping down on this unprivatised brave new world.

STATE CLAMPDOWNS

Here lies the danger. The spot on the Promenade des Anglais on which the Nice killer fell is now littered with detritus and people assemble to spit on it. The killer’s actions, in the popular mindset, are not now human but monstrous. With the perpetrators of terrorist events commonly dehumanised and dubbed monstrous, the possibility of state crackdown is surely more alive than ever. 

When senior politicians like French President Francois Hollande are booed at commemorations, as happened in Nice last week, the tempting solution for the political establishment is to clamp down harder. Ever harder. Harder on the terrorists, yes, but also harder on the freedoms Mason lauds, and all in the name of security. Think of the Chinese government’s regular, outrageous censorship of the Internet. Think of Turkey’s President Erdogan and his tendency to do the same, only enhanced by the coup attempt in his country at the weekend. Think, too, of British prime minister Theresa May’s support for the UK’s proposed ‘snooper’s charter’. Ironically, Erdogan denounced the coup via FaceTime, the sort of free info / person-to-person platform Mason lauds and the Turkish president loathes.

INTERVENTION
Coming back to Mason, he has been dismissed by some as an unreconstructed Trot, but he does attack many of the old leftist shibboleths. The early twentieth century socialists – Trotsky, Luxembourg, Lenin – were wrong to perceive the imminent collapse of capitalism, he claims. He also doubts the ability of centralised state planning to effect the desired-for transition to Postcapitalism. The people, individuals, and not the omnicompetent state, will deliver Postcapitalism, says Mason. He wants a ‘Wikistate’, run like Wikipedia with just a couple of hundred administrators overseeing a wealth of freedom. 
However, and more broadly, we are actually witnessing the rise of politicians promising more state intervention, not less – Donald Trump is a good example, a cowboy pinup of the aggressive business world like Reagan, but hardly a neoliberal in the classic sense. With Brexit, with the resurgence of the European right, anxiety over uncontrolled immigration etc it seems people are demanding more intervention, not less. The price of greater security, then, may well be the jettisoning of the free anticapitalist ethos that Mason celebrates.
BRAVE NEW WORLD

There are other flaws, to my mind, with Mason’s thesis. But his cry for a different world borne of different thinking – one in which individuals all receive a flat wage and so do not have to perform ‘bullshit work’, in which banks are held to account and responsible and sustainable business practice rewarded – is one which should be embraced and not dismissed haughtily.

And yet. And yet. At times this book, for all its historical sweep, seems trapped in an intellectual cul de sac. Mason’s Postcapitalism, when he gets around to defining it, seems to be a mixture of the free market, the interventionist state, and – lording it above all equals – the techno geek. It all feels a bit faddish, a feeling I first got with Mason last year when reading a Guardian piece by him on how the hipster brewing company ‘Brewdog’ is an example ofPostcapitalism in making its recipes freely available and offering easily accessible share options. Oh please.

As the events in Turkey show, in this fast paced ever changing world, change is often effected in quite traditional ways: helicopters, television pronouncements, angry mobs. Great change in the world is certainly greatly desirable, but it may just arrive via more established means.

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Post-Brexit, where’s our head of state to provide leadership amongst the chaos and anxiety???

When historians come to write the history of Britain’s historic EU exit they will struggle to convey the mood of despondency that has taken over the country.

I felt this the minute I stepped off a plane from New York in Manchester on Monday morning. It is tangible. There is a mood of anxiety, disquiet, and anger but most of all there is a feeling of dejection.

Brexit has thrown the UK into constitutional turmoil. Tension is rising and there are fears of further violent confrontations on the streets. Racism and xenophobia are undoubtedly on the rise. Little England has won but with Nigel Farage in Brussels and the leadership of the Tory party uncertain even the Little Englanders seem to lack a figurehead and are instead turning on immigrant communities.

While there is tension, though, there’s this overwhelming listlessness.

This stems from the fact that politically we are left with a real mess. David Cameron, who has foolishly thrown away his prime ministership by calling this utterly unnecessary referendum, is redundant. His party are tearing themselves apart. As I write this, the Labour opposition is in disarray too with Jeremy Corbyn losing a no-confidence motion by 172 to 40 votes. Meanwhile the economy is at risk and people are seeking answers about what happens next.

In time of uncertainty leadership is needed

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Brexit, it’s happened now. But it’s the mood of dejection and the sense of rudderlessness which is now the big problem. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, has rightly condemned the leadership vacuum in Westminster. In this mood of dejection, political leadership is badly needed.

And this ties into the bigger constitutional questions now being raised by the Brexit vote.

The overwhelming point, constitutionally, is that we have no effective head of state who can provide a voice of leadership at times of crisis. We need a leader elected by the people, of the people, who can provide stability and reassurance in this time of confusion and anxiety.

Where is our President to guide us through this?

Instead of a President, elected by popular vote, who can appear across the media to appeal for calm and to reassure the populace, have Elizabeth Windsor.

The Queen is supposed to be ‘above politics’. Since the Scottish referendum, as she hits 90, she has increasingly let the mask slip on the nonsensical notion of her being above politics, with reports of her remarks on sensitive issues leaked by the press. And when it comes down to it, of course she’s not above politics – the very idea that the Queen, in her weekly meeting with the PM, discusses the racing form or the weather is a joke.

But the problem is this: she must be seen to be above it all, effectively gagged from intervening.

This is just one of the paradoxes about a hereditary head of state – because she is unelected and because of the history books displaying what can happen to an overly political monarch, the Queen must keep her mouth shut on political issues.

But at the same time, she is supposed to be a unifying force. The head of state should be the first to step forward at a time of crisis like this – to smooth the unease, to provide political leadership that is not partisan but in the interests of the people. To be a force for stability and reassurance in testing times.

No Constitutional Clarity

We have none of this.

The British people currently have no clear leadership and no clarity about how the constitution should now work.  We need a written constitution that is clear and we need a head of state who can provide national leadership during times of great uncertainty like this.

The far-reaching consequences of Brexit may deliver changes I would welcome – an independent Scotland, a united Ireland. But in the interim we need a head of state with leadership, political nous and clarity providing calm.

This speaks to the fact that in the constitutional shake-up provided by Brexit we now need real change that puts real power in the hands of the people and which provides the means to weather political storms.

The Queen and the Windsor family are both unable and unwilling to offer leadership during a time of unprecedented turmoil.  Instead of a monarch motivated to protect her own position we need an accountable head of state who can speak to the nation and help guide us through the turmoil.

If Brexit delivers one positive thing in the long-term, let’s hope it might be this.

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The infantilisation of the Brexit debate

This morning I was listening to a radio debate around British membership of the European Union when one of the participants dropped a bombshell. We’d all heard the big news that, during the week, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s negotiations with his fellow European leaders had dragged on so long that breakfast was postponed, then lunch, then dinner. But now came the revelation that in the absence of formal dining what had ‘fuelled’ Cameron and his team during the tortuous process  was Haribo Fangtastics.

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For the uninitiated, Fangtastics are a chewy jelly snack manufactured by a German (yes, German) confectionery giant. A playground favourite, they take your tongue on a sensory journey from extreme sweetness to extreme sourness. And they pack a fizz, too. Perfect sugar hit to get you through Double Maths or, if you’re Mr Cameron, high powered political negotiations.

Fangtastics-gate illustrates the fact that, thus far, the debate around whether the United Kingdom will leave the European Union has been characterised by infantilised rhetoric.

By now, we’re used to this when it comes to politics. ‘It’s just too boring’ fret television and radio producers. As a solution you get programmes like BBC’s Daily Politics, all cheap graphics and smiles to break up the serious stuff. The Daily Politics duly delivered today: Cameron’s cabinet were crudely depicted as rival sets of football fans, with bobble hats and scarfs bearing either the words ‘IN’ or ‘OUT’ depending on their stance. Chortle.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage – leading figure in the ‘out’ campaign – has in the last couple of weeks delivered rejoinders to Cameron of which a school bully would be proud. He first called him ‘a chicken’ over his trifling reforms to Britain’s conditions of EU membership. He then went further in deploying schoolboy taunts: Mr Cameron, Farage informed us, had secured but ‘tinsy winsy’ reforms.

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Over on Sky News, anchor Dermot Murnaghan was busy reducing the debate to a matter of personalities. Boris Johnson versus David Cameron, Murnaghan told viewers, would be like ‘a superhero movie’, ‘like King Kong fighting Godzilla’. Sounds light? Well, this was actually taking the debate up a notch. The previous segment of the show had featured ‘in’ campaigner June Sarpong (she formerly noted for presenting shows about pop music on Channel 4 which brought with it tough interviews with the likes of Britney Spiers over what she eats for breakfast). June’s argument for staying in the EU seemed to be largely based on an image of ‘out’ campaigners Nigel Farage and George Galloway linking arms. She goaded the Tory ‘out’ campaigner sitting beside her in the Sky Newsroom with that classic argument that goes something like this: ‘Euuhhhhh! Look at the state of your friends’. Or, to directly quote Sarpong, ‘look at who you hang out with!’

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What does all this suggest about the state of political rhetoric?

It speaks to the fact that the British negotiations over questions such as migrant benefits, sovereignty, movement of labour, law-making etc actualy turned out – unsurprisingly – to be slow and boring. Very boring.

Now, The News doesn’t like this. So even the most high-brow news magazine shows stooped to the tabloid. Thus on Thursday BBC Radio 4’s flagship morning politics show ‘Today’ wheeled out an excitable American commentator to spice things up. Suddenly a boring set of negotiations sounded like Superbowl showdown. ‘Cameron’s going in there on the offense’ he enthused ‘and how is Denmark going to respond?’ Pass the popcorn!

More worryingly, it shows that some of the profound consequences that will follow the British people’s decision on European have been reduced to the sound-bite and dumbed down to an alarming degree.

I would argue that this is part of a broader infantilisation at work in society. Young-ish people are penalised and neutered by house prices, age-geared benefit restrictions, the early debt burden of study, and austerity politics. They become infantilised, some living with mum and dad well into their thirties and forties (and beyond?) because there is little other option for them. They’re also spoon-fed a diet of computer games and superhero movies so that infantilisation has become masked beneath the new respectability of the 40 year old nerd.

Does the infantilisation of the debate around Brexit, with cartoonish and pop-friendly rhetoric, reflect this? I would discuss this further, but the X Factor has just come on the telly. Sorry. Have to go.

 

 

 

 

 

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