Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Proportional Representation and how the rise of Trump highlights the Achilles heel of First Past the Post democracies

An old argument against Proportional Representation was that PR would allow extremists and Nazis to get elected. With Trump’s election that should be dead. One of the USA’s two main political parties now has denying voters that they suspect of being likely to vote for the other party as its main electoral strategy. It has relied on gerrymandering up till now to keep control of the House of Representatives. While the size of the popular vote for Democrats was large enough, this time, to overcome gerrymandering, Republicans, solely through gerrymandering, continue to control the assemblies of many states, despite losing the popular vote. On issues such as gun control and health care the Republican hold positions that in a normal democracy would place them in the lunatic fringe of the hard right. If you want to find an equivalent to the British Conservative Party don’t look for it in the Republican Party - look for it on the right of the Democratic Party.
First Past the Post does make it almost impossible for extremists to get elected but the two party monopoly that it produces makes political systems that rely on it uniquely vulnerable should one party of the duopoly be captured by an extremist movement. That the Democratic Party draws support from everyone from socialists like newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to conservatives like David Frum is not a strength - no party can meaningfully bridge such a wide divide. Sadly, simply being the party of sane people is not a platform and hence it is the more focused Republicans that control two and half of the USA’s three branches of government.
In Britain, Theresa May with her deep hostility to immigrants represents a huge step from the traditional conservatism of David Cameron towards that of today’s Republicans but the real danger is that Brexit will open up to extremist capture in the form Rees-Mogg. In normal times Rees-Mogg would fail to survive the vote of Conservative MPs to be one of the two candidates put to the party membership. But these are not normal times and he would be a strong favorite in any contest among the membership. As leader of the Conservatives Rees-Mogg would have the majority of British voters against him. But with the electorate divided between Labour, Lib-Dems, Greens and nationalists he wouldn’t need a majority - thanks to First Past the Post.
Proportional Representation does reduce the initial barrier to extremist parties but allows the sane parties to better oppose the extremists because they are not forced in an unnatural unity.
The Achilles heel of First Past the Post is extremist capture of one of the two main parties and that danger should put Proportional Representation on the agenda of both Britain and the US.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Britain alone like before the EU? When was that?

The British nation state is a myth. Before Britain joined the EU there was not a British nation state but the British Empire.
First off, it was a large trading bloc. Though the British Empire was not a customs Union, still less a true single market, the imperial preference became important as Britain abandoned free trade as a result of the First World War. In the trade wars of the thirties trade within the Empire and Commonwealth became even more important with imports from within the bloc rising to over 40%. When that bloc collapsed the safe harbor that Britain immediately set sail for sail for was the then Common Market. And 1940 Britain did not “stand alone” - the war against Nazi Germany depended on Canadian, Indian and African troops. It is a dangerous illusion that Britain can ignore what happens on mainland Europe. If Putin succeeds in his aim to prize apart NATO and the European Union, in the future Britain and faces a hostile power across the channel , Britain will be truly alone in a way that it never was in 1940. Even the USA, in 1940, will be in grip of Putin’s ally Trump.
It is a dangerous illusion to think that after Brexit, Britain can go it alone, because we never really have.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Rees-Mogg's amendment to the Checkers deal Britains makes crashing out of the EU, with no deal, inevitable.

A key part of the Checkers deal was that the UK would collect tariffs and VAT on goods on behalf of the EU. The EU 27 has made it clear that under no circumstances would the EU do the same for a Britain outside the EU. By accepting the Rees-Mogg amendment that UK should only do this if the EU reciprocates means Britain will go into the negotiations committed to something which it is clear will be rejected. Rees-Mogg has pretended that he would prefer that Britain should leave with a deal but this amendment makes it clear that his aim all along is to crash out of the EU with no deal. This opens the way to a trade deal with the US which, while Trump is president, will inevitably lead to a bonfire of environmental protections and safety regulations. That Theresa May has agreed to that amendment even though she must know that any further negotiations with the EU will be a pointless farce heading for an inevitable breakdown indicates that for her retaining the office of Prime Minister has become an end in itself. Theresa May caves in to hardline Brexiters' demands

Thursday, June 21, 2018

What happens when Stalinists get their wish

During Stalin’s rule a district party conference was being held in Moscow Province with the new secretory of the district presiding. New, that is because the former secretary had been arrested. At the end of the conference the new secretary proposed a round of applause for Comrade Stalin. Everyone of course leaped to their feet and began clapping. The applause was thunderous and long lasting. When it had lasted ten minutes people were becoming exhausted especially those standing on the platform. Unlike those at the back they could not ease up or take a surreptitious breather being watched by everyone including the agents of the NKVD. Finally one of those on the platform, a director of a paper factory came to decision and sat down and at that instant everyone else followed him. The factory director was arrested that night. The pretext had nothing to do with the meeting but when he signed the final interrogation document his interrogator told him “Never be the first to stop applauding”.
Recently there has been a growth on the number for whom the shock value of being a supporter has appeal. As this story is told by Solzhenitsyn they will dismiss it as right wing propaganda but this is the kind of thing that rule by terror inevitably leads to. If anyone opposing a regime is going to be imprisoned or executed, opponents of that regime will begin to use more subtle ways of signaling their dissent. They will use ambiguous Aesopian language. They may even choose to be first to stop clapping as their way of making a protest.
The numbers who now carry portraits of Stalin are too few for there to be a serious danger of them taking power but I assume that they are not just trolls - that they really want to live under the rule of some future Stalin. I ask them are they really ready for the dull conformity that life under such rule requires - assuming that is that you wish to survive.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

To defeat Brexit we need pro-Corbyn pro-EU people

The #pcpeu (pro-Corbyn pro-EU) hashtag is currently swamped with tweets hostile to Corbyn and Corbyn remainers.

Reality check:
There is no evidence that Corbyn’s base among the membership of the Labour Party as wavered one iota. Those members who criticize Corbyn are those who have always been critical.
Labour remain voters are solidly sticking with Labour. If you look at the map of London wards won in pre-coalition 2010 and compare it with the results last week it is striking how the Lib-Dem revival is confined to outer London. There has been a miniscule recovery of the Liberal Democrats in the heavily remain inner London Labour boroughs. The only encouraging signs were Lib-Dem gains in Haringey and the success of the Greens in gaining 5 seats in super-remain Lambeth. Perhaps in the long run the Greens could cut into Labour support in inner London but we don’t have the long run if we want to defeat Brexit.

We have a year to defeat Brexit. Any scenario that sees us staying in the EU must involve Labour. If the swing against Brexit grows especially if we see formerly Labour Leave areas switching it will be more clearly in the interests of the Labour Party, say, to swing behind a Peoples Vote on the final deal. Corbyn opposed Brexit during the referendum and most probably he is simply agnostic on the whole issue. He can be pushed into taking an anti-Brexit line again. That would be greatly helped if a large section of his supporters are calling for him to make that stand. That’s why pro-Corbyn pro-EU are an essential part of our defeating Brexit.

That doesn't mean that Remainers should not criticize Corbyn. We certainly should be directing fire on Corbyn’s advisors such as Seamus Milne who there is good reason to believe has a hard line anti-EU position. But hostility to pro-Corbyn remainers is simply suicidal. If we ask them to choose they will choose Corbyn over the EU.

Those attacking pro-Corbyn remainers seem to me to be falling into the same trap that Corbyn supporters have so often been accused of. That is they care more about being numbered amongst the “virtuous few” than actually changing reality.

So please explain to me a realistic scenario in which Brexit is defeated without the Labour Party?

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Karl Popper, Marx, and the Assad regime's war on its people

At the moment I am reading Karl Popper. I wasn’t expecting much relevance to our current situation but Popper’s description of Marx’s view of the state seems to explain the dogmatic rejection of any possibility of Western intervention to end the killing of civilians in Syria.

Lets concede that any intervention by outsiders is fraught with danger. Not knowing the situation, outside interventionists may produce all manner of unintended consequences. But that is simply a reason for insisting a humanitarian intervention should have strictly limited aims. It should aim to end political violence but should be entirely neutral in its dealing with local actors and be content to accept whatever politics emerges in the space that the freedom from violence creates. The interventions that we have seen over the last few years have often diverged from that ideal and I would argue that the success of such interventions falls markedly the more such interventions have tried to go beyond limited aims.

When someone criticizes an intervention it can be from two points of view. First it can be argued that the intervention was implemented in a bad way. Looking at it in that way leads to an examination of what went wrong and how interventions in future could avoid such mistakes. The alternative is to oppose intervention on principle. This is to argue that all interventions will make the situation worse no matter what the circumstances. One result of the second view is that it makes any criticism of the way an intervention is implemented pointless. For example, every thing that went wrong with the Iraq invasion arose directly from the decision of George Bush to invade. Criticism of the competence of how Bush and his administration acted becomes irrelevant because according to this view a competent implementation could not have improved the situation. By framing it that way it has the effect deflecting all criticism of Bush’s policy in Iraq beyond the invasion decision itself.
So what has this got to do with Marx? Marx’s view of the state (Chapter 17 of Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies) was that it was determined by the underlying economic conditions. The state in a capitalist society is a superstructure, an expression of the underlying capitalist nature, and hence is a bourgeois state. For a revolutionary movement this is a convenient position. It is pointless to attempt to implement reforms by means of the existing state. Nothing can be achieved until capitalism is overthrown in a socialist revolution and only then when the underlying economic structure of society has become socialist will the state cease to be a bourgeois state.

The view, that the state on the international stage is inevitably an imperialist state pursuing the naked interests of its capitalist class, is a special case of the idea of a bourgeois state. At the core of Stop the war Coalition are members of Marxist organizations and it makes sense that they should hold this view. However, the view of the state as essentially bourgeois, that is imperialist, as soon as it starts to act beyond its borders extends to many who do not in any way consider themselves Marxist. Most who use the slogan No War For Oil take it for granted that, on the domestic front, democratic governments are subject to control of their citizens but slogan essentially implies that democratic accountability fails once the same state becomes an international actor.

Why do are many progressive people seem content to let the Assad regime continue to kill its own people? Why are those same progressives only spurred into action when Western States begin to consider halfhearted action to prevent this? The continuing influence of Marx’s ideas seems to me to be at least part of the explanation.