Tag: Elections

Performing the Poll-Dance

Why opinion surveys and voter outcomes are often polls apart 

Note: This article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 21 November 2019

The British electorate is becoming ever more wary of trusting political opinion polls. Ever since-

  1. the 2015 general electionwhen all polls predicted a hung Parliament but the voters delivered a clear Conservative majority;
  1. the 2016 EU Referendum, when most polls confidently predicted a Remain victory; and
  1. the 2017 general election, when few polls predicted the hung Parliament which resulted but differed merely on the size of the majority Theresa May was expected to gain,

a growing number of voters have treated the polling industry’s prognostications at best with an increasingly large pinch of salt, and at worst with an outright cynicism that many are biased, being intended to influence public opinion rather than merely to measure it.

And not without reason. As political academic and psephologist Matthew Goodwin of Kent University says, Brits are cautious about the current Brexit election, given that memories of 2017 are still comparatively fresh.

In a recent article for CapX, Number Cruncher Politics’ Matt Singh gave an informative technical explanation of why opinion polls tell such different stories, especially at election time. There’s a surprising amount of difference between both the methodologies which polling firms employ, and the statistical models which they use to interpret them; surprising in the sense that, in a competitive industry, sampling methodology hasn’t converged towards that which has been found to deliver the most accurate predictions.

But there’s also a human factor. As Singh says, when attempting to compare views and voting patterns across different periods, many people are actually quite bad at remembering how they voted on a previous occasion. Not all pollsters try to adjust for poor recall, and those which do tend to ‘weight’ respondents’ recall of their previous votes in different ways.

To that I’d be inclined to add the additional potential for error which comes from the likelihood of respondents not answering truthfully, for whatever reason. I’d also suspect that, with the far more fickle, politically-volatile, and less traditionally tribal electorate that seems to be the inevitable consequence of Britain’s developing political re-alignment, more people have genuinely not yet made up their minds about which way they would vote in three weeks’ time.

YouGov’s Anthony Wells, meanwhile, also offers an interesting perspective at UK Polling Report on the how the different methodologies used by the different polling companies affect their results. Significant variations occur in the choices given to respondents; some prompt only for the main parties, not even giving an ‘Other’ choice for minor parties, some prompt only for the parties most likely to stand in a specific constituency, and some even allow second preferences.

Moreover, what Wells terms ‘house effects’ mean that, currently, ICM, ComRes and Survation tend to show lower Conservative leads, while Deltapoll, YouGov and Opinium tend to show higher ones. What I found particularly interesting is that it’s consistently the pollsters who publish their polls timed to hit the Sunday press which report the highest leads for the Tories, while those timed for the midweek press show smaller ones.

Bearing all this in mind, it’s perhaps worth considering two of the latest polls published to see what can be gleaned from what they say. Or maybe from what they don’t say.

First, the Ipsos MORI poll on Britons’ top concerns in the run-up to the election, published on Monday 18 November, and in particular the following:

Twenty-one per cent of the public mention the environment and pollution as a major issue for Britain – the highest recorded score since July 1990.”

Ipsos Mori concens

So 79 per cent of the population don’t. The wisdom of crowds in evidence, perhaps. But it was the breakdown by socio-economic grouping of that 21 per cent, mentioned lower down in the press release, which looked significant to me.

Ipsos MORI concerns 2

It’s very noticeable how concern for ‘the environment and pollution’ – now conveniently conflated by both the Left and the Green movements to encompass both genuine, anti-pollution environmental stewardship and political ‘climate-change’ activism – as a ‘major concern’ is disproportionately concentrated among ABs socio-economically, and in the south of the country geographically.

Whether the Tories’ willingness to embrace Green-ery and so-called ‘de-carbonisation’, via higher enviro-taxes and making energy more expensive, in order to try and retain their potential LibDem defectors in Outer London, the South-East and the South-West, is going to play well among the the less-affluent working-class votes they are chasing in the Midlands and North, and whom the impact of higher Green taxes and dearer energy will disproportionately fall, is a moot point.

Next, the update from Kantar, published on the afternoon of Tuesday 19 November, in follow-up to their previous polling report published on Wednesday 13th November, and summarised in their latest press release:

Kantar Capture composite

The effect of Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage surrendering to Conservative pressure – or alternatively, depending on your viewpoint, recognising electoral reality – by standing down Brexit Party candidates in all 317 currently Conservative seats, is clearly shown. But how come 43 per cent of respondents think that no party will get an overall majority, when, in the same sample and survey, the Conservatives have a polling lead of 18 per cent over Labour?  Is that because of the possibility of inbuilt priors – the ‘house effects’ – corrupting in the statistical sense the methodology, as described earlier in the articles by Matt Singh and Anthony Wells? Who knows?

Possibly the most astutely prescient polling comment this past week, however, has come from polling guru Sir John Curtice; he observes that, with both the Conservative and Labour parties led by politicians disliked by most voters, this election is actually turning out to be an unpopularity contest. Presumably, our next Prime Minister will be the party leader who is least unpopular with voters.

For years we’ve mocked politicians who, in response to media challenge about adverse poll ratings, have robotically intoned the mantra “The only poll that matters is the one on [insert election date]”. Perhaps we should have given them a little more credit?

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The Declaration Deadline Day Dilemma

With Farage’s withdrawal of the Brexit Party from all 317 Tory seats, what should Brexiteers in a Leave-voting constituency in which a Tory-Remainer MP is squatting do to avoid in effect being disenfranchised?

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 14 November 2019

Imagine being a committed Brexiteer in the parliamentary constituency of Tunbridge Wells today. At 4.00. pm yesterday afternoon, the deadline for the nominations of General Election candidates was passed, so the options of where to cast your vote are now set in stone.

Obviously, a vote for any of the pro-EU, leftist parties, whether formally part of the so-called Remainer-Alliance or not, would be out of the question.

But the ‘Conservative’ Party candidate re-standing for election in your constituency is arch-Remainer and former Business Secretary Greg Clark. Along with former Chancellor Philip Hammond and former Justice Secretary David Gauke, Clark was one of the most prominent members of Theresa May’s Cabinet arguing against, if not actually working to undermine, any EU exit deal other than, in effect, a Brexit-In-Name Only.

Clark Hammond Gauke Noakes

Moreover, in 2018, Clark was reportedly Theresa May’s backstairs fixer of pro-EU crony-corporatist Big-Business’ endorsement of, and participation in, that period’s iteration of Project Fear, designed to scaremonger voters with dire warnings about the dangers for jobs and exports of a No-Deal Brexit.

More recently, of course, he was one of the 21 Tory Remainer-Rebel MPs suspended and deprived of the Party Whip in the House of Commons for voting to allow the anti-Brexit opposition to seize control of the Parliamentary agenda, pass the so-called Benn Act making a No-Deal Brexit illegal, and force the PM to seek an extension to the Brexit negotiating period. His inclusion in the MPs allowed back in to the fold in advance of the election rightly caused eyebrows to be raised.

The 21 Tory whip-deprived Tory rebels

Not an appealing prospect, is it? Yet for a strongly pro-Brexit voter in Tunbridge Wells, that’s the consequence of the concession made to the Conservatives by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage in agreeing to stand down its candidates in all 317 Tory-held seats

The Brexit Party’s seat-contesting policy since this election was called has been muddled to say the least, oscillating between near-invisibility and overkill. MEP John Longworth’s suggestion of fighting a mere 20 seats was incredibly unambitious for a party purporting to be a major factor in bringing Brexit about, as well as having the disadvantage of almost guaranteeing that the party would get little if any media and Press coverage, and certainly no presence in any TV debates.

At the other end of the scale Farage’s initially declared aim of contesting up to 600 seats – but not one for himself – erred in the opposite direction. It would have diluted resources instead of concentrating them to greatest effect, and in many cases it would have been a wasted effort. What would have been the point of contesting an inner-London seat that is both solidly-Labour and solidly-Remain? What conceivable benefit could there have been in fighting against a staunch Tory Brexiteer who has consistently voted against May’s (non)-‘Withdrawal’ BRINO, thus running the risk of splitting a genuinely-Leave constituency-level majority?

But Farage’s decision to withdraw from all 317 Tory-held seats is potentially misguided. For a start, the excuse he gave – that PM Boris Johnson has committed to pursuing a Canada Plus-style trade deal and to leaving the EU by the end of 2020 with no extension of Transition – looks suspiciously thin and contrived. In practice this means by the end of June 2020, because if it became apparent that it wouldn’t be possible to negotiate a trade deal in such a short time, the UK’s one-off option to extend the Transition period would have to be made on 1 July 2020.

As valid as the need is to avert the horrendous prospect of a Corbyn Labour or Corbyn-led Remainer Alliance government, and as much as the risk of jeopardising Brexit happening at all is real, Farage would have been perfectly justified in declining to withdraw in seats held by ardent Tory Continuity-Remainers (or possibly even, but mainly as a bargaining chip, reluctant soft-Brexiteers). Despite several of the most prominent Usual Suspects in these two categories standing down, there’s no guarantee that several of their successors won’t be similarly inclined, given the background of some of them, as has already been remarked.

It’s notable that, as Kathy Gyngell, Editor of The Conservative Woman, wrote yesterday, the reaction of the Tories has been, not gratitude and an offer of reciprocation in Leave-voting seats with large Labour majorities which, given their conventional electoral brand-toxicity, the Tories, even with a promise to enact Brexit, could probably never ever hope to gain, but instead to bank the concession and demand that the Brexit party stand aside in even more seats.

When Farage, quite reasonably in my view, provisionally refused, the Tories changed tack, offering an ‘eleventh-hour’ electoral pact whereby they would undertake only minimal token-campaigning in 40 Labour-held seats on the Brexit Party’s target list.

But in view of this proposal’s inherent drawbacks – Tory candidates being on the ballot at all would undoubtedly draw some votes to them and away from the Brexit Party, while agreeing and subsequently abiding by mutually-accepted criteria for ‘minimal’ campaigning looks fraught with uncertainly and fertile ground for dispute – as well as the Tories’ hitherto contemptuous dismissal of previous overtures, it’s difficult to criticise Farage for being sceptical.

On the calculations of the informative Leave Alliance blog, there are about 43 vulnerable seats which the Tories hold on slim majorities, but also, crucially, about 50 almost all Labour-held and Leave-voting seats which look ripe targets for the Brexit Party, it having come first there in the 2019 Euro-elections.

Caroline fff Labour BXP targets fullThe key statistic here, to my mind, is that in Column 9 – the percentage vote-swing needed for the Tories to capture the seat from Labour. In no case is it under 10%, and in some cases it’s over 20%.

Do the Conservatives really think they’re in with a good chance of persuading sufficient Labour voters – even pro-Brexit ones who voted Leave in the 2016 referendum and have since been frustrated with both their Labour-Remainer MPs’ and the Labour Party itself’s policy vacillation and obfuscation on Brexit – to change the voting habits of a lifetime, hold their noses, and vote Tory in big enough numbers to achieve the magnitude of swing required to turn the seat from red to blue?              

I’m doubtful. In my view, therefore, in no circumstances should the Brexit Party agree to stand aside in these. In fact, it’s already announced a very strong candidate for its top Labour-Remainer target seat of Kingston-upon-Hull East, which voted Leave by 73:27 in 2016 and where the Tories trailed Labour by nearly 30% in vote-share in 2017, in former The Apprentice winner and broadcaster Michelle Dewberry.

I’d even be inclined to provisionally add the next 20-30 Labour seats on that target list, but no more. Farage however, appears to have committed the Brexit Party to standing in all Labour-held seats, even including those of the few Labour-Leaver MPs. What is the point of opposing someone like Caroline Flint, who has risked and received such opprobrium from Labour-Remainer MPs for insisting that the democratic verdict of the electorate to leave the EU must be respected and implemented?

I can also see little reason at this stage why ardent Tory-Remainer MPs should enjoy an immunity from other, genuine-Leaver, competition in this election. We risk forgetting too easily how many of them were by no means reluctant to repudiate the manifestos they stood on to get elected in 2017, and, even if not openly opposing a meaningful Brexit by rebelling, nonetheless managed to dilute and soften it by signifying their potential opposition.

It wouldn’t have been unreasonable, therefore, for the Brexit Party to have opposed, say, between 20 and 30 Tory-Remainer MPs squatting in the most heavily Leave-voting seats. That would have added up to something like 90-110 seats in total for the Brexit Party to target, However, the concession having been made, it would be an act of bad faith to withdraw it. But no further concession should be extended.     

Powerful arguments are already being made against the effective disenfranchisement of thousands of Leave voters which the Brexit Party’s standing down in all 317 Tory-held constituents represents. In addition, it puts Leave-voters in the invidious position of having to balance two unpalatable alternatives to decide which is the lesser of two evilsThat being the case, it’s hard to see why anyone could object to Brexit Party PPCs now deprived of a candidature shouldn’t instead stand as Independent Brexiteers.   

Couple the still unresolved horse-trading over who should or should not contest which seats with growing disquiet about some of the new candidates being selected in Tory vacancies, and an hitherto mere unwelcome suspicion starts to harden: that, despite their pre-election blandishments, the Tories’ principal objective in this election is to procure a metro-’liberal’ Tory majority, rather than a pro-Brexit majority, in Parliament, and the former even at the expense of the latter.

Where is this leading? Well, time will tell, but I’m personally becoming more and more convinced that the Tory Party hierarchy’s strategic priorities are:

  1.  ram through something which can plausibly be labelled Brexit, so they can claim to have ‘got it done’, as if it was just a box to be ticked and then forgotten; and
  1. once having done that, get back to business-as-usual in terms of the political system substantially unchanged, which suits the entrenched Westminster elite down to the ground.

That, it strikes me, is not the outcome most critics of the last Parliament wanted in calling for its dissolution. If correct, it seems likely that people may opt instead for their own ‘withdrawal’ option, manifested by the attitude of, as The Conservative Woman‘s Editor Kathy Gyngell put it yesterday, “A plague on both their houses.”

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Conservative Party Candidates: Local Consensus or Centralised Conspiracy?

A discernible pattern of preference being given to parachuted-in favoured Party-insiders, in the selection of Conservative candidates for the General Election, is emerging

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 9th November 2019 

The selection of “Conservative” Party General Election candidates by local associations is now in its final phase before the 14th November Declaration Day deadline. However, some intriguing claims are emerging, especially from constituencies where the sitting member is standing down, about Party HQ attempting to micro-manage the selection process in favour of its own preferred choices, even to the extent of excluding a local candidate whom the local CA would choose.

First, to a currently Tory seat in the South-East whose MP is standing down. I was told last week, by a friend who happens to be a stalwart of the local Conservative Constituency Association that ructions were very likely to occur at the CA meeting scheduled to be held shortly to discuss the new candidate.

She alleged growing disquiet at what she described as Central Office trying to impose, over the head of an eminently suitable local councillor, a favourite of the Candidates’ Board on their central list with no constituency connection whatsoever. As she put it to me, if objecting causes fireworks, then so be it, but she’s damned if he’s going to rubber-stamp the selection of some chinless-wonder staffer who’s coming straight from being a Central Office gofer after getting a 2nd-class PPE, and who’s seeing the constituency solely as the first step on his or her political career-path.

Second, let’s move to Mid-Sussex, where archetypal patrician Tory grandee Nicholas Soames, one of the 21 anti-Brexit rebels deprived of the Conservative Whip for in effect voting to stop Brexit happening on 31st October, is bequeathing a current majority of over 19,000. In the frame for this are a current Government SpAd with pro-Brexit credentials but who, reportedly, nevertheless supported May’s BRINO (non)-“Withdrawal” Agreement: an educationalist  whose both current and recent political activity, as well as residence, is centred on London: and the current Tory MP for Eastleigh, Mims Davies.

Is there really no suitable local candidate? In the case of the first two, any connection with the constituency is perhaps rather more claimed than it is immediately obvious. Davies, however, does appear to have some genuine connections with the county, having been a Conservative town councillor and as a district councillor on Mid-Sussex District Council from 2011 to 2015 before becoming an MP.

Yet despite this, it’s Davies who turns out to be the most intriguing case. Despite sitting on a 14,000 majority in her Eastleigh seat that voted 54:46 in favour of Leave, she’s definitely trying to up sticks and move to Mid-Sussex. Her somewhat disingenuous previous statement that she “would not be a candidate” in her current constituency originally gave the impression she was quitting Parliament altogether, so the revelation that she is instead seeking a safer seat has given rise to speculation that fear of losing to the LibDems is her real motivation.

UPDATE: Davies was selected to contest the seat for the Conservatives.

Third, let’s journey westwards, to Devizes, which, although voting Leave by 51.4 per cent to 48.6 per cent, was, at least until the dissolution of Parliament at 00:01 am on Wednesday 6th November, the domain of the wildly over-promoted and eco-gullible Claire Perry, with a majority over 21,000. There, elements of the local association are objecting in no uncertain terms about the possible selection of Danny Kruger, Eton-educated former speechwriter to David Cameron and current Political Secretary to PM Boris Johnson, to the extent of circulating annotated (mostly unfavourably) copies of his CV to all members. 

Kruger is clearly perceived by his detractors as one of the favoured metropolitan-‘liberal’- Cameroon glitterati, and it’s arguably difficult in the current climate to imagine a more damning assessment than “definitely on the Nicky Morgan, Amber Rudd, side of the party”. But that’s their verdict.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Devizes Constituency Conservative Party has resigned, allegedly in protest  about the undue influence the Party’s Head Office has had on the choice of candidate for the safe seat. The original shortlist of six has apparently been arbitrarily reduced to three, none of whose connections with the constituency appear especially strong, or particularly convincing.

Perhaps many local Tories in Devizes are just not prepared to have what, rightly or wrongly, they see as a Cameroon carpetbagger imposed on them by Central Office willy-nilly. Is there really not a good, genuinely-Conservative local councillor who would make a good constituency MP? After years of being “represented” by Claire Perry, one can understand Devizes’ local Tories being wary.

UPDATE: Kruger was selected to fight the seat.

Fourth, let’s travel north, to the East Midlands and Bassetlaw, the seat vacated by staunch anti-Corbynite Labour Brexiteer John Mann when resigning as a MP on 29th October. In the 2016 EU Referendum, Bassetlaw voted 68:32 for Leave, a margin of over 2:1. With Mann’s majority of only 4,852, and Labour having all but formally declared itself to be a Remain/Second Referendum party, it’s obvious that mere 2,500 voters switching from Labour to Conservative would turn it blue.

Bassetlaw 2017 GE result

Yet from Bassetlaw comes the allegation that the 2017 Tory candidate, apparently a former local councillor and previous Tory CA chair, who campaigned for Brexit in 2016 and significantly reduced Mann’s majority in 2017, thus turning it from a safe Labour seat into a marginal – but was, it’s claimed, critical of Theresa May’s approach to Brexit – has twice been rejected as its 2019 candidate by Tory Central Office, despite being originally admitted to the candidates’ list. The expectation is that an external candidate, presumably acceptable to Tory HQ, will be parachuted in.

This is doubly troubling when the Labour candidate selection process in Bassetlaw is itself in near-total disarray, following a Momentum/NEC decision to overrule the local party and de-select its choice of candidate in a manner more reminiscent of a kangaroo court than adherence to due process. Objections have predictably followed, and the Labour selection process now appears mired in complete confusion.

Presented with an open goal in Bassetlaw, therefore, Tory Central Office appears to be kicking the ball off the pitch.

Fifth, back to the South-East, and to Sevenoaks in Kent, which until the dissolution of Parliament was the seat of former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, with a 21,917 majority. Included in the Party HQ approved shortlist for it was a self-employed local councillor: the former Number Ten 10 adviser to David Cameron, Laura Trott (not our quadruple-gold Olympic cyclist, sadly, but her namesake): and the former MP for Peterborough, Stewart Jackson, a staunch Brexiteer who latterly was David Davis’ Chief of Staff at DExEU.

UPDATE: Trott was selected to contest the seat.

Sixth, again in Kent, and to Orpington – Jo Johnson’s old seat – which over the weekend chose Gareth Bacon, current Tory leader in the London Assembly, to contest the general election for the Conservatives from a shortlist of three. My mole at the selection meeting tells me that, to his intense dismay, and despite Bacon’s local government experience in the area, Bacon nevertheless “turned up with his fan club in attendance”, and that it was obvious as soon as he entered the room that he would win.

Which prompts the thought: if Bacon chaired the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority for the final two years of Boris Johnson’s mayoralty, i.e., from 2014 to 2016, was he not involved, at quasi-political level at least, in formulating the Fire Service’s what we now know to be highly contentious advice to residents of high-rise residential blocks like Grenfell Tower to stay put in the event of a fire, and not try to get out of the building? Has anyone made that connection yet?

Does anyone see a pattern here? Now it may or may not be coincidence, but there has recently been an abrupt change at the top of the Party hierarchy, with the resignation from both the Candidates’ Committee and the Party Board of a senior MP over “rising tensions in the Candidates’ Committee about the controversial approach to selections which CCHQ is pursuing”, amid mounting fury over the Candidates’ List, with local associations increasingly pushing back against central control.

Awareness, and anger, even among Tory candidates seeking re-election as MPs, is growing.  The allegations of “doing a chicken run” have duly followed the selection of Mims Davies for Mid-Sussex, and complaints are reportedly being aired on MP’s Whatsapp groups of “lots of special advisers on shortlists, and many more poor, but connected, candidates“.           

One would have thought the “Conservative” Party would have learned from the débacle of the Cameroons’ now notorious A-List, which eventually was quietly killed off. Evidently not.

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Boris Johnson’s Brexit Election needs the Brexit Party

Note: This article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 3rd September 2019

Over the last half of August, the prospective date for a General Election has been a moveable feast.

Until then, the expectation was that an ostensibly anti No-Deal – but in reality a Stop-Brexit – Vote of No Confidence in PM Boris Johnson’s government would be tabled, either by Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour alone, or in conjunction with the other parts of the loose Remain-Alliance, as soon as the Commons returned from recess: and that, if lost, Johnson would immediately seek to dissolve the current Parliament and call a General Election for mid-October. 

That plan folded, though, when allies of Corbyn privately admitted that he did not have the numbers required to bring down the Government, after prospective support from among Continuity-Remainer Tory rebels collapsed, and Corbyn was persuaded to adopt the legislative route instead, which had the effect of moving the anticipated date out to early or even mid-November, i.e., after Britain would have left the EU.

However, Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament for a further few sitting days beyond its normal Party Conference Season prorogation – which, despite all the theatrical, confected Remainer outrage and bloviating hyperbole, was neither unprecedented, nor a ‘coup’, has had the effect of goading, not only the Remain-Alliance with its risible, wholly hypocritical and constitutionally illegitimate alternative ‘People’s Parliament’, but also the Tory-Remainer rebels, led by Hammond and Gauke, to accelerate and intensify their legislative guerrilla campaign.

The result is the proposed European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill 2019, which in effect forces Johnson to beg the EU for an Article 50 extension, and accept whatever duration of extension the EU deigns to stipulate.

The drafters of the Bill protest that they have included a parliamentary veto over a long EU extension: but they have also said, in advance of the Bill’s publication, that the veto cannot and will not be used, because Parliament cannot and will not allow No Deal under any circumstances.  The Bill effectively, therefore, hands the EU control over the Government, Parliament, Brexit, and, by inference, whether British democracy itself still exists.

The number of Tory-Remainer rebels pledging to support the Bill and vote against the government is already confirmed at 10and will possibly rise to 20 or 25, meaning that a Government defeat looks increasing likely.

In response, Johnson has already insisted that there are no circumstances in which he would seek a delay, so that, according to sources within Number Ten, in the event of a Commons defeat, Johnson will dissolve Parliament and call a snap General Election for 14th October, which would in itself require the support of two-thirds of MP under the terms of the Fixed-Terms Parliament Act.

Crucially, that date would be in advance of the next European Council meeting, scheduled for 17th-18th October. This does not augur well for the proper, clean-break Brexit that Johnson has given the impression – but not much tangible evidence – of both favouring and working towards since becoming Prime Minister.

If he gets a fresh mandate on, say, 14th October, then he can use that European Council meeting, and the last two weeks prior to 31st October, to stitch up a new Brexit deal – which I believe he wants, much more than he’s been prepared to admit, and much, much more than he wants a No-Deal, clean-break Brexit – for the narrow personal and tribal objectives of securing his own legacy and keeping the Tory Party together.

Any such deal would be not much different to May’s, except possibly for the Northern Ireland backstop. Johnson has already dropped a hint, at the end of August, that that he might seek changes to the backstop, but could leave the rest of the Withdrawal Agreement intact. It would still have all the vassal-statehood disadvantages and disasters which have been so eloquently warned about by, among others, Professor David Collins, Briefings For Brexit’s Caroline Bell, and Lawyers For Britain’s Martin Howe.

But in my view, Johnson doesn’t care. I’m convinced he just wants something he can push across the finishing line in Parliament. He has hitherto delivered nothing much more than bluster, despite his insistence at the Biarritz G7 that ‘the Withdrawal Agreement is dead’. But his next sentence specifically referenced that pronouncement to Parliament, suggesting he could mean ‘dead’ only in the narrow political sense that the House of Commons would not pass it in its present form. That patently did not, and still does not, exclude it re-emerging to a greater or lesser extent in different form. 

Cynical it may be, but I will believe that May’s execrable (non)-‘Withdrawal’ Agreement and integral Political Declaration are ‘dead’ only when either they are replaced by an acceptable Free Trade Agreement along the lines of a Canada++, or failing that, when we exit on a WTO-reversion No-Deal.

Moreover, a No-Deal, Clean-Break, Real-Brexit would be far more likely to be the catalyst for the sorely-needed upending of our entire political system: which, in my view, for all his bluster, Johnson doesn’t want. Politically, he is invested in our current, democratically-deficient settlement in which the two main parties have largely rigged the system to ensure their own advantage and perpetuation, and he has no desire to see it changed to something more genuinely pluralist and robustly participatory.

Which brings us to the role of the Brexit Party in the coming election, and why it will potentially be vital.

It’s rare for me to disagree with The Daily Telegraph’s Allister Heath,  whether on economics or politics – the public realm has far too few small-state, low-tax, free-market, sound-money Hayekians – but on his hypothesis that it’s time for the Brexit Party to shut up shop because the battle has been won, I believe he’s wrong.

Firstly, it treats TBP as a one-issue party: which it isn’t, because it’s about more than Brexit. Which it correctly sees must not only happen if we’re any kind of democracy at all: but must also be, not just an end in itself, but also that catalyst for changing the way we do politics to a way which I suspect Johnson does not especially want.

Secondly, in the light of the preceding paragraphs, and as former Leave Means Leave head and now Brexit Party MEP John Longworth emphasised only a day or two ago, the dangers of a new Brexit betrayal are very real. If, as it looks, we may be heading for merely a largely cosmetic re-packaging and re-branding of May’s deal as something ‘new’, then the role of the Brexit Party in the election in drawaing attention to that fact will be critical.

Thirdly, Heath has been vociferous for several years in (rightly) castigating the “Conservative” Party in numerous policy areas other than Brexit: its pandering to leftist Social-Justice-Warrior obsessions and to those who would curb free speech: its disastrous energy policies and gullibility to the Green agenda: its neo-Keynesian monetary and fiscal policies: and its excess regulation, spending & taxing. But without the more or less permanent threat of a Brexit Party snapping at its heels to keep it on the straight & narrow, the still overwhelmingly Fabian-Blairite Tory Party would be back to its bad old ways in no time at all. They are not to be trusted.

As political scientist Matthew Goodwin points out, the Conservative defection rate to the Brexit Party has slumped from 37 per cent before Johnson became Prime Minister, through 25 per cent when he entered Downing Street, to a mere 16 per cent as at 31st August. It’s presumably on this re-defection pattern that Johnson and Dominic Cummings believe they can secure a Leave-er majority for the Tories with a snap election.

But that surely also pre-supposes that, to compensate for losing Remainer votes in the South to the LibDems or a Remain Alliance, the Tories can capture enough working-class Leave-er votes in the Midlands and the North repelled by Labour’s coming-out as an unabashed Remain Party. That is something of a gamble, to put it mildly, because the Tory brand, rightly or wrongly, is still toxic in many of those areas. But the Brexit Party would be far better placed to bring those votes under the Leave-er banner, which is why the Tories should not close the door to the Brexit Party’s overtures for a tactical alliance.

The resignation of Ruth Davidson as Tory leader in Scotland ought to support that hypothesis still further. Her departure potentially weakens the Tories in Scotland, which must put at least half, if not all, of their seats in Scotland – without which, remember, they wouldn’t have been able to form a Government in 2017 at all, even with the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – at risk, especially as Scotland hates Johnson anyway. Which in turn means that Johnson could end up needing support from, or even that Leave-er tactical alliance with, the Brexit Party even more to secure more seats in England.

It’s a risky strategy. As Matthew Goodwin set out on Monday 2nd September, it could all go wrong for the Tories and Johnson. His problem is that things are starting to work against him, and for Farage: and they will do so even more if he’s forced by Parliament to scrap No-Deal and gives the appearance of settling for a Remain-Lite, Brexit-In-Name-Only because that’s the very most that the majority-Remainer, anti-Brexit Parliament would approve.

Johnson should swallow his pride, make temporary accommodation with the Brexit Party, and enter into that tactical alliance. To win this coming election, and deliver the Brexit 17.4 million voted for, both he and the Tories need it.

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Meet the Charmer Caroline

Meet Caroline Voaden, the ‘Liberal’-‘Democrat’ MEP for the South-West region of England. What a delightful piece of work she is.

Unaccountably, Caroline has not hitherto impinged much on the national consciousness, despite costing us a no doubt disproportionate share of the following (amounts subject to fluctuations in the Sterling-Euro exchange rate):

her annual MEP’s salary of approximately £90,600: her ability to allocate more than three times as much as that in expenses: her general allowance of £46,680 a year: her £257,974 annual staff allowance paid directly to employees: her personal annual travel allowance of £3,675: and her £275 daily attendance allowance for each day that she signs the register in either of the European Union’s Potemkin Parliaments in Brussels or Strasbourg (but is not thereafter obliged to participate in its proceedings).   

However, that relative anonymity vanished recently, when she ostentatiously ‘welcomed’ the politically peripatetic and therefore serial defector Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, the member for Totnes, to the Lib-Dems in her own constituency. 

2019.08.17 LibDem MEP Voaden 2

Wollaston, of course, will need little introduction to most ALR readers. She always was more of a closet Lib-Dem inside the “Conservative” Party than a true Conservative, having become its candidate for the Totnes constituency via an innovative Open Primary which the Tories managed to botch spectacularly, firstly by allowing anyone to vote in it, regardless of their political affiliation, and secondly by not sufficiently checking the politics of the actual applicants. 

She initially declared for Leave in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum, only to defect noisily to Remain in mid-campaign, in what many suspected was a put-up job aimed at discrediting the Leave campaign by her ‘defection’.              

Given that Wollaston, despite being the allegedly-‘Conservative’ MP, was always ideologically closer to the Lib-Dems, one might wonder why she actually needed ‘introducing’ to their local members and supporters at all, but we’ll let that pass.  

Now, aren’t the actual words used by Voaden revealing?  “…..passing on the view from Westminster and Brussels.” Both clearly see their role as representing the views of Westminster and Brussels to their constituents, not as representing the views of their constituents to Westminster and Brussels.

Not content with that somewhat idiosyncratic and self-serving interpretation of representing the people, however, Voaden went on casually to disparage her own constituents. In response to mischievous comments on social-media about the overwhelming predominance of white faces among the local supporters of the famously ‘diversity’-worshipping Lib-Dems, she tweeted thus:          

2019.08.17 LibDem MEP Voaden 1

What a charmer. A regretful ex-habituée of lefty North London, who’s happy to be aboard the Brussels gravy-train to ‘represent’, inter alia, Totnes, where she actually sees her job as representing Westminster and Brussels to Totnes rather than vice-versa, while impliedly castigating its residents for being 95 per cent white.

With hindsight, we should perhaps have been forewarned by her contribution to the Bournemouth hustings for the 2019 EU Parliament elections. ‘Our democracy is completely broken‘, she claimed, while curiously neglecting to add that a major cause of its fracture is ‘Liberal’-‘Democrats’ like herself who refuse to accept the largest mandate for one specific policy in UK political history, and are determined to deny, dilute or preferably destroy it.

Her experience as a reporter in the former Yugoslavia, she insisted, gave her an insight into ‘a country being torn apart by nationalism and hate‘. Whether she was specifically equating the Britain that voted for Brexit with the former Yugoslavia was not clear, but in the light of her remarks since, that’s surely at least a plausible inference.

Perhaps, however, someone should have reminded her that the break-up of Yugoslavia also provided an ominous example of what can happen when disparate nations and peoples are subjugated against their will in an overarching authoritarian polity which denies them proper political representation, self-determination, and self-government within independent sovereign nation-statehood.

As you might have expected, Voaden was both prominent in, and unapologetic over, the Lib-Dems’ puerile ‘Bollocks to Brexit‘ T-shirt display at the opening of the EU Parliament’s current session. . .

Bollocks to Brexit EU Parliament

. . . thus demonstrating a distaste for decorum every bit as keen as her evident distaste for democracy. She was somewhat less insouciant, though when robustly confronted by Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain over her and her colleagues’ infantile, anti-democratic exhibitionism, and was eventually, despite repeated attempts to dodge the question, forced by him to swear on live TV.

More recently, Voaden has, ahem, ‘distinguished’ herself by apparently managing miraculously to find some fishermen in Newlyn, Cornwall, who don’t think Britain’s fishing industry has been largely decimated by EU membership and the depredations of the Common Fisheries Policy, and actually want to stop Brexit in order to protect it. 

2019.08.22 Voaden Newlyn 1

At least that’s the impression which a quick, casual read of Voaden’s tweet above would convey, isn’t it? So why, then, the “apparently”? Well, look again at the sophistry implicit in the wording she used: not “fishermen“, as you might expect, but “those working in and around the fishing industry” – which isn’t necessarily the same thing.

It seems that her principal interlocutor and source for her “findings” might not actually have been a working fisherman or fishermen at all, but one Chris Ranford, whose job it is to help distribute grants from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (of which, it will be noted, the UK is far from being the largest beneficiary). In other words, an EU bureaucrat paid to give back to the UK fishing industry some of, effectively, its own money, minus a Brussels-skimmed handling fee. Which makes the conveniently anti-Brexit emphasis of Voaden’s “findings” rather more explicable. 

To describe Voaden’s tweet as, at best, disingenuous, would be eminently justified: though that might perhaps be construed by her as a churlish act of lèse-majesté, given the tenor of her reply to two sceptical Brexit Party MEPs, at least one of whom really does know what she’s talking about when it comes to the baleful effects of EU membership on our fishing industry.

2019.08.22 Voaden Newlyn 2

Fortunately, all this may be but a temporary irritation. Because the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate already selected by the Lib-Dems to fight Totnes at the next Westminster General Election is already objecting to potentially being supplanted by the turncoat Wollaston. Because the chances are that neither she nor Wollaston would now get elected anyway.  And most of all because, with only 66 days to go before we finally leave the EU on 31st October, and even as one of the merely peripheral benefits of Brexit, the ‘Liberal’-‘Democrat’ MEP covering Totnes will soon be out of a job.

We shall not see her like again. With any luck. 

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Arrogance, Snobbery and Complacency

The Tories’ reaction to their Brecon and Radnorshire by-election defeat was to deny their culpability for their own glaring mistakes, and contemptuously dismiss the very idea of a pro-Leave alliance, despite their own precarious Parliamentary position     

Note: This article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 6th August 2019

How to sum up the “Conservative” Party’s reaction to the by-election loss of its Brecon and Radnorshire seat, which reduces the Party’s already wafer-thin majority in the House of Commons to near-invisibility? Well, consider this communique from Party HQ:

“We just can’t work out why 3,331 people would have voted for the Brexit Party. We didn’t leave the EU on 29th March, despite Theresa May, when Prime Minister, promising no fewer than 108 times that we would: and we chose as our candidate the very same MP who was formally recalled after being convicted of expenses fraud. It’s a complete mystery.”

The foregoing paragraph is, of course, a parody. But not by very much.

From the early hours of the morning of Friday 2nd August when the result was declared, the Tories’ reaction to losing the by-election was firstly to blame anyone but themselves, and secondly recoil in complacent horror at the mere suggestion that they might need an electoral pact with the Brexit Party, not only to deliver Brexit and prevent the advent of PM Jeremy Corbyn, but even to survive as a credible electoral force.

“If you vote for the Brexit Party, you make Brexit harder”, intoned newly-arrived Tory chairman James Cleverly on Sky News’ Sunrise programme: “a constituency which backs leaving the EU now has an anti-Brexit MP”.

2019.08.02 Sky-Cleverly Brecon

Curiously, the likelihood that if, as your candidate for a by-election, you select the very same Tory ex-MP Chris Davies whose conviction for expenses fraud led to the Recall Petition which triggered that by-election in the  first place, then you make actually voting for the Conservatives much harder, appeared not to have occurred to him.

Even normally staunchly Conservative commentators were, to say the least, unimpressed. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that re-selecting a convicted fraudster was a considerable error of judgement, said Adrian Hilton, wondering why swindling the taxpayer wasn’t sufficient grounds for excluding the candidate from the Approved List.

2019.08.02 Hilton Brecon comp

Others were quick to point out that the re-selection of Davies to fight the seat would have taken place under the regime of the hapless Brandon Lewis as Party Chairman, and the equally hapless Prime Minister Theresa May as (still at that time) Party Leader, who presumably could have vetoed it, but didn’t.

It’s worth recalling some of the other takeaways from the result, not always given prominence by the media, for whom tittle-tattle about who’ll be up and who’ll be down in the Westminster bear-pit as a result is always preferable to more forensic analysis.

Screenshot Brecon by-election results 02-Aug-2019

Despite an alliance with the Greens and Plaid Cymru, who both stood down, the LibDems still only scraped it. With a fraud-free candidate, and more campaigning effort – in his dispatch from the by-election campaign front line, Paddy Benham-Crosswell of The Conservative Woman referred to the Conservatives being “deafeningly silent” – the Tories might even have retained the seat.

A point that was also noted by Brexit Party MEP Martin Daubeney. It’s important to remember, said Daubeney in a telling analysis, that the LibDems had in effect been throwing the kitchen sink at the seat, resources-wise, ever since its Tory MP Chris Davies was convicted, while the Tories in effect gave them a green light by re-selecting him.

2019.08.02 Daubeney Brecon

For Labour, the result was little short of a disaster. Up against a convicted Tory MP re-standing, its vote was down 13%, and it garnered just 0.3% more votes than the 5% threshold below which it would have lost its deposit. It was the party’s worst result in that constituency in its history. And in Left-leaning Wales, of all places.

The greatest focus, however, not unnaturally, came on the relative performances of the Tories and the Brexit Party: together with the need for, and likelihood of, an electoral pact between them, immediately dismissed out of hand both by the Party hierarchy and PM Boris Johnson himself.

But a Leave alliance would have won the seat. And, as former Number Ten adviser under PM Margaret Thatcher, John O’Sullivan, noted, there could be several hundred more Conservative Party reverses like this if the Tories under Boris Johnson were to repeat their betrayal of Brexit under May.

The lesson of Brecon and Radnor, asserted O’Sullivan, is that the Tories can’t win, and maybe not even survive, unless they deliver Brexit or, failing that, join with the Farage Irregulars to do so.

2019.08.02 John O'Sullivan Brecon

The Brecon by-election was “a screeching wake up call that, even with Boris, the Tories can’t win a General Election without a Brexit Party pact”, said the Daily Telegraph’s Sherelle Jacobs.

2019.08.02 Sherelle Jacobs Brecon

Even Conservative Party activists recognised this. The Tories must overcome their innate arrogance & snobbery towards competitor parties and reach a tactical voting deal with the Brexit Party if they really do want to deliver a clean Brexit, said long-time supporter and campaigner Molly Giles.

The most savage criticism, though, came in this searing polemic from Reaction’s Gerald Warner. The Conservative Party, blinded by entitlement, he thundered, is now comprehensively dysfunctional. In a full broadside, he condemned the Tories for their arrogance, snobbery & complacency in still covertly pursuing a soft Brexit, while refusing even to consider even local electoral pacts with the Brexit Party.

He has a point. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that members of the Conservative Party hierarchy resemble nothing so much as First-Class passengers on the Titanic, who’d rather go down with the ship than be seen being saved in a lifeboat rowed by those awful Third-Class passengers in Steerage.

He has a point, too, on the accusation of a soft-Brexit being covertly pursued. Just in the previous week, we saw Boris float the idea of a further two years in the Customs Union and Single Market, while Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay recounted his talks with the EU’s Guy Verhofstadt on an “agreement we can get through Parliament”. That points to May’s (non)-“Withdrawal” Agreement, less the Northern Ireland backstop, re-branded.

So this is where I’ll stick my neck out. In a tweet as long ago as 5th July, I suggested that the Tories were preparing to sabotage the Brecon by-election. It wasn’t hard, I speculated, to deduce what might be going on. By re-selecting its own disgraced and recalled MP to contest the seat, the mainly-Remain “Conservative” Party hierarchy was deliberately throwing the Brecon & Radnorshire by-election, knowing that the loss of the seat would further reduce its Commons majority, and thus impede Brexit even more.

2019.07.05 Me on Brecon by-election

By that time, the already-resigned and on-her-way-out Theresa May, still hankering after her Remain-Lite BRINO and wanting to make delivering a proper Brexit as difficult as possible for Boris Johnson as her probable successor as PM, acquiesced in throwing the disgraced Tory candidate under a bus, thus handing the seat to the unashamedly Stop-Brexit “Liberal” “Democrats”, reducing his Commons majority by one more.

Let’s face it, the Party’s conduct of the election doesn’t look as though they were trying especially hard to retain it. . . . .

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PM Boris risks disappointing us – and not only on Brexit, either.

Eight key tests, of which delivering a proper Brexit on 31st October is only one, that will determine whether Boris Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister will be fulfilment or failure 

Note: Longer, updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 26th July 2019

Expectations matter. After the near-euphoria of the thirty-six hours or so that elapsed last week between Boris Johnson’s victory in the Tory leadership contest, and the completion of his dramatic and rightly stables-cleansing inaugural Cabinet reshuffle, the expectations being projected on to both him and his new administration are so varied as to be probably irreconcilable.

No matter how welcome were the long-overdue defenestrations of May’s Remain-Lite BRINO-loyalists such as Hunt, Mordaunt, Clark, Fox, Lidington, Gauke and the rest, and as much as the new Cabinet was initially hailed by Brexiteers as unashamedly and determinedly pro-Brexit – a Brexit on 31st October without fail, and on a WTO No-Deal basis if necessary – the actual picture is a lot less clear-cut.

Right at the start of the reshuffle, I suggested that a 3:1 ratio of Leavers to Remainers should be the benchmark to justify such a welcome beyond dispute.

2019.07.24 Me ALR on Boris Cabinet Remainer-Leaver ratio

That was arguably unrealistic: but what has actually transpired is nothing like it. 

True, Number Ten itself and the three “Great Offices of State”, namely Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, are occupied by Leavers, provided one accepts, in the last-named, the commitment of Sajid Javid to the Brexit cause, despite having voted Remain.

It’s difficult to overlook, though, that charged with No-Deal preparations, as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cabinet Office Minister, is the similarly loyal to May’s Remain-Lite BRINO Michael Gove: that  other Secretary of State positions have a slew of Remainers in themand there are some surprising, on the face of it, retentions, rehabilitations, and omissions.

For example, why has Amber Rudd, until very recently doyenne of the anti-Brexit Tory-Remainer Metropolitan-‘Liberal’ Elite, kept her Cabinet seat? Why has prominent Remainer Nicky Morgan been recalled to the Cabinet? Can we be confident their apparent acceptances of Brexit as a democratic necessity are any more than skin-deep expediency? Why is there no place for prominent Brexiteers with past Government experience, like Owen Paterson and David Davis?

And above all, why was Steve Baker given such a derisory job offer that he felt he had no option but to refuse it? This looks like a very bad mistake by Number Ten. A nominally pro-Brexit Government that could not find within it a position that Steve Baker felt able to accept – has it just made a serious error of judgement, or is another agenda is in play? Do the headline appointments mask a more ambivalent commitment reflected in the lower ranks?

It didn’t take committed Conservative Party activists very long to realise that something didn’t appear quite right, and to start questioning the rationale for so many Remainers and at best soft-Brexiteers, supporters of May’s deal, being in a new nominally determinedly pro-Brexit government.  

2019.05.25 Molly Giles Boris reshuffle

It’s possible, of course, that Boris and his formidable team headed by the mercurial Dominic Cummings and the experienced Eddie Lister are just boxing clever. The language deployed, and guarantees given, by Boris since his accession leave no scope for any Cabinet member to claim later that they weren’t aware, when agreeing to serve, of precisely what they were signing up to.

And, as far as those who were sacked or who resigned in advance are concerned, there’s nothing like neutering the opposition through splitting it, by keeping some in the tent while conspicuously leaving others out of it, to wonder whether their erstwhile colleagues were ever really on their side at all, or, if they were, whether they’ve now sacrificed their opposition for the sake of office. That, however, is a double-edged sword, because, as already appears to be happening, it can also encourage disloyalty among those retained and thoughts of defection among those dismissed.      

But a very possible explanation also is the canny realisation that, despite his emphatic victory among the party membership, Boris’ rating among Tory MPs is far less favourable, so that the wafer-thin House of Commons majority, plus outright opposition to No-Deal among many Tory MPs, means that keeping the reluctant, soft-Brexiteers on side via what would, to us, be their over-representation in Cabinet, is probably unavoidable.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson Meets With His New Cabinet

However, that factor, combined with the wafer-thin Commons majority, can’t but increase the danger that, Boris’ protestations of willingness to exit on WTO/No-Deal notwithstanding, we may end up with what is little more than a refreshed version of May’s vassal-state (non)-“Withdrawal” Agreement, with re-branded wording on the Northern Ireland backstop, but spun as something different. 

Which in turn raises doubts about a Boris-led government’s general direction of travel, apart from Brexit. For all his free-trade, free-market, tax-cutting rhetoric, the suspicion remains that Boris will be more in the One-Nation “Wet” tradition of ‘Liberal’-Conservatism, still very much alive and well in some of his Cabinet choices, than many of his supporters realise, and want.

In few areas is this more evident than in his repeated apparent willingness to pander to the fundamentally eco-totalitarian Green Agenda. He intoned the fashionable but false mantras about “tackling climate-change” and “producing Green jobs” in his speech outside Number Ten on returning from Buckingham Palace. He went even further in his statement to Parliament on Thursday 25 July, extolling and endorsing its recklessly officially uncosted, but estimated to cost at least £1 trillion and 1-2 per cent of GDP, commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, despite its having already been comprehensively debunked.

Make no mistake, Boris will govern as a cosmopolitan centrist, says The Daily Telegraph’s Allison Pearson. How much he can resist the demands of the SJW Continuity-Mayites is a hitherto unknown factor.  Remember, Boris’ big weakness is that he loves to be liked. He doesn’t appear to have Margaret Thatcher’s emotional resilience, that imperviousness to criticism and immunity from needing the constant approval of others which is vital in leadership when big, difficult, controversial, and probably unpopular, decisions have to be taken.

I’m especially unconvinced that, if it came to the crunch, he wouldn’t prioritise narrow party survival over upholding the national interest and even democracy itself. 

Despite being a Brexit-absolutist, I’m also a Boris-sceptic. Although he was infinitely preferable to his ultimate rival in the leadership contest, Jeremy Hunt, rightly portrayed as Theresa-In-Trousers, he wouldn’t have been my pick as either Tory Party leader or Prime Minister. The least worst option on the ballot paper isn’t necessarily the ideal choice.

So here are eight key tests by which we might judge whether Boris will satisfy, or disappoint us.

Will he ensure – come what may, including if necessary by proroguing Parliament, to prevent its 70%-plus Remainer majority stopping Brexit – that he takes us out of the EU on 31st October, on a WTO No-Deal if Brussels maintains its intransigence, and with Britain as thoroughly prepared for it as possible?

Will he take, or authorise Dominic Cummings to take, an axe to the higher reaches of the Whitehall Civil Service machine which has proved so unwilling to accept our decision to leave the EU, and so hostile to implementing it? As Douglas Carswell points out in this podcast, Brexit has exposed deep and fundamental flaws in Britain’s administrative state, and without tackling its homogeneously pro-EU, left-‘liberal’ groupthink and institutional atrophy, Boris will get little done.

Will he abrogate Britain’s accession to the UN Migration Compact, cynically signed by May largely under the radar in December 2018, and under which it effectively becomes illegal and a “hate-crime” to criticise mass immigration, which the Compact deems an inviolable human right? Because if he doesn’t, his pledge to reduce immigration and control it via an Australian-style points system is just so much hot air.

Will he instruct the new (Remain-voting) Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to unwind all the surrender to the EU of control over policy, rules and structures which govern the future of our Armed Forces which has been deceitfully and surreptitiously undertaken by May since the EU Referendum? Anyone in any doubt about what this means should listen to this Briefings for Brexit podcast from last November. 

Will he abandon the futile drive for expensive Green renewable energy, concentrate on developing alternative energy sources that promise reliability of supply at lower cost, and formally abandon the Government’s ill-informed, scientifically-illiterate and economically-damaging commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 of CO2, a colourless, odourless, invisible 0.04% trace gas essential to all plant life on Earth?

Will he commit to rolling back substantial parts of Theresa May’s obsessively politically-correct and divisive left-‘liberal’, SJW agenda, of which mandatory gender pay gap reporting, ethnicity pay disparity audits, and enabling people officially to change their gender in effect via box-ticking with no independent medical justification, are merely some of the more egregious examples? 

Will he guarantee to address the pressing issue of voter and electoral fraud, in particular the vulnerability of the lax postal-vote system to rampant abuse, as happened so recently in the Peterborough by-election, and Leftist objections to making ID at the polling booth mandatory in order to be able to vote?   

Will he promise to address urgent constitutional reform? In particular the position of the undemocratic and anti-democratic House of Lords, whose role in the Establishment-Elite’s drive to thwart, if not overturn, the popular mandate for Brexit has been widely criticised? Will he undertake to overhaul the corruption and cronyism inherent in the Honours system by which failed politicians ousted by the electorate can be rewarded and sustained in positions of power and influence? Will he end the racket whereby taxpayers are forced to fund the political activities of former Prime Ministers who, despite being rejected by voters, still want to remain active in public life?         

Boris comes to office carrying the burden of big expectations, not only about delivering Brexit, but also about re-setting the compass of Conservatism back towards a more traditional direction, after the abjectly Fabian-Blairite tribute-act it has become over its last three dismal decades.

To a certain extent, those expectations are ours, placed on his shoulders after the drift, despair and desperation of the wasted May years. But to a great extent also, they have been created by him. The responsibility to fulfil, and not fail, is his alone. But the trouble with engendering big expectations is that the disappointment and disillusion among those who have invested their hopes in you is all the greater when you do fail. The risks of Boris disappointing, on several fronts, are very, very real.

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Singing The Conservatives’ Euro-Blues: The Flawed Peterborough By-Election

Despite having been significantly disadvantaged by it, the Tories have been virtually silent about the credible allegations of electoral fraud surrounding the curious Peterborough by-election   

Note: Updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 12th June 2019

Do you remember the general tenor of media reaction after the European Parliament Elections just five weeks ago? Admittedly, the (now permanently mis-labelled) “Liberal”-“Democrats” did reasonably well in them: but despite coming a distant second on 19 per cent to The Brexit Party’s 30 per cent, the overwhelmingly-dominant media narrative in reporting the results was “Lib-Dem surge”, or even – stretching mathematics far beyond anything Archimedes might have envisaged – “the Lib Dems were the real winners”.

Euro-election final results 28-May-2019

Something similar was seen in the wake of Thursday 6th June’s Peterborough by-election, in which Labour managed, by the wafer-thin margin of 683 votes, to retain the seat, which had fallen vacant because of a successful Recall Petition by voters against its disgraced previous MP. The result has since been attacked as potentially fraudulent due to electoral fraud based on abuse of postal-voting, but more on that later.

Actual Peterborough result via Sky

From sections of the initial media coverage, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Labour had actually captured the seat, defying expectations, and against all the odds. “Labour shows Farage the exit”, rejoiced one Guardian commentator. “A major blow to Farage’s ambitions – the Brexit Party has a major problem”, burbled one report in the Daily Telegraph. “Nigel Farage’s swift exit is significant as Brexit Party bid fails”, exulted Sky News.

Less remarked upon, if at all, was the fact that the Brexit Party was formally launched only on 12th April 2019, which made coming from non-existence to within a whisker of winning a by-election and securing its first MP in a mere 8 weeks unprecedented. In comparison, the Labour Party took six years, from its formation in 1900 until 1906, to acquire its first MP.

Or that the Labour vote had collapsed from 48 per cent of the vote in 2017 to only 31 per cent, haemorrhaging 17 per cent in under two years. Or that the “Conservative” vote had also collapsed, suffering an even steeper 26 per cent decline, falling from 47 per cent to only 21 per cent between 2017 and 2019.

Those figures aren’t inconsistent with polling since the local elections in early May. The collapse in both Tory and Labour votes does look to be getting entrenched – when was the last time both “main” parties were regularly polling at around only 20%? The UK’s major political re-alignment that I highlighted as long ago last August is definitely under way, with the new divisions solidifying. A two-party system seems to be morphing into a four-party system, raising the prospect of coalitions being much more likely to secure House of Commons majorities.        

Also downplayed was the advantage Labour enjoyed from its long-standing voter database and historic voting records, and its more superior on-the-ground organisation. I suspect that once the Brexit Party is on an equal footing with the established parties in those areas, we will see the effects.

In fact, merely entering the Peterborough vote-shares into the Electoral Calculus predictor of Westminster seats shows the Brexit Party as the second largest party in Parliament, and on nearly six times as many seats as the Tories. So quite where the two “main” parties apparent complacency, one in unexpected victory and the other in significant defeat, was coming from, was a mystery.

Electoral Calculus HOC off actual result Peterborough by-elex 06-Jun-2019

It soon became apparent that the Peterborough result was an outlier in several respects. First, it had defied most psephological predictions.

Peterborough by-elex prediction Election Maps UK 05-Jun-2019

Second the size of the Labour vote looked an outlier against the general run of polling. In the 2016 EU Referendum, Peterborough voted 61:39 for Leave. The estimate of its vote, contained within that for the East of England region, in the EU Parliament elections on 23rd May showed the Brexit Party on 32 per cent against Labour’s 22 per cent. The differences from the YouGov poll of Westminster voting-intention taken on the same day look marked.

Peterborough by-elex vs nearest Westminster poll

It didn’t take long for indications to start emerging of where the reasons for the apparent anomaly might lie. The lights started flashing amber even before the count, when the unusually high proportion of the turnout – which at 48 per cent overall was itself unusually high for a by-election – accounted for by postal votes was revealed, namely no less than 39 per cent, double the national average, and about 50 per cent higher than the largest ratio of postal votes to overall turnout previously recorded. Also noted was the 69 per cent return rate for postal ballots issued, which again looked unusually high.

Commentators soon picked up that among Labour’s local campaign team was one Tariq Mahmood, a convicted vote-rigger, as well as the appointment by Jeremy Corbyn to his Party HQ staff of one Marsha-Jane Thompson, herself possessed of a criminal conviction for electoral fraud.

Separately, a row soon broke out about the newly-elected Labour MP Lisa Forbes’ record of anti-Semitic racism, to the extent that some Labour MPs were calling for her suspension even before she had taken up her seat.

Pressure mounted on the Electoral Commission to mount a formal investigation, Peterborough Council was forced to launch its own investigation after numerous complaints, and the Brexit Party has now formally demanded an investigation into the numerous allegations of vote-rigging

A comprehensive summary of all these events and their background can be read here.

Yet on this, intriguingly, the “Conservative” Party has hitherto been noticeably silent, until finally, leadership contender Jeremy Hunt conceded on Wednesday 26th June that the Party must take steps to combat electoral fraud.

Up till then, the Tories appeared to be virtually ignoring the mounting evidence of Labour’s potentially criminal electoral-fraud via postal-vote abuse. One might reasonably have expected them, if not to raise objections immediately, then at least to have been joining in the growing expressions of concern and suspicion. After all, their candidate was affected by it too.

Is it right to assume they’re relatively untroubled about it, either because they also hope to profit from it themselves in some areas, or because they’re content to tolerate it as long as it adversely affects mostly the Brexit Party, which is as big a threat to them as it is to Labour?

Or is it something else? Do they still retain the hope, even intention, to try and get Theresa May’s Remain-Lite, Brexit-in-name-only, “Withdrawal” Agreement” through the House of Commons using Labour votes, irrespective of who wins the leadership contest and thus becomes Prime Minister? And therefore don’t want to be instrumental, or even prominent, in having the Peterborough by-election annulled and re-run, which would almost certainly see a Brexit Party MP in Parliament?

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Representative Democracy has now run its course

From Burke, to Bercow: its decline and fall shows how, as a philosophy, representative democracy has run its course and needs to be replaced 

Note: Amended, longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 24th January 2019

It’s the justification MPs habitually use when ignoring or defying the clearly-expressed wishes of their constituents, and also their perennial fallback when challenged on it. Our Parliamentary system, they assert, follows the Burkean principle. We are here, they insist, not as delegates, but as representatives: not to follow your instructions, but to exercise our judgement on your behalf.

edmund burkeThe principle derives from the political theorist and MP Edmund Burke’s Address to the Electors of Bristol in 1774, and in particular the paragraph cited below.

An elected MP was not, Burke reminded them, a mere delegate who should blindly obey the instructions of his voters: but their representative, empowered by them through the very act of their sending him to Parliament, to exercise his – not their – judgement, using his brain and his conscience,  of what was in the best interests of the country.

“But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgement, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Yet only 20 years or so later, in his “Reflections on the Revolution in France”, Burke was criticising those who deferred to technocratic experts, or who looked abroad for inspiration from regarding everything in the constitution and government at home as illegitimate or usurped. Extolling the inherent virtue in common-sense values, he said of them: 

“they despise experience as the wisdom of unlettered men”          

MPs have deployed Burke’s initial, 1774, argument ever since. But does it remain valid in early 2019? Or has it run its course and become effectively redundant, sustained cynically now by a cohort of MPs increasingly distant from, and contemptuous of, their voters, as a self-affirming expedient?

When Burke delivered his address, Bristol had an electorate of roughly 5,000 out of a population of about 80,000. This small electorate was based on a very restricted franchise. Very few working men and non-owners of property were able to vote, and women were not allowed to vote at all. There were no political parties as we know them, and no manifestos. Politics was, in the words of constitutional historian Dr David Starkey “a matter for gentlemen and their immensely rich aristocratic patrons”.

estimated illiteracy, england, 1500-1900Illiteracy remained at approximately 40 per cent for males and approximately 60 per cent for females (remarkably, illiteracy actually increased in the last quarter of the 18th century), and education levels were relatively poor, compulsory mass education being still several decades into the future. Even for those with both the franchise, plus sufficient education and literacy to convey their views to their MP, communications were poor. The main rail line between Bristol and London was opened only between 1838 and 1841. Before that, the mail coach between Bristol and London took around 38 hours.

How, then, would it have been possible, practically, for there to be regular communication between Edmund Burke MP and even his very restricted electorate? Arguably, Burke’s philosophy of the relationship between an MP and his electors was the only one which was feasible in the circumstances of his time.

Contrast the situation now. The median constituency size is about 72,400 in England (albeit slightly smaller in the devolved nations) but with a universal adult franchise. We have mass education, plus an adult functional literacy rate of approximately 85 per cent, but whose definition excludes people who “can understand short straightforward texts on familiar topics accurately and independently, and obtain information from everyday sources”. The proportion of people able to communicate with their MP is therefore probably over 90 per cent.

We have multiple sources of information, and multiple platforms of  mass communication. Nine in every ten people had internet access in the home in 2018. There is, I would contend, no bar to being informed about what our MPs are doing, and equally no bar to their communicating with us. Indeed, many are assiduous users of e-communication in all its forms to do precisely that.

Any structural justification for the continued applicability of the Burkean principle of representation has therefore vanished.

Our political parties, although more organised, are also more centralised. More than ever before – though admittedly with some variation between parties – election candidates are chosen, not by local associations, but by Party HQs either giving them a limited “choice” between two or three centrally-approved ones on a centrally-controlled candidates’ list, or imposing them directly.

Party policy boards, by whichever name called, decide the policies, which the candidate is pretty much required to endorse. Dissent and independence of mind are not encouraged, and seldom rewarded. Patronage is ruthlessly exploited and the whipping system ruthlessly deployed to keep most members in line.

The resultant submission to conformity is compounded by too many of our representatives being virtually professional career politicians, devoid of any significant formative outside grounding. In relatively recent times, MPs who were not wholly or mainly reliant on their Parliamentary income, and who, to decide their beliefs, could draw on real-world experience – rather than an immediate post PPE degree stint as a party assistant, researcher and unsuccessful candidate prior to acquiring a safe seat, were less inclined to undue deference to the Party hierarchy.

Hand in hand with that has gone an increasing tendency to outsource more policy-making which would once have been MPs’ responsibility to debate and democratically determine, not merely to Civil Service officials and QUANGOs, but to unelected and unaccountable international or supranational bodies like the UN, EU, NGOs and other elements of the International Liberal Order.

the liberal international orderThe consequence is that we now have a cadre of politicians whose role, rather than representing their electorates to the Government and the Executive, has morphed more into one of representing the Government and the Executive to their electorates. Far from becoming representatives and not delegates, they have become spokesmen and not representatives.

The Parliamentary chicanery which has occurred since the 2016 EU Referendum was not the proximate cause of this – it had been building for many years – but it has both exacerbated it dramatically and exposed it to public awareness like never before. It’s worth reciting some of the basic facts.

At the May 2015 General Election, it’s now widely assumed, having promised to hold an EU referendum if elected, but confident the promise would have to be junked as the price of their preferred option of a second coalition with the Liberal-Democrats, Cameron’s ‘Conservatives’ won an absolute majority which they were not anticipating.

In June 2015, MPs voted by 544 votes to 53 to hold that referendum.

In the 2016 EU Referendum, and on best estimatesBritain voted to leave the European Union by 406 parliamentary constituencies to 242. It voted to leave the European Union by 263 voting areas to 119.  Conservative-held constituencies in 2016 voted to leave by 247 to 80. Labour-held constituencies in 2016 voted to leave by 148 to 84.

In contrast, among 2016 MPs, Remain was the preferred option by 400 to 248. Charting 2016 MPs’ declared voting intentions against the actual voting results emphasises the relative chasm between MPs and the voters they claim to be “representing”, which persists to this day.mps votes vs public votes eu ref 2016In February 2017, MPs voted by 498 votes to 114 to trigger Article 50.

At the 2017 General Election, approximately 85 per cent of the votes cast went to the two main parties both of whom pledged in their manifestos fully to implement the Referendum result.

Yet something like a 70 per cent majority of MPs is clearly now intent on either diluting Brexit to meaninglessness, reversing it by spuriously demanding another referendum or extending Article 50, or preferably just cancelling it altogether in flagrant disregard of the largest mandate ever delivered for one specific policy in British political history.

The current anti-democratic and constitution-threatening procedural subterfuges being assiduously prosecuted by the cross-party Parliamentary anti-Brexit Movement are too many and too current to recount in detail here and most readers will be familiar with them anyway.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how our MPs as a body can any longer plausibly claim to be “representing” either their individual electorates or the nation collectively, even on the most generous interpretation of the principles Burke enunciated. Whatever takes their place must reverse the trend of the last thirty years or so and return to more truly “representational” methods of public political engagement. That means, in my view, much more direct democracy, and in several forms.

Reform of candidate selection should be high on the list. The Tories’ notorious A-List of Metro-Cameroon Cuties to be imposed on unwilling constituencies has thankfully gone, and Labour’s dominance by hard-left Momentum seem to have done for All-Wimmin shortlists: but with the occasional exception, neither main party appears at all keen to open up their candidacy processes to a wider selection and thus make them, not only more transparent, but more representative of their local members’ views and concerns.

So the case for constituency Open Primaries, by which all the members or even the registered supporters of a party in it can choose their candidate, is strong. There have been too many instances, in all parties, of either centrally-favoured “rising stars”, or ministers dumped out of a marginal and desperately in need of a safe seat, being foisted on to constituencies against their will, to the detriment of a sound local candidate who knows the constituency and its concerns far better.

A proper Recall Mechanism, by which a minimum percentage of constituents can “recall” a MP to face re-election, is a priority. Momentum for one, unsurprisingly, accelerated after the 2009 expenses scandal, and intensified when several MPs were caught out having voted in debates on legislation, in the outcome of which they had a direct financial interest.

One of whom, co-incidentally, was one Richard Drax, who made several protesting interventions when a Recall Bill was finally debated, to the effect that MPs were all honourable men whose reputations might suffer were their constituents to read in the Press that they were the subject of a Recall Petition. Which, you might think, was precisely the point.

But it’s not only to deal with misconduct that a Recall Mechanism is required. Since the 2016 EU Referendum was held and even more so recently, in several Parliamentary constituencies, the anger of majority Leave voters with their, not only Remain-voting, but actively Brexit-blocking, MP is fuelling attempts at de-selection, which, under the present rules, is almost impossible.

That exacerbates the need for proper Recall. In both main parties, how many Remainer MPs allegedly “representing” solidly Leave-voting constituencies would persist in obstructing Brexit in defiance of their electorates, if a mere 5 or 10 per cent of their voters could trigger a Recall and force them to re-stand for election and possibly lose their seat?

MPs, of course, are dead against it. Tory MP Zac Goldsmith’s Bill presented in the 2010-2015 Parliament, to allow constituents to recall an errant MP to face re-election, was watered-down almost to the point of ineffectiveness. MPs decreed instead that only a committee made up of themselves was fit to decide whether one of their fellow-MPs had misbehaved sufficiently to have to account to his electorate. So far, astonishingly, none has been so judged.

More referenda are needed, both to counter the tendency of the elected to ignore the views of their electorates once elected, and to sustain and/or enhance voter engagement in politics. For national-level democratic participation, we must rely on a once-in-5-years cross-marking exercise, based on manifesto commitments and campaign promises which, in the present Parliament, approximately 70 per cent of MPs are ostentatiously refusing to honour. But when we can book a holiday, arrange life-insurance, or apply for a university course with a few mouse-clicks or screen-touches, why should this be?

That the Swiss, who via decentralistion, localisation & frequent referendums have the most say in their government, routinely come out as the nation having the most trust and confidence in their government, is no accident. We should learn from them.confidence in govt switz topRepresentative democracy, as a philosophy, has run its course – effectively killed off by the very MPs who cynically use it as justification or excuse for their blatantly anti-representational conduct.

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Sorry, Establishment-Elites: Populism isn’t going to just fade and go away

Holiday reading: “National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy”, by Matthew Goodwin and Roger Eatwell (Pelican Books, 2008) 

Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier on Friday 4th January 2019

Until comparatively recently – say, the last ten years or so – “populism” was a relatively neutral descriptive label, confined mainly to textbooks and dictionaries of political science.

Even my own well-thumbed copy of Roger Scruton’s Dictionary of Political Thought (3rd edition, 2007) discusses it primarily in the context of the Russian Narodnik movement and the late 19th century US Populist Party. In the 1950s, it was applied most frequently to the French Poujadistes, the union of small shopkeepers and artisans which campaigned against most forms of large-scale development and industrial modernisation. Even in 2007, Scruton alluded only briefly to the early stages of its current pejorative usage.

Since about 2013-2014, though, it’s been resurrected, to be deployed in a different way by the ruling – not only political but also media, corporatist, academic and cultural – Establishment-Elites who see their continued hegemony threatened by it, especially when, as with Brexit, Trump, and growing success by anti-EU parties in Europe, it produces electoral outcomes not to their liking.

“Populism” is now the anti-democratic, globalist, ‘Liberal’-‘Progressive’ Oligarchy’s preferred term of disparagement for the growing politics of pluralist mass democracy based on self-governing nation-statehood, one that rejects rule by unelected and unaccountable supranational technocracy.

gilets jaunes comp dec 2018

It’s about this movement that political scientists and academics Matthew Goodwin and Roger Eatwell have written in their new (late October 2018) book “National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy”, trying to explain its origins, its central tenets, and its prospects. It’s worth recalling, in passing, that Goodwin especially has elsewhere made a persuasive argument that Britain’s EU Referendum result, which so shocked the overwhelmingly pro-EU Establishment-Elite, had been “baked-in” for several years previously.     

Contrary to the assumptions of its contemptuously-dismissive opponents, the movement isn’t new. Goodwin and Eatwell show how its genesis pre-dates the 2007-08 financial crisis and the subsequent recession. However, they also argue convincingly that both events, and especially the globalist ‘Liberal’-‘Progressive’ Oligarchy’s policy-responses to them – hardship for those on low and middle incomes via austerity and greater job insecurity, but asset-value protection or even enhancement for the already wealthy via ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing – generated an increase in inequality and sense that the economic system was skewed in the Oligarchy’s favour, both of which significantly enlarged the political space for the movement to fill.

Nor is it, as its detractors lazily claim, a movement composed solely of old, white, men. In the USA 2016 Presidential election, not only did 53 per cent of white women voters vote for Trump, but 43 per cent of all women voters opted for Trump. Between 1988 and 2017, the percentage of French female first-time voters who voted for one or other Le Pen nearly quadrupled from 9 per cent to 32 per cent. Greece’s anti-EU Golden Dawn party drew significant support from the young who felt their prospects were deteriorating. Clearly, something other than the Liberal’-‘Progressive’ oligarchy’s lazy, clichéd, prejudices was, and is, at work.

Goodwin and Eatwell identify what they call The Four D’s – the historic shifts, the long-term trends which are a growing cause of concern for millions and which are driving the movement: and which, being structural, are unlikely to fade or dissipate, or be assuaged, in the near future.

First, Distrust – the way in which the elitist nature of ‘Liberal’-‘Progressive’ democracy, forever seeking to minimise the opportunities for meaningful participation in it by the masses, has promoted distrust of politicians and institutions on the part of millions who feel they no longer have a voice in the national discussion.

Second, Destruction – particularly the perception that culturally-‘liberal’ politicians, unaccountable supranational bureaucracies and global corporates are eroding, not only traditional communities, but also national identity and societal cohesion, especially via encouraging historically unprecedented rates of mass immigration, while politically-correct agendas strive to silence any expression of opposition.

Yet this isn’t channelled into racism or xenophobia, but into demands that immigration be controlled by democratic consent, that the pace of immigration be slowed, and crucially, that it be accompanied, not by non-judgemental, relativist, divisive, separatist multiculturalism, but by assimilation and integration. Notable in the chart below is how, on both sides of the Atlantic, people say that immigrants adopting the national language and sharing the national customs, values and traditions are far more important factors than their birth-nationality or ethnicity.   

imp of speaking national language

Third, Deprivation – the growing conviction of many, fuelled by rising inequalities of income and wealth, as well as the perception of cultural discrimination consciously practised against them by the ‘Liberal’-Elites, that they are losing out relative to others, and that the future for themselves and their children is not only diminished, but actually bleak.

future prospects for kids

Fourth, De-Alignment – the burgeoning gap, and therefore weakening bond, between rulers and ruled, between the traditional mainstream political parties and the people they purport (or even no longer bother even to pretend) to represent: manifesting itself in a much more fragmented, volatile and unpredictable politics.

Goodwin and Eatwell also show that, again giving the lie to the dismissive prejudices of its critics, the Populism movement is not anti-democratic. Its preference for properly representative democracy remains strong.percent believing in popular democracy

Rather, it opposes aspects of ‘Liberal’-‘Progressive’ democracy as it has evolved to date, and actually wants more democracy: more direct-democracy referendums and more-listening politicians who will devolve power to the people to exercise it democratically, instead of vesting it in what too often are unelected and unaccountable, bureaucratic and technocratic, economic and political elites.

Goodwin and Eatwell demonstrate, too, that neither is Populism “fascist”, as its belittlers and defamers claim, most notably near-hysterically in the aftermath of the Brexit and Trump victories and the strengthening electoral performance of anti-Establishment parties in Europe. The movement by and large does not seek to tear down failed institutions which turned anti-democratic and replace them with autocratic ones: but to repair them so that they once again serve the interests of those they are supposed to serve.populism vs fascism core themes

The authors argue, in my view correctly, that unless elitist ‘Liberal’-‘Progressivism’ acknowledges its shortcomings, it will fail to come to terms with the new Populism, and so will struggle to contain it. The omens are not good. That bastion of ‘Liberal’-Elitism, The Sunday Times, for example, has described it as one of most dangerous developments of modern times. Set against Nazi Fascism, Marxist-Leninist Communism and Islamist-Jihadism, that seems a curious way to describe a pleading by the denigrated and forgotten for the democratic settlement to recognise and accommodate their legitimate concerns more. 

Conversely, however, if can bring itself to dilute its self-exalting smugness and intolerance, and broaden its appeal by meeting the legitimate concerns of voters who do want radical action to roll back elite-driven agendas in areas like welfare-universalism, mass immigration, rising inequality and civil liberties, it may yet accommodate itself to it.

The former will mean Populism remaining outside the mainstream, but becoming ever more widespread while the ‘Liberal’-‘Progressive’ centrism shrinks. The latter will mean Populism becoming the mainstream as more of the present mainstream adapts to meet it, signs of which are already visible. Either way, it’s here to stay, and isn’t going away any time soon.

I bought Goodwin and Eatwell’s book immediately on publication, but only over the holiday period has it been possible to go through it more slowly, in depth. I’d have no hesitation in recommending that you do, too.

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