Monthly Archives: May 2019

The Strange Death of Tory England

Nigel Farage, Brexiti PartyWell, not actually “Tory” but I wanted the headline to line up with George Dangerfield’s 1935 classic The Strange Death of Liberal EnglandDangerfield took a close look at the political chaos which engulfed England just prior to the beginning of WWI when, he argues, the spirit of progressivism was largely eliminated from English politics. Essentially, the gentry progressivism which had dominanted both the Liberal and Conservative parties since Victoria’s day was crushed between the class politics of the Labour Party, the intractable problem of Ireland (specifically Ulster) and the demands of the Suffragettes. The subsequent mass murder of the British Officer class in the trenches of France meant that there was very little left of the spirit of liberal progressivism by the end of the war.

In a few hours we will find out just how well Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party have done in the European elections. Given that the party was only launched six weeks ago, anything over 20% of the vote will be astonishing but the bookmakers and pollsters are seeing numbers north of 30%. Farange is being seen as the most significant English politician of his generation.

The resignation of Theresa May because of her failure to get a “Brexit deal” no matter how lame through the House of Commons has opened up the Prime Ministership and the leadership of the Conservative Party. The party itself is significantly split between Remain leaning, establishment MPs and Leave supporting Conservative Party members. It seems clear that were it left up to the Conservatives in Westminster there would be no Brexit at all. The country may have other ideas.

Across the aisle, the Labour Party is lurching off in all directions. It is pretty much impossible to get a straight answer from Corbyn as to what the Party’s position is on Brexit. I am reminded of MacKenzie King’s marvellous circumlocution, “Conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription.” Corbyn’s problem is that the more lumpen of his supporters, particularly outside London, are full-throated in their support of Brexit while gentry Labourites cannot imagine who let these dreadful people into the party. Corbyn’s position is further complicated by the rise of a Jacobian ultra faction in the form of Momentum demanding a clear “Remain” stance or, at the very worse, a Second Referendum.

The great Brexit wars in England are as much cultural as they are political. Elites, the media, the academy and some sections of the business community are fervent Remainers as much for social signalling reasons as for any political analysis of the Remain position. Supporting Remain is simply what “smart” people do and who does not want to be smart?

Brexit supporters are more about downmarket ideas like “votes matter” and “politicians should do what they promised to do”. They are immune to the elite argument that the Referendum voters had no idea that Brexit meant leaving Europe or that Brexit supporter’s votes should be discounted because they are all old, white, racists and other clever arguments which make sense in BBC studios if nowhere else.

“Liberal England” died because its political class, smug in its sense of moral and intellectual superiority, could not imagine that the Labour movement, much less the gels prattling on about “votes for women” were even slightly serious threats the liberal, progressive, established order. Within a decade that order was swept away by war and radical political reform.

“Tory England” by which I mean the upper levels of the Conservative Party, the media, the academy and much of the non-Momentum Labour Party is walking towards the same fate. The luvies were quite right to understand the Brexit Referendum vote as a vote against uncontrolled immigration, political correctness and political hypocrisy. But their reaction which was to dismiss Brexit voters as unworthy of the new, enlightened, modern England was a huge, strategic error. That error was compounded by the House of Commons being unwilling to actually reach agreement on a deal to leave the EU.

All of which has given Mr. Farage and the Brexit Party an unprecedented chance to remake the politics of England. First, by providing a measure of the anti-EU, anti-Westminster sentiment in England. A rock hard 20% would be destabilizing, but if the Brexit Party manages 30% or better, Farange becomes the effective kingmaker of the Conservative Party.

The Brexit Party currently does not have any seats in the House of Commons (though that may change). What it does have is a well oiled, motivated, mass organization. How that organization is deployed in the next General Election – which could be coming up very quickly as Labour has promised to welcome the incoming Conservative leader with a no-confidence vote – is very likely to determine which party attains government and which leader becomes Prime Minister.

There are, perhaps, fifty seats in England that the Brexit Party could win outright in a General Election. But there are several hundred more where Conservative or Labour Remain supporting MPs would be vunerable to defeat if the Brexit Party ran a candidate. And there are many seats where Brexit supporting MPs of both parties would be very grateful if the Brexit Party refrained from running.

The current Parliament has refused to implement the clear results of the Brexit Referendum despite have been elected in a General Election to do juist that. For Brexit supporters the tactical defeat of Remainers – either in straight up contests or by running or declining to run spoiler candidates – is Job #1. Farage understands this. The question is which of the Conservative leadership candidates is bright enough to realize that Farage and the Brexit Party are the key to the survival of the Tories in England?

Let’s first see how big a noise the Brexit Party and Farage make in a few hours.

UPDATE: Winner? Obviously Nigel Farage and the Brexit party with 31.7% of the vote and on track to take a minimum of 21 of the MEP positions. Second place to the Lib Dems who provided a refuge for all those decent people who were simply appalled at that dreadful Farage chap and worried about their ability to reach their summer homes in Tuscany. (Greens picked up 3 seats for much the same reason.)

Biggest loser? Right now the Conservatives are running at 9.2% of the vote for 2 MEP positions. Total disaster. But Labour did not do all that much better getting a mere 13.9% of the vote and going down to 7 MEP positions. Where Labour was really beaten up was in London where the metro elite defected in droves to the Lib Dems.

There will be more results coming in but at this point, it is safe to say that neither Labour nor the Tories have much to look forward to in British politics if they stay with the politics of flannel mouth on Brexit. There is much commentary about how the “Remain” vote Lib Dem+Labour+Green was larger than the Brexit vote but in the coming general election run on first past the post, those percentages will be uninteresting.

As I said, the question is whether or not the new Tory leader can cut a deal with Farage to ensure that Leave Conservatives have a clear run at their seats. Which means that leader has to be commited to real Brexit.

If the Conservatives elect another squish leader, the Brexit Party has nothing to lose running strong candidates in close-fought constituencies and hoping i) that rank and file Tory supporters will vote Brexit, ii) that the Lib-Dems, Labour and the Greens will hoplessly split the Remain vote.

A serious Tory leader will have already been on the phone to Farage who is, right now, and for the next few months, the most powerful person in British politics.

 

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The Politics of Climate Change

The Labour Party in Australia was widely touted as the sure-fire winner in the recent Australian election. One of its key policy position was a renewed commitment to fighting “climate change”. To the Australian media, polling and establishments complete astonishment, Labour lost.

There are multiple explanations for the loss but running with “doing something about climate change” as the central theme of a campaign figures prominantly. Australia is a resource rich, sparsely populated country and energy and mining issues are real pocketbook issues for many Australians. Labour’s climate change policies were seen as very hard on extractive industries and as, potentially, raising energy prices a lot.

The climate change issue in Australia was not fought on a skeptics vs. believers basis so far as I can make out. The Coalition – at least most of it – seemed to accept that the science was settled (big mistake in my view) and that climate change was real and that it needed to be addressed. But the Coalition was clear that it would not cripple the Australian economy or Australian consumers with measures which were very unlikely to make any difference at all to temperature now or in the future. Labour, on the other hand, stressed the urgency of “doing something” about climate change.

I suspect this divide between people who think “doing something” about climate change (no matter how futile) and people who do not accept the urgency of dealing with something they really don’t believe in will inform politics in the West for the next few years. Most particularly, it will inform the next Canadian federal election.

The Liberal Party of Canada has been going all in on its “tax on carbon pollution” (a fine bit of wordsmithing managing to attach “carbon” to “pollution”). Led by the remarkably scolding Catherine McKenna, the Libs seem to think that purporting to “do something” about climate change is a vote winner. So McKenna tours the country speaking to uncritical school children and assorted environmentalists about how important having a “carbon tax” is. The Liberals tax will save the planet, ensure sea level rise stops (easy because sea level is not actually rising), save the Arctic ice cap (already saving itself, thank you), keep polar bears from extinction (also easy because virtually all polar bear populations are growing) and reduce or eliminate climate change “caused” weather events. Plus, Canada will honour its Paris Accord commitments (we won’t) and serve as a beacon to lesser nations like China and India in their efforts to combat climate change (as if).

The Liberals think that the fact that a carbon dioxide tax in Canada will have a rounding error effect on worldwide emissions and no detectable effect on world temperature does not matter politically. What matters politically is that the Liberals believe that there is a large constituency out there which urgently wants to “do something”.

The NDP is fully on board and, of course, the Greens have been banging the climate change drum forever. Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives seem to be on the fence. Like the Coalition in Australia, the Conservatives endorse the “climate change is a problem” line and very few are willing to challenge the underlying science or economics for fear of being branded uncool “climate change deniers”. But the Conservatives seem to be, prudently in my view, dragging their feet on “doing something” about CO2.

Political virtue signalling on the climate file is the easy part. All that is really required is the abandonment of any sort of scientific judgement (easy when you are told that all the scientists agree that climate change is real and primarily human caused) and policy skepticism (we don’t need a cost benefit analysis, this is an emergency!). The hard part occurs when you try to “do something”. Because doing something means that people are going to see their expenses rise without actually seeing (in any tangible way) any actual benefit. In fact, as Ontario’s wonderfully disastrous adventure in wind energy demonstrated, tax dollars can be wasted and consumer prices increased all without making any difference at all to the climate.

Scheer could have the climate change issue nailed if he was willing to set a basic standard for any program designed to address climate change. The standard would be that such projects need to be fully costed and their benefits fully enumerated. Scheer can take climate change “seriously” by demanding that any attempt to address climate change have a provable effect on climate change. How much will a given program reduce CO2 emissions and how will such a reduction in emissions in Canada effect world average temperature. That standard would appeal to those of us who are skeptical about the science. But it should also appeal to people who completely buy the science and really believe there is a climate emergency.

The Liberals, NDP and Greens will be running on the “do something” ticket. The Conservatives have the option of running on the “do something effective” platform. Setting a minimum price for carbon dioxide emissions, in theory, should reduce those emissions in Canada. But will that reduction, in Canada and only in Canada, be enough to do anything at all about climate change? That’s a real question and one the Liberals have, so far, refused to answer.

 

 

The Climate Catechism

Our Minister of the Environment, when she is not touting science advice from entertainer Bill Nye, has taken it upon herself to introduce a motion in the House of Commons which affirms the articles of the climate alarm faith.

  • That the House recognize that:
  • (a) climate change is a real and urgent crisis, driven by human activity, that impacts the environment, biodiversity, Canadians’ health, and the Canadian economy;
  • (b) Canadians are feeling the impacts of climate change today, from flooding, wildfires, heat waves and other extreme weather events which are projected to intensify in the future;
  • (c) climate change impacts communities across Canada, with coastal, northern and Indigenous communities particularly vulnerable to its effects; and
  • (d) action to support clean growth and meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all parts of the economy are necessary to ensure a safer, healthier, cleaner and more prosperous future for our children and grandchildren;
  • and, therefore, that the House declare that Canada is in a national climate emergency which requires, as a response, that Canada commit to meeting its national emissions target under the Paris Agreement and to making deeper reductions in line with the Agreement’s objective of holding global warming below two degrees Celsius and pursuing efforts to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This is a religious rather than political (much less scientific) document. It is framed in such a way as to make voting against the motion an act of heresy rather than a policy disagreement.

climate change is a real and urgent crisis, driven by human activity” is the equivalent of the ringing declaration of faith embodied in the Nicene Creed’s opening,

“We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.”

If you doubt that, if you cannot fully affirm that, you will have a very hard time being a Christian. So it is with Climate Barbie’s attestation of climate change faith.

Which is the challenge for Conservatives. Many, if not all, of the Conservative MPs will have legitimate doubts about elements of this motion, but dare they vote against it given that it embodies the fundamental doctrine that “climate change is a real and urgent crisis”? Can they go back to their constituencies accused of apostasy? Of denying the life-defining reality of climate change?

What McKenna and the Liberals are trying to do is elevate the truth of climate change above questions of policy much less science. Either you are a righteous person who accepts the truth of a national climate crisis or you are an evil climate denier, heathen and all round no-goodnick.

The sad fact is that, while there will be Conservative MPs willing to have the courage of their doubts, I suspect the vast majority will opt for the quiet life and give Climate Barbie their vote.

Henry IV of France is reported to have said, “Paris is worth a Mass.” I fear that even the more intelligent Conservatives, rather than fight the Liberals and their tame media, will make a similar calculation and affirm the cultish nonsense McKenna is peddling.

Sad.

 

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