General Election 15 – What have we learned?

Some thoughts:

1. Labour and Lib-Dems won’t find it so funny any more when Alex Salmond makes the joke about panda bears and Tory MP’s. He only needs two more pandas in Edinburgh Zoo…

2. So, First Past the Post is a broken system that can no longer deliver its primary stated benefit of majority governments, eh?

3. 120 UKIP second places will come to be recognised as why Labour couldn’t win regardless of the Scotland catastrophe. They want someone they can recognise as a ‘their’ people.

4. Opinion Polls = 285 / Exit polls = 316 / Final results = 331 with 37% of the vote. So, yeah, the ‘shy Tory’ is still very much a thing!

5. Sturgeon’s enthusiasm was remarkable in telling the English how she much she wanted “progressive change” for them, and would work with Labour to [make] it happen. Lol.

6. A Tory gov’t taking a majority after five years of austerity must make us look positively alien in the capitals of europe; a loose cannon rolling across EUrope’s deck in high seas as 2017 approaches.

What is the purpose of the Labour party now all the money has gone? Who will take the opportunity and fill the void…

The Lib-Dems & Constitutional Reform

The Lib-Dems jumped in front of a bus when Richard Reeves was given the sack.
We might all disagree about the positioning of the Lib-Dems as a soft-right party (I have always been clear I thought the opportunity for the party was on the soft-left), however, at least it was a distinct brand.
What happened in the summer of 2012 was a catastrophic loss of nerve, choosing bland centrism with a collection of niche positions designed to chase the ~15% of natural liberals.

Britain is an adversarial political society, and FPTP discourages fracturing of political ideologies into niche sectional interests by requiring conglomeration within a broad church in order to succeed. We don’t need artificial barriers like 5% thresholds, the system itself penalises minority interests.
This in turn means that winning requires winning-big, across the geographic and ideological divide. so parties need to appeal to the common ground with broad brush policy making. If a party isn’t interested in winning power then the system crushes them.

Being utterly crushed is the natural consequence of precisely those niche positions that appeal only to the ~15%, the party actively rejected the rest of the electorate and were punished.
I am sad for the party as i rather hoped 2020 would be the time the Lib-Dems would dethrone Labour, but I demand that parties succeed within the system and that means playing the common ground (not the centre!!!) game.

Yes, we are now in the era of multi-party politics, but that does not mean we are in the era of multi-party government. The very dissolution of the binary electoral choice that gave 40+ percent vote shares in the past, now provides the incumbent parties with lots of fractured little victims to exploit as a result of the poor electoral knowledge their limited resource can afford. FPTP still works, if your objective is national governments elected on a manifesto mandate that can be weighed, judged, and pronounced upon.

The future is either navel-gazing or aggressive acquisition.

Labour & The Missing Money:

It is not an unreasonable argument to say that we should give more in taxation in order that government can do more good with it. But a party needs to put that in its manifesto, and the electorate needs to agree. Labours problem, as the party that would like to do more good, is that it hasn’t been able to win a mandate to tax us all some more. The message has always been we’ll take a little more from ‘other’ people, but not ‘you’. Continental consensual social democracies rest on the foundation of a greater collective responsibility which implicitly accepts state spending north of 40% of GDP. That does not exist here, and while its fine to hope otherwise, it seems a little strange to brand the rest of society as callous and immoral for not meeting ‘your’ values.

How much magic money can we invent, and do we get to magically un-invent the debt interest too? Debt interest is roughly £47b this year, up from £44b last year, and broadly the same every coming year we have a deficit north of 5%. That is much more than gets spent on defence (£35b), and more than spent on education (£44b), every single year. It is nearly half that amount spent on the great shiny shiny in labours sky; the NHS.

Bear in mind, this is how much we pay with historically low bond rates. What happens when the BoE is forced to raise rates with the return of inflation, and to halt the erosion of our savings culture? Or, when bond rates sky rocket when Greece finally gets squeezed out of the euro and the world panics over another euro meltdown? You thought that had gone away…

There was an excellent working paper from 2010 by the bank of international settlements looking at the debt trajectory of western nations. The Assumptions took into account the preelection debt reduction programme of all the main parties. Britain by 2040 was forecast to have a national debt of 400% of gdp, with debt interest repayment occupying over 25% of all government spending. This is explained by our declining demographic and technological advantages which gave our economy the breadth and depth to churn out ~3.5% growth year on year throughout the 20th century.

Then there is the small matter of Keynesian economics, recommending a surplus at the peak of the economic cycle, in order that the eventual downturn (with its impact on tax revenues), can be absorbed without massive service cuts of enormous deficit spending. But Gordon called the end of boom and bust, so no need to worry about the downturn, it was peak fun from here on in with the deficit sluice amped up to the Max. Oh wait…. We are far from being able to ignore the deficit!

Labour losing the vote of ordinary working people in Scotland and to UKIP is the reason why they lost the election, the polenta munching metropolitan master race with their hipster friends just can’t seem to connect. For that reason, much as I like MilliD, my money is on one Alan Johnson. Not to win 2020, but to stop the rot in the north.

Are Labour looking to sell something that a majority are not interested in, something that is perhaps now a niche interest? I’ll say this again: real parties seek to win on the common ground, they are interested in what is saleable, and they will promise to deliver it.

I appreciate that you may be a little bitter about this.

The Tories & Their Predisposition To Evil:

The media has been full of articles bemoaning the tribal nature of the Tories, and how essentially decent people were being duped into supporting their evil agenda. The presumption is that I might be slightly misguided, tempted to vote for the Tories, yet in ignorance of their many failings. That isn’t even close, I am not a Tory. Rather, I am generically right wing and want limited government. What does that mean?

For me, it means spending less than 40% of GDP, and not flooding day to day life with a million regulations ‘guiding’ me down the approved path of life. As a negative-liberty kind of kind of guy (pace Isaiah Berlin), I see a greater threat to liberty from government through its two primary tools (tax and law), than I do from being free to starve in the desert. You may disagree, that is your privilege. Orthogonally to the question left/right question, I also believe in:

1. An activist foreign policy, with the military means and the public backing to conduct the messy jobs in international relations. Not just another aid power like japan, or a soft power like Germany, occasionally someone needs to do the dirty work required of a UNSC member.

2. Parliamentary sovereignty, and the sovereignty of parliament (not the same thing). There is no such thing as fundamental rights, there is no tablet of stone with the writ of humanity inscribed, there are only things that society deems important and that are best enacted and protected in parliament. Likewise, I wish to see Parliament free to enact law as it deems fit as representative of the (British) people, and so reject the transfer of fundamental sovereignty elsewhere.

These are not strictly right-wing or Tory, but they are ideas that are most closely held by the right. I want spending at less than 40% of GDP, with more than 2.0% spent on Defence, less than 1% tithed to the EU, and do whatever good can be most sensibly achieved with the rest. Which of course includes public services and social benefits. Oh, and I want a bonfire of law and regulation, starting with the absurdity expressed by the need to transport Tolley’s Tax Guide in a wheelbarrow, and likewise the restrictions on public conduct.

While we are on the subject of my callous disregard for the lamentations of the afflicted and dispossessed, it’s worth making the point that I see this as a question of compound interest… or compound growth to be precise. There is research to suggest that other factors withstanding (making cross comparison between nations essentially futile), the smaller a government is the faster it will grow. Again, this is economics so nothing is hard and fast (barely deserving the title of ‘science’ in fact), but rough figures suggest that between spending levels of 35% of GDP and 50% of GDP every five percentage point increase in spending reduces annual growth by point five percentage points. Year on year, every year thereafter. Other research suggest that the optimal size of government to maximise growth is around 40% of GDP for a large open economy. An advanced western economy, facing relative technological and demographic decline, should not be spending more than 40% of GDP lest it do serious damage to the long-term growth rate that will preserve the standard of living we enjoy for our children too:

What this boils down to is the assumption that within 20 years my government spending 37.5% of GDP (with an average growth of 2.75%) will be spending in absolute terms a very similar amount to your government spending 42.5% of GDP (with an average growth of 2.25). The difference is that in your scenario the next twenty years sees more spending, where in mine every single year beyond that point for the rest of time sees higher spending. That means more benefits, more services, more Defence, and more money left in peoples pockets. It isn’t just government revenue that benefits, it is everyone, and economic growth has done a better job of lifting billions out of poverty than every other measure combined. In short; choosing not to elevate the act of moralising over the act of being moral.

I know exactly what I want.

The SNP and Foreign Policy:

If Britain is to use both its wealth (to fund a Defence capability), and its will to deploy it (for elective warfare), then it is important it has the absolute security at home that permits it engage the sum of its military capability in projecting military force into remote corners of the world.

This security is had by the following means:
1. A friendly region (europe) in which we remain a (pre-eminent) military power.
2. A network of military and civil alliances into which all parties have surety that co-signitories accept their responsibilities.
3. A geographic advantage of our island nation which means we need not fear neighbouring tanks rolling across the border on a Friday afternoon.
4. A Continuous At Sea Deterrent that means it matters not if our military capability is stuck in a landlocked desert on the far side of the world.

Unlike our continental neighbours, who remain unable to call upon all of these advantages, our Armed Forces are almost uniquely configured for power projection not territorial Defence: No massed tank divisions. No endless ranks of conscript infantry. No thousands of artillery pieces. Instead, we’ve blown our cash on the strategic enablers that us to project power at a distance, so although it looks rather weedy in top-trumps terms we can plan, initiate, insert, prosecute, and conclude a theater-level combined-arms operations wherever we are needed.
Moreover, we do not need to keep the bulk of it on these islands “just in case”. Because of these advantages, nukes included, we can spend up to 90% of our effort sustaining a combined-arms force in a decade long conflict at 10,000ft at the far end of the world, with the crippling fear of blitzkrieg.

There is no other nation on this earth besides the US that can do this, and it requires:
The Naval and Air force logistics tail to support this. The Air force C3 assets to control the battle space. The Army logistics tail to support this on the ground. The Carriers to kick the door in, and secure the the ground war thereafter. The Navy to sustain Strategic Lines Of Communication. The division level assets able to operate from beyond Northwood. This army would not be much use against the Third Soviet Shock Army in the Fulda Gap, but it is not expected to succeed in that.

In part, this risk is acceptable because Trident means no one would dare, so we can carry on doing the difficult jobs in international relations. That is why £2-3 billion per annum is justified.

What price did Sturgeon demand from Cameron to cripple Labour in England?

UKIP & The Dail Mail:

The big story of the election was not how much damage shy kippers would cause, but the raw percentage of society that remains modestly Tory and yet unable to say so. For all that the left wing complains how the Tory media moulds the febrile minds of the lumpen proletariat, it turns out left wing vitriol and bile dominates the wider media (rather than media outlets), and has pushed underground the normal expression of the values of millions. But no, its all the fault of Murdoch and the Daily Mail. I think not! Across the land, people ranted and gibbered on Facebook and twitter at the evil Tories and how they were starving the disabled to death, and no one noticed how many friends and acquaintances stayed silent. So, this ends up not being a UKIP story at all, possibly because they are outcasts on the margins of society already, and therefore have little to lose by saying so.

UKIP’s future lies in the northern urban centres, will Carswell jell with that crowd?

The Greens & EUrope:

An odd choice of topic? Not really, its about the type of society the Greens are offering Britain.

As Isaiah Berlin noted, there must be a dividing line between individual liberty and public authority and that it is a matter for debate, within society, as to where that line should be drawn.

English Common Law with its roots in the concept of Natural Law has led to a presumption of negative liberty; I am free to do anything that which is not specifically proscribed by the law. Rights are defined as being against interference by the sovereign in the liberty of individual on matters of religion, speech, press, assembly, and free markets.

Continental Civil Law with its closer association with Legal Positivism has led to a presumption of positive liberty. It is my right, as codified in the system of laws, to be able to act in this manner. Rights are defined as things you are allowed to do by the sovereign such as freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly. You are enabled to do these things.

Thus can we understand that British popular lack of deference to the state is not merely a function of conditioning, as some imagine has already been experienced by our continental neighbours, rather it is a direct result of a particular understanding of where the divide should be between individual liberty and enabling supervision.

I don’t live in a continental consensual social democracy, and nor do I want it. I like our adversarial political system, and I prefer our market economy to Rhine Capitalism, French Dirigisme, or Nordic Collectivism.

Green enthusiasm for an ‘organising’ state is a niche preoccupation in this country.

In conclusion:

Welcome to the jungle!

Update 2015.05.17 – Jon Cruddas in the Guardian on labour’s travails

Update 2015.05.18 – You’re fighting on [my] ground now, Mwuhahaha!

Addendum 2015.07.26 – The collapse of Scottish Labour was but one-third of the total of Labour’s catastrophe. In the words of Eddie George; the winner of GE2010 was going to have to make such deep cuts to public spending that they would be out of power for a generation. Getting at least half of their target seats (~60) would have given them a parliamentary majority:
Result = 232
Hope to Keep from the SNP = 35
Hope to take elsewhere = 70
Total in fantasy land = 337
There was nothing unachievable about this in Summer 2010, and it should have been totally within the grasp of any half competent Labour Party with a term out of office to whet their appetite.

2 responses to “General Election 15 – What have we learned?

  1. if I were you I would have waited before posting. Nothing added to the sum of human wisdom. And if you think a wafer thin majority that made John Major’s crippled administration look positively solid justify his first past the post, then we will have to agree to disagree

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