Thursday, 22 December 2011

Does financial responsibility imply fiscal conservatism?

As policy-makers search for ways of sorting out western economies the term 'fiscal conservatism' has gained currency as a preferred synonym for financial responsibility; obviously by Conservatives themselves, but more surprisingly by many self-identifying progressives too.

While all sides agree that financial responsibility is a pre-requisite for good government there is less agreement about what this means in practise exactly and whether an economically right-wing approach is actually desirable for the economy.

Financial responsibility translates on the right as efficiency and plans to reduce state intervention and regulation, while on the left it means an effective policy on growth and stability with state welfare systems at it's heart.

For some, nostalgic for the boom years of the mid-1980s under Reagan and Thatcher, lower income taxes and axing wasteful policy totems are the incentive for investment and self-betterment. For others, nostalgic for the ka-boom years of the early and late-1980s under the same leaders, unemployment spikes, industrial strikes and the devastation done to state-dependent social infrastructure are the horrors they define themself in opposition to.

According to the IPPR's Adam Lent et al in their discussion paper, Labour faces a quandary, however, as uniform opposition to every spending cut allied to a determination to deficit reduction makes their aspiration for social justice through expansion of the welfare state incredible. The left's aim to 'protect living standards' therefore equates to their espousal of an ideological reversal.

Betrayal, you hear the cry!

But the battle passed its' boiling point when the public largely accepted the need for at least some austerity - whither the public, hence the politicians.

Co-author Hopi Sen picks up a selection of Labourite responses, most notably (and predictably) from Blue Labour's John Wilson - in which he self-conciously echoes Kinnockite mantra to specifically support the idea that "balanced budgets are a precondition for political radicalism."

Meanwhile, although several specific problems are quickly identified with the doctrinaire prescriptions these fresh converts deduced from their newly favoured ideological nostrums, the partisan spectacle of claims that "there is nothing right wing about fiscal conservatism" are almost too bizarre to be true!

So let's understand what we're talking about: fiscal conservatism means taxing less and spending less, or vice versa. Either way it means shrinking the state and shrinking state deficits, as one prong of conservative economic policy (which, we shouldn't forget, is designed to create a mutually-supportive relationship with conservative social policy).

Within that stricture variations between libertarians, supply-siders and deficit hawks can be found: libertarians profess a wish to 'starve the beast' of taxes as a form of crash diet for state spending; supply-siders argue for tax cuts as an economic stimulus which pays for itself; deficit hawks see spending cuts and tax rises as the best way to reduce deficits.

Yet this would hardly be of any interest if it weren't that the shift towards fiscal conservatism wasn't also a shift away from an opposing perspective.

The almost universal consensus which has existed since the depression of the 1930's that 'Keynesian' anti-cyclical deficit spending (ie on economic stabilisers and strategic infrastructure) is the way to boost growth is breaking down, while a similar consensus developed in the 1980s that stability could be ensured by gaining greater control over monetary policy has similarly been under attack.

Governments habitually integrate into their rhetoric some degree of supply-side reforms and Keynesian stimulus, offset by an undercurrent of raging war between the deficit hawks and doves according to conditions, while the economic libertarians tend to attach themselves to the supply-siders just as social democrats do to their Keynesian confreres in the hope of exerting a stronger influence. Their problem is that with huge monetary stimulus provided by recent tax-payer funded bailouts and quantative easing on top of already seemingly permanent deficits monetary policy tools have been largely exhausted thereby pushing the political focus back towards fiscal policy.

For LibDems traversing this policy challenge the shift has been painful. Not only did it mean forming a coalition with bitter rivals, but it meant trying to justify the change in approach. Though for me change provides the necessary counterpoint to the status quo of conservatism, the tenor of general opinion more accustomed to avoiding such paradoxes for the sake of maintaining perceptions of reassuring clarity was enough to create significant resistance at the polls.

Clegg and Cable have had their difficulties in defending the thrust of this new direction, but in one major factor they've proved their liberal credentials by rejecting outdated dogma irrelevant to the current needs.

Debts ballooned beyond the point of sustainability as conservative monetary policy allied to liberal fiscal policy under the delusion that unending growth had banished concern about stability, so as monetary policy was loosened by force in the face of the crisis fiscal policy required tightening to keep a handle on the deficit and prevent recession turning into depression: to be financially responsible did imply urgency for fiscal conservatism, but it certainly doesn't imply any necessity all other things being equal - it is merely one legitimate policy response useful under specific conditions.

All of which leads to the unavoidable conclusion that in their haste to remain electorally relevant Labour is now making the case for the LibDems. Remembering the overt tactic to demonise LibDem leaders, calling them a 'human shield' (among less glamorous epithets), this makes Ed Miliband's position increasing untenable - at least in moral terms!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Labour's shifting sands - from general election to general strike

Since the 2010 General Election delivered its' stunning no-result, commentators and strategists alike have been struggling to cope with the change this has wrought on British politics.

The outright dismay seen among LibDems at PM Cameron's schoolboy confusion between negotiating tactics and demands backed by a less-than-cast-iron veto is merely the latest episode of the reality saga - anti-europeans can continue to crow before the dawn of a closer Euro-state they perversely helped instigate, blind to the fact they will be left behind, weaker and more isolated as the economic storms rage about us.

But the main story remains as yet undisturbed - how is Labour coping with the fact of coalition?

In hindsight the seeds of this question were sown when Brown replaced Blair in an uncontested ballot to hammer the final nail in the coffin of 'big tent' politics and destroy the 'New Labour' coalition. Part-strategy, part-methodology, Blair's 'big tent' combined with his 'big conversation' to include dissenters and win votes - quite literally this helped the vibrant Blair reach the parts stale Brown couldn't.

So when Cameron and Clegg hatched the Conservative-LibDem coalition after Brown attempted to dictate terms to the junior party it was clear Labour's subsequent leadership run-off would need a real contest and a real debate. Instead, what the public got was the reassertion of the internal status quo distracted by sibling rivalry, as the real powers behind the party took their revenge, by fixing the nominations to purge the shadow cabinet of those they denounced as 'Blairites'.

During this period of the parliament the trade union-led opposition to cuts verged on extreme ideology, completely ignoring Labour's earlier 'Darling Plan' as the party turned inwards during the process. Even Roy Hattersley was quoted at the time criticising that "Too much time has been spent fighting the battles of the past and talking about the cuts."

Yet it wasn't until the attempted 'general strike' the day after Osborne's Pre-Budget Report this Autumn that commentators started to wake up to the fact Labour had sprung the political trap they'd set and had come away boasting a "tattered reputation for economic competence."

Labour's populist rhetoric on economic strategy has also run parallel with their stance towards LibDems. Ed Miliband effectively won the leadership as the figure most able to 'transcend the old factionalism', yet he did so by mutely echoing the unionist outrage at the new coalition occupying Downing Street and stating himself to be 'appalled by the Lib Dem surrender to the Tories', going so far as to state "They are a disgrace to the traditions of liberalism."

While he was correct insofar as liberals are a notoriously self-critical bunch and it was a simple task to play for sympathy along those lines, calling for members and ministers alike to jump ship and defect for the sake of progressivism, it was shocking for him to issue judgement on those terms considering he professes to believe in the fraternity of democratic socialism and he had only recently disposed of his own brother. Judge thyself, neighbour.

Such inconsistency was always liable to be unsustainable, and so it proved when opinion polls began solidifying showing Labour would require LibDem support in the event of a fresh election to hold a majority. Miliband's outright opposition began to be tempered by this reality, and rather than obsinate refusal to cooperate with LibDems because of apparent policy betrayals he conceded explorations of a future LabLib coalition, personalising his attacks and stating his demand for the resignation of Nick Clegg before a potential deal with LibDems in any future hung parliament.

This first shift in Miliband strategy was balanced by elevating Ed Balls to his shadow cabinet in order to press the argument that the coalition government was weak on economic growth because the coalition was dominated by 'ideological' voices determined to prosecute a policy of austerity and 'starve the beast' of state. But while the Eurozone crisis continued to grow so the threat of spreading contagion undercut internal Labour consensus as the spectre of the 'Darling Plan' returned to haunt them.

Now, with Europe dominating the meta-debate on the economy so a new shift in attitude towards the LibDems is becoming apparent as prominent figures see an opportunity to drive a wedge between Clegg-the-negotiator and Cameron-the-vetoer.

Seen in this light Douglas Alexander's 'genuine offer' to cooperate with LibDems represents a coded message that the balance of debate within Labour has moved away from Balls' political opportunism allied to trade union intransigence. The shadow Foreign Secretary's argument that "the public will reward politicians who show serious statesmanship, not shrill showmanship in the face of economic events" stakes his unspoken claim as a potential alternate leader, and Ed Miliband's appropriation of his line that "Cameron walked out having prevented nothing from happening and having failed to secure any of his demands; that is not called a veto - that is called defeat" is the perfect demonstration of who is really scripting those soundbites made at the despatch box.

Indeed, with the Labour leader's popularity among grassroots members collapsing since July due primarily to his position on the strikes and his tenure in the job increasingly being marred by his fundamental errors at a strategic level, questions are being openly raised about Ed Miliband's ability to take Labour through to 2015 and the next General Election - not least by brother David's comments that he may make another leadership bid to keep the rumour mill churning (albeit only in his home region), or from descriptions of his 'woeful performance' when offered an open goal at PMQs on Europe - from supposedly friendly sources!

Most jarring in Ed Miliband's lexicon is his insistence that his opposition "won't take lectures" on economics because he doesn't like who's giving them. It indicates the truthfulness of less-friendly reports that Miliband is overreliant on his shadow Chancellor: "Ed Balls is too stubborn or too vain to realise his strategy isn't working... The Labour Party is being sacrificed on the altar of his vanity." So say 'internal sources'.

Labour's underlying problem, however, is the longstanding division between their heartlands and their headlands - between voters who are predominantly northern and working-class and candidates who are predominantly southern metropolitan intelligensia. This tension is perfectly highlighted by the two siblings, progeny of Jewish emigre and Marxist theorist Ralph Miliband, and representatives for the relatively deprived and insular areas of Doncaster North and South Shields.

While these areas typify the still raw legacy of 80s Thatcherite social conflict the oft-quipped veritas that such  constituencies would elect a donkey if it wore a rosette of the right colour remain true, although so too does the sad fate of 'lions led by donkeys' into the brutal hailstorm of political debate.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Striking for justice?

After two days of political spectacle, what have we learnt?

Well, there's a number of things which are being said and several things which should be said in response, so if you're not sick of reading about it already, here's my take.

The strikes were not a demonstration of opposition to public sector pension cuts - the important facts are that strike votes were taken months ago before the first pension deal was offered and the strike occurred while discussions are still ongoing. In reality the strike was timed to coincide with the Chancellor's autumn PBR, and was designed as a political tool to express more general opposition to the coalition's austerity programme which George Osborne laid out in his statement to the House of Commons.

2m people think the country didn't vote for the coalition - in an electoral system under FPTP nobody votes for a coalition, yet it is certainly true that more people voted for the coalition parties than the opposition parties. The main question falls on whether LibDem supporters voted for austerity, but it would also be fair to ask whether Labour supporters voted for the disruption their backers have instigated when turnout among trade union members on the subject also suggested strong divisions. Polling bears out scepticism towards striking, indicating the political motive has overriden the economic motive.

The private sector debate does influence the public sector debate - while private sector workers have traded job security and benefits such as employer pension schemes for higher pay, public sector workers have traded higher pay for security and benefits. Equalising the status of one with the other sounds wonderful in theory, but the reality is that the conditions of each have created a divergent dynamic, and their respective status is already balanced: pension and benefit cuts for those in the public sector are being matched by pay cuts and increased job insecurity in private companies.

In a democracy you deserve the government you get - public sector workers have fooled themselves into the assumption that Government promises are worth anything more than promises made by parties in opposition: governments change and policies change with them, conditions change and parties adapt too. We know that state income has always been treated like a political slush fund to favour the latest interest group, and pensions are no different. If you make a demand for a promise which you know can't be kept, it makes no sense for you to then complain after those willing to tell you that it can find out that, actually, it can't.

The state pension has been under pressure since it was first conceived. While the bods in Downing Street sold us on their moral missions, those clever beancounters over at the Treasury did not concede to introduce it out of any moral compunction, but because they saw an ability to recycle cash and increase the nation's credit-worthiness to enable increased spending across the board according the the standard Keynesian model.

This model has broken down. It did so because where the additional spending could previously be justified on economic grounds to 'get things moving again' during declines, it began to be used during periods of relative economic health under Gordon Brown's Chancellorship from 1999, and increasingly so as he angled to become PM after 2003, thereby blunting any effect during the following downturn as the totals became unsustainable.

Keynesian economics uses the term 'anti-cyclical deficit spending' for a reason, it means spending on a rainy day and infers saving for it.

So if you haven't saved for it, there's nothing in the kitty when you need it.

Which is just as Liam Byrne explained.

While Callaghan was wrong in principle when he stated "it is no longer possible to spend our way out of recession" he was however correct in practice that this depends on your national credit rating - so we should be very wary about managing interest repayments by breaking the other of Brown's rules, to borrow only to invest.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Updating Berlin's 'Two Concepts of Liberty'

This is written partly in response to Giles Fraser's questions "What is liberalism?" and "What is 'good' freedom?"


When in 1958 liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin set out his epoch-defining argument of a dialectic between 'Positive Liberty' and 'Negative Liberty' he laid the theoretical foundations for the rebirth of liberal politics in the post-war period.

This perfectly-balanced rational understanding of human motivations spurred the regrowth of Britain's Liberal Party and consigned traditional duopolistic confrontation to irrelevance.

In fact, it was so successful that it broke the ideological deadlock between conservatism and socialism which  had gradually brought Britain and the world to its' knees, through christian democracy and social democracy which threatened to, and offered the only effective route out of the seemingly inevitable social strife and economic decline.

The detente of the mid-1970s transformed the political arena when Margaret Thatcher successfully seized control of right-wing debate by replacing 'conservatism' with 'negative liberty'. Labour's subsequent internal revolution during the mid-1980s then enabled Neil Kinnock to replace his own party's 'socialism' with 'positive liberty', symbolically completed by Blair's Damascene 'Clause IV moment'.

For a while the fate of liberal politics hung in the balance as the swings between right and left appeared to be reasserting the oppositional style of debate, reflected by the mirror images of Thatcher and Blair's three election victories, Major and Brown's abject defeats and the transition between aggression and consensualism and back again which marked the styles of each premiership.

But throughout this period something interesting was happening to the true inheritors of Berlin's vision: first with the short-lived support for minority government, then with the defection of the 'Gang of Four' which resulted in the evolution towards a refounded 'Liberal Democrat' party just at the point in history when the Wall of Berlin's own nominative city fell and reconcilation affected the nations of Europe. Until finally, at home, with moves accepting the productive possibilities of coalition government in an oppositional format realised after the 2010 general election.

But as we've seen the path to establishing the supremacy of liberal ideas hasn't been smooth. Indeed liberal ideology continues to be used to divide liberals as the practical debate over application of principles leads to disagreement over the degree to which positive and negative ideals should be emphasised.

The same debate has remained to the fore as extreme examples are presented showing how these ideals can be abused when unbalanced. The street violence in the wake of the ongoing crisis and policies of austerity are a prime exhibit of this mis-matching of cause and effect.

Berlin himself indicated the solution to this theoretical dichotomy when he proposed a pragmatic stratagem of 'elective affinity'.

So how does the ability to analytically distinguish and make trade-offs between, rather than conflate, our understanding of liberties impact upon the terminology of political debate?

While supporters of liberalism pre-Berlin stood opposed in equal measure to supporters of conservatism and socialism, this no longer applies and Liberal Democrats must unite behind a common language or be subsumed by the inheritors of a state where personal responsibility and state intervention are incompatible and their interrelation lost.

I propose a three-fold format.

Firstly, we clearly identify the opponents of liberty, with whom cooperation is impossible. They are the illiberals.

Secondly, we must identify the unreliable supporters of liberty, with whom we must attempt to cooperate in order to advance our mutual interest in freedom wherever realistically possible. They are the mono-liberals.

Finally, we should ourselves agree that we belong to none of those groups and articulate it. We are the pluralists. We are the liberal democrats.


It makes no sense to argue about whether liberals are 'classical' or 'social', either in political or campaigning terms. It simply divides us from ourselves and hinders our progess.

If the Liberal Democrats are to regain the initiative then the party must simply resist attempts by the other parties to conduct debate on their terms. If the party stands for anything then it must be liberal democracy.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

5 Myths About Exceptionalism

Myth 1
There Is Something Exceptional About Exceptionalism - well, maybe not yours, but definitely mine.

Myth 2 
I Am Better Than Others Are - look, I can see all your blind spots, and I can also see I don't have any.
Myth 3
My Success Is Due to My Special Genius - from all the adversity I've suffered you'd wonder why I wasn't dead and buried long ago, so you can't blame my luck.
Myth 4
My Contribution Is Indispensible To The General Good Of The Outcome - without me it wouldn't be the same, and it certainly wouldn't have been as good.

Myth 5
God Is On My Side - just as I am on the side of angels.



Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Afghan Question

Yesterday marked 10 years since Nato went into Afghanistan.

In this time British troops have officially suffered 382 deaths, and the direct cost of British involvement is estimated to be rising close to £10bn.

Has anything changed in this time?

The involvement was initiated because of links between the Al Qaeda's global terror threat and the Taliban. Afghanistan was under control of Islamic extremists, providing shelter, training and a focus for jihadi terrorists. The international community was outraged by human rights breaches and widespread persecution of minorities, women and almost any outside influence.

Then came the intervention. Nato teamed up with the Northern Alliance of pro-western tribal leaders and Mujahadeen, but wasted the opportunity to militarily destroy Bin Laden and co in battle when they were cornered in the Tora Bora region. Nevertheless we successfully installed Hamid Karzai, and democratic elections confirmed his status.

Conditions have largely improved for the people of the country, particularly with regard to health, education and cultural freedom. Electricity and clean water supply is no longer the exception in the towns. Poppy production has been removed from headlines as wheat prices have risen and productive trade has returned where order reigns under standardised market conditions. International relations are broadening, with the improving standards of the Afghani national cricket team a beacon for all.

However, ongoing lack of security and growing corruption are the cause of much concern among the population and foreign commentators alike.

Perhaps this is a sign of rising expectations resulting from the rebirth of civic institutions, but equally it represents the ever-present threat that a drawdown of forces would mean to Afghan society as the west struggles with mounting death-tolls and military costs associated with occupation while the global economy experiences a down-turn and the manoeuvering of internal factions in preparation for total withdrawl.

And this is the major problem of the ideological battle being fought out between the two sides.

Afghanistan exists at the furthermost reaches of civilisation and Afghani cultural history identifies with this border mentality. The land is at the crossroads of the routes which lead from the sub-continent, to the steppe, and from the orient to the occident. The people have seen everyone come and everyone go.

From Alexander the Great to Ashoka the Great, from Buddhist reconquest to Islamic reconquest, from Mongols to Mughals, to the British Empire and the Soviet Empire and pretty much everyone in between: Afghans have seen them all. The one thing which they know is that everyone leaves eventually.

This singular fact cannot be emphasised with sufficient strength.

It's not for nothing that the country is known as the graveyard of ambitions: it is strategically impossible to hold militarily for any protracted period without a supporting global political solution, simply due to its location and geography. Their land has been ruled by everyone, but it is still their land. They know all alliances are temporary, as a man's word is nothing without a knife at his throat - you simply cannot trust someone you cannot look in the eye. The only people you can really trust are those who stay by your side - whether they are your brothers, your cousins, or your guests.

Because it is a land at the limits of human survival and everything is subordinated to the ability to endure.

It doesn't matter whether that means taking the sides of people you disagree with for temporary advantage and doing their bidding today only to turn tomorrow, or practising utmost flexibility while promoting absolutism: Afghan society is the realisation of the influence of power politics, just as Afghanistan is the realisation of the influence of surrounding powers.

Ultimately Afghans must take charge of themselves and Nato efforts to build an Afghan National Army are the first vital step to achieving this. But the corollary is that Afghanistan must also be integrated into the international order for the same old independent and rebellious nature not to resurface and turn either inwards and devolve into another civil war or become infested with a deeper sickness and become entangled in a new 'Great Game' by seeking alliance with those of more sinister motives such as represented by Iranian nuclear ambitions.

The west would be wrong to indicate in any manner that 'we' are ever set to abandon them. We must convince them that they cannot settle for what they have, and we will not leave them to fight over what they've built until it is completely destroyed; we must convince them to join us on humanity's shared journey because we won't reach the destination without them. We must convince them and ourselves that our fates are intertwined.

But that doesn't mean that Afghanis should fear the prospect of a permanent occupation, on the contrary, it should allow them to reach a point of understanding in which various military installations can become a strategic bargaining chip in much the same way as former Kyrgyz President Bakiyev has used the Manas Air Base north of his capital Bishkek (a vital supply route into Afghanistan) to extract concessions from the international community, ensuring a basic level of political stability - and in return acknowledge that there are universal standards which are to their advantage to move towards.

Because the Afghan question is not so much 'what does the West do about Afghanistan?', it is more a matter of 'how do we find the means to explain to ordinary people in every corner of the world that our similarities are greater than our differences?'

It is a question of resolve. It is a question of political will. It is a question of humanity.

With Karzai promising to stand down in 2014, coinciding with Obama's promised withdrawl date, this question is being posed again. And Afghanistan once again stands at the crossroads.


There is an interesting comparison to be drawn between British and American attitudes towards policy which leads to protracted intervention.

Every week at PMQs the Prime Minister and party leaders metronomically recite the names of military dead. Initially it was as if by rote, seemingly ordered by the military command to issue a budgetary reminder, but later as the list grew and the memory began to persist so the human investment began to dwarf any pecuniary measure. Meanwhile in the US, Congress and the President are silent, GOP candidates are silent and the debate revolves around bringing 'our troops' back and 'nation-building' at home.

But there is a problem with using Libya as a model for regime-change: it legitimises civil war as a tool of foreign policy, creating a global ballpark dynamic where smaller powers become fielders for a new 'great game' of international diplomacy, and thereby encourages destabilisation of weaker nations - the exact same thing Nato went into Afghanistan to put an end to in the first place. Flip-flopping from one extreme to the other does nothing but create a circular and self-fulfilling argument of greater destruction and greater polarisation.

Ultimately this is debate which can be reduced to the academic simplisms of liberty, authority and security - it is about finding the correct prescription for the correct diagnosis, not about emphasising one to the exclusion or neglect of another, but equally and more importantly it is also finding the means for the international alliance to agree and work in concert to the same ends.

Because if the world order cracks on the back of domestic politics then those ancient Afghan sages who are prepared to simply outwait outsiders will be proved right again; Nato will fracture into dissent, turn inwards and spend its time fighting against itself. And the futile adventure will resemble evermore closely the vanity project of its' critics descriptions.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Can't see the forest for the trees? Make kindling

I love this sort of internet communication. It just brightens up my day.

Published by the overtly political 'news' organisation Newsmax the transcript of an interview promoting the 'Aftershock Survival Summit' is typical of a swathe of internet-based information sources. And it's precisely the kind of thing which gives the medium a bad name.

Forgetting completely that the company structure is specifically designed to promote a particular worldview it would be easy to get drawn in by all the button-pressing triggers it uses in its' attempt to convince the reader. But it's so professionally crude that a reader could almost be forgiven for not making the effort to resist rising to the bait.

The whole thing is beyond parody (though not satire, though I'll save that for another occasion, though I've already started thinking about it, though I can't really be bothered, though it'd really be quite easy, though my life is filled with enough useless crap as it is, though this could be the most important thing ever, EVER!).

Starting at the beginning, the edifice of respectability begins to be built up as soon as you reach the gateway - which should be the point at which your alarm bells start ringing, if you're not aware of the angle of entry before you reach the threshold then you really should be questioning what it is trying to reflect.

To the external air of respectability a measure of gravity is added with various sympathetic noises.

This stylistic technique breaks down the appearance of authoritarian barriers and is used to create a sense the report-producers and participant are on your side, and all of you together are fighting bravely against an undefined persecutor, who they can handily identify for you, although not really in so many words and at most indirectly. It sets a consumer up for instinctive responses which play to natural role formulations and thereby it lulls you into a state of passive complicity which is difficult to escape. Typically, feedback mechanisms such as discussion or commentary are separated from the source to devolve any question of reliability and remove the possibility of criticism (fair or otherwise), while simultaneously still benefitting from the measurable tornado of links that can be relied upon through the human tendency to gossip collegiately about half-understood ideas. So, even in the simple act of stimulating your solidarity, the method games you by deliberately setting you up so that they hold the keys and have all the means to keep you out. It's cynical propaganda at it's unobtrusive best - like a spider luring you closer into the centre of the web. It's trickle-up power accumulation. And you're left only wanting more.

The reader is swamped with information and baffled by allusions to 'facts' taken out of context.

'Crystal clear' distinctions are made and basic explanations emphasise a 'common sense' perspective - but common sense is not the same thing as good sense. Singular poll results are treated as objective gospel particularly if presented by ideological opponents (CNN says '48% Americans see a second Great Depression' - notwithstanding the 'Great' depression was less severe than the 'Long' depression), the basic maths allows distortions to grow beyond any sense (National debt measured in Trillions between 1900 and 2011 - not measured in adjusted per capita terms or as a proportion of GDP), while selected periods are provided without explanation specifically to justify the conclusion (Dow stock prices rose 300% from 1928-1982, and 1400% from 1982-2006 - which results in a comparison between peak-->trough and trough-->peak). It's pure populism preying on the petty-minded sensibility of the insecure masses.

It's commerce packaged as public interest news, wrapped up in free gifts.

While presenter and guest collude together in their own little world to discuss private obsessions (here market data and economics) the real motivating interest is assumed at all times and levels to be selfish (never mutual or altruistic, never enlightened and never balanced - how weak!). So long as you've already bought into the precept and been hooked by any one of the plausible peices of 'evidence' or their interpretations then you'll be content to seek any self-affirming post-rationalisation to reinforce the original false choice and deny your own culpability. Essentially the interview is an advert for a book produced by flavours of the month - the links to order free copies (shipping costs $4.95) is a simple data-mining exercise which reverse-engineers standard mass-marketing techniques and is easily cross-referenced with voter databases for targetting in campaign donations or for canvassing purposes. As they say, "No pressure - no gimmicks - no strings attached" - exactly, it's straight-up psychological blackmail, gimmicks and fraud (at least it would be in this country)!

It's not serious, it's very serious semi-serious, semi-entertainment.

To give them their due Newsmax and other political 'news machines' are relevant to the debate and they do fulfil a valid function, recognising and identifying concerned confusion at the state of the world. However the manner of expression fails at every level because it distorts perceptions by exaggerating and dramatising suitable aspects rather than reserving qualifications - failures of omission, not of commission. The very title foreshadows a revelatory 'final chapter they tried to ban', using shock tactics as a lure, building an irresistible anticipatory premonition with the prospect of access to 'valuable secrets' - yet if the logic of this pay-off were sound and would benefit wider society then wouldn't it be better if the insights were available to the widest audience possible? which makes any commercial restrictions look perverse or at least should arouse suspicion of their worth.

Some of the analysis in Aftershock is legitimate, but the doomsday scenario and shameless politicisation throughout destroys any vestige of objective credibility about it. Of course the mass market is not set up to easily consume answers with the complexity of unknown interactions between unknown numbers of factors, but it strikes me that by playing down to the demands of the consumer it becomes impossible to raise our expectations - or is that the deeper idea?

BTW Today saw the first public seminar as part of The Leveson Inquiry into media standards. Partisanship may be less high up the agenda on this side of the Atlantic, nevertheless according to Richard Peppiatt the matter of reporting facts to fit preconcieved conclusions is both pervasive and endemic.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Swapped at birth: Carlos Tevez and Peter Oborne

Manchester City's £250k/week Argentine work-horse and goal-threat, Carlos Tevez, made backpages this week by deciding he preferred to stay on the bench when called upon to help fight back from a 2-0 deficit during a Uefa Champions League group stage match against Bayern Munich. The act has been described as 'selfish' and as 'a distraction from the teams shortcomings', increasing speculation of an impending transfer.

Carlos Tevez prefers to sit on the sidelines in Europe
Peter Oborne prefers to sit on the sidelines out of Europe

The Telegraph's flatulent Thatcherite political commentator and star columnist, Peter Oborne, made waves this week when he decided to gratuitously insult European Commission representatives as 'idiots' and the 'Guilty Men' who are responsible for the Eurozone crisis during a round of TV (Newsnight clip) and other media appearances, which coincided with the publication of his similarly-titled pamphlet, supporting calls to end European integration.

Two peas from the same self-serving pod!


Obviously the Union of European Football Associations is completely immune to any form of administrative or institutional corruption whatsoever and operates absolutely perfect competitions with a completely level playing-field offering perfectly equal access and opportunity to all, and equally obviously the European Union is an evil unaccountable institution completely ridden with corruption and maladministration which is unsuited to the needs of the separate economies of 27 member states.

We get sweet FA, obviously

- It's like comparing apples and oranges.

Not like Europe, obviously

- See, even their logos are circle and square!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The continuing Eurozone crisis is an opportunity for LibDems to show leadership

There are only two possible results to the Euro-crisis: 1) collapse of intra-European trade, or 2) greater European integration.

The first has far-reaching negative implications for Britain, Europe and the world. The second indicates a massive area for future growth in our shared economy.

While the current political challenge remains to deliver stability and growth at the same time it's up to Britain to choose to find the political will and lead on the issue because continual continental dithering and endless domestic bickering will mean economic conditions stay in the doldrums until the Eurozone countries wake up to the fact there are no other options and they forge ahead on integration without us, leaving Britain scrabbling for crumbs from their table as per usual. If we want to set the terms of agreement and see the full benefits then we must resolve to fully commit to the process. Which means the real question is how much of the former are we prepared to accept before we move on to the latter.

As the only committed pro-European leader at Westminster, Nick Clegg is smart enough and sensible enough to understand this, but his frankness in offering regular reminders won't help him win popularity contests any time soon. So perhaps he should be bolder in challenging public opinion in order to reap the political rewards later - after all there's still time to get this strategy to pay dividends before the next election and most commentators argue he doesn't have much left to lose. Having the courage of your convictions is a virtue which he - and we - can make the most of.

While the real possibility of Greek default grows ever nearer Clegg appeared to lay some foundations for giving the European project a vitally-needed boost during his widely-reported speech to the LSE by indicating his favorability towards shifting the British position to be more active on European integration:
"In terms of the Eurozone, the real failure has not been the original concept of monetary union. It’s that the rules were never applied stringently enough. The Stability and Growth Pact was actively watered down in 2005, allowing members to wriggle out of their fiscal commitments to each other. Now we are seeing the effects."
"The single-most important question, the urgent question is what role can we play in helping the Eurozone avoid further turmoil, creating the stability needed for prosperity and jobs – in the Eurozone and in the UK too."
With rising consensus that the coalition's deficit reduction plan has assured stability while restricting ability to boost growth there is no time like the present to use the LibDem reputation as a long-standing advocate of European integration to our advantage and strike the note of clear differentiation which members and potential supporters alike are desperate to hear. While Conservatives have forced themselves into a dead-end on growth, Labour lack credibility on stability, yet neither want to talk openly about Europe and the way their actions combined in tandem to undermine the Stability and Growth Pact.

As Clegg said, "we'll do whatever it takes to return our economy to health," but while we can pull all the right levers at home to provide a temporary demand stimulus it must also mean creating the conditions for sustainable growth by increasing cooperation abroad and driving ahead with integration to complete the single market and guarantee the four basic freedoms.

We cannot put stability at risk by loosening fiscal policy now, but neither can we avoid integration out of a misguided sense of patriotic pride when growth is at risk. Perpetual focus on stability results in stagnation, yet myopic focus on growth leads to escalating volatility – only the LibDems can successfully balance these twin impulses and therefore we must speak up more forcefully in the national interest both of Britain and each of our European partners.


Crossposted at LibDemVoice

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Don't discount the LibDems yet!

Surprisingly, the Evening Standard keeps coming back and asking for my view on issues libdemmery. This time they obviously wanted to capture some dissent regarding an unusually smooth conference. Sorry, no joy there!


This year's LibDem conference has been an extraordinary affair. Where media commentators travelled to Birmingham expecting discontent at poll ratings to spill over into widespread revolt against the leadership they've come out reporting the businesslike nature of a serious and professional agenda-setting event. The party has successfully positioned itself at the front and centre of policy debate tackling the full range of public concerns to give far-sighted and level-headed answers on everything from gender equality to energy issues.

A considerable resolve to resist any panic with a desire to get on with the job at hand has been on show. Throughout all the clamour for more right-wing influence on the coalition the clarity of LibDem purpose is enabling the party to grow up in the spotlight of public scrutiny. And despite all the apparent strength of opposition to the coalition's deficit reduction plan it is a remarkable fact that Nick Clegg's popularity and trust ratings are still higher than Ed Miliband's!

LibDems understandably feel squeezed between the twin forces of political choice and political reality, but in this the party experience perfectly reflects everything the country has gone through since the financial bubble burst. So any discomfort felt by activists and representatives alike offers a prime perspective to help find way to help dig the country out of the current predicament. Don't discount this peculiarly British underdog just yet!


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Monday, 19 September 2011

The real meaning of betrayal

It was in watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy that I was struck by this thought.

As anyone who knows the story will be fully aware the betrayal of their nation and ideals by double-agents within MI6 was not related to circumstance but to the narrow self-advantage of temporary gain. The treasonous actions of the Cambridge group of sleepers and moles were so abhorrent because they were self-defeating - in allowing themselves to manipulated through unquestioning support of their ideals they ended up supporting a cause which stood against everything they initially claimed to believe in.

So le Carre's narrative becomes an allusion to the process of political debate as it was played out on the international post-war stage. And in this it becomes newly relevant in respect of the current debate about coalition politics in Britain.

But where the Bill Haydens set out with a polarised mindset of either being for or against their utopian vision it is the flawed and complicit George Smileys who ultimately prove their heroism by convincing his opposing spy-master Karla to defect through the means of uncovering the base corruption of values at the heart of all conflicted establishments and by seeking to set them right from within. He argues that only by acknowledging the individual as a morally ambiguous agent working within the restraints of reality can he or she triumph over the cynicism of corrupted ideals caused by the amplification of artificial differences, and thereby step closer towards a unifed universe. That all revolutions fail because they depend on the impossibility of imperfect humans achieving unobtainable absolutes is the natural corrollary which animates his enemies of civilisation.

Balancing the grimness and grit to find a way through the murk he treads a fine line, yet le Carre's artistic achievement is in how he successfully uncovers the reality of the secret world through his fictional account and thereby makes a profound exposition of the interwoven nature of political relationships in society without exposing his acquaintances in the world he knew so well. Unlike other more scandalous writers such as Peter Wright, le Carre ('the square') wrote a story of betrayal without betraying anyone - as he said in an interview "It's a matter of pride to me that nobody who knows the reality has so far accused me of revealing it."

For LibDems roundly accused of betraying students over the issue of tuition fees the story offers some subtler comforts.

It is in the difference between Smiley's slow, methodical and self-effacing approach and the enthusiasm of blind idealism transformed into ruthless murder and self-aggrandisement as represented by Hayden and his cohorts that we can start to understand real betrayal is not in changing what you say you'll do, but in changing the reasons why you do what you do.

In going against their pre-election pledge to students in order to form a coalition LibDems did not betray students and the party's commitment to education, even if the leadership did betray their word.

Whatever may be said about the advantages of ministerial cars in supporting an egotistical rump the concurrent slump in opinion polls should be enough evidence that Clegg & Co's choice to take action wasn't cynically or selfishly intended - indeed the party remains fully committed to a fairer form of financing higher education by eventually phasing out tuition fees altogether while ensuring people from poorer backgrounds are not disadvantaged by eliminating up-front fees and raising earnings thresholds for repayments.

The accusation of betrayal is a myth, and it is perpetrated by the same people who pushed the higher education system into crisis just as they pushed the economy of the country into crisis.

The accusers have sought to use the shock of disrepute against LibDems to their own narrow political advantage without explaining how widening access to Universities can be achieved via any alternative sets of financial reforms to HE funding.

The accusers have projected their own ideological betrayal onto LibDems by denying the requirement to balance idealism with reality and the need to find pragmatic solutions.

The true betrayal is theirs because the real meaning of betrayal does not depend on intentions, but on results.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Liberals against blogging? A response

Recently a couple of respected liberals in the form of Lembit Opik and Howard Jacobson have declared their distaste for the freedom of speech enabled by the art form known as blogging.

Failed nominee for the LibDem London Mayoral candidateship and regular tabloid fodder, Lembit said: "the 'blogosphere' [is] a parallel universe where some people who've never been elected to public office feel qualified to pronounce on those who have."

A perfectly excecuted play from the book 'How to alienate potential supporters and lose elections'. He didn't read the book, but he saw the adapted film when he was invited to the premiere.

These are for you, Lembit. Enjoy.

Booker prize winner and columnist for The Independent, Jacobson said: "What you read is extreme ignorance and pure poison. It is a poisonous, poisonous medium. You can’t believe how malicious, how ignorant, how stupid…"

A perfectly excecuted play from the book 'The foolish vanity of a public intellectual who has to earn a living somehow'. It's a book he wrote, and then adapted repeatedly for his column so as not to lose his 'juice'.

These are for you Howie. Enjoy.

Well, if it's not one thing it's another. Right?


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Monday, 12 September 2011

What's with opinion polls? Did YouGov cause the riots?

As a signed-up member of the YouGov polling panel I occasionally recieve a survey requesting my opinion. This morning I got the latest version delivered to my email in-box.

Now, opinion polls provide vital feedback on the broader political picture, but they also exist within the highly competitive world of the political economy where commentators constantly seek to provide sufficiently valuable content to 'go pro' and devote more time to their passion for politics as they seek to exert more influence over debate.

Polling organisations therefore become used for their ability to build up a reliable evidence bank for particular perspectives, with the accumulation of results establishing the mood of the nation with ever greater certainty.

Decades of refinement have enhanced the actual predictive capability of polls giving the term 'opinion poll' a measurable standing of some respect. Opinion polls have become a fact of life and now big decisions are rarely unleashed on the public without being tested on sub-sections first through various types of polls or consultations.

In the process this has elevated opinion to the rank that any and all views can be taken equally seriously - thereby stimulating the subordinate arguments that they should, must and deserve to be, without understanding the more complex point that the ends to which opinion works will depend on the means by which it is handled: we can be individually wise and collectively stupid, or we can be be individually stupid and collectively wise. And in this it raises the problem of how to seperate the two opposing dynamics when pollsters resist the means to differentiate between types of opinion.

With the advent of online polling their cost base has been slashed at the same time as the ability to ask more people more varied and detailed questions more regularly: while traditional doorstep and phone polls weigh samples of 1,000 people once per month, YouGov is able to compile and collate a similar-sized poll every day. Following its' launch in May 2000 YouGov has claimed these methods consistently produce more accurate results than traditional methods.

This view was given greater credence at the 2005 General Election when most traditional polls diverged from YouGov results by over-stating Labour support, albeit within the uppermost limits of margin-for-error. As it was Tony Blair's landslide majorities of 1997 and 2001 were massively reduced, and the traditional polling companies were shown that they failed to predict this. It has since been used as a powerful marketing concept for YouGov's methodology because the overall variability of differential swings in UK elections can easily be enough to produce completely different outcomes.

In more recent times polls which showed Cleggmania in full pomp (at one-third of respondees) after the pre-election leadership debates have rebounded showing LibDems in a seemingly endless slump (generally hovering at about one-tenth of respondees) - clearly some significant volatility of opinion is present. Although it would be foolish to try to seperate LibDem ratings from the seismic shift in politics which saw no overall majority in 2010 and the eventual creation of the first coalition government since wartime, it's worth considering other factors too, such as the difference in the polling methodologies.

I find it odd that monthly polls consistently diverge from daily polls (to the extent that LibDem results could vary by 100% between the two), so I asked Anthony Wells what effect the regularity of sampling may be having, citing my own example that I recall my earlier responses when answering. I have a lot of time for him, but I found his reply unconvincing.

My underlying point was whether the closed nature of their panel is combining with the regularity of questioning to create stale and unrepresentative results - have they 'overfished their pool'? Is YouGov reinforcing opinion rather than just measuring it?

Anthony answered that with about 350,000 registered members of the YouGov panel and a turnover of about 1,000 new members each month it is unlikely. Given his connection with the company he was never going to publicly concede the methods he depends upon are flawed, but nevertheless basic maths should raise some questions about YouGov's methodology over a long period compared to off-line methods.

YouGov's available panel is a self-selecting sample of about 1% of the voting population (other polling organisations select and weigh their samples according to demographic balance from the whole electorate), and YouGov produce political surveys about 20-times more regularly: I have had my opinion professionally surveyed by telephone and on the doorstep once each in my lifetime, whereas I am asked by YouGov for an online response approximately once every two months. As a respondent I am fully aware that I relate my latest answers to my recollection of previous answers rather than in isolation, so my YouGov replies become increasingly relative each time I am polled. And given that members of the YouGov panel can be assumed to be more politically engaged than average we are therefore more likely to be aware of result trends and more likely to be influenced by them.

The effects of this change may not be immediately obvious, but they could be powerful, particularly under conditions where social opinion is put under pressure (such as by a less than positive economy).

The simple fact that YouGov produces more results means it can effectively 'drown out' the competition and the social effect is to weigh YouGov more highly in political circles than, say, ICM, Ipsos-Mori or ComRes. YouGov is now the dominant force in the field, and perhaps this means it should be feared more than trusted.

By measuring a small sub-sample with such regularity YouGov has reversed the original dynamic of the polling project. It is no longer simply measuring opinion for the purposes of representative accuracy, but driving the polarisation of opinion for the purposes of conformity.

So it is potentially very damaging to the general political debate that political commentators are not distinguishing between the types of results produced by different types of polls. If I were tempted to take an extreme position I might suggest the correlation between polarisation of opinion towards the coalition government and the polarisation of opinion driven by YouGov's methodology was responsible for the increased level of protest seen in the rapid escalation of the violent riots.

That may seem a strange thing to say, but we saw how opinion treated as fact was the main instigator for flash mobs to spring up and cause violence beyond the control of the Police or beyond the natural restraint of a questioning conscience on behalf of those individuals who got involved. So it's entirely fair to conclude that where opinion replaces fact as a legitimate authority for action nobody should expect sanity to prevail.

As the high priests for the cult of opinion YouGov should be looking at themselves and the deeper psychological impact of their specific methodology on wider society - it's time to stop combining or conflating what YouGov's polls say with what other pollsters say.


I tried a second time with AW, this time he offered a sceptical response to any obvious answers for the discrepancy between polls - perhaps he's being won over!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Stop rewarding irresponsibility - reform the MPC!

There has been much talk about changing the 50p tax band (on income over £100,000) as a way to aid the economy, but this is in my view a completely artificial distraction from the underlying economic and political issues.

Arguments forwarded that the country needs to stimulate spending to reduce the deficit (on the basis that this will reduce the drain of wealthy consumer-investors to places like Switzerland) understate the risk of more new short-term solutions. Obviously the need exists among both coalition partners to succeed in creating a balanced budget by the time the next general election comes around, but the signal this measure would give to city institutions and the wider economy presents deeper risks.

From back in the mid-1970s when income taxes reached their zenith at 98%, the tendency to liberalise markets has seen a shift in fiscal policy towards indirect taxes on expenditure (ie through VAT) and a corresponding shift in employment from manufacturing towards retail services (including high street banking). And whenever government commitments overextended the consumer dollar was increasingly seen as a bottomless pit, the destination of first resort for the Treasury to squeeze by stimulating spending another notch.

Yet the banking and financial crashes of recent years indicate a tipping point has been reached as high levels of personal debt coupled with low levels of personal savings mean the public is almost squeezed dry.

I mean, how much worthless tat could you fill your Christmas stocking with anyway? How much turkey can you fill your obese belly with? Break all your toys before dinner time? Collapse in an intoxicated stupor over the toilet bowl after? Who cares, just enjoy the holidays!

Interest rates of 0.5% mean saving responsibly has been disincentivised in favour of borrowing up to and beyond the capacity to repay. Successive governments have virtually wiped out pensions and prudential investments by abusing inflation as valid economic tool in favour of the casino capitalism of risk creation, and now exceptional policies such as winter fuel payments are vital extra assistance because the money given to the state to pay for a standard retirement has been frittered away by transfering wealth to people demanding they have it all today. And let's not forget the policy challenge to public health and education systems funded by debt.

Economists are widely predicting a decade of stagnant growth and high inflation at or above 5% (currently 4.4%) will be required to sort out the current problems, and this has lead some to argue the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee has failed, since their primary responsibility is to keep it in the 2-2.5% range.

Back in 1997 it was one of the headline initiatives of the incoming Blairite government to give independence to the BoE on setting rates, justified on the ground that it depoliticised one of the primary policy tools available to government where the previous regime had patently failed by getting things spectacularly wrong during the ERM fiasco (raising rates from 10% to 15% in a single day to support the currency, thereby causing mass unrest in the housing market as 'negative equity' became a byword for political irresponsibility).

It had been a LibDem idea, and Labour's Gordon Brown over at No11 was sufficiently suspicious of it to use a succession of methods to maintain the control he'd publicly disavowed. Primary among these was the system of appointments to the board which ensured the political balance was favourable to the party in power (economists such as David Blanchflower - an MPC member from 2006-9 - could and can still be relied upon to defend the political aims of Labour), thereby exposing the lie and highlighting the effective non-independence of the MPC.

I was originally enthusiastic, but I've since grown critical of the naivety of thinking that economists are able to think independently of political motivations - indeed the more I learn the more I realise they are often among the most political people around. Since they've immersed themselves in a career of calculating research data to provide supporting evidence for the positions they assume economists uniformly tend to be the least open to logical argument, and they are psychologically incapable of denying themslves because of their doctrinaire adherence to whichever school of thought they were raised within or currently subscribe to. They irrationally avert attention from the role of their agency within the social forum of debate: economists are epistemological-empirical totalitarians.

In fact when we look at MPC predictions for inflation they consistently show two things, that all predictions for the future will bring inflation on target within two-to-three years, and that all previous predictions in the past have been wrong by increasing factors. In other words their decisions have increased inflationary volatility where their task was to do the exact opposite.

Returning to the tax issue, it strikes me as particularly odd that the coalition government (who's stated intention to rebalance the economy by encouraging export-led manufacturing) should be open to spending stimulus, even though more quantative easing was rejected by the MPC. It suggests either there is a budgetary problem on the timing of plans to eliminate the deficit, or that tories want some ideological meat to fill their conference boots, or both.

So it's understandable that the punative symbolism of the 50p rate has become a bone of contention as different sides each argue to optimise Treasury income at a maximal level, provide a boost to the wider economy and develop greater fairness in society.

But the politics of the 50p rate are a complete distraction.

As others before me have mentioned it is possible to keep a 50p rate by raising the level at which it is levied (eg from £100,000 to £1m), it is possible to increase fairness by raising the levels of personal allowances (the zero-rate) to £10,000 or higher and the level at which the basic and other rates are levied, just as it is more than within the scope of possibility to introduce intermediate 25p, 35p and 45p rates to improve Treasure balances. And there's absolutely no problem with doing all these at the same time - in fact differential impacts would be minimised by implenting all simultaneously as that would provide greater potential for flexibility. Alternatively it is also possible to do nothing about it and use a variety of indirect tools instead.

I've argued that resistance to raising the levels at which tax bands are levied to keep up with wage inflation since market liberalisation began at the end of the 1970's (tentatively under Callaghan, wholesale under Thatcher) coupled with exponential wage growth towards the top of the scale has been an effective 'double-whammy' for those towards the bottom of the society - something which has driven growth in economic inequality despite government efforts to compensate. Arguably the compensation methods themself have been counter-productive since they add complexity to the system and are therefore less cost-effective, driving the polarised tax policies of left and right which in turn requires greater efforts to reduce inequality - and the diminishing returns of successive policies increase the inevitability of confrontation with reality.

So the two-party system creates a vicious circle of political swings and roundabouts!

And efforts to reduce the deficit and restore some sanity now revolve round the issue of growth.

The range of policy options open to the Chancellor are limited. On monetary policy the Exchequer no longer directly controls interest rates, but they are at rock bottom and can't be reduced further anyway. Similarly, quantative easing has been rejected by the MPC because inflation is well above target. On fiscal policy personal debt levels mean VAT cuts would cost too much and would create additional risk of instability if wages remain depressed compared to inflation. So that leaves targetted income tax cuts with all their associated political baggage.

And this creates a massive quandry for policy-makers. Internationally the problems are virtually identical, yet Obama's desperate speech to the joint house session announcing wide-ranging measures leaving few options unexplored was in stark contrast with Berlusconi's declaration of political impotence. Both fear what unpopularity would mean for their chances of reelection, but where the US President worries about the consequence of inaction on his ratings the Italian Prime Minister sought to preemtively excuse any action whatsoever.

My solution in the UK would be to reverse my earlier position towards the MPC. While I support the concept of independence for the MPC and the effect of greater interest rate stability they have produced, they are neither fully independent nor accountable and this has resulted in them lowering interest rates too far. So I would make a one-off intervention to set rates at 2% and then set about reforming the way the MPC is constituted.

Oddly, my conclusion abut how to reform the MPC is inspired by the failure that lead to its creation.

The Exchange Rate Mechanism ran from 1979 when Sterling uncoupled from the Irish pound and a system of bilateral measures were introduced between European currencies to keep fluctuations within a 2.25% margin, thereby preparing the way for integration into a single European currency.

After having initially appreciated, Sterling then gradually fell back as trade between the participating nations grew during the 1980s, and the UK joined the ERM in 1990. By joining the party late in the day currency speculators were sceptical about the motivations of the then-tory government under Thatcher. So when prominent right-wingers including Norman Tebbit complained about spending billions to support the currency and prevent deepening of the recession speculators such as George Soros felt this confirmed the lack of commitment to the political cause of European integration and that Thatcher never intended to replace Sterling with the Euro (it's an ironic fact that Tebbit was considered an arch-proponent of Thatcherite ideology, yet his ill-considered words in her defence were the primary cause of her downfall).

Black Wednesday occurred because the Bank of England reversed it's policy to intervene in currency markets as the means to support Sterling when foreign currency reserves fell below safe levels and decided instead to take the desperate measure to use interest rates. The incident 'broke the Bank of England' and forced Thatcher from office because it showed the selfish self-interest of her and her cabinet in a way that previous campaigns hadn't (privatisation and the sale of council houses was defended as her democratising tendency, while her battles with trade unions was presented as ending harmful restrictive practises). John Major couldn't repair the damage and the separation of monetary and fiscal policy followed.

The margins of the ERM were expanded to 15% in 1993 when currency speculators began moving against the Franc, and when the Euro was introduced in 1998 the mechanism was replaced by a new system where non-members were required to stay within that range for two years before becoming eligible for entry to the Eurozone. So we can see that provided the level of variability is controlled within an acceptable level this does increase harmony and allow for greater integration.

However the jump from 15% variability to full membership within 24 months has allowed countries such as Greece to join the Eurozone single currency area and this hasn't been sufficiently strong to encourage internal reforms to develop fiscal sustainability, and the riots over current austerity plans are a direct result. Greece was not ready before joining and the lack of a physical border reduced trade benefits after joining, meaning membership was more a matter of political prestige for the nation than economic reality. Whether Greece can now retain her membership of the Euro hangs in the balance. Whether it's desirable is a matter of opinion. But when any changes occur will indicate the manner and form of union Europe will eventually take - leaving may set a precendent, while staying within the Eurozone will require a more direct form of centralised budget planning.

In hindsight a progressive reduction in variability would have provided greater motivation for reform and a better timescale for membership. How this relates to the UK picture on interest rates is in the tension that arises between centralision and decentralision.

A major part of the economic problem in Britain is precisely the same as in the Eurozone: divergent trends around different regions - what's good for the City is usually bad for the towns and shires; what's good for industry-led regions is not for service-led localities. So how is it possible to reconcile the effects of interest rates in the vibrant commuter stockbroker belts and the blighted urban cores and rural outposts where deindustrialisation has wrecked its effect? Can mega shopping malls effectively replace factories? Clearly some policy flexibility is necessary.

The principle of variability has already been adopted through the process of political devolution created for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by allowing for some revenue-raising powers to give a proportionate measure of tax variance (although these have yet to be used by nationalists for fear this would reduce any seperatist sentiment). I'd like to see this principle extended by the establishment of regional offices for the central bank, each with the corresponding competency for setting rates (within appropriate limits) and the establishment of regional bond markets (with proportionate volumes) - an Interest Rate Mechanism, for want of a better name.

It's always struck me as weird that interest rates are measured in quarters, but I think this gives ample means to allow the centralised national bank to coordinate decentralised regional offices within natural fractions. If the BoE is given additional flexibility to vary the central rate by tenths, then it's a simple matter to allow regional offices to vary this by up to one-tenth (ie by hundredths) - and, most importantly, the preponderance of the regional offices will provide a true indication of the correct direction for any national variation (ie if the vast majority of regional offices vary from the central rate in one direction, then this is incontravertible evidence in itself that the central bank should move the central rate in this direction, and equally by what amount).

The creation of such a competitive market therefore removes any ability to politicise the issues from the centre. It would reduce the abilty to obscure the political issues dividing debate. And it would provide meaningful independence within a coherent and stable structure - which can only be a healthy thing.

Obviously this would also reinvigorate the case for regional assemblies to provide political accountability for the spending of revenues in the interest of their regional economies, which carries it's own risks, but by doing so it would also reinvigorate political participation and remove the pressure on local government caused by the distribution by ministers of fixed formula grants - local people would be able to take responsibility for ourselves!

In an already over-stimulated land full of under-appreciated people struggling in a depressed economy, the last thing anyone wants or needs is fresh stimulation. What's needed is a bit of rehab.

Finally it's worth mentioning the corresponding effect on fiscal policy which would be caused by changes to monetary policy decision-making processes.

Simply by reversing the dynamic of monetary policy to be responsive to demands, rather than as a lever to control demand, it would simultaneously reduce the pressure on politicians to use tax policy as moral compensation for social inequality, thereby gradually reducing the overall tax burden by eliminating the artificial demands created by partisan lobbyists for the political choices (or failure, as they see it) of their opponents - which would in turn encourage less wasteful use of taxpayer's money.

Correspondingly, the reduction in the overall tax bill provides less incentive to company directors able to transfer their wealth between tax regimes and use other legal tax avoidance measures. Surely it is completely unacceptable and utterly perverse for anyone to simultaneously set both the level of their own income and the level of tax they pay on it, let alone for a small minority of super-rich to abdicate responsibility to their employees for the state of the country they live and operate in!

And here it worth drawing a link between criticism of the irresponsibility of the anti-social anonymous underclasses towards their communities and the irresponsiblility of the anti-economic celebrity overclasses towards their neighbours - there is a poetic symmetry in the reflection of one with the other, and the only way to resolve their opposing attacks on the general mass of ordinary people is for government to set an example by acknowledging its' own failures, and reform.

Reform thyself MPC!

Friday, 26 August 2011

'Broken Britain' is a broken analysis

This is my requested response to the Evening Standard following Tim Montgomery's attack on LibDem influence on coalition social policy.

ConHome's Tim Montgomery is correct to worried about the waning influence of explicitly right-wing ideas within areas of the coalition government - but for the rest of the country and the LibDems this should be cause for celebration!

The delusion which seems to prevail among true-blue ranks that populist headline-grabbing initiatives are sufficient to resolve wide-ranging and deep-seated problems in society and the national economy if they appease enough anxious middle-class supporters in their heartlands of Tunbridge Wells or deepest Wiltshire by assigning ownership to friendly-faced party patriarchs is foundering on the rocks of Whitehall bureaucracy and on the streets of inner cities alike. Rather than complaining that due diligence into the viability of pet political projects is highlighting their specific weaknesses he would be far better advised to embrace coalition dialogue with a more cooperative mindset and understand how his doctrinal approach must be tempered to more practical effect by the reality of demands for consensual decisions with greater input from experts in the field and their partners in government.

Whilst Cameron's growing authority over Parliament continues to fail to transfer into opinion poll ratings tory loyalists are beginning to sense that coalition is damaging their chances of an overall majority at the next general election and an internal showdown at their upcoming annual conference may be beckoning.


For another perspective here's Tom Papworth


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Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Wrestling with 'muscular' liberalism - a new 'global' sovereignty?

So Mubarak is on trial, Gaddafi is on the run and the world is eyeballing Assad. The endgame of the Arab Spring is upon us. Now we will start to see where the direction of diplomatic policy is going to go.

When UK foreign minister William Hague visited Libya to hold talks with the anti-Gadaffi Transitional National Council after Nato extended it's mission in the country by another 3 months, it was significant as the  first test of the new 'muscular liberal' foreign policy doctrine, building on the newly reaffirmed 'essential' bi-lateral UK-US relationship.

Yet all the while pro-Gaddafi forces denounced the visit as 'interference' in a sovereign nation, the ongoing violence and ensuing stalemate showed then as now that these matters are still hotly disputed.

As I ruminated earlier in relation to the Libyan situation, the difficulty in settling complex multi-faceted disagreements should be seen as a positive driving force of increasing modernity: acknowledgement of rival validities creates a competitive dynamic. From this interplay concessions can be won to raise higher and more robust standards on a wider and more secure foundation, although nobody should be fooled about the cost to be paid in terms of human life and the destruction of social infrastructure should validity be contended.

Nevertheless we should feel confident that the new constitution proposed by Libya's NTC explicitly accepts the impossibility of imposed solutions and recognises the benefit of dialogue as the most reliable means to reach lasting solutions. Rebuilding the physical fabric of the country will have to be in equal part to the redevelopment of the institutions of civic life for peace to take root, so in the meantime it's worth looking in more detail at how the doctrinal analysis shapes up.

Foundations of peace

The origins of the world order based on national sovereignty date back to the peace concluded after the first globalised war in the middle of the 17th Century - commonly known as 'the Peace of the Exhausted' (the invaluable Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives an excellent - and recently revised - overview on the subject of sovereignty with an extensive bibliography).

Acceptance of the dual-principle of territorial integrity and supreme authority within a 'country' dealt the death-blow to the medeival wars of empire and religion in Europe and set the stage for a more relevant secular authority to replace the delegitimised system of perpetual squabbling over inheritances. The failure to export these principles then meant however that the European powers could export their squabbles as the peace created the conditions for industrial revolution and a consequent overwhelming military superiority over non-participating societies.

Now, as the age of globalisation is reaching its close, there is a new challenge, namely to moderate the absolute nature of national sovereignty in order to apply it equally and universally to uncover a new global sovereignty, or see the gains of modernity crumble as it is faced with a new combination of religious conviction and racial identity backed by modern military technology.

The case for a 'new sovereignty' was powerfully argued by Swedish former Prime Minister Carl Bildt in a lecture to Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of International Relations back in 2004. He drew on his experience of conflict in the former Yugoslavian states, somewhat underplaying the symbolism of the international community unifying to counteract the negative forces driving the tendency towards Balkanisation in the heart of that region in preference for stating the need for multi-layered sovereignties.

So there is a parabolic argument at the heart of this issue in that the internationalist alliance must marry successful justification for intervention with lasting solutions on the ground - a universal system of national sovereignty confers the friendly and indirect right to intervene against sovereign nations in the interests of equality by directing dirigiste policies of fairness aimed at establishing viable states capable of eventually buying into their own more egalitarian policies of freedom.

Neither UK nor US operates under the delusion that narrow self-interest alone would mandate sending ground troops into Libya or another country, but there is an overriding mutual interest in promoting peace and opportunity through global trade and the guarantee of access to essential commodities such as oil and gas energy products for wider consumption (note, not a resource-grab) as the means to promote common humanitarian concerns - the individual sovereignty of each participating ally is assured by agreement to, but only insofar as, they pool their individual powers to such shared ends.

And it is this irony which is the well-spring of continual criticism.

For instance Ivan Eland was happy that the election of Obama represented the end of neo-conservative 'jingoism', but worries this has been replaced by "an evil foreign policy ghoul... wearing the benign clothes of a compassionate angel".

He argues not only that there can never be any justification for war, but also that consistent application of such a policy during a time of economic austerity which previously landed the west in 'two intractable quagmires' will lead to strategic over-extension and will prove unsustainable as the convenient political coalition tears itself apart. For him, the mutual low regard between neo-cons and muscular liberals is not due to any practical considerations, but because they are so alike.

Peter Hoskin in The Spectator also highlighted the continuity in foreign policy theory to not sit idly by in an attempt to passively contain anti-western extremism, but to actively promote western liberal values - quoting Tony Blair in support,
"This is the battle that must be won, a battle not just about the terrorist methods but their views. Not just their barbaric acts, but their barbaric ideas. Not only what they do but what they think and the thinking they would impose on others."
Meanwhile Labourite Paul Evans doesn't seem to be able to answer his own question whether it is a right or an obligation to impose democracy on dictatorships - he just thinks we should go ahead whatever.

On the other side, for LibDems the expression of concern that such a forthright endorsement of a more assertive foreign policy which is "entirely indistinguishable from that of New Labour, or that which William Hague might exercise were he not in coalition" raises questions of the ethical basis upon which the decision to act can be taken and the morality of any means by which these values can be put in place.

Between these opposites lines can be drawn, along which we can see it's equally important to ensure the ethical means and ends of any chosen action, but similarly that events are ongoing and it's no good just sitting by - we must be actively involved. For this I have to give some credit that 'lessons have been learned' from previous interventions in setting down standards for the parameters of action based on humanitarian need and active international agreement.

When US President Obama gave his speech insisting the status quo is not acceptable, he built on his image as a leader of change outlining how the Arab Spring has highlighted the urgent need for a shift in policy to be more responsive to the popular expressions in favour of freedom and against the repressive measures used to maintain unpopular regimes (such as arbitrary arrest, denial of the right to trial, the standard use of torture, all the way through to massacring of demonstrators).

However he was also anxious to emphasise how a coherent and consistent foreign policy across the region will be determined by its application in the crucible of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Map of Israel, the Palestinian territories (We...Image via WikipediaObama clearly reiterated his desire for a negotiated 'two-state' solution which entailed a 'secure' Israel and a 'viable' Palestinian state - this was hardly a surprise, as it is the established consensual position among the international community. Not immediately considered an ideological ally, even Canadian foreign minister John Baird reaffirmed his backing for a return to 1967 borders.

But as Agnes Bertrand-Sanz explains, the region is in a period of political flux and the time for debate is over: the EU has a window of opportunity to exert influence over the future direction of multiple nations and western leaders cannot ignore the demands for positive change.

She criticises Sarkozy's stillborn conservative 'Union of the Mediterranean' for attempting to preserve the political status quo in countries like Tunisia by dropping 'sensitive' commitments on human rights and improvements to civil society in order to maintain movement on security, immigration and energy issues, and argues that it is necessary to apply Western liberal principles equally across the region - which means Israel must also comply with humanitarian law and show movement towards resolving the Palestinian stalemate peacefully.

However, the Middle-East peace process is already being overtaken by developments across the region which have convinced a number of commentators the two-state solution may have entered the last chance saloon.

Julia Pettengill explains Palestinian interests have always played second fiddle to the regional power-brokers.

While Syria has changed from direct confrontation to provocation by proxy in order to deflect from internal unrest, Egypt's long history of support for the Palestinian cause appears designed to exert pressure and gain their own economic concessions. By orchestrating the Fatah-Hamas unity deal to advance Palestinian claims for statehood Egypt's Supreme Military Council through the transitional national council is undermining peace negotiations because the Syrian-backed Hamas rejects the principles of negotiation and would be unlikely to respect subsequent democratic elections in a Palestinian state required to do so even in the unexpected event of maintaining its' majority.

Indeed, Glyn Secker details, this polarised solution is losing legitimacy now that the legacy of 'Cold War' perspectives is dissipating as the new liberal, democratising dynamic comes to the fore.

Settlements, settlements

Obama's departure wasn't exactly met with the warmest of welcomes within Israeli ranks either.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to warn such an approach retains limited appeal, despite growing pressure to reach a settlement, as it would leave several vocal interest groups unsatisfied. The resounding positive reception to this position among American Jews and Evangelicals gave a major boost to his own ratings in Israeli opinion polls.

Listening to right-wingers such as Charles Krauthammer starts to give a clearer indication of the reasons for this - he pointedly explains that a return to the 1967 borders cannot now be the starting point of any negotiations since this has already been rejected three times by Palestinian negotiators.

Or, in a diametric counterclaim, according to leaked documents known as The Palestine Papers, Israel has rejected outright every attempt at conciliation with their counterparts despite concessions on all the contentious issues of borders, settlements, Jerusalem and refugees.

The fixing of borders, settlements and right of return are essentially transient questions of practise and are therefore 'mere' stumbling blocks to hinder the reaching of agreement rather than serious barricades of principle preventing ultimate passage, so the real issue returns to another spiritual metaphor, this time represented by the historical sites where the actual events of many founding myths and prophecies relating to Islam and Judaism are located and are identified with as constituent to each claim.

Carlo Strenger also settles on Jerusalem as the greatest problem for negotiations, albeit from a more sceptical perspective, worrying that any situation which leaves the Western Wall outside Jewish control is inconceivable.

He notes how Obama's private strategy is inevitably predicated on reelection in 2012 and is therefore liable to be more hands-off in public until that point. By encouraging Europe (UK, France) to do more of the diplomatic dog-work (such as providing UN recognition for a Palestinian state) Obama can safely delegate responsibility for negotiating territorial demands, whereupon it will be possible to return with a reinvigorated mandate to deal with the more troublesome issue of 'right of return'.

Yet with ongoing house-building deep in the West Bank, such as the recently completed Ma'aleh Zeitim community, Israelis are at least equally as engaged in this game of brinkmanship as Americans, each trying to buy time in which to influence events ahead of that coming juncture in September.

Worse still for advocates of the 'two-state' solution, the lack of any prospective quid pro quo means this is a literal non-starter since a final settlement on those terms would lead to the worst possible consequences, as Louis Rene Beres bewails with some frightening hyperbole.

He argues if a 'two-state' solution becomes a 'two-stage' solution where the return of Palestinian refugees creates demographic pressures to overturn the inbuilt Jewish domination of democratic control within Israeli borders then the great fear of xenophobic proclamations promising the destruction of Israel could be matched by the spectre of renewed genocide on home territory and the hoped-for final settlement could transform into a new 'final solution', though Carlo Strenger suggests this would easily be averted by simply including the renunciation of additional territorial claims as a part of recognition of agreed borders along 1967 lines.

Nevertheless the prophetic voices murmuring about a new Islamic Caliphate are given credence by nascent signs of a reborn pan-Arabist trend emerging from the uprisings across the region (albeit on a basis of emphasising social justice rather than ethnic, linguistic or cultural similarity) and notwithstanding the plurality of national and tribal Imams this could easily transform under the guidance of an Islamic Pope-figure imbued with supreme spiritual authority and significant financial and military muscle.

Although expressed with more typical chutzpah, the 'one-state solution' preferred by some pro-Israeli conservatives has some solid rationality when presented from the Jewish perspective - an argument which may actually gain traction were the values of religious freedom applied equally on all sides.

It appeals to Ruth Wisse, who remembers the assertive establishment of the Israeli state came about as a result of concerted resistance to 'malevolent' political forces in the aftermath of the holocaust when "there was a sense that evil in the world meant political evil" and Jews therefore became representative of 'a kind of liberal democracy'.

Yonatan Touval also takes up the debate to attack Netanyahu's assertion of the Zionist belief that Israel is a 'Jewish state' and the conflict only exists because Arabs resist the concept of a Jewish sovereignty. In particular he argues there is an inherent contradiction in a system where Rabbis determine the identity of Jews and the use of their rulings is accepted as a legitimate basis for the citizenry of a national polity.

And, as Aluf Benn describes, Netanyahu's opposition towards movement on negotiating positions for the four key points risks a diplomatic 'fiasco' by placing his insistence of Israel's 'Jewish character' at odds with growing consensus on separation of powers between church and state both regionally and across the world.

A strong push for Palestinian statehood at the UN's annual congress in September may prove successful, yet the underlying conflict between global religion and nation-states still remains and is therefore unlikely to immediately resolve all potential for hostilities.

Keys to the peace

So, returning to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, the 'friendly and indirect right to intervene' in internal affairs replaced a direct imperial presence and mutual devastation was replaced by mediation directed toward forgiveness of past actions and economic policies for reconstruction expressly for 'the benefit of the other'. And at a geographical level the mystical attachment to particular locations gradually dissipated as the state was secured through greater democratic legitimacy allowing wide-ranging flexibility on territorial disputes (for instance compare the Westphalia of the 17th Century with the region of the same name today).

According to the European example, state sovereignty gradually superceded the personal inheritance of classical dualistic authority over church and military.

From Charlemagne onwards (particularly under the Ottonians from 962) the elected 'King of the Romans' - typically the commander of the strongest army among eligible candidates - had been formally required to be crowned by the 'Bishop of Rome' in Rome in order to become Holy Roman Emperor, but as religious authority waned with the introduction of more tangible forms of legitimacy among earthly rulers Church power eventually became limited to the micro-state of the Papal See in the Vatican, and within these confines the Pope now holds responsibility for diplomatic relations of the 'universal government of the Catholic Church' - this according to both the British Ambassador and the US State Department.

In effect this religious micro-state is the physical and practical embodiment of Western secularism. It offers a partial model for framing realistic resolutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict - whether or not efforts to gain Palestinian statehood succeed this autumn, or the potential for escalating violence spills over from the process of democratisation in neighbouring states.

From my point-of-view foundation of a new micro-state to represent 'the universal government of the Jewish faith' (as opposed to the current national homeland for Jewish people) wouldn't mean the abolition of Israel or any reduction in Jewish involvement in their own political affairs, but it would remove the fundamental complaint that Israel cannot represent people of all and no faiths equally which is maintained because the pressure for a state protector of Jews is irresistible.

European countries may be criticised by extreme multi-culturalists of different shades as unequal and biased against non-Christian minorities, but if it is true (and I'm prepared to dispute it) this is a product of history and no longer a cause of it because Christians can now look to the Vatican - significantly the USA only established full diplomatic relations with John Paul II in 1984, to all intents and purposes the moment when the Cold War was effectively won leading to the point where national sovereignty within Europe was regained.

It was that archetypal muscular liberal Macchiavelli who originally made the case that the Papal States were too weak to unify either Italy or Europe, yet too strong to allow unification from any other source - and that the failure to unify had been the cause of continual strife and economic divergence. Similar to Bildt he was drawing on a lifetime's hard diplomatic experience, although where Bildt opposed the struggles of racial and religious claims to reestablish a universal meaning of 'Europe' Macchiavelli navigated between the civil conflicts of the Guelfs and Ghibellines (Papal and Imperial supporters respectively) to make an as-yet unchallenged case for the secular polity of modernity which could appeal to all sides equally within the European family of nations.

This exact same argument does, but has not yet been applied to the current Middle Eastern questions. Should we do so we could see that the same logic carries us to the same conclusion. Israel is too weak to project power over the whole region, yet because her existence as a lone flame is to be protected at whatever cost she stays too strong to allow any other contender to make a serious challenge and therefore the region remains fractured, violent and home to some of the greatest disparities in wealth, health, happiness and well-being on the planet.

Condensing those 336 years of western secular development into any shortened timeframe would be certain to cause a string of other problems, but there are perhaps a few shortcuts to be made by pointing out corresponding requirements beyond the territorial integrity and supreme authority within it of the nation-state.

The most obvious of these may be the most difficult to implement: simple demarkation of the Old City of Jerusalem as an independent ecclesiastical entity, comparable to the Vatican City, effectively removing the single fundamental barrier to peace and thereby enhancing security and ensuring greater access to the disputed holy sites - to all sides.

But as with Solomon's parable, so too his city: the people cannot decide among themselves, and the moment of truth is fast arriving.

Ongoing mutual suspicion between the parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict is preventing agreement on potential forms of common interest, causing wholesale restraints on sovereign action with the result that violence is increasingly divorced from the real concerns of the people and self-determination is made nigh-on impossible. While global support networks of expatriates, compatriots, sympathisers and interested onlookers continue to remit their aid to each side the conflagration will never lack for fresh fuel, and even the faint hopes for either a 'peace of the exhausted' or a true liberation will remain extinguished.

With pressure for recognition of Palestinian statehood growing the threat of destabilisation created by the Arab Spring meant Nato has been forced to set a timescale to complete the decapitation of Gaddafi before September and enable redeployment of diplomatic force towards the more difficult problem of removing Assad from Syria and the particular strategic flashpoint of the Golan Heights.

In the worst case the terror organisations sponsored by the Egyptian, Libyan and Syrian states under Mubarak, Gaddafi and Assad would have combined with the global jihadist movement in a post-Arab Spring scenario. Add in lingering discontent from an unrecognised Palestine and the collapse of any roadmap to peace then all the ingredients are there to merge into a resurgent intifada with their sights set directly on Netanyahu's 'Jewish' Israel.

Under those conditions what liberal or democrat would ever risk trying to flex enough muscle to make the necessarily decisive intervention to win peace? Nothing less than a ruthlessly calculated certainty from a completely self-sacrificing idealist would do, and even then the nuclear option looms over the horizon ready to kick-start it all again - something which would certainly bring about devastation along with immediate exhaustion!

As I urged above:
"there is a new challenge, namely to moderate the absolute nature of national sovereignty in order to apply it equally and universally to uncover a new global sovereignty, or see the gains of modernity crumble as it is faced with a new combination of religious conviction and racial identity backed by modern military technology."
It is a challenge that must be met or risk turning back history to before the enlightenment - and September isn't that far away!


Wrestling with 'muscular' liberalism - pt1