The ignored hit back

I guess I am old fashioned in many ways. I still see politics as the old fashioned battle between Labour and Conservative, left and right, workers and bosses. Of course I realise that we are seeing an increasing pluralism, but this is still not recognised by an electoral system designed for contests between Whigs and Tories.

UKIP have thrown a spanner into the works. Whatever their pretentions to the blue collar vote they were born from the right-wing Euro-sceptic wing of the Conservative Party, the awkward squad that gave John Major many a headache post 1992.

UKIP fought the recent elections on two issues essentially: Europe and immigration. These two issues have captured the zeitgeist, and UKIP’s success comes from the somewhat woolly responses from the red and blue camps. Simply put, David Cameron’s Conservatives have got to make their mind up about Europe (the promised referendum neatly avoids having to answer the question for now), and Ed Miliband’s Labour Party, which strikes me as pro-EU, must produce a clear and cogent set of reasons for this position.

I doubt many would challenge the idea that the EU is in sore need of reform. Labour, whilst arguing that we are better off in, must describe what changes to the EU it would strive for. My current shopping list of changes would include making the EU more democratic, sorting out those unaudited accounts, and scrapping the Common Agricultural Policy.

As for immigration, this is a knotty problem. Whilst the benefits of immigration may seem obvious to metropolitan elites, to those whose wages are being driven down by cheap migrant labour, or who have to endure some pretty awful and un-neighbourly behaviour, or who see migrants seemingly avoiding work yet still able to enjoy a reasonable lifestyle, these arguments fall on deaf ears. I do not think that much has gone wrong, but when the wealth gap is growing and the economy is struggling migrants are easy targets. It is no surprise that the frustrated seek to vent their frustrations.

UKIP have had it easy. Not only is it easy to shout from the side-lines, falling turnout makes those especially animated enough to vote appear a lot louder. They may have a set of unworkable policies that will make everyone’s lot more miserable, but I doubt many have troubled themselves to find out what these are. They have, to their supporters’ eyes, the more attractive headlines – why bother with detail?

UKIP have been assisted by a media sensing a story, and by a lack of engagement in many areas by local parties. Dwindling party membership has made the challenge of reaching into communities a lot harder, but the major parties have also been guilty of being too selective in who they speak to. The ignored have hit back.

You cannot dismiss everyone who is worried by immigration or Europe as xenophobic. You cannot mark every dissenting voice from your own orthodoxy as ‘against’, ignore them and hope they forget to vote. You have to engage, and you have to persuade.

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13 Responses to The ignored hit back

  1. James says:

    A few comments
    1) Why are you saying a proportional representation voting system is one designed for a two party system.
    2) All leaflets delivered by UKIP in the local elections were focussed on local issues. Europe was not mentioned once (I am 98% sure of that.)

  2. 1) The local elections are fought using first past the post.
    2) The essential narrative in the UKIP campaign nationally was on the issues of Europe and immigration. This may have not been mentioned in the few local election leaflets distributed by their candidates, but it was the main driver for those who supported them at the ballot box.

  3. My current shopping list of changes would include making the EU more democratic, sorting out those unaudited accounts, and scrapping the Common Agricultural Policy.

    Nice to see someone produce a shopping list – if only as a “starter for 10”.

    What do you mean when you say “making the EU more democratic”? Any change means a change in the balance of power between the Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the Commission. Unfortunately (?) National Governments will defend the Council of Ministers to the end. If we want a more democratic EU – the parliament having more powers? – we have to accept that it will then have more legitimacy. And you know the argument about the Commons not liking the idea of the Lords having more legitimacy! Making the EU democratic goes straight to the sovereignty issue.

    Sorting out the unaudited accounts is important from a presentational point of view; my understanding is that most of the problems relate to auditing the spending of grant monies by third parties, not central Commission spending. I don’t deny that it should be done, but I think the Commission should be trying other approaches as well – such as sanctioning national governments if grant spenders in their countries fail to properly account for their spending. We might also consider exactly what sort of “accounting” is required; I suspect it goes beyond merely having a proper receipt for each item of expenditure and includes more complex bureaucratic “accountability” such as “measuring outcomes” and apportioning incremental benefits (“What value do you put on benefits that would not have happened without the EU Grant?”).

    The other lunacy that I would add to your list is the Strasbourg shuffle – which appears to (nearly) all as utter stupidity. This will however upset the French, so how to do it without having to expensively “buy them off” by, for instance, not reforming the CAP? Is suspect that the number of nations that believe they are benefiting from the CAP exceed those who are not, and whilst the Council of Ministers holds so much sway things will not change. Back to your first point.

  4. Becoming more democratic is likely to be incremental, and the role of commissioners, as well as how they get their position, would likely come under scrutiny.

    Point taken about the audit – although I think it is something like fourteen years since the accounts last passed an audit.

    Agree about the shuffle between Brussels and Strasbourg.

  5. There is an easy and quick way to stop the Strasbourg shuffle which I first heard proposed down the pub years ago.

    The EU parliament must sit in Strasbourg for 12 sessions each year, so rename the Parliament chamber in BRUSSELS “Strasbourg” and there you go.

  6. As for immigration, this is a knotty problem. Whilst the benefits of immigration may seem obvious to metropolitan elites, to those whose wages are being driven down by cheap migrant labour, or who have to endure some pretty awful and un-neighbourly behaviour, or who see migrants seemingly avoiding work yet still able to enjoy a reasonable lifestyle, these arguments fall on deaf ears.

    There is a danger, possibly exemplified in the above quote, of legitimising UKIP’s claims that migration is the source of all evils.

    Are wages being driven down by “cheap migrant labour”, – or by lax/non enforcement of minimum wage and working time regulations? I suspect that many of these jobs were already minimum wage jobs anyway.

    Is un-neighbourly behaviour because “10 Romanians have moved in next door” – or because of lax/non enforcement of housing regulations, poor housing standards, lax/non enforcement of laws regarding behaviour.

    Is seeing migrants “seemingly avoiding work yet still able to enjoy a reasonable lifestyle” – due to lax immigration rules or generally due to a lax attitude to welfare payments.

    Is not getting your child into the school of choice due to “immigrants” – or due to inadequate planning by the local education authority?

    Is not getting a GP appointment within 48 hours due to “immigrants” – or due to giving doctors a contract that divorces them from supply and demand, coupled with inadequate planning.

    This government does not believe in “big state” and wants the “market to provide”. Well it won’t and we are seeing the results of laissez-faire right now. Blaming migrants won’t cut it – or at least should not cut it.

  7. jayman says:

    UKIP are the ugly cousin of the Tory party, They dilate the fears of the financially vulnerable while courting the gated communities of the socially sanitised and wealthy, right-wing. I’m sure UKIP voters are not xenophobes themselves, the’re just guilty of being so easily seduced by such people.

  8. I guess I am old fashioned in many ways. I still see politics as the old fashioned battle between Labour and Conservative, left and right, workers and bosses.

    One dimensional politics is always dangerous. I think we are seeing two other dimensions that might be becoming more important that the plain economic right/left dimension:

    Liberal vs Authoritarian – Blair skewed us towards the authoritarian (Criminal Justice Acts etc.) and many Conservatives are disinclined to try to move things back.

    Communitarian vs Individualist – Americanisation is taking us towards the Individualist and challenging the Labour vote in particular. Whilst the rich are (mainly) very happy to see policies skew towards Individualism (a.k.a. personal responsibility, self-reliance, the weak go to the wall because they are unworthy) and the Conservatives are happy to encourage this, getting the poor to support it is a much more difficult trick. Perhaps this is what UKIP are doing. By persuading the less well off that the welfare state is excessively supporting “the other” (notably migrants but also “welfare scroungers”), you can turn them against that very welfare state. And if you don’t support that welfare state – why support Labour?

    UKIP and the Conservatives have a similar policy base. It is therefore quite reasonable to believe that their support will oscillate between the two – they are both Individualist parties. The same cannot be said for Labour. Once you have made the emotional jump to supporting UKIP it is not so much a case of having lent your vote to them, but of leaving Labour and not coming back,

    The “squeezed middle” is not just those economically squeezed but also those who believe in the state as a force for community good. They are being attacked from one side by the rich who do not want to contribute and from the other by those who no longer believe.

    The key dimension of the next election may be Individualist (like Americans – particularly Republicans and their faction the Tea Party) or Communitarian (like much of Europe).

    Tories, Whigs/Orange Bookers, and UKIP vs Social Democracy, Liberal Democracy and Greens. And that does not equate to rich vs poor or the traditional class divide.

  9. I do not think that I have suggested supporting any of UKIP’s policies – and if I have been unclear then let me categorically state that I do not advocate this. However, there clearly is disquiet amongst large sections of the electorate who have lent their support to UKIP last week. I think we (Labour) should acknowledge this and try to figure out what can and should be done to assuage this disquiet. This does not mean selling out or taking a lurch to the right.

    Absolutely there are infrastructure problems that have exacerbated the issue – a house building programme (for example) is much needed. (This would get the NIMBYs animated, and the rise of NIMBYism, especially in local politics, is something I hope to address in another post at some point.)

    It is not just minimum wage jobs that migrants are taking: in my area (IT) we are seeing jobs outsourced to cheaper sources of labour, and I have family and friends in the building trade that tell me many stories of a race to the bottom in terms of remuneration.

    As for my binary approach to politics – I blame my Marxist upbringing.

    I have always been prepared to listen to voices from all sides of the political spectrum. I have also been prepared to take a robust position in defending the welfare state and other public services. I additionally accept that you cannot please all of the people all of the time. But, I also understand that whilst one section of your constituency actually delivers power to you, once elected you should strive to represent all.

  10. This is interesting. Have you heard about the idea to democratise the economy? It appears to come from the idea that trade unions are now too weak to be effectual at ensuring workers have a say in consumerist economics and politics. At the moment, the main stakeholders are the top tiers of management, directors, Westminster elite and sometimes consumers. What has happened to shareholders?

    I believe shareholders have become ineffectual. There are pressure groups (share action) that are working towards changing this situation. However, I believe there needs to be root and branch reform. The 19th Century model of the limited company is out moded. We need other elements within our capitalist system. There needs to be a voice for the worker, our planet, and the lives of future generations of all organisms. Otherwise I believe, the planet will return to cyanobacteria and perhaps cockroaches…..If you need more narrative then watch Wall-ee!

    On a separate point, I am considerably concerned about the immigration debate. Borders are a human construct. We have created slightly different rules and cultures within these borders. However, the planet does not think about these borders and to be honest, it does not care. I believe, we have got our priorities wrong. We are moving towards a planet of 9 billion people, if we can not learn to co-operate then the natural laws of the planet will reduce our species. Just thinking the dinosaurs were able to stay on this planet longer than this……And we believe reptiles have smaller brains. Why are homo sapiens uber-confident?

  11. What has happened to shareholders?

    I believe shareholders have become ineffectual. There are pressure groups (share action) that are working towards changing this situation. However, I believe there needs to be root and branch reform. The 19th Century model of the limited company is out moded.

    Is it outmoded or has it been overtaken? The idea of a shareholding democracy is false.

    The 19th century model sought to attract individuals to risk their capital in specific “ventures”. As a consequence you had a high level of shareholder involvement.

    During the 20th century we saw two moves:
    1) Numerous companies acts – which sought to regulate the way limited liability companies behaved particularly in relation to shareholders.
    2) Investment funds arose acting as intermediaries between the investor and the companies.

    Due to (1) companies became more distinct entities – more independent of their shareholders and shareholders were relieved of some of the responsibility to “watch over” their investment – all they had to worry about was increased share value (never mind if that was a true reflection of the company’s value) and dividend flow (never mind whether it was a true reflection of the profits of the company).

    Due to (2) investors ceased to be direct shareholders, but fundholders – often unaware of the actual underlying investments. The Company management was no longer relevant – the “fund manager” was the king – and paid a king’s ransom.

    Funds – either investment or pension funds – often have a “fiduciary duty” to “act in the best interests of fundholders”. You cannot easily aggregate the different interests of different fundholders into a single “fundholder interest” – so this interest has in many cases come to mean “short-term profits” usually driven by quarterly reporting and quarterly or half-yearly dividend payments. Again this dividend flow is more important than the underlying profits. The big companies (majority owned by just a few funds) dance to the tune of these predominantly amoral funds. They even hold “analysts’ briefings” to indicated how the companies are doing. (I have never understood how this is allowed under “insider dealing” rules as said analysts get information before “normal” shareholders – and would be saints if they did not act on that information. And if they were not going to act on it, why bother telling them?)

    Taxation rules often mean it is better to invest through funds rather than directly. If you talk to a financial adviser, the chances are he will recommend “funds” based on fund performance and tax advantages. Rarely will he recommend direct investment. In the days of commission based fund sales this was understandable – even if regrettable; now the movement to paying your advisor directly (rather than him getting commissions from the funds he sells) should change this. But if you are an advisor (wary of being sued) do you keep yourself informed of numerous individual companies or of a more limited number of funds (which still have tax advantages)?

    Thus the 19th century model has been brushed aside. Do we bring it back? If so how do we get more direct investment and more direct shareholder involvement – and what does that mean for those comfort blankets called pension funds?

  12. Perhaps I should also add:

    A benefit of fundholding rather than shareholding is the opportunity for diversification. As you spread your wealth across more investments you stand less risk of significant loss due to low performance (or even company bankruptcy). The downside of this is that you are less concerned about the health of the individual companies behind the fund. You can push for higher dividend flow, knowing that you can afford to “lose a few” on the way. The few that get lost mean little to the fundholder, but represent a lot more to the company involved, its employees, its customers and its suppliers.

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