Some first thoughts on Trump.

What Will He Do?

I suspect that the Donald is really only interested in using the levers of power to maximise his personal wealth.

Lots of commentators have pointed to inevitable tax cuts, but that’s not thinking like the king of the jungle. If it were the UK, I would predict that he would quickly enable The Trump Organisation to run all public services, and indulge in a grab of all publicly owned land, resources and intellectual property. I’m not sure if this is as a rich a vein of wealth in America, but the idea still holds.

He is also likely to use his new job as a bargaining tool to make personally beneficial deals with global power players. We can only guess what enslavement of the US population he will promise.

In terms of any other area of government policy, the man’s too uninterested in politics to actually do anything that will cause him aggravation. He’ll leave all that to the motley crew of right wing crazies that he’s assembled on his coat tails to fight it out with the rest of the Republican Party – a more dishonestly (or at least self-deludedly) Trump-enabling bunch of anti-intellectuals (who will no doubt spend the next four years martyrising themselves.)

My chief concern is the way he will deal with dissent – domestically and from abroad. I fear what the greediest man in the world will achieve now that he is in charge of the most armed police force in the world and the biggest military artillery in the world.


How Did He Do It?

In terms of what to learn from the election result, there are so many strands that the reasons are likely to become tangled in retrospective analysis.

Having said that, the three most interesting stats I have seen are:

  1. Clinton won more votes.
  2. Trump support was more about immigration than inequality*.3-768x496.png
  3. Trump lost significantly with voters earning less than £50,000 and won in income brackets above this. More here.


I would only add two thoughts:

The Trump victory adds grist to the mill about the idea that politics is becoming more about cultural identities than it is about how to run a country. To win, US Democrats (and all left-leaning politicians) must stop focussing on left-pleasing issues and really engage with the issues relevant to opposition supporters. This takes real diplomacy and good judgment without being judgmental. But as long as politicians on the left fail to do this, they will remain in a holding pattern hoping for the young generation to become a critical mass of leftist voters.

My other thought regards Trump’s complete lack of concern about offending anyone and how it plays out (bizarrely) as a strength. Trump’s endless abusiveness (especially to “fellow” Republicans) was the behaviour of an alpha human so self-assured that he could freely abuse politicians and civilians on all sides without concern for his own safety or poll ratings. To publicly and unashamedly abuse a Gold Star family showed such conceit and disregard for morality or diplomacy, that many would have instinctively seen it (deep down in their primal pack psychology) as strength and leadership.


And finally… I can’t leave the subject without comparing Trump and Corbyn. There are many similarities (as there are with Bernie Sanders). Trump and Corbyn have committed to a “mass movement” campaign, eschewing the political establishment and standing tall as their own man in a defunct political system. Howevever, my suspicion is that Corbyn has no more chickens left to hatch. Indeed, Trump, Brexit and the 2015 UK general election all showed that hidden, unpolled votes support socially unacceptable right wing views.





May’s Labour Bomb

With the right of the Conservative party sated by their Brexit win – and UKIP now irrelevant and infighting – the Conservative leadership can now make an appeal to the centre.

In yesterday’s speech to conference May began the shift claiming an enthusiasm for the state, appealing to those who may be becoming convinced by the weight of professional opinion calling for more public investment.

The reality is that Hammond’s promise to build 40,000 homes over 5 years is so meaningless that it may as well be 4 not 40,000.

But this tiny gesture will be enough to convince enough voters that Cameron’s Etonocracy and Osbornes’s austerity are now in the past.

By putting a red pinpoint on a blue flag May can masquerade as working class champion.

Equally, painting Corbyn supporters as a deluded, wealthy, metropolitan elite will play very easily with a population which is thoroughly enjoying causing trouble for the imagined authority figures of the politically correct establishment.

Corbyn’s team had better react fast.

Talking to the People (or Multi-Political-Culturalism)

Matthew Bishop’s (SPERI) post (via Simon Wren-Lewis Mainly Macro) includes a terrific example of how to constructively win people over on the economic debate.

His suggestion to draw out the correctness in people’s belief’s rather than attacking the wrongness is the bedrock of negotiation.

David Miliband and Owen Smith have struck a similar chord. Understanding that the Left has to win the votes of people who voted Conservative is essential. (I have gone into the maths of why winning the votes of other leftist parties will not be enough to win power here.)

Naturally, there is a fear that conciliation means compromise, selling out or even treason.

But as Bishop points out one can keep one’s intellectual and moral integrity while being respectful of your audience / detractors / opponents. A more level headed approach to understanding how to win people over is needed.

The success of New Labour was rooted in understanding that the general election was a negotiation with the entire electorate, not just hoping the party’s core beliefs will be enough to convince. Respect for those who disagree with you is an important part of that. Hillary Clinton’s labelling of half of Trump supporters as “deplorables”  was a big mistake, picked up on by those supporters, who quite rightly said that, if she does become president, she will be their president as well, so she needs to respect everyone. (The irony of this is not lost on me.)

Brexit and Trumpism are many things, but I believe that, above all, they reveal that politics is cultural not rational. On all sides, from supporters of Trump, Brexit and Corbyn, I see sensible people quoting extraordinarily unreliable sources to justify their views.

One of New Labour’s great tactical successes was to represent many cultures of the left in its top leadership: Blair the Middle Class Moderate, Brown the Technocratic Puritan and Prescott the Straight Talking Union Man.

The New Labour use of focus groups has been denigrated. But it is not unhealthy for leaders, in order to escape their ivory tower, to engage in such democratic research. The irony is that many on the far left are critical of New Labour’s focus groups, while simultaneously criticising Blair for not listening to members.

I have considered how I would try and engage a wide range of people in a conversation about the failure of austerity in a liquidity trap. The answer is that with many people (due to my own limitations not theirs) I wouldn’t be able to.

Superficially, one might think that the language I use might not be appropriate – and yes, the words, phrases and colloquialisms are important – they are culturally specific. Using the language of different political cultures is important. But it is not just the words that differ between political cultural groups, but the content too. For Brexiteers and Trump fans, they do not talk about low demand being the cause of the global slump, so there is little point talking with them about it. They have a parallel universe of politics which is about protectionism, patriotism and religion. To engage with them, we must engage with their content. In Brexitland, the fears about long term damage to the economy was not relevant. The content priorities were national sovereignty and immigration. There was little traction to be gained by ignoring this and having a parallel conversation about the economy. There was much talk during the Brexit campaign that Remainers had won the argument on the economy. But, of course, it was of no consequence.

A recent video interviewing very poor Republican supporters revealed, unsurprisingly, that they would rather die hungry and poor than vote for a party that would compromise their morals. In this case, their morals were anti-abortion, homophobic and anti-Muslim. That aside, it is the fact that morality is their political priority not personal prosperity. How they came to this conclusion, is a different matter.

So Labour must now start talking with many heads on one body. Not contradicting each other as the Conservatives have now taken to doing, but delivering the same message using the different languages and concentrating on the different priorities of political cultures of the UK.



The Labour Representation Zebra

PLP: Anti-Corbyn

The greatest frustrations of both pro and anti-Corbyn camps stem from their beliefs about the importance of representation.

The perception of the Blair leadership as having a top-down approach left many Labour members frustrated over not being able to contribute to policy.

(The amount of input individuals should expect in any organisation, especially one the size of Labour, is, of course, Political Theory 101. Should MPs be representatives or delegates? Should they be that for their constituents or for their local party members? Should there be a party whip? The problem of excessive demands for the dominance of the individual over the organisation is flippantly parodied in the 1970 film The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer where a charlatan rises to become Prime Minister and cedes every single government decision to voters. The result is predictable chaos.)

Yet, at the same time as expressing frustration with not having enough input, there was criticism of the importance placed on the focus groups that characterised Blair’s policy making. The paradoxical resentment of the larger population’s opinion being sought whilst feeling member’s opinions were ignored remains a sticking point in the current Labour leadership contest.

It is not surprising then that Corbyn, the figurehead of the frustrated group, while representing a consensus of members, does not represent a consensus among his MPs or non-member Labour supporters, let alone the general public.

In this twisted situation, is the membership as guilty of ignoring Labour-supporting non-members and the general public as they feel the PLP is of ignoring the membership?

Just as Labour members (pre-2015) may have been right to be frustrated with a leadership that refused to listen, the PLP has the right to be frustrated with a membership that won’t listen.

The vote of no confidence in Corbyn was a message to which many in the party refused to listen. Rather than being seen for what it was (a warning that Corbyn was a poor manager*), the vote was met with the accusation that the members’ decision was not being respected. This is interesting language.

It is fair to assume that the majority of pro-Corbyn Labour members have been members of a political party for less than a year. This does not in any way reduce the validity of their opinion or vote. But they are claiming that their vote in the leadership election of 2015 morally trumps their duty to listen to MPs who have invariably sacrificed years as unpaid Labour councillors and have years of experience as public communicators engaging with people from a much wider political and social spectrum than the vast majority of members, new or old.

I have heard many times from pro-Corbyn members that the MPs are there to serve the will of the party. Well, they’re trying. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t stop it drowning itself.

When it comes to make their final decision in the next few weeks, members who want to be listened to would do well to consider returning the favour.


* We can’t blame Corbyn for Labour supporters voting 70/30 against Brexit (a fairly positive result), but MPs like Eagle, Johnson et al are not criticising outcome as much as process. They say Corbyn was hopeless at communicating within the party or organising the EU campaign. Both Eagle and Johnson claim that Corbyn didn’t return their calls and when he did was very difficult to engage. On the BBC debate this week, when Corbyn tried to claim joint credit for parliamentary work done by Owen Smith, the latter declared that he had only been able to have one meeting on the matter with Corbyn in 9 months.

On the matter of competent advocacy, Corbyn actively avoids mainstream media. It is unclear whether this is because he is scared of it, doesn’t see the value in it or is trying to punish the media for their prior treatment of him. He may have found inspiration in Geoffrey Boycott’s words about the press: “They smile and then they stab – and they think the next time they come along for a comment you are going to forget the wounding things they write and obligingly talk to them.” As the leader of the opposition, and prospective Prime Minister, such thinking is beyond a luxury. Corbyn’s counter strategy is to say / hope / pretend that Labour’s “mass movement” will be a more powerful communication mechanism than TV and radio appearances. One of Geoffrey Boycott’s other quotes might be appropriate here. Take your pick.

NEC and Necessity

The Labour NEC results yesterday are a clear indication – as if one was needed – that Corbyn is going to win the Labour leadership election.

So what happens now?

Firstly, we must accept that the Labour party is in no way the same party that it was eighteen months ago.

The new members now so overwhelm the old members (many of whom may now be having second thoughts about staying members) that, apart from the MPs, hardly anyone involved is the same.

Labour as a moderate party is dead.

By moderate I mean a party that is looking to find a consensus with the entire UK electorate (as opposed to a party that actively desires to implement centrist policies).

Current Labour MPs can no longer expect to represent both the membership and their constituents. These groups are now incompatible.

The best thing for moderate MPs to do now is to step back and allow deselection to happen. They must remain in the party and “go high” as Michelle Obama put it.

The Corbyn project must be allowed a chance (democratically and pragmatically) to succeed or fail. Any interference now can only be counterproductive.

If Corbyn’s Labour is unelectable, as those opposed to him believe, it needs to be proven so, and it needs to be proven so well before the next general election.

But what if May calls a general election immediately after Corbyn’s victory? It is likely on current polling that Labour would be thoroughly beaten. If this is the case, it will be very tempting for the anti-Corby lobby to jump on him again.

But in the long term this will be counterproductive as Team Corbyn will still be able to blame failure on the disruptive PLP.

So, however Labour moderates look at it, Corbyn should be allowed space until 2018. If not, any lessons to be learned from immoderacy, will not be.

Corbyn does seem to have received a bit of a kick from having to justify his existence as any more than an anti-austerity candidate. The big concern for Corbyn skeptics now is that (as seen in all recent pre-election behaviours on Left and Right) we may see Corbyn adopt a strategy of silence.

If this is the case, any fallibility will remain cloaked allowing him to do what Miliband did and keep members hanging on to an ever fraying thread of belief that he would deliver policy they wanted in the way that they wanted. Miliband’s tenure vexed members failing to take the fight to the Tories – most notably in his abject failure to counter the “Labour caused the global crash” narrative.

If Corbyn succeeds in a similar silence, as is certain with his current superstar status, he will lead Labour at the general election after 2018.

Does this matter?

Well, one more term of Conservative governance will guarantee the strangling of the public sector which the electorate will be convinced to release into the rescuing hands of the private sector.

So, yes, it does matter.

If, as the political scientists suggest, Corbyn is unelectable, yesterday’s NEC results have signalled Conservative government until 2025 and the absolute certainty that the British public sector is at an end.


Just a quick thought on the decision (as I have read it) to allow banks to have lower reserve rates.

I like Carney, but I pity the man.

He is once again boxed into a position where he has to make risky decisions because Conservative politicians will not face the truth that the only safe way out of recession is (aside from ignoring the Leave vote!) fiscal stimulus.

As almost all economists would agree, austerity is contractionary particularly at the zero-lower bound. So when a chancellor refuses to stimulate the economy with increased government spending, the governor of the Bank of England is stuck having to make extreme monetary policy decisions. With more QE possibly already on the way, this new option is being floated to allow banks to lend more than they should in order to encourage spending.

Good lord.

The only significant action the UK took to mitigate another banking crisis like 2008 was to force banks to keep more reserves. No prosecutions, no one held to account, no separation of the domestic and investment banking systems. Nothing… except raiding the ratio of reserves to risk.

And now even that is getting reversed.

The captain has been sacked but he’s still sailing the ship with his blind fold on.

Urghh… What’s the Point?!

I have had a number of conversations with friends supportive of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership which have, strangely, come down to the final sentence, “Urghh… What’s the point?!”

The response comes after my (undoubtedly annoying) flagging up of the electoral maths that faces Labour.

This maths says that Labour must take votes from people who voted Conservative last time. I base this on the fact that even if Miliband had won all the seats that went to the SNP (56), the Greens (1), Lib Dems (8) and Labour (232) he would still have been 33 seats short of the Conservatives’ 330.

For a lot of his supporters Corbyn appears to provide the only chance for the party to be truly Socialist. And, for many, if Labour can’t be a truly Socialist party, what’s the point?

Ironically the result of the referendum may be Corbyn’s salvation.

The result indicates to some extent that the traditional left / right spectrum may now be misleading. Labour leaders and members are very concerned that they are losing traditional supporters to UKIP. Equally the Conservatives are losing traditional middle England supporters to Farage & Co. And it may be that Corbyn’s restrained enthusiasm for remaining in the EU might make him the only leader on the left capable of fully honouring Brexit.

So I think that there may be some electoral hope for a Corbyn government. Only a thorough polling will reveal this.

The 2016 local election results tell another story though. Across the country Labour lost seats overall. I had an email from Corbyn’s team this week saying that Labour became the largest party in the local elections. For context, Labour was already the largest in England where it only gained control of 1 more council (with an overall loss of 11 councillors). In the Scottish assembly (where they are now the third largest party) Labour lost 13 seats. In the Welsh assembly they lost a seat. This tells of the other complication for Corbyn’s Labour. He may be able to attract back traditional working class voters – but this may only benefit him in areas where Labour is already winning.

It may be that the only way a leftist party can win in the UK is for it to be more centrist. Or it may be that this entire issue is not about policy appeal, but personality appeal.

Whether Corbyn’s “quiet dignified man” archetype will have that appeal will have to polled to be believed.

So… urrgh! Is there a point? Well for lots of Corbyn supporters (as with post-primary Bernie supporters), a centrist government seems to be as bad a right-wing government. So for them, they must fight the good fight.

For others, the maths might indeed tell them that unless Corbyn can turn UK politics on its head, there is no point. This week it seems, though, anything is possible.