Archive for ‘Britain’

Another One Bites the Dust

By , 5 June, 2009, 1 Comment

It is technically premature to call Gordon Brown a dust-biter, but the dismal results from yesterday’s local elections suggest Labour’s days are numbered. Indeed, David Cameron made a good point, for once noting that everyone gathered around their tellies looking for election results couldn’t even get them because the only news story was the flood of cabinet resignations and calls for Brown’s ouster. So far, Brown is hiding behind the loyalty of Darling and Mandelson, but I don’t think it will carry him past mid-summer, if that.

I’ll leave the horse race analysis of how the coup will unfold and who will replace Brown to others, but there’s one point relevant to the paradigm shifts Cappuccino follows. The nail in the coffin for Labour seems to have been the populist uproar over MP’s expenses and the rhetorical space that created for other anti-institutionalist arguments including the Tory rants against European integration and government welfare programs.

The election results thus support my longstanding belief that the real divide in society is between individualists and institutionalists and my hunch that institutionalists are losing that battle so badly and on so many fronts (from the referendum on Europe to Obama’s “new politics” to the collapse of organized media) that we might not rise to fight again.

David Cameron’s Cowboy Justice

By , 25 May, 2009, 1 Comment

Although today’s a U.S. holiday, I’m taking my time off to worry about the political winds across the pond in the U.K. Not only because I lived there a while and have friends with vested interests in how the next election pans out, but also because the core issue in that election is the same as the one I’ve been ranting about in our politics: the battle between institutionalists and individualists.

In Britain, however, it’s the individualist right, rather than the individualist left, that is ascendant over a Labour party that, so long as it’s led by Gordon Brown, will be all about big institutions tackling big social problems. The latest missive is Conservative leader David Cameron’s op-ed on the uproar over MPs’ expenses in the Guardian. Cameron begins with an assault on government abuse that reminds me of the individualist left’s assault on corporate bonuses a while back. His core argument: this is why institutions, all of them, are bad, and we should devolve more power to the people

“The anger, the suspicion, and the cynicism – yes, with politics and politicans, but with so much else – are the result of people’s slow but sure realisation that they have very little control over the world around them, and over much that determines whether of not they’ll live happy and fulfilling lives…So I believe the central objective of the new politics we need should be a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power: form the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities; from the EU to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy. Through decentralisation, transparency and accountability we must take power from the elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street…We should start by pushing political power down as far as possible…With every decision government makes, it should ask a series of simple questions: does this give power to people or take it away? Could we let individuals, neighbourhoods and communities take control? How far can we push power down?”

Part of me is glad Cameron wrote this item, because it should finally kill the delusions of those who are trying to cast him in an institutionalist light. The scariest claim is the push for replacing “judges”–the rule of law–with “the people.”–as in cowboy justice. The most absurd claim is the argument that the purpose of government should be to determine how much power it can give away. This is the great paradox of the individualist right: why run for state office if, ultimately, you don’t believe in the writ of the state? One hopes that the “people” in whom Cameron places so much faith will see through this circular logic, but that would require Labour to offer something coherent in response.

Gordon’s Day

By , 2 April, 2009, 2 Comments

Gotta hand it to Gordon today. Somehow, he’s pulled world leaders back from their insanity to agree to principles for that were, only a day ago, the butt of jokes among policy wonks. A triumph.

In the past week, much of the American media has referred to the IMF infusion in particular as though it were proposed by President Obama in the lead-up to this meeting. That’s wrong.

As readers of this blog will know, the whole combination of trade, aid, and regulation was the brainchild of Gordon Brown and the subject of his speech in Congress some weeks ago. At the time, the American media focused on his praise of the United States and on the symbolism of the moment, so American readers never processed the weight of his policy prescriptions.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration, realizing that a dramatic expansion of fiscal stimulus was not in the cards, began talking up the IMF infusion as though it were their plan, and journalists in the US political press have followed suit. World leaders were smart enough to let Gordon announce the comminque himself (he did superbly; video below), but the talking heads in the American press still spent the evening news discussing whether this as an achievement of the Obama team.

Obama and his celebrity charm get some credit for helping curmudgeonly Gordon get this done; surely Obama had some role in stopping Nicholas Sarkozy from throwing another tantrum. But the policies–using the IMF as a form of trade subsidization and trade as a form of development aid–don’t bear any signs of his input. That my colleagues in the political media insist on declaring otherwise only facilitates conservative critiques that they are in Obama’s tank.

Moreover, I find this strategy of taking credit for others’ ideas unnerving. There were two stories buried in the inside section of the NYT these past weeks about a Congressional effort–led by Ted Kennedy–to devise a health care bill, even before the administration has a Health Secretary. The emerging plan sounds a lot more like Hillary Clinton’s proposal from last spring than the Obama plan, but if it looks liable to get Congressional passage, you can bet it will get Obama branding.

Come on, Mr. President. Your popularity ratings are sky-high, where Gordon Brown is fighting for his political life. You are young with years ahead of you, where Ted Kennedy is singing his swan song. Take a back seat, for once, and give credit where it’s due.

I have drunk the Pimms

By , 6 March, 2009, 5 Comments

Larry Smith, one of my favorite political bloggers, has held my interest this year because he’s a liberal who has refused to drink the Obama Kool-Aid, and as a Brit, has risen above ideology by being able to critique his own Labour Party. But he has a ghastly post this week detailing all the reasons he’s ga-ga over President Obama’s first month in office, for which I took him to task in his comments section.

To be honest, I’m not in a great place to point fingers. Because while I am still pretty irked by President Obama, I have gone ga-ga for Gordon Brown. It’s been coming on for some time–for a while I was able to separate my admiration for his intelligence and his principles from his lack of political savvy and charisma. That division shattered when he addressed Congress on Wednesday–it was a personal, eloquent and yet forceful policy address the likes of which, as the British papers were quick to point out, Brown has never made in Westminister.

So in part, I just swooned to see Brown succeed on both political and policy fronts. But I was also bowled over by the content of his argument:

Battle of Britain

By , 6 November, 2008, 1 Comment

Now that (hopefully) your election-induced hangover has subsided, let me break some news: for all the symbolic resonance of Obama’s victory, there is more ideologically at stake across the pond in the British general elections, due to materialize by the end of 2010.

The One Eyed Man is King Among the Blind

By , 13 October, 2008, 1 Comment

Gordon Brown may have saved the world economy. Whether he can save his own career is still an unknown:

Last week, Brown unveiled his plan to combat the credit crisis: a transfusion of capital into UK banks in exchange for stakeholding rights, new requirements on lending practices, and government guarantees on inter-bank loans. Watch him explain the plan here. After a month of US and European governments waffling over the correct measures to take, after an American bailout package that passed but remains unpopular and unimplemented, Brown’s plan just made sense. As of today, those same European and US leaders are signing on to follow Brown’s lead.

Given how disastrous Brown’s run as PM has been thus far, it’s hard to understand where this stroke of genius came from. Until you take the longer view. As new Nobel winner Paul Krugman reminds us today, Brown is the economic brains behind the British revival that Tony Blair so often took credit for. While Blair travelled the world winning new political allies for Britain with his charm, the man behind the New Labour economy was the old curmudgeon from the University of Edinburgh, a former Blair rival who was blind in one eye. Blair was the better politician, but his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Brown, was the policy wonk.

So when the uncharismatic Brown took over for Blair last summer, and had to face political–as well as financial–responsibilities, he self-destructed. Despite valiant attempts to rebrand himself, his poll numbers have gotten worse every month since he took office…until now. That he might turn those numbers around with a policy that effectively nationalizes the banking sector suggests the final undoing of the free-market Thatcherite proposals that Brown and Blair were elected to reverse in 1997.

The question now is whether these nationalization policies can have their real economic effect (can “trickle down,” to borrow a phrase,) in time for the next elections.

The Sun Never Sets

By , 28 May, 2008, No Comment

Some people have too much time on their hands. Like this kid at Trinity College, Dublin, who calculated the number of links it takes to get from any article to any other article on Wikipedia. But thanks to his procrastination project, I can confirm that the British Empire is alive and well.

See in today’s world, connectivity is power. There might be more Google searches for “food” or “sex” or “Barack Obama” than there are users signing online to learn about the United Kingdom. But the Wiki entry on the UK has more links to other articles, is more centrally located in the Wiki universe than any of its flashier competitors.

In its 19th century peak, the British Empire worked because England acted as a hub, a barely visible hand for protectorates and principalities that perceived themselves autonomous. London made out well not so much because people wanted to go there, but because they–and their resources–passed through London on the way to everywhere else.

Plus ça change, it seems, plus c’est la même chose.