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2003 October 30 Thursday
Mark Steyn On The Tories And The British Democracy Deficit

Mark Steyn argues the British Consevative Party should come out in favor of decentralization.

Conservatism should be committed to as decentralised a politics as possible. If my town has lousy policing, it’s no skin off my neighbours 15 miles down the road. Conversely, if my town hits on a good idea, my neighbours are happy to borrow it. Decentralisation is the best way to ensure a dynamic political culture, full of low-key field studies. That’s one reason why every good idea Britain’s law-and-order monopoly takes up was started in a local American jurisdiction (the ‘broken window’ theory) and every bad idea was cooked up by the national Home Office bureaucracy (the gun ban).

Decentralisation is also the best way to get new politicians in. London’s Euroleft conventional wisdom disdains not only the rude unlovely electorate at large but also any representatives chosen from without the full-time political class. As the Guardian sniffed, ‘Putting Arnie in charge of the world’s fifth largest economy is like making Benny Hill Chancellor of the Exchequer: quirky but unreal — and not very funny.’ Get a grip, lads. Benny Hill would have made a terrific chancellor. Judging from his frugal lifestyle, he was certainly a fiscal conservative. Unlike British Leyland, he was hugely successful in overseas markets. More to the point, given the people who did become chancellor in his day, how good would he have to be? If it was 1976 and we had a choice between Benny Hill and Denis Healey at the Treasury, I know who I’d take a flier on.

The new Tory leader (Iain Duncan Smith is on the way out) could do his party enormous good if he was to embrace and promote very vigorously the creation of many more lower level elected offices. The national level of Parliament in Britain has too much power and the power that is seeping away to Brussels is making the democracy deficit in Britain even worse. The Tories also ought to make as a central plank of their platform (and do the Brits use "plank" and "platform" as is done in American politics?) the replacement of the appointed and hereditary members of the House of Lords with directly elected members. The Tories could clearly and positively differentiate themselves in the minds of British voters if they came out for more democracy and less centralized power. Says Steyn:

I love the responsiveness of US politics, and the best way to find genuinely British Conservative voices is to introduce American-style localisation. British Conservatism will never have the gun nuts, anti-abortionists, Wall Street types and Christian fundamentalists who make Republican gatherings look like the result of a dating agency run by sadists, but, at a time when Labour, Liberals, Brussels and the media are ossifying into a closed shop of the likeminded, the Tories should be able to recruit far more widely than they do.

Steyn's thinking here is close to my own in a previous post Will Republicans Follow Tories Into Marginal Status? where I argued:

The Republicans have a number of advantages over the Tories. First off, the design of the US constitution allows greater opportunity for two parties to each exercise some power. The larger amount of power in state governments allows Republicans to demonstrate at least parts of their agenda in some states just as is the case with the Democrats as well. Given the regional differences in political leanings in the United States there are always areas where each party gets to be in power. The government of the UK is quite a bit more centralized with little devolved power to lower levels of government in the Conservative heartlands in England proper. The US constitution therefore provides greater room to allow a party that is not in control nationally to still show that it is capable of ruling. Also, with the constitutionally mandated split between the two elected houses of Congress and the elected President the voters can vote to split power at the national level between parties in the US, again allowing each party a better chance of staying viable.

As Steyn points out, the US system has the additional advantage of providing a great deal more latitude for experimentation by elected leaders at the lower levels. So the US produces more policy innovations.

Concentrated mainly in the Western states there is an additional mechanism for policy innovation: state level voter referendums. Politically incorrect policy proposals that elected politicians of both parties find reason to torpedo can be pushed thru via direct voting by the electorate. Though in some cases such as with California's Proposition 187 on the issue of illegal immigrants the elites conspire to defeat the very direct expression of the will of the electorate. Still, the referendum mechanism has produced a lot of policy changes and has forced politicians to accept the will of the voters on a number of issues where they were disinclined to do so. The Tories in Britain could also embrace the requirement for national referendums on constitutional issues as a permanent requirement going forward. The Tories could also advocate the creation of a referendum mechanism at lower levels as well. The local voting on bond issues in the United States is another manifestation of the movement of power more directly to the hands of the voters.

One big argument for direct voting is that elected leaders are chosen to decide too many issues. A person voting Labour into office in Britain over, say, health care or education, also has to accept Labour's decisions on the House of Lords or the ceding of British sovereignty to the EU. The sheer number of decisions made by each level of government today really exceeds what conventional representative democracy can handle well. This leads to poor voter decision-making.

By Randall Parker    2003 October 30 10:57 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 October 06 Monday
Will Republicans Follow Tories Into Marginal Status?

Peter Hitchens has an interesting essay in the British political magazine The Spectator arguing that the Conservative Party of Britain is paralyzed by deep internal divisions that can not be bridged.

The Tories are an impossible coalition of irreconcilables. No coherent government programme could ever unite them, always assuming they were able to win an election. Euro-enthusiast and Eurosceptic cannot compromise without betraying their deepest beliefs, and should not be expected to do so. Supporters of marriage and supporters of the sexual revolution likewise can have no common ground. Supposedly conservative thinkers such as David Willetts cannot earn the praise of Polly Toynbee, as he recently did, without also attracting the loathing of the many who think that children should have the right to be looked after by their own mothers rather than watch them marched off into wage-slavery. Enthusiasts for mass immigration, on the grounds that it expands the workforce, cannot be reconciled with those who fear that immigration on this scale will damage a good and ancient culture. Those who believe in rehabilitating criminals cannot reach an accommodation with those who believe in punishing them. Those who wish to legalise narcotics cannot make peace with those who wish to imprison drug-users. All parties are coalitions full of conflicts, but they need to have something fundamental that unites them despite their quarrels.

The Tory party have no such something. They are institutionally dead, having lost any serious political presence in many of the great cities of the country. They have ceased to be able to pass on their lore and language to a new generation, so that ‘Young Conservative’ has become either an oxymoron or an unkind way of describing a particular type of desperate eccentric.

Some of the issues that are splitting the Conservative Party also are causing divisions in the Right in the United States. Since Britain has in the past gone thru some changes in advance of the United States it is worth asking whether the Right in the United States will eventually suffer from splits that are as deep as those which have left the Tories unable to present a coherent agenda for governance and unable to get elected to power.

The Republicans have a number of advantages over the Tories. First off, the design of the US constitution allows greater opportunity for two parties to each exercise some power. The larger amount of power in state governments allows Republicans to demonstrate at least parts of their agenda in some states just as is the case with the Democrats as well. Given the regional differences in political leanings in the United States there are always areas where each party gets to be in power. The government of the UK is quite a bit more centralized with little devolved power to lower levels of government in the Conservative heartlands in England proper. The US constitution therefore provides greater room to allow a party that is not in control nationally to still show that it is capable of ruling. Also, with the constitutionally mandated split between the two elected houses of Congress and the elected President the voters can vote to split power at the national level between parties in the US, again allowing each party a better chance of staying viable.

Another advantage the Republicans have is the greater amount of Christian religious belief in America than in Britain. A significant portion of the Republican base are middle and lower income religiously conservative voters who are not going to vote for the party that tries to appeal to them with Robin Hood benefits (i.e. take from the rich to give to the poor) the way that the Labour Party can appeal to their equivalents in England. A left-wing party of the welfare state inevitably has to take positions on moral issues that will cause the religious conservatives in America to spurn them.

Another advantage the Republicans have is that even though the Left largely dominates academia in America just as it does in Britain there is greater intellectual activity and greater institutional support for intellectual activity on the Right in America than there is in Britain. Why the US should have right wing think tanks in such large number while Britain doesn't is a mystery to me (anyone know?). But the consequence is to provide a larger number of intellectuals to develop and articulate conservative policies.

A fourth important advantage is that nationalism is a much stronger force in the United States than in Britain. Partly that is due to the relative size in both and population of Britain versus the United States. Americans can feel like their government is, in a sense, more complete in what it is capable of. But also the appeal of the EU for the Left in the UK is that it is a clever way to use a higher level political entity to force elite will upon the populace from the top down. So the attack on nationalism in Britain is an extension of the Left's attack on anything that stands in the way of the Left's agenda. Americans have a sense of their place in history that makes it harder to undermine their nationalistic sentiment.

The Republican Party does have divisions on some of the same issues that the Tories have split on. Some of those issues (e.g. immigration) look set to grow in importance. But while some of the factions on the Right resent the way elected Republican officials cater to other right-wing factions the politicians on the Right have so far been wise enough to recognize that they need all their major factions. So we can read libertarians comment on their resentment of social and religious conservatives. Also, economic conservatives and libertarians oppose attempts to appeal to old folks with spending proposals aimed at them. Yet politicians recognize that there aren't enough libertarian or economic conservative voters to win elections and hence politicians continue to try to appeal to the various factions on the Right to put together enough support to win elections. Libertarians appear to be the faction least likely to recognize the necessity of these coaltions. But most leading figures in other factions do seem to recognize the necessity of making compromises with other factions on the Right.

Still, in spite of all these advantages is it possible that the Republican Party in the United States is still headed down the same road that the Conservative Party has been travelling in the UK? There is one really big argument for the decline of the Grand Old Party: demographics. In a nutshell, the kinds of people who are most likely to vote as Republicans are shrinking as a percentage of the electorate. Married women are more likely to vote Republican than single women are (economics rather than abortion is the biggest reason). Well, the rate of marriage is declining. Non-Jewish whites are more likely to vote Republican than any other race and, well, whites are declining as a percantage of the population. The largest rapidly growing group is Hispanics and they show no sign of shifting rightward (all Karl Rove and George W. Bush fantasies to the contrary notwithstanding). The aging of the population shifts people from the ranks of the wage earners and taxpayers into the ranks of the recipients of goverrnment social spending. Recipients of government social spending are natural Democratic Party voters. Also, the number of people holding strong Christian religious beliefs may well decline further.

So is the death of the Republican Party inevitable? Well, it might be able to respond to demographics trends by shifting leftward. After all, George Pataki was elected governor of New York and Rudi Giuliani was elected mayor of New York City in the 1990s running as Republicans. But such Republicans have a term used to describe them in Republican circles: Rino or Republican In Name Only. So if Pataki represents the future of the Republican Party then the party's ability to win at least some future elections will require Republican Party politicians to take policy positions that make current complaints of libertarians and economic conservatives about the current crop of elected Republicans and their support for increased spending seem mild in comparison. Demographic trends will most likely result in an unappealing pair of choices for the limited government Republicans: hollow victories or outright electoral defeats.

Update: A recent column by David Broder in the Washington Post provides a brief outline of just how bad the US government fiscal situation looks in future decades.

That sounds like scare talk. But the reality is that after 2013, things will get worse. The first of the baby boomers reach retirement age in 2008, and from that point on, Social Security and Medicare payments will explode, as the number of claimants rises each year. As Pete Peterson, the Republican former secretary of commerce, told the news conference where this report was presented, anyone who thinks those programs are solidly financed ought to think again. "To talk about a Social Security trust fund is a fiscal oxymoron," he said. "It isn't funded and it can't be trusted." Rather, the government faces $25 trillion of unfunded entitlement obligations.

The interesting twist in all this is that for someone who is in their 20s or 30s in the 2010s and 2020s the outlook will be rising taxes and reduction in government services that directly benefit them. The pressure to spend on seniors will tend to squeeze other forms of spending. So an increasing percentage of people in their young working years and middle age will see the government has a heavy burden that gives little back in return. This could push some people in the 20-50 age bracket rightward to embrace politicians who favor reduction in benefits for old folks.

By Randall Parker    2003 October 06 08:25 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 April 24 Thursday
Toronto Mayor: Who Are You? Who Who Who Who?

The Mayor of Toronto Canada, determined to make a fool of himself and to act as unprofessional as possible, says he's never heard of the World Health Organization.

TORONTO (CP) - Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman lashed out Thursday at the World Health Organization, telling CNN: "They don't know what they're talking about. I don't know who this group is, I never heard of them before. I'd never seen them before."

He's the Lastman to hear of the WHO. I mean, I keep hearing The Who singing.

Loserman is upset because the WHO has advised people to avoid going to Toronto due to the risk of SARS. Well, until recently I'd never heard of the Last Man before the last day or so. Yet I've heard about the World Health Organization for decades and of course the WHO has been mentioned daily in most major newspapers since the SARS crisis broke.

The WHO's decision was heavily influenced by an incident where SARS was spread to another country (probably the Philippines) by someone who got SARS in Canada and then travelled. When a country starts becoming a source of SARS infections for other countries this understandably makes the WHO worried. While the US CDC does not agree on the WHO's advisory for travel to Canada the WHO position is not unreasonable.

When a politician has his first big exposure in the international media spotlight he really ought to strike a more reasoned tone. Instead this guy has made people the world over wonder about the competence of the Toronto government to deal with the SARS crisis.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 24 10:12 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 April 11 Friday
Tony Blair Emerges From War "Unassailable"

An easy victory with welcoming crowds has reversed Tony Blair's fortunes.

Just 23 days ago he was "reckless", "wrong" and, according to some Labour MPs, not long for Downing Street. But yesterday Tony Blair was the strongest prime minister in living memory.

The article quotes a cabinet minister saying about Blair "He's played a blinder." This is a British sports term for a great shot.

Blair is even popular with the Kurds.

"Hey, Hey George Bush and Tony Blair, well done," came the roar of the crowd at the foot of Erbil's Citadel. On bus windows a cartoon was pasted of Saddam falling into the dustbin of history.

Ann Clwyd must be pleased.

However, since he just turned 50 not all is rosy for Blair.

"I must be honest with you, I've been dreading 50," said Mr Blair. He added: "Funnily enough, I don't feel 50, at all. I suppose people always say this, do they?"

By Randall Parker    2003 April 11 10:07 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 April 01 Tuesday
Quebec Votes Drive Chretien To Oppose Iraq War

Why is Canada not supporting the US in its war in Iraq? Barry Cooper and Ted Morton argue that Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien is attempting to boost the Liberal Party's fortunes in French-speaking Quebec.

Liberal strategists read the same polls as the separatists, and they have decided to prevent the PQ and BQ from reaping the political benefits of anti-war, anti-American sentiment in Quebec. Chrétien's refusal to support the coalition denies Bernard Landry any spark to ignite fading separatist sentiment in the provincial electorate. From where Chrétien sits, it is far better to elect 50 or 60 MPs in next year's election than to stand shoulder to shoulder with the world's other three English-speaking democracies.

The affects of Quebec politics on the national Canadian government is a demonstration of the power of a linguistic minority to make a national consensus hard to achieve. The European Union is faced with similar problems but on a larger scale. Unless a population speaks a common language there will be no shared political debate that can arrive at a consensus that has legitimacy.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 01 08:52 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2003 February 04 Tuesday
Tony Blair Risks His Political Career Over Iraq

If Blair can manage to stay as Prime Minister until the Iraqi regime is overthrown then the hard evidence will be available to justify the move. Will Bush put off the attack into March in order to let the UN second round play out long enough to give Blair the political cover he needs?

At one point Mr Blair said: "When people ask me why am I willing to risk everything on this politically, I do not want to be the prime minister when people point the finger back from history and say: 'You know those two threats were there and you did nothing about it'."

My guess is that the biggest factor weighing on Bush as a reason to delay the attack is a desire to help Tony Blair. Tony Blair has done so much to support the US on this matter that Bush feels he owes it to Blair to spend weeks arguing in the UN Security Council.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 04 01:17 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 December 09 Monday
Capitol Hill Politicians Reading Winston Churchill

There is an interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor about what the politicians and their staffers in the US Congress are reading. They are thinking Churchillian thoughts.

Winston Churchill is big on Capitol Hill, among both Democrats and Republicans. So is Kenneth Pollack's new book, "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq," whose title is derived from Churchill's "The Gathering Storm."

Not on the must-read list are books like Mark Bowden's "Black Hawk Down," a harrowing account of just how grim urban street fights can get, even for today's most elite forces. Nor, judging by interviews and the buzz on Capitol Hill, is there a surge of interest in "hearts and minds" books on Arab history or the culture of radical Islam.

The upshot: The ideas shaping thought in Congress about war appear to be clustered around a few simple, Churchillian themes: that there is a grave threat to national and global security that would be folly to ignore. That professional military advice is sometimes just "the sum of their fears." That there's no point in trying to understand "barbarism."

I think Churchill is highly appropriate inspiration for the current circumstances. His speech to Parliament on October 5, 1938 on the Munich Agreement is chilling.

Do not suppose this is the end. This is only the beginning. It is only the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to you year by year unless by a supreme recovery of martial vigour we rise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden times.

Churchill understands the nature of war:

"Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The Statesman who yields to war fever must realise that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events. Antiquated War Offices, weak, incompetent or arrogant Commanders, untrustworthy allies, hostile neutrals, malignant Fortune, ugly surprises, awful miscalculations all take their seat at the Council Board on the morrow of a declaration of war. Always remember, however sure you are that you can easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance." - Winston Churchill, "My Early Life," 1930.

If you haven't yet read it then please go read Stephen Hayward's speech to the Capitol Hill Club of October 2, 2001 entitled A Churchillian Perspective on September 11.

In addition to his reflections on the nature of the military challenge at hand, he also had a lot to say about the clash of civilizations that played out in this episode, and which are playing out again right now.

"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property—either as a child, a wife, or a concubine—must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die. But the influence of the religion paralyzes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science—the science against which it had vainly struggled—the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome."

Well, now. This is the kind of statement which modern multiculturalists would use against Churchill as proof of Western chauvinism or racism or worse. Though I am not sure very many people would dissent from this description of the Taliban, or any other contemporary form of radical Islam.

Hayward makes many excellent points. Go read him.

By Randall Parker    2002 December 09 05:26 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 18 Monday
James C. Bennett: Secessionism In Western Canada

In his Anglosphere column James C. Bennett argues that the political culture of Canada threatens to reawaken secessionist desires in the West. As the executive branch at the federal level has arrogated increasing amounts of power to itself and pursued a policy aimed more at its own emotional needs than of the needs of the provinces the Western provices are left with nothing short of a threat to secede as a bargaining tool in dealings with the federal executive:

The latter was demonstrated by exaggerated devotion to the emotional successor (for Canada's intellectual-government class) to the British Empire, the United Nations. As in Imperial days, Canada's peacetime military was not sized to the actual demands of defending the nation; it was sized to permit a demonstration of loyalty to the Imperial center. Today, this translates into being able to provide peacekeeping forces for U.N. operations.

One result of this peculiar political culture is a need to endorse the transnational progressive project of global governance through U.N. treaties. This has led Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to sign the Kyoto treaty on limitation of carbon monoxide production.

The US states have been fighting a long running battle with the federal government over control of many policy issues. The US states have the advantage of a less amendable constitution that for historical reasons vests considerable authority in the states. In other Anglosphere countries such as Canada and Britain the constitutional protections of the prerogatives of the lower levels of government is run from less to non-existent and the higher levels have gradually usurped the powers of lower elected levels. In the UK the Parliament has gone so far as to literally eliminate lower elected offices and to take over and abolish and rearrange the boundaries of lower level districts.

This trend of loss of power at the local level has gone even farther in the UK in Canada as the UK government has given up increasing amounts of its own authority to the EU. The loss of authority at the levels of government that are closest to the people translates into worse government. Local problems and local preferences inevitably lead to different desires and priorities at the local level in each locality. Also, any local knowledge of poor performance of agencies can not be used to hold those agencies accountable thru the democratic process. The UK and Canada both need constitutional reform to vest more authority in democratically elected governments that are closer to the people.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 18 03:59 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 October 22 Tuesday
James C. Bennett: Crunch time for Australia

In his Anglosphere column James C. Bennett examines Australiai's options in light of the Bali attack and the unstable political conditions in Indonesia. He says appeasement is not a realistic option:

In its current situation, Australia has fewer choices than its intellectuals believe. Their preferred choice, appeasement of the radical Islamists, will be not only ineffective but counterproductive: it will teach the lesson that killing Australians is the way to control Australia.

There is in fact little Australia can do to please or accommodate the radical Islamists of Indonesia, since their goals are primarily aimed at turning Indonesia into a Taliban-like Islamist state. Terror against non-Muslim Indonesians and foreign travelers in Indonesia is part of their campaign, and there is nothing that will stop them short of rendering them ineffective.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 22 02:55 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 September 29 Sunday
John O'Sullivan on the Dianafication of UK Toryism

John O'Sullivan has written a fascinating essay on the follies of a party trying to brand itself using the basic emotional appeal that the opposing party is recognized for:

For the Tories, those issues historically include opposition to government waste and over-regulation; tax reduction and support for private enterprise; defence and patriotism. If they have temporarily lost the issue of economic competence, that should encourage them to stress some of the others, such as patriotism-which, in current circumstances, equals "Europe." Europe has the additional advantage that it enables the party to exploit not only patriotism but also opposition to government waste and over-regulation (not to mention outright fraud in the EU). Hardly mentioning such a central issue as Europe is far more "obsessive" than dealing with it straightforwardly. Exactly the same applies to tax cuts and over-regulation. For the Tories to allow themselves to be morally bullied by the media and New Labour into avoiding the precise issues where the voters think them most competent or trustworthy is simply silly. And if they coolly decide that some of these issues are no longer productive of votes, then they need to seek new issues where the right has a natural advantage.

To a significant number of Tories, however, all such arguments are no longer the stuff of politics. They have taken the nation's pulse, detected a growing warmth in the blood, and proposed a more emotional style of politics. Here what matters is not getting the right policy on health, but getting the right words on it-words that will persuade people that you are at one with the more relaxed, libertarian, multi-ethnic culture of modern Britain. This is the message of Portilloism. And although Portillo's politics of sensibility was squarely beaten by the rival versions of sense offered by Duncan Smith and Clarke, he seems in defeat to have converted the victor to his cause. Apostles of Portilloism now hold the high ground in central office and David Davis was allegedly ditched because he was unsympathetic to the new politics.

One sympathises with Davis and wonders at the insightfulness of Duncan Smith. For Portilloism is one of those doctrines that becomes less intelligible the more one understands it. It is not so much a programme, more a disposition, an attitude, an openness to emotions, experiences, and other people that manages all the same to be extremely self-regarding. It is, in short, the Dianification of Toryism.

I've been watching the Conservative Party in Britain from a distance for years and continue to be amazed at just how much a loss of confidence in their own core beliefs has sent them on a path that may take them all the way into oblivion. O'Sullivan nails their problems. They need to stop reacting to the Labour Party and present a set of policies that come from things they honestly believe (assuming the Tory leadership actually still believes in anything).

By Randall Parker    2002 September 29 02:28 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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