Archive for the ‘politics and ideas’ Category

Like everyone else, I’ve been thinking a lot about the EU referendum outcome and what it all means. I went on holiday immediately after the result so there is a distinctively Italian flavour to my ruminations, as you’ll see. To me, the result is best explained in terms of “outsiders looking in to someone else’s party”. I explain this further below, drawing (of course) on a mediaeval horse race and the 1990 World Cup to build my argument. Read on.

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I don’t really know what I’m doing here“.

Irrespective of how much money he was on, it was a bit much to make Roy Hodgson conduct a press conference the day after he’d resigned as England manager. What was all that about? His legitimacy evaporated when his exciting young players failed to beat (or even compete against) Iceland. He forfeited the authority due to him by virtue of his office when he read out his resignation statement at a press conference after the final whistle. And yet the very next day he was seemingly required to face the press once more in his capacity as…well, no one was quite sure.

It was a strange coda to a curious chapter in England’s footballing history, and very much in keeping with one of the weirder weeks in England’s and the UK’s political history. After all, the day after Hodgson briefed the press as a resigned England manager, David Cameron took Prime Minister’s Questions as a resigned PM across the dispatch box from a very much not resigned Leader of the Opposition whose parliamentary party had just rejected him 172-40 in a vote of no confidence and whose Shadow Cabinet had pretty much all quit in protest at his leadership.

It seems to me that the concept of mandate is central to the current power struggles in the Conservative and Labour parties. In this post I want to explore the different types of mandate being claimed by the various actors in our contemporary drama and suggest some possible ways forward for Labour and for the UK in its relationship with the EU. Executive summary: some people are going to have to grow up.

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Oh no, not that tone again; anything but that tone.

I was prepared for Farage’s monstrous braying. I steadied myself for Boris burlesquing a bit of Horace or Plutarch. I was even ready to endure the sound of Gove’s voice. But I had forgotten how unbearable Scottish people are when they feel politically thwarted these days. Over the past 24 hours or so, the reality of the vote to leave the European Union has unleashed an onslaught of full-spectrum nationalist whining across social media the like of which I’ve never seen before.

The self-righteousness that clogged up the post-indyref atmosphere has descended once more. Across the country, heads shake gently in damp-eyed rebuke as disappointed Facebook posts are bashed out and furious tweets sent. And would you believe it, the SNP leadership has considered events through its single lens and concluded that another indyref is exactly what the country needs in a time of confusion and turmoil. It’s a good job the Scottish Government hasn’t been captured by constitutional obsessives like those UKIP guys, eh?

Now, I lost the run of myself completely during the 2014 referendum. I came to believe many more than six impossible things before breakfast on any given day during the campaign. This blog has essentially been a record of my trajectory from suggestible Yesser back to my general disposition as a skeptic, and I’ve left my early posts on this site as a permanent reminder to myself of the damage enthusiasm can do to rational thinking.

If we’re really going to flirt with having another independence referendum there are a few things we all need to get straight, whether we’re Yes or No or Not Again Please For The Love Of God Not Again. There were lessons to be learned back in 2014 about tone, respect for opponents and preparedness to scrutinise one’s own prejudices – I’m not sure they’ve even been acknowledged let alone assimilated. Well I’m here to help! Learn from my fail by asking yourself the following questions and answering honestly. It can even be our wee secret.  (more…)

The first rule of Question Time is “don’t watch Question Time”. The second rule of Question Time is “don’t go on Twitter during Question Time”. Despite observing these rules assiduously I couldn’t help but hear about the key moment of this week’s EU referendum special. Seemingly channeling Michael Gove’s recent claim that the people of Britain “have had enough of experts“, a member of the Question Time audience attacked the Prime Minister for “relying on experts” to make his case for remaining in the European Union.

Imagine! Those dastardly experts with their insidious expertise – who would want to listen to them?

But perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye. For a start, the audience member was actually making a quite different point to the one assumed by his appalled Twitter critics. If you click on the link above and take the time to listen to him he is actually arguing that the Prime Minister’s choice of expert – in this case the Governor of the Bank of England – has been proven wrong in the past. The man was engaging in critical thinking about the provenance of knowledge. No wonder he went down so badly on social media.

More broadly, I think the Leave campaign’s perceived rejection of expertise illuminates a key tension in our ideas about democracy. In this post I want to explore the idea of common sense, and consider its relationship to the EU referendum.

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All around me feelings run high about Syria, Isil and Jeremy Corbyn, while Twitter is full of foreign policy experts. I don’t claim to be an expert myself but I’m interested in international politics and, well, my lack of expertise has never stopped me in the past. Now seems as good a time as any to explore some of the unspoken assumptions and values that underpin contemporary debates about the global security environment. Join me then for a quick dart through the foreign policy approaches of David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn and various Scottish nationalists, followed by an alternative view I’ve sketched on the bag of a metaphorical fag packet.

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One year and one day ago I published the first entry on this blog, a long piece about the nature of democracy. There are sections of the essay that I no longer recognise and would not now defend (it’s been a long year), but I quite enjoyed the bit about the Labour Party.

I sketched a brief roman â clef about what might happen to someone who joins the party for good reasons, only to become engulfed in partizan point-scoring for the rest of their days.

Over the past year it has become all too clear that this phenomenon is far from being unique to Labour, particularly in Scotland. But a year after I started this blog, and on the day of Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory in the Labour leadership election, I want to revisit the relationship between political ideas and the party machine. It seems to me that the election of Corbyn might do some good here, albeit not in the way his supporters perhaps imagine.

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When I was a politics student at the turn of the millennium, John Curtice ranked a distant second behind Prof Bill Miller in the league table of Scotland’s leading psephologists. It seems remarkable to look back on it now, I agree – Scottish political coverage without Curtice at the centre, his hair magnetised by the electoral currents raging in the atmosphere? You’d have more chance of seeing Jeremy Corbyn leading the race for Labour leade…oh.

Professor Miller was my lecturer when I studied voting behaviour, a staple of every politics student’s training and very much the professor’s specialist subject. I’ve carried the insights from his lectures with me ever since.

The key lesson, it seemed to me, is that the commonly accepted models for explaining voting behaviour are all partial at best, and disastrous at worst.

I’ve been reflecting on Miller’s lectures recently in a desperate attempt to make some sense of Corbynmania, for good and bad. Here’s where I’ve got to.

(Features Banquo’s ghost, Tony Benn at Glastonbury, and the left wing paradox of harmful kindness).

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