Saturday, April 22, 2006

The BNP and the Left

Alice Evans is perplexed by Lord Tebbit's description of the BNP as left wing and cites the letters in the Telegraph today in response to Tebbit's argument.

Objectively and thoroughly assessing this view is clearly difficult because the definitions of right and left wing do not properly capture the subtleties of political belief but I think Tebbit's analysis is an entirely sensible one. There are two plausible definitions of the right wing which have value in making our assessment of the BNP's leanings:
  1. A belief in the value of free markets and distrust of the constructive value of state power: This fits with the modern conception of the right wing's views on economics. When Stiglitz describes a "market ideology" as a great evil he is clearly positioning himself on the 'left'.
  2. A distrust of radicalism: Right wing parties have always had a belief in the value of tradition as a social glue and a repository of collective experience in making uncertain policy choices.
As Tebbit points out that the BNP is clearly on the socialist side of the economic debate. Opposition to globalisation, belief in nationalising services considered important and a suspicion of the interests of capital are the mark of the left. On one of the key battlegrounds of modern politics the BNP clearly cannot be described as right wing.

Equally, the BNP shows little attachment to incrementalism. A conservative, right wing, response to concerns over immigration, which are widely held, is to take action to reduce new immigrant numbers and encourage integration. A classic right wing response to immigration is the one put forward by Krauthammer recently. Radical responses such as repatriation advocated by the BNP cannot have much attachment to those with an interest in social stability and suspicious of radical panaceas.

The two letters responding to Lord Tebbit's both miss the point. The first sees the sum of the right wing in authoritarianism. Tebbit has already answered this point: As the most authoritarian states of the 20th century were clearly left wing (Maoist China, the GDR with the Stasi, the USSR) this cannot be a preserve of the right. To identify all those who believe in maintaining the state's authority as right wing is clearly mistaken.

The second letter argues that as the Nazis were right wing the BNP must also be. This would work if the other fascists were objectively right wing but they are not. The Nazis also believed in state control of industry, autarkic trade policy and a radical's break with tradition. This is why they were called the National Socialist party and why supporters so regularly moved between the Nazis and the Communists. Mussolini was a notable transfer from Socialism to National Socialism and saw little contradiction.

Tebbit is clearly correct that the BNP as fascists do not fit on the right wing of the ideological spectrum.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Dave the Chameleon made easy

The "Dave the Chameleon" attack ad is funnier with a few modifications by Tim Ireland.

Dalrymple on lawless England

Dalrymple is one of the most powerful moral commentators writing today and his new piece for the City Journal is no exception. He discusses the modern trend towards public policy being focussed upon managing people's thoughts and private behaviour rather than preventing genuine acts of violence and criminality; lenient towards violent crime but hard on smokers. This suggests a move from the night watchman state to the parallel opposite of one that enjoys its nannying reponsibilities but finds maintaining the peace an encumbrance. Such a move is an abandonment of the traditional virtues of the English nation.

I do not see a desire for this move in the public; people favour a more forceful approach to maintaining law and order and view intrusions into their ability to make their own decisions with derision at best. However, it is generally true in a democracy that a public gets the leadership it deserves. Pretending that Chirac, Sarkozy et. al. are failing France neglects the reality that had Thatcher been borne French she would probably have wound up a frustrated councillor at best. This tendency means that I cannot dismiss the idea that we are not being led astray by our political class but actually want a state telling us what to do and giving those who leave someone permanently disabled in a vicious assault a token sentence. What I'm having trouble working out right now is why.

A Tory Reshuffle?

ConservativeHome is being briefed by anonymous sources that George Osborne may be replaced by William Hague as Shadow Chancellor. I think that if this happens it could well prove to be an unfortunate mistake. When Osborne spoke to the LSE Conservatives he was reassuringly confident and his grasp of economic policy impressed all those present. Despite him being in a room with many well trained non-Tory economists he left little doubt of his command of the fiscal options available to the Treasury. By comparison Hague's past form is to be incredibly impressive in minor roles and then fail to control a larger brief (the leadership).

Whoever the anonymous contact was didn't help his case by describing how campaigning on immigration and law and order was necessary to do well in the local elections. As David Davis is currently the Shadow Home Secretary it seems unlikely that this is due to not having right wingers in the right places. Cameron has maintained a tough stance on crime and the lack of material on these issues is a result of the long policy formation schedule as much as anything.

The main rationale appears to be that by appointing a right winger as Shadow Chancellor Cameron can assuage the fears of the right wing of the Conservative Party on the central issue of taxation. I am sceptical of the foundations of this fear as it is based on the statement that tax cuts would not be prioritised ahead of economic stability. This is an ultra Conservative statement (Herbert Hoover among others would be proud) if you read it literally as a statement that if the public finances make cutting taxes an imprudent risk you will not countenance them (Keynes criticised Hoover for prioritising a balanced budget over fiscal stimulus). An awful lot of unfounded speculation is required to take it as suggesting that Osborne is a Keynesian.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

New Design

The amount of black on my blog was becoming oppressive. The new design makes the site a much easier read I think. I hope you all like it.

The Hidden Costs of Charity Parachuting

Buried away in a tiny Telegraph column this week was a reference to one of the best academic studies to emerge in a long time. Doctors in a Scottish hospital have looked at the hidden costs of charitable parachuting, to the health service in particular, and published the results in the journal Injury (the link is to the abstract unless you or your institution subscribe). They found that the injury rate was 11% and the serious injury rate 7%. Minor injuries cost the National Health Service £3751 on average and serious injuries £5781.

As the average parachutist raised all of £30 (this is just a day out after all) each pound raised for charity cost the NHS £13.75. Every one of the charitable types who feels terribly virtuous raising money for charity in this way is actually preventing the health service treating the sick.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Dave the Chameleon

The new Labour party political broadcast is so bad it actually hurts to watch it. It cites as contradictions in Cameron's political views not beliefs he has actually changed but the statements that he wants to be leader of the Conservatives, is the heir to Blair and is a liberal Conservative. As he is a liberal leader of the Conservatives who could yet succeed Blair as Prime Minister this is only a contradiction in the Labour Party's tiny collective mind.

If Labour really regard Cameron's adoption of policies associated with other parties as dismissable on grounds of inconsistency alone doesn't this suggest that they are approaching policy formation as an exercise in dogmatic rigidity. Accusing someone of being open minded can surely backfire. Charging Cameron with being superficial when your broadcast is of an animated chameleon and his is focussed on the environmental record of various Tory councils has to ring hollow.

Dave Cole is a friend of mine from the LSE and the Labour council candidate running in St James ward in Westminster and, in his newly revived blog, utterly condemns the broadcast which is supposed to be supporting his election. When even the most ardent of Labourites is put off by their election material surely it is time for a rethink at Labour HQ?

Stiglitz demeans the Nobel Prize

Stiglitz has demonstrated without a doubt that it is possible to be a very successful academic with the intelligence of a massively overweight domesticated cat. His article on China for Comment is Free is one of the most poorly argued and substantiated pieces I have ever read.

He notes that China has seen massive growth in recent years. He then notes that China has often upset the West and Washington in particular. He connects the two to establish that China's success has come from its plucky rejection of the Washington Consensus. Apparently the reason for its success in raising GDP is that it hasn't focussed on GDP but instead on the environment.

Of course this is complete rubbish. The Chinese state is massively concerned with GDP with internal fears that if growth slips below 7% there will be serious social unrest as discussed in this Deloitte report (PDF). By contrast all they have done to justify Stiglitz's optimistic account of their environmental policy is make sure that the "new plan places great emphasis on the environment". Taking statements of benign intent from a Communist state as gospel is surely a mistake the Left should have left behind some years ago after the Soviet growth miracle turned out to be fool's gold. The actual picture, as chronicled by Jasper Becker in The Chinese, is that the Chinese environment is one of the most heavily damaged in the world with collosal pollution problems in the cities and water shortages in vast swathes of the country thanks to Mao's grand schemes gone wrong. It's plans on global warming will not make much of a dent in the amount put out by the hundreds of new coal power plants it is planning.

Equally he is incredibly sanguine about the prospects for the new Chinese plan for education. Again the reality can be seen in this report by Becker for the South China Morning Post: The Kuomintang in 1936, in war time, spent 3.6% of GDP on education. This had fallen by 1992, in peace time, to around 2% of GDP. Becker notes that Tony Benn and J. K. Galbraith were making the same mistakes as Stiglitz back in the seventies and trusting the absurd story put out by the Communist party of superb new education schemes. Of course things are improving with rising incomes but the reality is that Chinese education is paid for by fees at school and university level. Chinese public services generally have far less state support than those in the West and certainly look nothing like Stiglitz's visible hand guiding the market.

That the Chinese state is a great force fighting inequality is palpably absurd. It's officials enrich themselves by taxing the poor to the point of rioting and, as reported recently on Sky News, confiscating their homes without compensation. A massively corrupt state means that property rights cannot protect those who have fallen prey to bureacrats on the take. By contrast government officials in expensive cars with tinted windows roaring around Chinese cities symbolise the wealth of the civil service elite. The grand plans that impress Stiglitz so much should come second to the state ending its role as an active promoter of inequality.

Finally the idea that the state is responsible for rapid growth and maintaining economic stability is absurd. As reported by Allen, Qian and Qian, the growth rate of the formal (mostly state led) sector has been around a quarter of growth in the informal (private) sector despite the huge advantages in financing and legal protection secured by state power. Equally, the potential for instability comes from the massive bad debts contained in the state led financial system and from intervention in its currency encouraging unprofitable industry rather than from unmanaged capitalism.

Fortunately, the Chinese don't take people like Stiglitz seriously. Marginal Revolution reports that the Chinese were the most likely of several countries surveyed to agree with the statement that the best system is the "free-market economy" (more so than the Americans). While the statement is likely to mean different things to the different groups interviewed support for it among the Chinese does suggest they have seen the difference between the socialist and capitalist parts of their nation and know which they prefer. Anyone who has been to Beijing's Silk Market or wandered the streets of any of the bustling cities will see that the Chinese can make superb capitalists if their state gives them the opportunity.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"Big Nuclear"

Greenpeace have rebutted a report from the Chernobyl Forum working for the IAEA, WHO and a number of other organisations and UN agencies. While I do not have the means to establish whether Greenpeace or the Chernobyl Forum are correct in their assessment of the death toll from the nuclear disaster one particular piece of logic infuriated me:

"[the nuclear industry have a] vested interest in playing down Chernobyl because it's an embarrassment to them".

Given the membership described above it hardly makes sense to describe the Forum as part of the nuclear industry but even if it was couldn't a similar statement be made about the Greenpeace rebuttal?

"Greenpeace have a vested interest in playing up Chernobyl because it helps their fundraising and campaigning against the modern nuclear industry".

Wouldn't it be easier if everyone debated the issues rather than their opponent's character?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Cameron's Dog Whistle

Margaret Hodge believes that there is going to be a big rise in the numbers voting for the BNP in her constituency and others like it. Apparently concerns over housing combined with an influx of immigrants have proved fertile ground for an anti-immigration challenge in Labour safe seats.

It should not be too much of a surprise that it is Labour dominated areas which are seeing the rise of the BNP. Immigration is an overwhelming economic good but it has to be accepted that there are winners and losers. Increased competition for low skilled work threatens those who are already poor. These people are generally Labour voters. Conservative voters are concerned about immigration but are mostly better off and, hence, for them immigration is a far more abstract issue. They do not live in the areas immigrants move to and do not work in the sorts of jobs that immigrants generally compete for. Equally, they are not in competition with immigrants for housing and other limited resources. Instead they have the luxury of worrying about more distant issues such as the environment.

This logic raises some interesting questions about whether David Cameron is really attempting to convert enemies who will never vote for him. Environmental issues and the other elements of being a 'nice' party matter most to the middle classes for whom other issues, like immigration and social breakdown, are less pressing. Talk of the 'metropolitan elite' who the Conservatives cannot recruit from misses the simple point that it is the votes that the Conservative party most needs to win, the swathes of the middle classes who did not return to the fold at the last election, who will base their vote most upon a broad conception of whether a party is one they would invite for dinner. Of course, issues like tax and the management of public services will still form the central battleground by the time of the election but while those policies are still being formed and the election is years away changing the perception of the party such that we cannot be dismissed as nasty is a fine way for Cameron to be spending his time.

Of course, this focus upon becoming acceptable to the middle class who have deserted the party since we last won elections does not mean that our long term fight for the votes of the northern cities needs to be sacrificed. Talking about the environment is a dog whistle which those who spend their time worrying about immigration will not hear. As we are still committed to maintaining a tough stand on issues like law and order we will retain the policies required for the slow struggle to revive our presence in the north.

Cameron using dog whistle politics to pursue Conservative core voters? More plausible than it sounds.