Wednesday, 28 January 2015

“Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.” Reflecting On Labour Priorities: Past and Present.

"Above All We Stand For Jobs": Andrew Little's State of the Nation speech, delivered today to an Auckland audience of small business owners and entrepreneurs is a reiteration of traditional Labour's core priority - Full Employment.
 
HOW STRANGE IT SEEMS, looking back at the Labour Party of 1987. A Labour government had just been re-elected – something that hadn’t happened since 1946. So, you could be forgiven for thinking that any party conference held in the wake of such an historic victory would sound a decidedly celebratory tone. In 1987, however, you’d be wrong.
 
The Labour Conference held in Auckland’s Kingsgate Centre in November 1987 was one of the most bitter in the party’s history. Roger Douglas and his fellow “Rogernomes” arrived at the conference expecting to be greeted like heroes. Instead, they were hissed and booed. By 1987 a majority of Labour activists struggled to see their MPs as members of the same movement. A significant minority felt like passengers on a hi-jacked airliner. They were convinced that the plane’s cockpit was full of free-market terrorists.
 
I remember the event vividly. Not only was it the conference where I was elected to Labour’s ruling council, but it was also the gathering to which I gave what many delegates later assured me was my best (and most quoted) speech.
 
I followed the much-loved Labour stalwart Ida Gaskin from New Plymouth. Ida’s exploits in the labour movement stretched all the way back to 1937 when she’d farewelled her sweetheart as he set sail to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. She’d concluded her speech to the special conference session on social policy by quoting the famous Maori proverb: “What is the most important thing? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. It is people, it is people, it is people.”
 
This, according to my notes, is what I said next to the 800 delegates:
 
“This is a debate about social policy. It is a curious thing to set aside time for at a Labour Party conference. What is our party about – if not social policy?
 
“When I cast my mind back to my own childhood, I recall images of a state that cared for its people. I grew up in a small village in North Otago. Each morning a state-funded bus would pick me up at the farm gate and carry me to school. What do I remember of that school? State-provided school milk, yes, and school journals. Do you remember your school journals? Filled with stories by New Zealanders about New Zealanders. I learned to be proud of my country, proud of my village – with its tiny post office and its community hall. The future beckoned me forward then, and I was eager to follow.
 
“What is the vision we present to the children of today? What are the images that they will recall when they reach adulthood?
 
“Will they recall images of a caring state? Or will they conjure up visions of heartless cities and mirror-glass towers; a jungle where only the strong survive and the weak are trampled on?
 
“We must decide what sort of world we wish our children to inherit. We must build a future that beckons – not a future that threatens.
 
“Delegates, the caring world of my childhood was made possible by a single commitment. A social and economic policy that underpinned everything else I have described to you today. That policy was Full Employment.
 
“Ida Gaskin was right to quote the Maori proverb: ‘What is the most important thing? People.  People.  People.’
 
“And what do those people need delegates?  Jobs.  Jobs.  Jobs.”
 
It is deeply depressing to read those words after the passage of nearly 30 years. I read the description of the future I warned my fellow party members against, and I think of the world in which my daughter has been raised, and I am reminded – and profoundly ashamed – of the scale of my own, and the Left’s, failure.
 
We may have booed and hissed Roger Douglas and his colleagues, and voted his worst enemies on to the NZ Council of the party, but, 30 years later, it is Douglas and the neoliberal Right that are laughing last and loudest.
 
And the priorities suggested to Labour back in 1987 remain to be fulfilled. A future that beckons, not a future that threatens, can only be constructed upon the bedrock of full employment.
 
So, I hope you will forgive me for revealing that I felt a shiver of recognition run up my spine when I read the following words in Andrew Little’s State of the Nation speech – delivered today to an Auckland audience of small business owners and entrepreneurs:
 
“Labour’s vision is that New Zealand will once again have the lowest unemployment in the developed world.
 
“When people have jobs, they have dignity, they have self-respect, and their families have the best future.”
 
I also found myself nodding emphatically at these sentences:
 
“The social inequality we suffer today, built up over the last 30 years or so, must be the driving force for the change we need to make.
 
“It’s a vicious circle. More inequality, slower growth, more inequality.”
 
To make sure that his audience was left in no doubt as to his priorities, Andrew concluded his State of the Nation address with these words:
 
“Labour stands for a better way. We stand for a wealthier, fairer New Zealand. We stand for real solutions to the big challenges that lie ahead. We stand for the future. And above all, We stand for jobs.”
 
Okay, so it lacks the rhetorical extravagance of my 1987 speech but, frankly, I don’t care. Andrew Little may lack the oratorical skills of Norman Kirk but his political instincts are no less sound and his economic vision no less radical. The welfare state was founded on the understanding that it could only be funded by a nation at work. And that a nation at work was, in itself, the very best guarantee of its citizens’ welfare. Everything else that Labour members and voters believe in: public health and education; state housing; fairness in the workplace; are, ultimately, only deliverable out of the fiscal resources generated by full employment.
 
In other words, Andrew Little gets it.
 
What is the most important thing? People. People. People.
 
And what do those people need?
 
Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.
 
This essay was posted simultaneously on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road blogsites on Wednesday, 28 January 2015.

Getting Behind The Rage

Let Anger Be Your Guide: The fatal error of NZ First - this country's pre-eminent populist party - was to forget the most basic rule of populist politics: get behind the rage. It is popular anger that leads populist parties to political success. Which is why it is so important to always allow the enraged and the embittered to clear the path to victory.

IT’S EASY TO POKE FUN at NZ First. There’s something irredeemably amateur about the party; something rough-hewn and unrefined; that offends the professional sensibilities of New Zealand’s rather snooty political class. Except for Winston, of course, whose indisputable political skills, being more-or-less on constant public display, cannot be so easily dismissed. That said, it is not unknown for people to detect, in the air around Mr Peters’ trademark coiffure, the unmistakeable whiff of snake-oil.
 
That the political class (professional politicians, journalists, broadcasters, public relations specialists, pollsters, parliamentary staffers, columnists and commentators of every hue, plus those occasional academic specialists brave enough to raise their heads above the parapets of the universities’ ivory towers) take such offence at NZ First is, however, very reassuring.
 
Any political party so unashamedly driven by populist impulses as NZ First should be very afraid of the caressing fingers of official approbation. Just as everyone’s favourite teenage rebel, the Fonz, would cringe to hear himself praised by the local high-school principal, Winston Peters flinches away from excessive media acclaim. Populism takes aim at the high and mighty: the big man who crushes the little guy; the “effete snobs” who sneer at ordinary people’s tastes; the politically correct mavens who condemn their prejudices. No populist leader wants to win praise from the targets of his marksmanship!
 
Except for Winston, of course! NZ First's decision to "opt for National" in 1996 nearly destroyed the party and its leader. (Image by Frank Macskasy)

Except for Winston, of course. Or, at least, that younger Winston who, after keeping the New Zealand public waiting for nine interminable weeks in 1996, came within an inch of destroying both himself and his party by throwing in his lot with the National Party. (The very same National Party that he and his populist comrades had spent the previous three years attacking.) His supporters could not have been more surprised or disgusted. It was as if Robin Hood, having brought the Sheriff of Nottingham to his knees, proudly announced to his cheering followers that he was accepting Prince John’s invitation to become their local tax-collector.
 
Mr Peters near-fatal error in 1996 was to forget the most basic rule of populist politics: get behind the rage. It is popular anger that leads populist parties to political success. Which is why it is so important to always allow the enraged and the embittered to clear the path to victory. The moment the populist finds such folk blocking his way (NZ First’s practically instantaneous fate in 1996) then he knows his party’s on the wrong track. The successful populist politician’s response will always echo that of Alexandre Ledru-Rollin, one of the leaders of the February Revolution of 1848 in France: “There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”
 
To carry off this leading-by-following trick, the populist politician requires both a vigilant eye and an unusually sensitive ear. In present-day New Zealand, for example, only a blind, deaf and extremely dumb populist would assume that to stay behind the rage he has only to hurl abuse at John Key’s government. All he would demonstrate by such tactics is how thoroughly he has missed the fact that John Key is, himself, an extremely accomplished populist leader. What’s more, John Key, unlike Alexandre Ledru-Rollin, has no need to go running after the crowds. Thanks to his pollster, David Farrar, and focus-group supremo, Mark Textor, the Prime Minister knows exactly where the people are going. That’s why he’s so often to be found parked there, waiting for them to arrive.
 
Which is not to say that the electorate is without rage, merely that, unlike the unfortunate Judith Collins in 2014, John Key has yet to become its target. If popular rage is to find any focus at all in 2015 it is likely to be the fact that, when it comes to the big issues of affordable housing, rising inequality, child poverty and environmental degradation, the political class is offering New Zealanders so little in the way of believable solutions.
 
It is precisely in exploiting this rising level of popular frustration with the political “professionals” and economic “experts” that the much-derided ordinariness and amateurism of NZ First could come into its own. John Key’s government, unlike the government of that other great National Party populist, Rob Muldoon, finds it difficult to deliver very much to the “ordinary bloke”. Mr Key’s Cabinet’s slavish adherence to neoliberal ideology has meant that economic and social policies that could have really assisted the “average Kiwi” are consistently ruled out of contention. It is in National’s self-denial that NZ First may find its opportunity to grow the rage.
 
Promises of big changes, based on the common-sense solutions of ordinary, rough-hewn and unrefined New Zealanders, could very easily become the new currency of electoral success. Economic radicalism, fuelled by popular rage, but restrained by the average Kiwi’s social conservatism, is something NZ First could very easily get behind.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 27 January 2015.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Greece Chooses Hope

 
The tears and the heartache will follow soon enough, but for now let us celebrate with Greece the wild carnival of hope that is democracy.
 
 
Video courtesy of YouTube
 
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

To Lunchtime And Beyond! Why There’s No More Loyal Servant Of The Anglo-Saxon Empire Than The New Zealand National Party.

Put Your Heart In It: The National Party’s visceral attachment to the English-speaking brotherhood has found a more than worthy champion in the present Prime Minister.
 
THERE IS A REASSURING CONSISTENCY about the prejudices of the National Party. No matter how thick the spin-doctors and PR specialists apply the lacquer of moderation to the institution’s exterior, the reactionary timber beneath just keeps rotting away.
 
Nowhere is the utterly unreconstructed nature of National’s political mission more apparent than in the fraught arena of war and peace. The antiquated diplomatic responses these crucial foreign policy issues excite in what passes for the National Party’s intelligentsia are especially disconcerting.
 
The first real hint we got of just how atavistic those instincts might be came with Dr Don Brash’s infamous “gone by lunchtime” quip to a group of US officials back in January 2004. Clearly, the National Party has only ever paid lip-service to New Zealand’s anti-nuclear stance. Yes, it had embraced a Nuclear-Free New Zealand as far back as 1990, but, clearly, the party’s “conversion” to foreign policy independence had, in all respects, been both cynical and cosmetic.
 
Dr Brash’s promise that the policy would be abandoned “by lunchtime, probably” in the event of a National Party victory in 2005, showed that National’s MPs were only willing to wear the “No Nukes!” T-Shirt because that was part of what it took to regain power. The moment they got their feet under the Cabinet Table, however, and well before the next scheduled meal break, all such left-wing fripperies would be headed straight for the incinerator.
 
In marked contrast to Dr Brash’s unabashed impatience, the present National Prime Minister has displayed admirable forbearance in the matter of New Zealand’s anti-nuclear stance. Six years after he was swept into office, John Key has yet to initiate anything resembling a serious review (let alone repeal) of New Zealand anti-nuclear legislation.
 
Is this because Mr Key is a convert to anti-nuclearism? Has the Prime minister embraced the independent spirit of Norman Kirk’s foreign policy and learned, finally, “the trick of standing upright here”? Well, no. His refusal to get all het up about nuclear weapons and nuclear power is because he understands that the big issues of the 1980s are not the big issues of the 20-teens.
 

Nuclear-Free New Zealand: Yesterday's issue?
 
Like any good blitzkrieg general, Mr Key has simply directed his armoured columns around this potentially dangerous obstacle. He knows that if he pushes past it far enough the anti-nuclear policy will begin to look like the diplomatic relic of some long dead foreign-policy consensus. When that eventually occurs, there will only be a handful of people who will notice, and even fewer who will care that, following some distant future lunchtime, the policy has gone.
 
And when it does, be in no doubt, unreconstructed National Party stalwarts will all be displaying wolfish grins of satisfaction. Those forced to live through the anti-nuclear policy’s creation, will be able to mentally tick-off yet another faded remnant of the Left’s policy legacy.
 
Just how eagerly the Right is anticipating that moment was revealed earlier this week (20/1/15) when the NZ Herald published an article by the National MP for Manawatu from 1978 to 1987, Michael Cox. Entitled Clark’s Sad Legacy In ’84 Affair Shrinks UN Hopes, the think-piece positively revels in the presumed unwillingness of the USA and the UK to sanction Helen Clark becoming the next UN Secretary-General.
 
While careful to acknowledge Ms Clark’s undoubted strengths and her eminent eligibility for the United Nations’ top job, Mr Cox informs his readers that this is where “her positives” stop. Because two of “the most powerful members of the Security Council, the United States and Britain, will not have forgotten that she led the charge that weakened Western resistance to the USSR during the Anzus debacle in 1984.”
 
It is difficult to imagine a sentence more weighted-down with National Party ignorance and prejudice than this little gem.
 
Yes, both the US State Department and the Pentagon were pissed-off with New Zealand for breaking ranks in 1984, but they weren’t that pissed-off. By 1984 it was already clear to the Americans that the Soviet Union had no plans to impede seriously the advance of the new, global, market-driven economic order. They were also well aware that when it came to offering examples for the world to follow, New Zealand’s sterling efforts in radical, top-down, market liberalisation were easily outshining (where it mattered) her quaint, bottom-up, ban on all things nuclear.
 
To make his case against Ms Clark, Mr Cox draws heavily on the historical research of Gerald Hensley, Head of the Prime Minister’s Department under David Lange. In his book Friendly Fire, Mr Hensley suggests that it was well understood by the Americans that Ms Clark “accepted Roger Douglas’s right-wing financial policies [because] there had been a trade-off by which those on the Left, led by her, gained the mandate for the anti-nuclear ship policy in return for going along with his economic reform”.
 
If this is true (and as someone who was very active in the Labour Party Left during the 1980s, I’m not sure that it is) then both the Americans and the British will actually be more – not less – likely to back Ms Clark’s bid for the Secretary-General’s job. There is no better qualification for such a position than a proven track-record of making, and sticking-to, such Faustian political pacts.
 
Mr Cox does not see this. Like Mr Hensley, his sensibilities are those of the backwoods conservative raised on the uncompromising slogans of anti-communism, and whose loyalty to the global interests of the English-speaking peoples is absolute and unquestioning. In the eyes of such people, Ms Clark remains an oath-breaker and quasi-traitor, whose disloyalty will never be forgotten, and certainly not forgiven, by the five “fingers” of the Anglo-Saxon fist.
 
Viewed from this perspective, Ms Clark’s 2003 refusal to let New Zealand’s armed forces join in the illegal invasion of Iraq can only have heaped more hot diplomatic coals upon the heads of her country’s erstwhile allies – further compounding her earlier, anti-nuclear, treachery.
 
For the Brits and the Yanks, however, it will be Ms Clark’s diplomatic behaviour in the aftermath of the Iraq War that really counts when they vote for the next UN Secretary-General. Quite how Messrs Cox and Hensley reconcile their blue-stockinged quasi-traitor with the New Zealand Prime Minister whom the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, described as his “very, very, very good friend” is anybody’s guess.
 
What cannot be doubted, however, is that the National Party’s visceral attachment to the English-speaking brotherhood has found a more than worthy champion in the present Prime Minister. Witness his extraordinary comment that New Zealand’s sending troops to train the Iraqi armed forces for war against Islamic State, should be seen, simply, as “the price” we must pay for membership of the Anglo-Saxon “club”.
 
Making particular reference to the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing agreement, to which New Zealand is a signatory, the Prime Minister stated that it was important that his country was regarded as a reliable member of the club. Because, “we do know that, when it comes to the United States and Canada and Australia and Great Britain and others, that we can rely on them.”
 
And clearly, our “very, very, very good friends” (the 1984 anti-nuclear “affair” notwithstanding) can still rely on us. Or, at least, on those of us who continue to vote, unwaveringly, for the New Zealand National Party.
 
A version of this essay was posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 23 January 2015.

Friday, 23 January 2015

New Zealand Doesn't Need A "Developers' Charter".

The Never-Ending Suburban Dream: Dr Nick Smith's purported determination to make housing more affordable by "reforming" the Resource Management Act has been widely derided as little more than a National Party recommitment to the urban development model of the 1950s and 60s. In short, to quote Peter Dunne, "a developers' charter".

THE LAWYERS and the environmental lobbyists are already gnawing at Dr Nick Smith’s proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA). Forewarned by the National-led Government’s first, abortive, foray into environmental law reform back in 2013, a forearmed Opposition has this week re-joined the battle with renewed energy.
 
The United Future leader, Peter Dunne, has warned against turning the RMA into a “Developers’ Charter” – a potent political riff upon which his parliamentary colleagues have been only-too-happy to extemporise.
 
Has the Prime Minister, rubbing shoulders with 1 percent of 1 percent of the 1 Percent at Davos, given equal heed to the venerable Member for Ohariu? Given that few politicians’ appreciation of middle-class New Zealanders’ tics and tells is stronger than Mr Dunne’s, if John Key isn’t paying attention to him, then he should – and soon.
 
Not that, in the brutal numbers game that determines whether a piece of legislation succeeds or fails, Mr Key needs the endorsement of Mr Dunne. The parliamentary arithmetic of environmental law reform requires no complicated figuring. The Act Party’s grace-and-favour MP for Epsom, David Seymour, has already signalled (well in advance of any actual shouts of “Division called for!”) that he will be supplying Dr Smith with the single vote necessary (in addition to National’s 60 votes) to ensure the passage of the Government’s environmental reforms.
 
Which is, when you think about it, extraordinary. With sixty MPs, National’s current parliamentary caucus is, by historical standards, a large one. It is also slavishly obedient.
 
Outside of the armed forces and large private corporations, it is remarkable to find a group of sixty strong-willed individuals who can be relied upon absolutely to do exactly as they are told. Especially remarkable when doing exactly what they’re told could very easily cause the seats that a number of them hold to change hands.
 
Readers of a certain age will recall National Party MPs like Mike Minogue and Marilyn Waring, Simon Upton and Ruth Richardson, who were willing, in the absence of any acceptable compromise, to cast their votes against their own Government’s policies.
 
It has been a very long time indeed since a National Party politician “crossed the floor” in any kind of procedurally meaningful context. For many years now absolute caucus discipline has not only been assumed – it has prevailed.
 
Such robotic compliance is not good for the health of National’s caucus; the wider National Party organisation; nor, ultimately, for that of parliamentary democracy itself. Voters need to believe that there are at least some MPs whose definitive allegiance is to values and principles more enduring than the arguments of their Party Whip. On matters crucial to both the social and the natural environments, the practice of representative democracy should rise above the crude calculations of purely partisan arithmetic. It should be about reason and science; about being persuaded by the evidence and securing the greatest good for the greatest number.
 
Replacing New Zealand’s much admired RMA with a “Developers’ Charter” would be about none of those things. On the contrary, it would be about using the legislative process to advance the interests of a section of New Zealand society which has, for more than sixty years, grown extremely wealthy (and dangerously influential) by convincing the National Party to continue following a model of sprawling urban development, based on the single-story detached dwelling and the private automobile. As a template for sustainable urban growth, it was already out-of-date when the First National Government adopted it in 1949.
 
Economically-speaking, the model only works by transferring vast public subsidies into the bank accounts of the private land speculators, property developers, builders and roading contractors who are its indefatigable champions.
 
Unfortunately, the greed of this corrupt system’s beneficiaries has led them, like all racketeers, to jack up their prices to unaffordable levels. The consequential crises, both social and environmental, are dominating the headlines.
 
The solution to the problem of unaffordable housing is not to gut the RMA, as the urban-sprawl lobby would have us all believe, but to make it fit for the purpose of managing the introduction of a more rational, sustainable and affordable model of urban development. Since this model will, inevitably, require massive investment from the public, it must also be answerable to the public.
 
Peter Dunne understands this – even if Dr Smith and Mr Key do not.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 23 January 2015.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Why Jamie Whyte's 11-Year-Old Daughter Is A Better Philosopher Than Her Dad

Philosopher King-Hit: Jamie Whyte used the behaviour of his 11-year-old daughter to explain the motivations of the Jihadi assassins who massacred the staff of Charlie Hebdo. Upon examination, however, Whyte's daughter's grasp of basic ethics turns out to be a lot stronger than her dad's!
 
IN YESTERDAY’S HERALD (20/1/15) the former leader of the Act Party, Jamie Whyte, offered the behaviour of his 11-year-old daughter as a useful guide to the thinking of the Jihadis responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
 
Wow! That’s not a context into which I would want to plunge my daughter, but then, I’m not a Cambridge-educated philosopher.
 
Jamie’s daughter’s deadly act of extremism, as elaborated by her father, was (by Jihadi standards) pretty mild. “She took the cigarettes of one of our dinner guests and threw them into our back hedge.”
 
Gosh! That’s pretty bloody hard to equate with the bloodbath at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, but, okay, let’s follow Jamie’s argument all the way to its conclusion.
 
En route to that conclusion, thankfully, Jamie does pause to observe, generously:
 
“Of course, my daughter and her moral tutors do not want to slaughter smokers or satirists. They are not as angry or bleak or deranged as the Parisian killers and the others who have committed ideologically motivated atrocities.”
 
Whew! That was good to hear! Even if, as I was reading Jamie’s exculpatory aside, the word “but” was already taking shape in my mind. And, just as I feared, there it was, right at the beginning of the next paragraph:
 
“But they have the same basic urge – to compel, to dominate. And they seek justification for it in the supposed vices of their victims.”
 
Well, yes, that’s right Jamie, they do. Just as the members of the Act Party offer up their unwillingness to be subjected to the vices of others (taxation, regulation, collectivism) as justification for their attempts to impose their own frankly bizarre social, economic and political beliefs upon the rest of us. Indeed, when it comes to compelling and dominating, the Act Party is pretty hard to beat. (How else to explain David Seymour’s willingness to exercise what is, in effect, Act’s casting parliamentary vote on the strength of just 16,689 Party Votes!)
 
Except, of course, I would delete such sententious words as “compel”, “dominate”, “vices” and “victims” from Jamie’s description of his daughter’s motivation. That’s because his daughter’s behaviour is entirely consistent with the highest moral conduct.
 
Not even Jamie, I trust, would argue that it is the right of every individual to inflict actual physical harm upon individuals who are inflicting no actual physical harm upon him. Indeed, I would expect him to argue that human-beings, both individually and collectively, have the right (even, some would argue, the duty) to prevent the unjustified infliction of actual physical harm upon other people.
 
Certainly, by throwing her father’s dinner guest’s cigarettes in the hedge, Jamie’s daughter was doing exactly that. Having learned from her teachers that the passive inhalation of tobacco smoke is every bit as dangerous as its deliberate inhalation, she was well aware that there was no “safe” way the guest’s cigarettes could be consumed. Though she was only 11, she also appears to have shrewdly calculated that the other people present were quite capable of endangering her own and her loved ones’ health out of a misguided respect for the norms of social etiquette. Her unilateral decision to steal the cigarettes and ditch them in the hedge was, thus, no more worthy of her father’s condemnation than another person’s decision to deprive a drunken guest of his or her car keys.
 
The actual or potential threat to the rights of other human-beings always trumps the right of an individual to indulge in behaviour that puts those rights in jeopardy.
 
Not that Jamie gets this – no siree Bob! After a perfectly reasonable critique of American drug laws, the father of the person he describes as his “sanctimonious, bullying daughter” goes on to state that:
 
“Decisions Western governments do not leave to you and the adults you freely deal with include: how much money you work for, what you wear on your head when cycling, the quality of your house, what you eat, the race of the people you employ, the ways you kill yourself.”
 
Decoded, this sentence tells us that Jamie is opposed to the minimum wage, basic health and safety regulations, anti-discrimination laws, and the State’s not unreasonable refusal to countenance you dynamiting yourself in a crowded street as a means of committing suicide.
 
It also tells us that Jamie’s “philosophy” is blissfully unaware of the fact that the consequences of one’s individual actions radiate out through society in ways that are  all-too-frequently extremely damaging to other individuals and groups.
 
What he obviously believes to be the entirely harmless act of agreeing to work for a pittance, if repeated often enough by other like-minded individuals, will depress the incomes of people who have entered into no such voluntary agreement to work for less than they are worth.
 
Likewise, Jamie sees nothing wrong in allowing individuals to refuse to follow sensible safety precautions – thereby imposing the costs of any accidental injuries upon the rest of us.
 
And is he fazed by the billion-dollar consequences of the leaky homes scandal? Not one bit!
 
The former Act leader is able to articulate such absurdities because, like so many others on the Right, he really does believe that Margaret Thatcher was correct when she announced that “there is no such thing as society”.
 
And that’s a perfectly understandable position to take if it’s one’s intention to empower a tiny minority at the expense of the overwhelming majority of one’s fellow citizens. Indeed, taking any other position must, in the end, open the right-winger to social, economic and political claims that he or she is personally loathe to acknowledge. The fact that such untrammelled individualism is philosophical twaddle is neither here nor there. As Humpty-Dumpty informs Alice in Through The Looking Glass: “The question is, which is to be master – that’s all.”
 
Questions of political mastery aside, it would be wrong to end these observations without acknowledging that, in spite of his absurd philosophy, Jamie has clearly succeeded in raising an intelligent, daring and, ethically-speaking, disarmingly mature daughter. To whom I can only say: “Good on ya luv! A ‘little thuggery’ in defence of other people’s rights is no vice.”
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 22 January 2015.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Twilight Of The West?

Germany Wins And Europe Is Free: As the Nazi regime reeled before Stalin's armies, the focus of its propaganda shifted from glorifying German arms and aims, to one of providing Europe's last desperate defence against the bestial threat from the East. Worrying echoes of this propaganda theme can now be detected on the streets of Dresden and, increasingly, across the entire Western World.

IN THE FINAL desperate months of the Second World War, Nazi propaganda underwent a subtle but significant shift of emphasis. In the glory days of victory, when Europe lay at Hitler’s feet, it was Germany’s triumph that was celebrated. But, as Stalin’s divisions rolled inexorably across the Great European plain, and all prospect of a Nazi victory retreated before them, the war was re-presented as a titanic clash of cultures in which a bestial Bolshevism sought to obliterate 3,000 years of European civilisation and extinguish forever the light of the West.
 
The threat from the East is as old as Europe’s memory of Attila and his marauding Huns. That is to say, a strategic nightmare extending all the way back to the dying days of the Roman Empire. Nor was it an empty threat. In the Thirteenth Century the all-conquering armies of the Mongol Khan stood poised to make their final push to the English Channel. Only the untimely death of the Khan in faraway Mongolia spared Europe from the fate that overwhelmed the civilisation of the Han Chinese.
 
The other great threat from the East arrived in the form of the armies of Islam. The first onslaught came via Europe’s soft underbelly in the Eighth Century. Spain fell, and the armies of the Prophet were only finally halted at Poitiers in Central France in 732AD. The second onslaught, led by the Ottoman Turks, hit its stride in the Fifteenth Century, snuffing out the Byzantine Empire, swallowing Greece and the Balkans and striking deep into Eastern Europe. It was only decisively checked at the gates of Vienna in 1683.
 
Existential threats to the survival of Christendom cannot, therefore, be dismissed as mere fever dreams of the racist European Right. From the Fifth to the Seventeenth Century the survival of Christian Europe was, to quote the Duke of Wellington’s pithy description of the Battle of Waterloo: “A damned near run thing!”
 
Precisely because they were real, these threats have become deeply embedded in Europe’s collective memory and are, thus, available to propagandists of every hue. Though the Nazis were defeated, their imagery of a defiant West holding the line against the Godless Communist threat from the East, slotted seamlessly into the propaganda of the Cold War.
 
Old memes, it seems, die hard. Just over a week ago, in the German city of Dresden, more than 18,000 people participated in a demonstration organised by a political organisation calling itself “Pegida” – which stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. Demonstrators wore black armbands in memory of the 12 people slain at the offices of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.
 
Pegida is an odd political phenomenon. Its tactics and slogans borrow heavily from the mass protest movements that contributed to the fall of Communism 1989. This has not, however, prevented Germany’s Chancellor (and fellow former East German) Angela Merkel, from accusing Pegida’s followers of having “hate in their hearts”.
 
Certainly the opinion of the German Left is that Pegida is a manifestation of the extreme “Neo-Nazi” Right. Counter-demonstrations attacking Pegida’s “Islamophobia” have attracted tens of thousands in Berlin, Cologne and other large German cities.
 
Many Germans are worried that their country’s erstwhile deeply-ingrained anti-Semitism, of which the Nazis took such deadly advantage in the Twentieth Century, has mutated into an equally irrational, but no less vicious, hatred of Muslims in the Twenty-First. After all, it’s not as if the modern-day equivalent of Suleiman the Magnificent is encamped in the outer suburbs of Dresden. Or that the self-aggrandizing “Islamic State” (barely the size of a single province of the mighty Ottoman Empire) constitutes an existential threat to European civilisation. Even thirty-five years from now, in 2050, the best demographic projections put Germany’s Muslims at just 7 percent of the German population.
 
What, then, is Pegida so frightened of?
 
Perhaps it’s the realisation that the rest of the world is crowding in on Europe. That European civilisation no longer commands the power and prestige of a century ago, when its empires bestrode the planet like armoured colossi.
 
As refugees from Africa and the Middle East clamour to be admitted to the member countries of the European Union, perhaps its peoples hear faint echoes of the Barbarian hordes clamouring to be admitted to the grandeur that was Rome.
 
Perhaps Europeans have been seized, like the Nazis in 1945, with the terrifying realisation that the world, upon whose resources they have all grown so fat, is very, very large; and that Europe, her 3,000 years of civilisation notwithstanding, is actually rather small.
 
Perhaps, like the Jews before them, Europe’s Muslim population has become an alarming reminder that history does not stand still, and neither do the peoples who make it. For five centuries Europe has been pushing against the world. Now the world is pushing back.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 20 January 2015.