Saturday, November 08, 2003

OI Blumenthal. Outside, Now!

Another top US political guru nicks my Dean argument. I want royalties- and my own Guardian column!

Oh.. and sometime today we will be welcoming our 40,000th visitor. Do say hello if it's you.

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Friday, November 07, 2003

Things that cause me mild dismay.

1. Metaphors that are put into an industrial mixer.

Ian McCartney's article in the Guardian today is a fine example.

"Howard is far from an unknown quantity. He was the Thatcherite outrider - the dog of war charged with unleashing the poll tax when she was in office, and with keeping the flame alight once she had departed. "

An outriding dog of war unleashing taxes with a lit flame? It does sound rather scary.

Send his special adviser back to the thesaurus.

The article itself I agree with- indeed it advances (in a more politically mature fashion) the same argument I make about the low political appeal of the Howard programme, but please, if you're going to do political rhetoric, at least do it well.

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Oi, Krugman. Outside, now!

Why oh why does New York Yimes uber genius Paul Krugman insist on stealing my stuff?

If I've told him once, I've told him a thousand times. Pauly-baby. I forgive you, but lets spread the love together.

Krugman: The right opened an increasingly effective counterattack, with a strategy that included using racially charged symbolism to get Southern whites to vote against their own economic interests.

Spin: The Republicans have successful identified themselves as closer to the “values” of a large segment of the Sourthern white population, to an extent to which they vote very, very differently to how you’d expect ceterus paribus

Krugman: What he meant by his flag remark was that Democrats must make the case to working Americans of all colors that the right's elitist agenda isn't in their interest.

Spin: the Democrats have a problems with lower income white male voters, especially in the South. They need to get them back. That means a) persuading them that their economic interest lies with the Democrats..


Krugman: Howard Dean's remarks about the need to appeal to white Southerners could certainly have been better phrased.

Spin: although he might have expressed it badly, Howard Dean is right.

Krugman: And he's right.


I think this development makes me the only person in the world to have a single post which chimes exactly with the thoughts of both Iain Murray* and Paul Krugman.

To be fair, they come at it from *slightly* different angles...

*see the comments to my original post below.

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Thursday, November 06, 2003

Wedge issues and cultural politics.

As a soi-distant observer of American politics, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of wedge issues, cultural politics and regional identity.

The Howard Dean “Confederate Flag” brouhaha is a perfect example of a political minefield we rarely seen in the UK.

Dean said that he wanted to be the candidate “for guys with a confederate flags in their pickup trucks”.

He was immediately jumped on by Al Sharpton for supporting bigotry and by John Edwards for being patronising about the South. Why such a big deal?

Since the passage of the Civil Rights act, the Democrats have slowly but surely lost control of the South. Republicans now control almost all statehouses*, as well as most senators and congressional delegations. In 2000, Al Gore didn’t win a single Southern state**

This is despite the fact that the South is poorer than many very democratic states, for a century it was the Democrat heartland, and it has lower college education, higher poverty rates.

The equivalent in the UK is as if Labour had been virtually wiped out in Wales and Scotland and yet become very competitive in Surrey.

Now, the political reasons for this are varied, and there are many books on the topic, but a brief summary would have to conclude that the main reason for this Republican Success, Democrat collapse is that on cultural issues from Civil rights and race, through guns, to attitudes to marriage, homosexuality and abortion to a visceral patriotism, The Republicans have successful identified themselves as closer to the “values” of a large segment of the Sourthern white population, to an extent to which they vote very, very differently to how you’d expect ceterus paribus.

What Howard Dean was trying to say is that if the Democrats want to win elections, they need to attract back low income Southern whites. They only way they’ve done that in the last three decades is to run Southerners against Northerners or Mid Westerners. (Clinton vs Bush/Dole, Carter vs Ford.) That won’t work for the next election. It might never work again if Republicans nominate relatively moderate Southern republicans.

Two thoughts spring from this.

First, although he might have expressed it badly, Howard Dean is right.

As much as the Republicans have a problem with black voters, the Democrats have a problems with lower income white male voters, especially in the South. They need to get them back. That means a) persuading them that their economic interest lies with the Democrats and b) neutralising the values issues without alienating the Democrat core voters. Since Abortion, gay equality and race relations are core Democrat issues, woe betide any Democrat who tries to equivocate their (and rightly so). That leaves issues like guns, patriotism, lifestyle, states rights (in the technical, not loaded sense). These matter every smart democrat knows it.

My second thought is simply how odd it is that there are no similar issues in UK politics.
The closest I can think of is the slow decline of the Conservatives in Scotland and the backlash over hunting. However, in both of these cases, the economic and political interests are being aligned in the same way as personal economic interest.

Asylum and Immigration has historically the most potent cultural/political issue in the UK, but even there, the party system (and the political decency of Ted Heath) meant that Powellites got very little handhold in Labour’s urban seats. Andrew Rosindell rode to victory on similar issues, but natonally hague only did it on Fuel duty, and then only briefly.

So cultural issues have been relatively unimportant in UK politics. Rationales have varied from the fact we have a political class that is on the whole, homogenous, that the UK is just too small, to that the strong party discipline at Westminster prevents regionalist politicians emerging.

But I think this will change. As an unintended consequence of regional Government we will begin to see more cultural politics.

I can see a Tory campaign in the North-east focused on the Metric Martyrs, rural hunting, Asylum and bureaucracy while pledging to protect public services while a moderate, culturally sensitive, low tax liberal conservative runs for mayor of London. Labour candidates would stress relative social conservatism but economic redistribution in the north, but reform and social liberalism in the South.

I think we will see this kind of politics emerging in the next decade in the UK. Whether it will be a good thing for our politics remains to be seen.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I'm a hard leftie... *Jaws drop around the blogosphere*

Lance Knobel (another great blogger with an unfeasably large brain) points me in the direction of this table of bloggers political views, as defined by the political compass test.

I took the test, and am quite surprised to discover that I am one of the most left wing libertarians on the Brit blog scene.

So no more New Labour sell out comments please oh, learned left wing readers. I'm a radical and that's official. Just please don't tell Mr Tony.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2003

This scares me

From the internals of the latest New York Times Poll.

86. Do you think Saddam Hussein was personally inolved in the September
11th, 2001 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the

Yes 43%
No 42%
DK/NA 15%

These are good people. What happens when they find out they were wrong? I think they're going to be mad as hell.

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The commandments of Web advertising.

I’m a reasonable man, but I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more. Sop here, for your delectation and enlightenment are my ten commandments for web advertising.

The golden rule: Your advertising shall not piss me off when I am trying to do something.

1. Thou shalt not make a noisy advert.

I am reading an article at work, pretending to be slaving over a hot desk. Suddenly, my PC erupts into song. I am sacked. Therefore I cannot buy your crappy product. Here endeth the lesson.

2. Thou shalt not turn what I am reading upside down, make it unreadable, or other wise piss around with it. 02 and the Times? This means you.

How would you feel if you were reading your morning paper and some idiot stencilled a coke logo all over the front page? Exactly. Don’t do it

3. Thou shalt not make an advert with a fake close button, or one so tiny I can’t close it without the accuracy of 2 microns.

If I want to close your advert, What makes you think I will pay attention to the website you take me to? I will not be dazzled by your offer Instead I will call the wrath of Ishmael down upon you.

4. Thou shalt not have more than one pop up.
One pop up is not an offence against nature. More than one casts you down into the lowest circle of hell.

5. Thou shalt not make your advert pop up when I leave your site.

I’m leaving. I’m going, I want to be gone. Don’t make me go to your crappy shop instead of the next place. The new Republic. This means you.

6. Thou shall not strobe or flash.

My Office PC is not a nightclub. Calm down.

7. Neither shall you take longer than 10 seconds

Flash.. uhhh- ah!.. pisses off every one of us. Listen and learn. A quick ad is a good ad. We can read. We read what you said. Now go away.

8. Thou shall not try and get me to play some stupid game.

I’m in the office. What makes you think I’m going to want to play volleyball on the PC. Even if I did, why would I do it in such a way that I then get asked to buy US Mortgages.

9. Thou shall be a discreet and not huge like an elephant.

I can turn over a full page advert in the Sun if I dislike it. On screen I cannot, so stay in the corner, where you belong.

10. Thou shalt not take me to a porn site.


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Who will be Labour's General Secretary?

Stuart Bruce writes a very good summary, which is consistent with what I have heard too.

A couple of minor addenda. Chris Lennie is Deputy general Secretary, not Northern region Director (he was, but was promoted). Another name mentioned has been that of former John Prescott advisor Joe Irvin. Matthew Taylor has also been mentioned, though why he'd want it, I have no idea. I bet he doesn't.

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You be EmmyLou and I'll be Gram..

The Incomparable Norm, as I believe Mr Geras should be addressed throughout the Universe, is running an Emmylou Harris discography.

How much good taste and discernment can one man have? It's unfair I tell you.

(Bonus points for all those who get the titles lyrical reference without clicking the link)

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Tory vote plummeting...

After the Tories "best week", what happens?

Their support goes down.

A new Independent poll, taken Friday-Saturday shows that Tory support fell 3% over the week to 32% (from 35%). Labour's support stays flat at 38% with the increase going to the Liberal Democrats who rise from 21% to 25%.

The raw data hasn't yet been released, but the initial estimate has to be:
a) That the memory of Howard during the Major years has turned off a segment of Tory voters.

This is hinted at by Bob Worcester, who in his commentary says "Mr Howard's weakness, even against the pre-coup poll ratings of Mr Duncan Smith, is with the third of the electorate between the ages of 35 and 55, which is down five points. He also has a problem with the C1/C2 half of the country, those in white-collar jobs (down four points) and in the skilled working classes (down five points). "

Alternatively, the slippage from Tory to LD is a reaction to the division that preceded Mr Howard's coronation, which has led to recieve yet more votes as the current resting place du jour of disgruntled voters.

If the latter is the case, then the Tories really need the next weeks polls to look up sharply, because Howard has had great coverage- if that doesn't work, what will?

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Monday, November 03, 2003

Quite funny...

Sky News interviewing a "Media Expert" about James Murdoch's appointment as Chief Executive of BSkyB.

Not too many challenging questions.

Oh, and amazingly enough, she thinks James Murdoch was very well qualified to be chief exec of Sky, that the Shareholders who are unhappy to have Murdoch Jnr as their CEO are acting very unusually as they shouldn't get involved in management decisions, and that James Murdoch is "extraodinarily talented".

Time for another award of the Order of the Brown Nose.

Still, at least James can't inherit a seat in the House of Lords. All he'll have is his fathers Global Media empire.

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Some thoughts on the Howard era

The Westminster press pack’s first reaction to Michael Howard was overwhelmingly positive. I won’t bother to link to all the articles praising his intelligence, his political savvy, his debating skills, his attractive wife, his ability to tie a cherry stalk in knots using only his tongue. They’re there, you know what they say. It’s all good stuff.

Now, you might think that, as someone who thinks that Howard contributes only competence to a Tory ticket that is fundamentally flawed, I would be dismayed by this adoration of the Michael currently playing out in our right-wing press. Not a bit of it.

Politics is fundamentally about choices, and as I have said before, Michael Howard’s policy medicine is more of the same. Unsurprising really, as the rumour appears to be that he authored the current Tory policy process.

Now, these policies have had good play. (They can be accurately summarised as: Sheriffs, Locking up asylum seekers up on an island, lower taxes, subsidising private operations with taxpayer’s money and abolishing tuition fees by setting a cap on university numbers).

Michael Howard has not signalled any yearning desire to utterly transform Tory policy. He has not signalled any attempt to reach out beyond the current Tory strategy.

There are merits in this decision. To say “No matter how much money you put in, the NHS/Schools/whatever won’t work unless you do X” makes sense. However, it means you need an alternative. You need an X. The trouble is, the Tory X is massively unpopular.

Try it. Talk to your friends. Tell them that in order to make the NHS work you need to reform to invest, but they’d be expected to take out private healthcare at an extra £500 quid a year- which would be massively subsidised by the taxpayer.

They might buy it.

But then tell them their granny would have to pony up too and if she didn’t, she’d be stuck behind them in the queue.

That’s where the Conservatives will lose the next General election, and there’s nothing Howard will do about it.

So my take on the current wave of good coverage of Mr Howard is that it is driven by

a) The strange sight of Tory unity
b) The desperate desire of the media for an opposition
c) Cupboard love for the new alpha male in town

The policy differences still remain the same.

And of course, Howard is faced with the same strategic quandary that faced both Hague and IDS. Do I drag the party kicking and screaming away from its base in an attempt to appeal to swing voters, or do I try and whip up the base and get it to work for me? There are huge negatives to both routes.

The current advice seems to be, tax cuts can do both. But they can’t, at least not when people are feeling reasonably prosperous and want better public services.

One final thing: Name one person who really hates the new leader of the Conservative party and has accused him of taking bribes. Here’s a clue. He thinks his son was murdered by MI5 and he never forgets an enemy. Should be interesting to watch.

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