We’d be in real trouble without an effective opposition and regular changes of government, so even though I’m glad about this result, I’m worried about Labour. Boundary changes and, perhaps, some reform of the BBC will work against them, and even though the large number of new SNP MPs will, necessarily, include some car crashes I can’t see Labour sweeping back in Scotland soon.

The party that was born in an industrial landscape that no longer exists, and that fell prey to a mid-twentieth century nationalisation fallacy that destroyed volume car production, prevented heavy industry from modernising so it died (Thatcher was just the undertaker) and closed the branch railway system, has only come close to re-inventing itself in a sectarian identity politics most people find repulsive, and that has led to obscenities like Rotherham.

UKIP’s appeal to Old Labour voters was apparent, not least in the ‘uneducated’ east coast from Clacton to Hull, where they came second in 120 constituencies. They made sweeping inroads into councils without denting Tory gains. Old Labour always was a ‘stop the world I want to get off’ party, yearning for a past of jobs for life no less fictitious than the Express’s nostalgia for the 1950s. UKIP gives that voice more effectively than Labour, today.

Worst of all for Labour, though not so obvious, were the liberal supporters who couldn’t vote Labour, or who did so holding their noses. Most of them were prevented only by tribalism from voting Conservative. How long can that last? How long can a party with Lutfer Rahman-supporting UNISON as Kingmaker, that has refused to expel Livingstone, that only expelled Galloway (for Christ’s sake) when he called for mutiny in the armed forces – but not before then – keep their loyalty?

Even thoughtful Labour partisans adopt tribal positions on questions like the EU, the Human Rights Act, the NHS , Welfare reform. Even when they write about Labour’s need to stop hating the provinces and the self-employed trades, contempt drips through. There’s still the unexamined narcissism that believes the poor are hated by the Tories, and only they can provide clean hay and warm barns – the notion people want to stand beside them rather than beneath them doesn’t seem to occur. The idea that the general rise in prosperity means more and more people don’t just want that, they expect it, is unimaginable to them. The idea that the people who know most clearly that there are freeloaders and scroungers are the fucking working class who live next door to them isn’t anywhere near their horizons.

Backwoods Tories are, literally, dying off. Oddly, and entirely unanticipated, demographics favour the Tories. They’re becoming more liberal because the illiberal ones are pegging it. Labour didn’t realise that immigrants are actually natural Conservatives, ambitious, hard-working, socially conservative.

I don’t want fifty years of Conservative government with UKIP emerging as the main opposition. I’d like an increasingly liberal Conservative Party kept like that because the main threat is further to the left. I’d like a party that is still too close to inherited privilege and wealth moderated by meritocratic and liberal pressure.

But unless Labour guts itself, there’s a possibility – no more than that – of it becoming irrelevant. And what party has ever gutted itself?

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At a time of great sadness, our thoughts must turn to the most important issue of all: my own virtue. While of course one cannot condone any violence against people who needlessly provoke peaceful Jihadists, we have to fear a backlash from those who disagree with me about politics in general – which is in itself a form of violence.

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Russell Brand’s book Revolution has probably received more criticism from the left than the right, despite being superficially of the left. In this, there’s a reminder of a phenomenon that has been present in all modern political extremism and which also defines the various contemporary Islamist movements: the claim of small utopian movements to be perfected forms of broader demographies.

Racial purity movements, like white supremacism, claim to be perfected, pure forms of patriotism and the broader and more vague patriotism of the majority is seen by supremacists as wishy-washy, lacking the courage of its conviction. In fact, they’re different ways of thinking entirely, one based on race, the other not based on race. Far right movements like the BNP rarely gain much electoral traction and when they do it’s because of conflicts based on alienation resulting from rapid demographic change or competition for, mainly state, resources. It is not because of race; Polish plumbers are as much of an issue as Pakistani villagers for the Labour supporters who drift in and out of BNP voting. So while race-based politics seems like it’s an extension of ordinary patriotism and parochialism, it isn’t.

Islamism claims to be a purer, more correct application of religious teaching. But there isn’t a core of pure religious teaching at all, not in any religion. They’re all agglomerates, and they’re all shaped by humans. There are contradictory verses in all scriptures. Genesis starts with two, different, creation myths. The New Testament flatly contradicts most of the Old. Some Koranic verses recommend violence, some recommend peace; some are intolerant, some are tolerant. Movements of religious ‘enthusiasm’ have been a constant problem for the mainstream religious. Ronald Knox put it like this:

He expects more evident results from the grace of God than we others. He sees what effects religion can have, does sometimes have, in transforming a man’s whole life and outlook; these exceptional cases (so we are content to think them) are for him the average standard of religious achievement. He will have no “almost-Christians,” no weaker brethren who plod and stumble, who (if the truth must be told) would like to have a foot in either world, whose ambition is to qualify, not to excel. He has before his eyes a picture of the early Church, visibly penetrated with supernatural influences; and nothing less will serve him for a model. Extenuate, accommodate, interpret, and he will part company with you.

“Extenuate, accommodate, interpret, and he will try to kill you” is perhaps the current version, but the principle is the same. Yet most religious people do “like to have a foot in either world”, or even both feet in this one. Even when they acknowledge that some of the supernatural claims of their religion are unlikely to be true, they consider themselves to be religious. For them, it’s about rituals that bind villages, cities or nations, it’s about social interaction, festivals and holidays, rites of passage, families and a code of behaviour that includes charity and self-denial for those so inclined. And it’s about identity, of continuing the defining rituals of your predecessors and neighbours. The broad mass of religious behaviour has little to do with the actual belief systems at its core. It’s a social phenomenon. Again, while the very religious might seem to be at an extreme of ordinary religious behaviour, they’re not. They’re something else.

The same is true of the left. Broad left movements are a blend of self-interest and a sense of justice, or injustice. I don’t mean ‘social justice’ as defined by the far left, just ordinary, everyday scales-of-justice justice. The distribution of wealth in all countries includes a fair amount of the legacy of armed robbery. You can argue about how much, and how much this has been over-written by subsequent economic activity, but the wealth of all monarchs comes from this, and so does that of most aristocrats. The sense that it’s unfair, that aside, for one child to be born a pauper and be so poorly fed in infancy that their brain development is affected, while another is born into great surplus, through no individual merit, is both understandable and widespread. This is true, for many people, if the parents’ wealth difference comes about through indolence on one side and enterprise on the other. It doesn’t depend on the merit of the parents.

So redistribution, at least some transfer of wealth, is favoured by the broad left, by most liberals (starting with Adam Smith), and indeed many on the meritocratic right. Others on the broad left see themselves as the recipients of redistribution, and not just the less well-off. The narcissism of much of the middle class left is tautological, considering that they are people born into above average affluence who still feel they should get other people’s money because their art, or environmental campaigning, or political thought – rather than their need for subsistence – merits it.

The popularity of nationalisation and the appeal of trades unions today, decades past their usefulness, are also forms of self-interest, based on a conservative wish to return to a past, no less imaginary than the 1950s of the Daily Express, in which people have jobs for life in large organisation that are immune from the uncertainties and competitors of market environments.

On the face of it, people who want complete redistribution, a complete remaking of society, have just reached the logical conclusion of this form of thought. It’s hard to dismiss out of hand a charge of narcissism against those who would reshape the lives of every other person in the country, or world, but more significantly they want an even fairer society than does the milquetoast democratic left. This makes them purer, better leftists than the rest, according to them.

The problem for people in the broader groups, for the ordinarily patriotic, for the Anglican Christian or Sunni Moslem, for the mainstream Labour voter, is that they often have a suspicion that the Ultras are right – that they are purer forms of their own broad ideals. This is why these movements manage to gain traction in large groups, why they can successfully attach themselves to these groups. When any such movement gains serious traction in a broad demographic, it can start using intimidation and punishment to suppress dissent, and the world faces a serious problem – fascism, communism, theocracy.

This explains why the National Union of Students is continually plagued by extremist politics. The anti-imperialists who think condemning ISIS would be Islamophobic are the successors of the communists who turned out not to be super-liberals, but to be supporters of Honecker and his secret police. Students think these people are even more concerned about justice or racism than they are, instead of the truth, that they’re happy to use either as leverage, but are mainly interested in power over other people.


This is where Brand fits in. But there’s an irony. It’s also where some of his critics fit in. Take Chris Dillow’s post, criticising Brand for anti-intellectualism. It’s a fair charge. But then Chris wrote this:

Any serious revolution would, of course, disempower political and business elites and empower people. Which raises many questions: why is there so little popular demand for worker management or even direct democracy? How do we promote anti-managerialism? Could we achieve worker democracy without weakening incentives to innovate? What institutions do we need to create a healthy deliberative democracy rather than debased populism?

Of course, people have been working on questions such as these for years but their efforts have, to put it mildly, not greatly entered the mainstream of the British left.

The efforts he mentions haven’t ‘entered the mainstream of the British left’ because they have nothing to do with the mainstream left. They might be better thought-out, but they’re ideas that are interlopers as much as is Brand (I’m not going to suggest he has any ideas). Like most Muslims, Christians and vaguely patriotic people, most of the left just want to rub along, with reasonable freedom and safety, living their lives as they see fit and raising their kids. They don’t want the dawn of a New Age, be it the revolution, racial purity, the Apocalypse or a Caliphate.

That’s not a failure to be ‘proper’ believers, it’s not being a believer in utopia at all.

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Huner Surchi asked me to help put his words into better English. This is what he said:


All my family are Peshmarga.

They are fighting and risking their lives for other people’s lives and honour. I want you to understand, honour means a lot to us. Two Yazidi sisters who had been raped and escaped went from refugee to refugee asking them to kill them. When nobody did, they threw themselves from the mountain they had fled to.

And I want you to understand that Peshmarga are not enough.

Oh, they are enough for fighting. They are fighting IS and they are fighting the Arabs who have betrayed us.

Yes, betrayed us, and that’s something I want you to understand. As the Islamic State advanced, and our fighters had to fall back because they were fighting tanks with rifles, some of the Arabs who had lived among us, had been our neighbours, drank coffee with us and smiled at our children – some of our Arab neighbours joined the barbarians. They joined in the killing. They joined in the raping. Because they were neighbours, they knew where the prettiest young women lived. Women who could be raped, and taken as slaves and sold for the price of a hamburger in a western country. Sold for the price of a quarter pound of chopped meat.

Now hatred of Arabs is felt by many Kurds. And you will say that is bad, that is racist. We will say we don’t know who we can trust and so we can’t trust any  Arabs. You have felt this too. You interned Germans and Japanese during the Second World War. Many of them were blameless. But war breeds hate. War is not something you can play with, it’s not something you can take chances with. And for us, in our history, our recent history and our far history, we have been massacred by Arabs countless times. And now Arab neighbours have turned against us. There were no Arabs among the refugees on Sinjar mountain.

There’s something else I want you to understand. You have given us many things. You are giving us weapons now, and air cover, and we are very grateful. But you gave us the arms embargo that meant we faced tanks with rifles. We have built the most tolerant society in Iraq. Women have been free. We have trades unions. We had Arab neighbours, living equally with us until this happened. We have been an example of what is possible. And you have favoured Iraqi governments, and Turkish governments, who have slaughtered us and denied us our rights. You have refused to recognise Kurdistan. And now we have been fighting your war for you. It is our war, but it is your war too.

Because you have given us something else. IS fighters here include Arabs, but they include men with British accents who discuss on Twitter how many Kurdish women they are each allowed as sex slaves. They include Australians who post pictures on social media of their sons holding up severed heads. They include men with American and Canadian accents, men speaking French and German, men from Belgium and Holland and Sweden and Norway. You have given us some of our enemies. How has this happened?

How have you let your universities and mosques become incubators for these people? There are things I want you to understand about us, but I want to understand this about you.

And I want to understand how you can support our fight, how you can talk about brave Peshmarga, and not fight too. Because this is also your fight. You gave us these people. Now fight them with us.

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That was Douglas Adams’s description of Sunday afternoons. It won’t make a lot of sense to anyone under 25, because they live in the time of the Internet but, as xkcd points out today, before the internet instead of enjoying peaceful, meditative calm people were just frequently bored.

In the UK there was another problem. Before 1994 there were severe restrictions on shop opening times. That there should be any government regulation of business opening hours is grotesque, Methodist bullying. The weird post-apocalyptic feeling of deserted streets and shuttered shops gave Sundays a unique and bleak, lifeless desolation.

I remember the passage of the shop hours reform legislation. It would lead to appalling exploitation of workers, Labour screamed. People would be chained to supermarket checkouts, unable to have any family life.

Instead, we have some extra employment, some extra flexibility in when we choose to work and when we choose to go shopping. Nobody is complaining about the loss of empty Sunday. In fact, any move to abolish Sunday opening now would be met with incredulity and anger from the general population.

This shows up two things, I think. Firstly, that Labour politics are founded on a belief that people, humans, are intrinsically and unalterably evil and need to be shepherded by an elite to prevent them from mercilessly exploiting others. This is similar to the Christian view of the Fallen nature of humanity, and it comes from the religious as well as the political traditions so even Labour atheists can believe themselves to be one of a Fabian elite.

The second thing it shows is that this view is wrong. The terrible exploitation of vulnerable workers hasn’t happened, we’ve just had more opportunity for employees and for consumers. Labour restrictions in the name of our own good just restrict, they don’t do any good and they do a great deal of harm, suffocating the people they’re designed to help.

Of course, this paternalistic view is present in Conservatives too. But that’s more obvious, we expect Tory Conservatives to treat the mass of humanity with contempt. Labour likes to think it is different. If anything, it is worse. At least Tories are content to leave people alone in their hovels, and not go in after them and badger them about their diets, weight and recreational habits.


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There’s a line in a recent Chris Dillow post that says:

Whereas social democrats try to work within the confines of what the public considers “fair”, and try to tweak those perceptions, we Marxists fear that this is a forlorn task because the power of ideology warps those perceptions.

I’m sure Chris know this is how non-Marxists often think of Marxists, that their ideology warps their perceptions. It’s more appropriate to talk of Marxists being indoctrinated than it is most people, who take less doctrinal, more experience-based and pragmatic approaches to issues.

Indeed, Marxism belongs with traditional religions to a bracket of improbable, dogma-based belief systems that require faith to maintain, in the teeth of what could politely be called conflicting data. As with traditional religions, you get ‘Why I am still a Marxist’ and ‘Why I am no longer a Marxist’ essays and columns – Chris himself wrote one – which are very similar to ‘Why I am still/no longer a Christian’ type pieces.

You don’t get ‘Why I am still a slightly conservative pragmatist’ essays in the same way.

So Chris is on very swampy ground, making charges against non-Marxists that are better, perhaps only appropriate if, aimed at Marxists like himself. It gets worse.

What does ‘fairness’ mean? In particular, what is the objective test for fairness?

Obviously, there isn’t one, for a very good reason: nobody agrees what ‘fair’ means. And it’s Chris’s fault.

Not just Chris, but the whole of the Marxist left that for a century or more has been trying to bludgeon through un-argued propositions by disguising them in wrappings labelled ‘fairness’ and ‘social justice’. The egotism and narcissism involved in this approach are extraordinary: my views aren’t just me doing my best to understand the world and what’s best, they’re Objective Truth, Fairness and Justice!

But this is a wrapping for something genuinely vile. The argument being made is summed up in Chris’s final paragraph:

Public opinion might decide what is a successful political strategy, but it is more questionable whether it should decide what is a morally right one. One of my fears about Labour politics is that this distinction is often ignored.

Although people disagree with Chris – because of some mental deficiency in them and not because he might be wrong, or wrong for them as individuals – he feels entitled to impose his own preferred outcomes on them by force, because there’s no other way to do so. Indeed the point of this whole piece is that the failure of Marxists to persuade others of their ideas is because of the mental deficiency of the others, and not because Marxism is a peculiar mid-nineteenth century fallacy, like Homoeopathy  or the modern Druid movement.

This has nothing to do with fairness or justice. It is a form of psychopathy.

But so is being a Marxist at all, knowing what that particular faith has been responsible for in the past hundred years.

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Ominously, Libya’s chaos is spilling across the region. The country is awash with up to 15 million rifles and other weapons, and a report by the UN panel of experts this month found that “Libya has become a primary source of illicit weapons“. These arms are fuelling chaos in 14 countries, including Somalia, the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Niger. Qatar is helping to deliver Libyan armaments to Syria, where Russian-made weapons bought by Gaddafi’s regime are being given to fundamentalist Islamist rebels.

In what has all the hallmarks of mission creep, a small number of US soldiers are being sent to Tripoli to begin training troops. But a stable future for Libya seems remote, however much the country’s strife is safely hidden away from the headlines. It is dividing along every fracture line imaginable: whether it be ethnic, tribal, regional or political. Most Libyans have failed to even register for upcoming elections.

There is a real prospect of the country collapsing into civil war or even breaking up. Unless there are negotiated settlements to its multiple problems, Libya will surely continue its descent into mayhem, and the region could be dragged into the mire with it.

No wonder western governments and journalists who hailed the success of this intervention are so silent. But here are the consequences of their war, and they must take responsibility for them.

I give such a large quotation because it’s lovely to see Jones worrying about Libya being a source of illegal weapons as though this doesn’t go back to before the little lad was born, as though Libya didn’t turn into the IRA’s main weapons supplier, as though this didn’t extend to being a member of the Axis of Evil WMD-making tyrants – and as though Libya didn’t leave this select club as a result of the Western intervention in Iraq that Jones so strongly opposed.

We’re used to this sort of amoral and cynical banking on the ignorance of the reader from what a friend calls the Justin Bieber of the British left and, as the comments show, he has not underestimated the readership of Comment is Free.

But yes, there will be some consequences of the intervention and some of those consequences will be bad – some will be good, like the eradication of a sadistic, rape-fuelled, torturer state – not that I expect Owen to care very much about this. As a supporter of the Libyan intervention I completely accept this responsibility.

But Jones has never shown any sign of accepting his responsibility for the consequences of his campaigning, and that of others like him: more than 140,000 dead SO FAR, no sign of an end to the violence, all the sectarian division and violence of Iraq but no possibility of removing the tyrant, no possibility of peace, the certainty of genocidal reprisals when Assad regains control, no prospect of the introduction of democracy or the rule of law.


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