Tuesday, 13 October 2020

No men of honour

 

On both sides of the Atlantic we appear to be led by men (yes, mostly men) who have thrown away all pretence of honesty and consistency  and are prepared to behave shamelessly in order to achieve their ends.

 In this country the government has promised that nothing shall be done in any future trade deal to undermine Britain's high standards of farming.

 OK, says the House of Lords, so let's amend the  Agriculture Bill so that our higher standards of food safety and animal welfare are enshrined in law.

Not necessary, says the government, because that's what we're going to do anyway.

So if that's what you're going to do anyway, why not put it into law?

The only possible answer is that the ruling clique want room to wriggle out of the promise, one which was made in the Referendum Campaign so something which a least some people believed when they voted to leave the EU.

(Nothing in the above is written to suggest that British agricultural standards are all that perfect - they are not, but that is not an argument for potentially  weakening them further.)

In the USA in February 2016, while Barack Obama was still President, a Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, died.  Following precedent, Obama waited the customary month and then nominated Merrick Garland, for approval by the Senate.

 Out of the blue (maybe that should be out of the red) the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch  McConnell, argued that that 2016 was an election year and the Senate should not be  expected to hold hearings on a replacement until after the election to be held in November, eight months later.  

This was a totally unprecedented move, but from the Republican point of view, it "worked." The hearings on the relatively progressive Garland were never proceeded with, Trump won the election and his own nominee, the right wing Neil Gorsuch,  was  duly nominated  and confirmed.

Less than a month ago, on September 18th, the liberally inclined Justice Ruth  Bader Ginsberg, died.  Note this was not eight months before the election, but a mere six weeks.  

The very same Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has decreed that it is absolutely vital to have a replacement in place before the election.  Trump has made  a nomination, Amy Coney  Barrett,           McConnell  has started the hearings, and confirmation is expected before the end of his month.

Even if Trump is defeated in the election (and concedes, which is by no means certain) if the nomination is confirmed  the Republicans will have a 6/3 majority in the Supreme Court and there is nothing the Democrats can do about it.  

Women's right to choose  and Obamacare will be under threat and the right to bear arms safe and secure.

 In both our countries the levers of power have ben grabbed by demagogues who will allow no sense of honesty, decency, shame  or consistency get in their way.

8 comments:

  1. So if that's what you're going to do anyway, why not put it into law?

    What would be the point of putting it into law? It's not like it would be binding; any future government with a majority could simply remove it.

    I've never understood this recent obsession with Parliaments trying to bind their successors by writing various targets into law. Parliament can't bind its successors; that's a rather fundamental part of our system.

    Speaking of parts of the system…

    Out of the blue (maybe that should be out of the read) the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell

    […]

    The very same Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell


    … isn't the very point that (as I understand it) in the American system, as set up by their quaint little constitution, whichever party holds the majority in the Senate gets a veto over who goes on the Supreme Court. Obviously they are going to exercise that veto over a nomination by a president of the opposing party, and not over one by a president of their own party. The Democrats would have done exactly the same were the positions reversed. That is just how the system works: the party with the majority gets a veto. It's one of their 'checks and balances'.

    (And yes, their system does have considerable problems: unlike in our system, the 'checks and balances' mean that when the president is of one party and the majority in the legislature is of another, the system shuts down and no laws are passed and nothing can get done; something which can't happen for long in our system because when it does — as it did last year — eventually the pressure is released by an election and a new government with a majority is elected, which the Tank system explicitly disallows except on its pre-arranged schedule. But problems or not, it is the system, and there's no point in complaining about it: play the game, don't fume about the rules.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
  2. Welcome back: good to hear from you again.

    As always you make some interesting comments. I too an rather tired of the current mania for "writing things into law" such as the 0.7% of GDP for overseas aid. I know, it can just as easily be written out again. A "word" should be enough. but it no longer is. Our politicians' "word" is no longer their "bond" so, if they want to break it, if it's enshrined in law at least they have to go to the trouble of getting parliamentary approval.

    As to the US Supreme Court confirmation hearings what is new is the sheer bare-faced arrogance of the inconsistency. What could not possibly be considered eight months before one election us suddenly, by the same "actor" absolutely essential just six weeks before another

    What has flown out of the window is the "good chaps" theory of government, that the levers of the state will be operated within the bounds of decency whoever is in power. As A C Grayling points our on page 8 of "The Good State" (2020) democratically constituted government is for the people and not for the winning party of part of the people."

    As Grayling argues, party politics should be for elections, not governments. Once elected the wining party or coalition will naturally give priority to its own favured ideas, but at the same time respecting and where possible accommodating to at least some of the views of the minority parties. Democracy, is government by discussion, not "winner takes all."

    If this arrogance is allowed to continue unchecked then voters will become more and more disillusioned by the normal democratic processes, participation will decline and the way will be opened for demagogy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As to the US Supreme Court confirmation hearings what is new is the sheer bare-faced arrogance of the inconsistency. What could not possibly be considered eight months before one election us suddenly, by the same "actor" absolutely essential just six weeks before another

      But there's no inconsistency. The majority party is, in both cases, deciding whether to exercise its veto on the basis of whether they like the nominee and whether they think they might get a chance to do better in a few months (that they are rushing this one through rather suggests they aren't at al confident in Mr Trump's chances of winning again).

      Any rationalisations offered are obviously just that: rationalisations. Poltics is is the art of winning.

      If you think that's 'new', rather than how politics has worked for decades, centuries even, then… oh you sweet, sweet summer child.


      As Grayling argues, party politics should be for elections, not governments. Once elected the wining party or coalition will naturally give priority to its own favured ideas, but at the same time respecting and where possible accommodating to at least some of the views of the minority parties. Democracy, is government by discussion, not "winner takes all."

      Grayling is utterly wrong. If that were the case — if the winning party were simply to seek a consensus with its opponents, slightly tilted towards its own views but no more than that — then what would be the point of voting? There'd be no way for the people ever to say to the political class, 'Hang on — we totally disagree with the direction you're going, stop.'

      Grayling is proposing the worst type of grey managerialism, where politics is not seen as the way of making big decisions about what we value as a society, but as mere technocratic twiddling of the levers of power.

      But Grayling's biggest mistake is that what he is proposing only works if you assume that everybody — or the vast majority of people, at least — are in agreement about the basic values of our society, and the only thing elections are to decide is who we think is most competent to guide the ship of state towards them. That was quite a popular theory in the nineties and the first decade of this century, the age of Blair and Blair-wannabe Cameron. But if the last few years have shown us anything, it's that that theory as never true: the consensus was always illusory, and real, deep divisions over what our values as a country are were always bubbling under the surface, and were bound to erupt sooner or later.

      That is what drives disillusionment and lack of participation: the feeling that however you vote, all you'll ever get back is just a slightly different flavour of the same gruel. What gets people excited about politics, what gets people involved, is quite the reverse: it's when politics is seen as the battleground of big ideas, of real substance, with real differences between them.

      If you think the country will be much the same in five years, whoever gets in, maybe just slightly tilted one way rather than the other, why would you even bother to vote?

      But if the choice is between two radically different visions of society — if how you cast your vote will help decide which of two unrecognisable-from-each-other visions of the country you will live in in five years' time — then how could you not want to cast your vote?

      Why do you think the general elections of 2017 and 2019 had the highest turnouts of any election since 1997? It's because there was, for the first time since then, real choice on offer, two parties with totally different models of how society should work, totally different sets of values.

      That's what politics should be about. The clash of ideas. Not just picking the latest in a line of grey administrators.

      Grayling is wrong.

      Delete
  3. What you have written seems to be part of the Dominic Cummings playbook but that, so far, has not been the British Way. Without any major revolutions since 1688/9, and that was a pretty half-hearted affair preserving quite a lot of the status quo, we have stumbled towards a liberal democracy.

    The two great reforming governments acted within given parameters. The Asquith/Lloyd George/Churchill Liberal government in the early years of the 19th century established a minimum welfare state against the opposition of the House of Lords by not abolishing it but limiting its powers. The post war Labour government from 1945 brought swaths of the economy under public control, but compensated the previous owners. They established our now beloved national health service by stuffing the mouths of recalcitrant medical establishment with gold.

    Yes, it is slow and irritating. It is galling still to have a Second Chamber not elected but comprising mates of former prime ministers and 90+ hereditary peers: still areas of the health service reserved for those who can pay.
    But in the 30 years from 1945 in particular all parties operated within a consensus, both in economic policy (Butskellism) and within the “gentlemanly” rules of a liberal democracy. We enjoyed the most striking and rapid improvement in our economic, social and political welfare in our history.

    We enjoyed the rule of law and the ability for those without the necessary means to gain the protection of the courts via legal aid. We were free to do as we liked provided that what we liked didn’t infringe the freedom of others. We had a welfare safely net to protect those who fell through the cracks. Internationally we pooled our sovereignly with others to create a rules-based trading system and means of non-violent dispute resolution.

    There was and still plenty of scope for the parties to argue within the accepted parameters on, for example, the generosity of meanness of the welfare safely net, on the extent to which the “free” press can be bought, how relaxed to be about some becoming filthy rich and exerting undue influence.

    Quite enough for a lifetime, and bending or ignoring the “gentlemanly” rules will only make it more difficult to achieve further progress.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But in the 30 years from 1945 in particular all parties operated within a consensus, both in economic policy (Butskellism) and within the “gentlemanly” rules of a liberal democracy. We enjoyed the most striking and rapid improvement in our economic, social and political welfare in our history.

      You must be joking. We had a sclerotic, uncompetitive, nationalised nightmare of an economy suppressed by rampant trade unionism which successive governments, due to their desire for 'consensus', tried to buy off rather than confronting, it which any and all attempts at innovation were strangled at birth, leading to us being the sick man of Europe, having to go begging to the IMF, and climaxing in the Winter of Discontent, before finally someone actually rescued politics from the clutches of this idiotic 'Butskellism' and made it once more into a clash of ideas, when finally in 1979 and then especially in 1983 the population once again had an energising choice between real alternative takes for the country, and as a result we threw off decades of consensually managed decline and stood up tall in the world again.

      Quite enough for a lifetime, and bending or ignoring the “gentlemanly” rules will only make it more difficult to achieve further progress

      Movement is not 'progress' if — as between 1945 and 1979 — it's going in the wrong direction, and when you're going in the wrong direction you need a mechanism by which to call 'Halt!' and set off in the right direction; a method which is absent if all parties subscribe to basically the same consensus with just slight differences in how far and how fast they want to go in the wrong direction.

      Delete


    2. It is surely quite difficult to write off the advances of the 30 post- war years as “going in the wrong direction.” “Les Trentes Glorieuses” the French call them and having benefited from them, in education, culture, employment and lifestyle, I’m in full agreement.

      As for the 1970s and beyond, what you write is certainly what the Conservatives would like us to think and many people, given its constant repetition in the supportive press, would agree.

      However, it’s a somewhat selective view with carefully chosen descriptives (a clever choice from Shakespeare). No mention that in the 1970s the price of oil doubled, not one but twice, and most developed countries struggled to control inflation whilst mainlining employment and growth.

      We went “begging” to the IMF did we? You could also write that we received a temporally loan from the IMF to tied us over a temporary blip in external payments (the very purpose for which we had helped set up the IMF in the first place) and that all of the loan, plus interest, was repaid before the Chancellor who had arranged it, Denis Healy, left office.

      You don’t mention that by the end of the decade North Sea Oil came on stream and instead of using the windfall as a means of restructuring our economy or building a sovereign wealth fund it was squandered to finance a horrendous rate of unemployment in order to “tame” the unions.

      Nor do you mention the, often quite illegal, use of aggressive police tactics to defeat the miners’ strike, an act of civic vandalism from which our formerly tolerant society , policed by consent has yet to recover.

      So who has actually benefited from this "clash of ideas?".

      Over 4million of our children, about 30%, live in poverty; of the 10 most deprived areas in Northern Europe, nine are in the UK; we have widening inequality and a crumbling infrastructure.

      We have fewer doctors, hospital beds and nurses per capita than most comparable developed countries. Our “healthy life expectancy” is the lowest in Europe (tied with Monaco at 68.9 years) and, in controlling the current pandemic we have one of the world’s highest death rates and largest falls in economic output.

      Delete
    3. “Les Trentes Glorieuses” the French call them

      Yes, but the French had a rather different experience: thirty years of continuous growth mainly caused by them starting from a shattered post-War base. We, having been relatively lightly affected by the War, should have been able to far surpass them, as the USA did; we didn't, due in part to the consensus policies that suppressed economic innovation and growth and in part to a lack of national self-confidence that seemed to lead to the consensus being that the best Britain could hope for was to be a middle-tier nation and that therefore all that could be done was to manage that decline gracefully.

      Though if you think about it, the very point we are having this discussion rather proves my point that we need to have these ideas clash in order to work out which the best way forward is? You may be right — I may be right — but how will we know which is it unless we argue it out in public?

      And indeed if you step back is where you get to the real meat of the issue: perhaps my method will lead to greater GDP growth: we will all be richer. Perhaps yours will lead to some other result like, I don't know, greater equality: there will be a lower gap between richest and poorest, but at the price of everybody being poorer than they would otherwise have been. Which do we want: a more equal, but poorer, society, or a richer, but less equal one? Who has the authority to make that decision? Clearly, in a democracy, that decision can only be made by the people, not by a bunch of technocrat oligarchs who get together in a committee and decide on behalf of the people what they think is in the people's best interests.

      And that's why we need politics to be the clash of big ideas: so that the people can give their verdict on what kind of society they want to be, rather than have that decision made for them by technocrats who think they know best.

      Delete