Thursday, March 31, 2005

More psephology

Not mine though, Phil's at Actually Existing.

He runs through the likely possible outcomes of the forthcoming general election.

His thrust is similar to my slightly more blunt factoid below about the number of Labour seats where they more than double their nearest rival's vote.

I'll add though, on my own half baked recollection of running through those figures, tehre were an aweful lot of Labour seats where they had 16,000 votes out of the total of what should be about, oooh, 60,000 if everyone showed up. That is, seismic shifts could easilly shake them, and not necessarilly big ones.

After all, that's how they lost Brent East, a rock-rock-rock solid Labour seat that went to the Liberal vermins - er - I mean democrats - you know, those nice anti-union people. Enough of my prejudice already.

I think Phil is right, there isn't a tide of change out there, but I think there is more volatility than ever.

As an aside, Phil very kindly links to me. I think I may have to return the favour. Later, though.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Of course, election means to choose - hence Pound's poem Ode Pour L'election De Son Sepulchre - unless he really meant a tomb being appointed to political office.

Way back when in the eighties there was a huge row in the Labour party over selection of Parliamentary candidates, specifically, the right of constituency activists to deselect - or refuse to select - sitting MP's whom they found politically unacceptable. This was Bennism, grassroots control of the party by it's activists.

I've found a surviving Tory criticism of this sort of policy here:
[Labour] must acknowledge that the correct role of MPs in a representative democracy is to be responsible to their electorates and to no group of organisations or volunteers in, or connected with, their party's organisation outside Parliament.
All very Burkean, and principled, I must say. Burke's position was clear: parliamentarians are there to act on their own judgement appointed by the constituents to do so. According to such a formula, only the constituents of an elective division should have the choice of appointing or removing an MP.

Such a position, though, doesn't reckon on Party politics and thumping unassailable party majorities, where the party can approve or disapprove a candidate. Hence the situation now with Flight, Hilton and Howard (No, not a Law Firm) - Conservative Central Office has been pulling its weight and deselecting candidates in a way even the starriest eyed Bennite could not have imagiend possible. At a moments notice.

Although good Doctor Lewis (cited above) talks about agencies outside parliament not having that power, surely Howard, despite being a parliamentary leader, is using extra-parliamentary means to remove candidates, is using his control of the party bureaucracy and his media profile in the country which makes it ruinous to the party to defy him to do just that. A centralisation imicable to traditional Tory values, surely. (I know, I know, don't call you Shirley...)

Of course, the real power that has given Howard such control, was given by the Labour Government with their Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 which specifically states a cnandidate may not stand in the name of the party unless approved by the Party Nominating Officer, i.e. a centralised Party apparatchik.

Increasingly, we are seeing centralised control of candidacies - more an more power of patronage and appointment acruing to the top, and thus robbing the system of possibilities of dissent - populist, managed electoral processes, rather than real challenges and debate.

Update It seems my linking this story to Bennism occured to someone else today.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Shrouded oft our martyred dead...

It seems to be a time of class fighters passing.

Recently heard the news that John Crump, author of numerous books about Anarchism, State Capitalism and Japan has died. Obit here. His works included:
Anarchism and nationalism in East Asia, 1995.
A contribution to the critique of Marx, 1976.
A critical history of socialist thought in Japan to 1918, 1980 (Thesis).
Hatta Shuzo and Pure Anarchism in Interwar Japan, 1993.
The Japanese rice riots of 1918
Nikkeiren and Japanese capitalism, 2003.
Non-market socialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, 1987 (ed.)
Origins of socialist thought in Japan, 1983.
State capitalism : the wages system under new management, 1986.
Quite an impressive list. Relatedly, Paul Anderson informs us that Maurice Brinton has died. He was the author, among doubtless other things, of The Bolsheviks and workers control 1917 - 1921 : the state and counter revolution it was a book that really helped me with my understanding of the Russian revolution. I highly recommend it.

He also appears to have wrote:
Suicide for socialism? : special supplement, 1980.
The irrational in politics, 1975.
unhistorical materialism, 1972.

The thin red line of non-market socialism seems to be getting thinner.

UPDATE (Already) SIAW have posted on this already, including a link to another of Brinton's works, and a page that looks worth reading.

Democracy in Iraq

Juan Cole continues his commentary on the post election wrangling in Iraq.

Things are starting to look worrying, the two thirds majority rule in a divided electorate does strike me as foolish. Especially in an interim administration anyway.

As any fan of electoral systems will know, proportional representation has historically been the machanism by which divided polities have handled democracy - i.e. the list system was largely pioneered in Belgium, divided between the the Flemish and French speakers. The Anglo-American model was meant for a united polity simply deciding upon the best choice of its candidate, hence why it hasn't gone in for representative microcosms.

The other point about this, is how sordid the squabbling is, and how it is all about oil, or the profits thereof. Thousands mnore could die for this poison in the ground. I seem to recall a quote along the lines of nationalism is about who get's the post-master's job. With the squabbling over oil and places in Government, I'm reminded of this, as parties with (it seems) little local intrinsic support scrapping over placements.

Let's hope the March 16th meeting brings some sort of resolution, the last thing the workers of Iraq need is a full-on civil war.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


The Despairate Duo have an interesting post up:
The first is from Mark Steel. In his brief history of the French Revolution, where he sets out to destroy the myth that the revolution was an inexplicable bloodbath organised by middle-class students from outside the area, he shows, against silly caricatures, the reality of what was at stake and what was being fought for, and the revolutionary heroism and courage of the men and women who decided to fight for it. After a typically inspiring and amusing account of the storming of the Bastille, Steel jokes that, throughout the upheaval, there was probably "a revolutionary group with a national membership of nine handing out leaflets entitled Why We Aren't Supporting This Demonstration". We laughed at the joke... and cringed at the partial truth it revealed. Because that's all our practical political activity had ever amounted to.
Steel wasn't the first with that sort of Joke. I recall reading a review of a Bernard Shaw story/novel (I can't place the title, I'll get back to you on that) in which a Fabianite goes to meet an old Chartist hero of his.

As they sit and converse, the Fabian learns to his horror how the CHartist had opposed the Reform Acts (partial extensions of the franchise in ninteenth century Britain), Education Acts, Factory Acts etc. on the grounds that none of them went far enough.

The point being, that opposing them on an all-or nothing basis had meant opposing the stepping stones by which the all was (by this time) more or less achieved. Of course, Shaw was pleading for his special form of elitist gradualism. At the worst though, such a position is harmless - it does not more active wrong than to let the status quo off the hook. It can have a positive side, since it provides a yardstick against which the partial measures can be, er, measured. Indeed, some have argued for impossiblism on the (to my mind spurious) grounds that it assists reformism by providing a pressure of expectations.

It's a worthwhile debate. On my part, I think it is about deciding what your ends are, and how to clearly get them across. The only solution on offer seems to be bide our time and wait for the day. That being unpalatable, find a form of activity that won't land you in jail or shot...

So, tehre's an election coming, see...

Saturday, March 05, 2005

A point of view

Veteran warhorse political pundit and former liberal MP Brian Walden has been elevated to a new platform on BBC Radio Four in his new show A Point of View (Sound file).

In his ten minute talk last night he made two interesting points. Firstly, he ascribed the homogenisation of politics to the use of focus groups - in depth discussions with small groups of demographically selected people - by political parties to find the mood of the electorate. Indeed, he asserted that it was the finally discovered scientific form of revealing the general will. Hence, if the political parties have found the general will, it is the beholden duty (and electoral necessity) to align their policies with it.

Obviously, this isn't the first time that such a claim has been made. Soviet rulers asserted that their mode of democratic centralism - consulting a policy down and then deciding at the centre - allowed for such a feat as well. Of course, this relationship is passive, the minds of electors are studied as objects, and policies are parcelled and sold to them. i.e. what it lacks is debate.

Not, as Walden appeared to recall, the debate between electors and elected, with the latter leading and shaping public opinion, but any debate. The format of asking people questions cuts off, fixes, sterilisises opinions. The focus group relationship is not one of a jury pronouncing judgement on a policy, but individuals stating their preference without needing (or being wanted) to persuade anyone else of their choice.

His second idea - following from that - was that high abstention, then, is not a sign of a cleavage with politics and politicians, but of general satisfaction with general affairs. This, I suspect, is true. Partly. It also, though, is a recognition by many that there is only one policy, and it is not worth the effort of voting in the clone wars.

When a serious debate starts up in the electorate, that is when sides will be taken once more - the job of socialists is to try and promote such debate and provide consensus shattering ideas. Perhaps the bolosphere will provide a platform for such debate.