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June 12th 2017 print

Alan Moran

There’s Free Cheese in Every Mousetrap

If Boris Johnson replaces Theresa May, the UK will have a Donald Trump of sorts -- an advocate of the political good sense in reducing the size of government as a basic principle. That would be a start, but no more than start, if democracy has both the will to survive and a realistic hope of doing so

moustrap fingerTheresa May is tarred with having been the cause of the Conservative’s near-disastrous election result.  Having been voted to lead her party less than a year ago, following a Brexit vote she opposed, everyone now seem to be blaming the debacle on her lack of judgement, wooden personality and absence of charisma. 

Some blame her for going to the polls unnecessarily early.  Yet it was not so long ago that this seemed a stroke of Machiavellian genius: she faced a Labour Party in open revolt against a leader whose crypto-communism and consorting with terrorists would surely doom his party to a crushing defeat and a decade in the wilderness. The early campaign seemed to confirm these prognostications. Labour fought on a platform that few in the mainstream media could support. The platform was a children’s wish list which included.

  • Lots of free stuff like electricity price caps, child care and higher education and no extra taxation except on that noxious 5 per cent super rich.
  • Interest free loans for homeowner property improvements
  • 60 per cent zero carbon/ renewables by 2030 and a ban of fracking for gas.
  • Higher wages for teachers and child care workers
  • Nationalisation of water and energy networks; and
  • A £250 billion infrastructure fund.

During the campaign several of Jeremy Corbyn’s key personnel demonstrated a total lack of awareness of the policy – the hapless shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, was a vacuum of policy ignorance and a treasure trove of asinine quotes (“You can’t defend the indefensible – anything you say sounds self-serving and hypocritical”).  Yet there was a huge swing to Labour and Ms Abbott increased her own majority by 11,000.

Theresa May is criticised for trying to slip in a few policies under which people would need to pay more of their own way (including for respite care). Those reproaching her for this may be correct, but only because they are part of the school which sees as inevitable a limitless ratcheting up of communal versus individual payments.

However, Mrs May also played the tooth fairy, with more spending on education, raising the lower thresholds for income tax, and a cap on energy prices (ironically, the Democratic Unionist Party was alone in not seeing the electricity supply industry as an overflowing tank of revenues with which to buy votes).  The Conservatives had some vague notions of a balanced budget some time in the next decade; and they also had tougher immigration policies (they always do — and they always fail to implement them).

So, what does voters’ refusal to endorse Theresa May and their increased support for Labour (and in Northern Ireland the terrorist Sinn Féin party) tell us?

It would be encouraging to fall back on blaming the Conservatives’ poor campaigning and vigorous campaigning by Mr Corbyn. But the more plausible answer is that people voted for those who would provide them more of what they want. One part of this is the amplified government spending and regulatory gifting which has increasingly undermined fiscal policy over the past century. People’s wants, as economists often proclaim, are insatiable, and those wants being met without having to earn them are especially valuable.  The mob will flock to politicians who give them things and it will care little about how these gifts came to be afforded – after all, the popular media is full of stories featuring rich people with fancy lifestyles, and there is an assumption that such affluence can be harvested for the gift-receivers without that reaping affecting the size of the magic pudding. In past centuries, revolts of taxpayers against the government acted as a check on its size, but the balance of power has now shifted to the recipients of taxpayers’ wealth.

Another part of the answer may be Mr Corbyn’s softer approach to terror and immigration. From afar this is difficult to comprehend, especially as the London bombings came part way through the campaign.  But for many, appeasement is the preferred approach to combatting terror. Like LGBTQIwerty folk for Islam and the US counter-demonstrators who, only this weekend, outnumbered demonstrators against Sharia Law, many feel that if we are less aggressive against Islamic preferences and more understanding of the bombers’ perspective we will see an abatement of the harm they inflict. Supporting this are commentators blaming militant Islamic terror on the West for fighting what are depicted as proxy wars against Islam in Libya, Iraq and Israel. Appeasement is the first step toward capitulation, as painted in the France of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission.

Such accounts for the election debacle in the UK are profoundly pessimistic about the drivers of policy — and far less comfortable to accept than attributing the result to the poor salesmanship of Ms May’s dismal campaign. If voters show little of the collective “common sense” that political leaders, especially those winning elections, attribute to them, democratic market-based societies will be progressively degraded.

This was the fear of political philosophers from Aristotle to the America revolutionaries, with the latter attempting to limit by constitutional provisions the potential damage majority coalitions could cause. But from the beginning of the twentieth century the rise of the taxing and regulatory state has rarely been checked.  Where the size of government has been wound back, this has been following a cataclysm, like the Second World War, or an economic disaster caused by a particularly rapid and wealth-crushing advance towards socialism, as the UK saw in the pre-Thatcher years and Australia in the 1970s and the Whitlam government.

Even then, as Argentina and Venezuela show, a correction is not inevitable, so ensconced are the winners from the looting of the losers.

The sovereignty of the electorate is having a perverse effect on our freedoms and wealth, and some means is needed to revitalise the constitutional restraints on government. If Boris Johnson replaces Ms May, the UK will have a Donald Trump of sorts, a man who at least believes in the political good sense in reducing the size of government. That would be a start, but some more permanent means of sustaining this is required in democracies with the will to survive.

Comments [9]

  1. Bill Martin says:

    “Even then, as Argentina and Venezuela show, a correction is not inevitable, so ensconced are the winners from the looting of the losers.” – writes Alan Moran.

    In Venezuela those “winners from the looting of the losers” are starving now that the looting has exceeded its limits and there is nothing left to loot. The correction likely to come will be horrendous, almost exclusively at the expense of the simple-minded Hugo Chavez supporters, who still believe that if he were still around, all would be well. Every country has an abundance of such people and their proportion is rising, encouraged and abetted by those on the left in the political spectrum. Not a good omen for the future of representative democracy.

  2. pgang says:

    Very disappointed in Greg Sheriden’s ultra-PC labelling of the DUC as gargoyles. Sure he’s a leftie like every journalist, but usually he maintains at least a basic standard of decorum.

    Sheridan is right in pointing out the history of the two elected Irish parties, but it comes with zero analysis of their current status, apart from complaining that they don’t support so-called ‘gay’ so-called ‘marriage’. Poor Greg, somebody disagrees with his shallow, society-wrecking ideology.

    Apart from that Sheridan finalises his analysis with a 1998 reference to the Good Friday peace negotiations. He tells us nothing about what the new government will look like, nothing of any real use, and it is probably the worst and most pointless winge he has ever written. Again, he demonstrates the media’s utter failure to comprehend the downward slide of nihilist progressivism which has infected the political centre.

    I think this analysis gets it wrong too, as it’s too easy to blame greed for the rise in welfare. It seems to me that the simplistic welfare-wins-votes meme is an easy-out delusion of the political class that has now reached critical velocity. In yet another election result that has rejected the centre, Sheridan et al blame it on the people rather than those, like himself, who would march us into the black hole of meaninglessness and financial ruin.

    • Warty says:

      In Greg’s defence, he’s a little more complex than you make out. He has his areas of blindness: Trump was one such area and the DUP for much the same reasons. But his views on our need to defend our Western Culture are as good as anyone’s.
      On the other hand he has a tendency to support the elites, believing in business as usual, and has an underlying hostility towards grass root movements. You’ve no doubt read the same stuff I have about Arlene Foster: she epitomises ‘conviction politics’ that everyone purports to admire, except when it takes the form of an all-in Irish brawl, and then it offends Greg’s sensibilities.
      Arlene’s ‘I’m not here to make tea’ is almost a variation of Margaret Thatcher’s ‘this lady’s not for turning’. She sounds like the steel the Conservatives are desperately in need of. The Irish were always better when it came to metaphor. But the concept ‘bog Irish’ has its place too.

  3. mags of Queensland says:

    Considering that the Conservatives used the same people who ran Malcolm Turnbull’s lees than glowing campaign one would have thought they would look elsewhere for someone to run their campaign.That was their second mistake. The first was calling the election in the first place – another parallel with Turnbull.

    A failure to capture the votes of young people by getting the message across that Brexit and other policies was aimed at making THEIR futures secure is also part and parcel of a lack of conviction by Conservatives and our own government. All Labor and Labour have to do is offer more and more free stuff.

  4. padraic says:

    The political class have forgotten two important points – 1. in the run up to an election the electorate needs to know what they stand for and what they are proposing to do if elected; and 2. if elected, they get on and govern for the full term leaving the voters to get on with their lives while the government gets on with the business it was elected to do – no more ripples please. In relation to point 1 the current approach is to indulge in negative bagging your opponent or refusing to reveal your platform in case some people may not like what is on offer. Instead, we get shallow celebrity nonsense and weasel words. In relation to 2. it is the media who create ripples between elections in order to feed the 24 news cycle monster. When I see what they are doing to legitimately elected President Trump of the USA I feel like exclaiming “Leave the poor bloke alone and give him a chance to get on with his job.”

  5. Warty says:

    Having taught at a secondary level for some 25 years, I have been witness to a ‘dumbing down’ of the curriculum. But if I can go back yet further, to the 1950s and 60s, when I was at school, then the dystrophy would seem almost complete, and certainly terminal. So Alan Moran’s statement that the collective common sense of voters should have gone seriously down hill certainly doesn’t surprise me. One only has to look at the rubbish we are feeding on (and that’s not just the fast food we’re addicted to).
    On the other hand, I wouldn’t like to shove all the blame into the plebeian corner, and would be more than happy to apportion an equal amount of blame into the corner swaggering elites, with their troops of delusional trainers, mopping brows with their PC-contaminated sponges. They’re the ones who’ve changed the educational models., after all.
    Just consider the recent American Presidential elections . . . you’d hardly consider the electorate better informed or educated than ours or that in Britain, but Trump was able to mobilise them in aid of political and economic reform. He hasn’t stopped speaking to his core supporters, despite the truly extraordinary Democrat campaign to bring him down. It is just that neither France, England nor Australia have managed to come up with leaders with the intestinal fortitude of a Trump.
    Drain the swamp ‘e sez, and ba goom, not b’fore tam.

    • pgang says:

      I didn’t realise until yesterday that the Calculus is no longer part of the HSC curriculum. We are robbing the young of the gift of profound knowledge; why, because some of them of them don’t get it? Mathematics without calculus is like English without letters. It is also a thing of extraordinary beauty of which an entire generation has been deprived.

      • padraic says:

        No Calculus in the HSC exam!?? We are really going downhill. Dx over Dy. I still have the book from my Leaving Certificate days. It took me nearly two years to understand that it was all about the area under the curve and it was used in one exercise in the book to work out how much coal would be used in a ship steaming from Sydney to London over a certain period. That’s probably why Calculus was scrapped – mustn’t have any reference to COAL. Burn the book. No wonder science and engineering are fading away.

  6. Warty says:

    Another thought: Alan Moran points out, quite rightly, that the only times big government has been wound back has been in the wake of a cataclysm. It brought to mind Edmund Burke’s axiom, when reflecting on the horrors of the French Revolution. His concept that a functioning society is one that clearly understands its own heritage. It gives regard to ‘those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born’.
    Just think of it, we are not all that far from the Brave New World scenario, and the expediency of shuffling off our elderly through enforced euthanasia. These elderly, the soon to be dead (us) are society’s heritage. Yet, at the same time, we couldn’t give tuppence about the yet to be born, because we are loath to produce many of them (leaving those delights to the Muslims) and we want to spend their well-being by running up an enormous public debt, with little chance of being able to pay it off over the next few decades.
    Perhaps we need a cataclysm or three, to bring things back into balance.