Number of the Month

July 2012

The party machine: a metastatic malignant growth

It seems to be a fundamental flaw in democracy that over time it develops rigid party structures that steadily lose ties with their grass roots in the community. Policies that were once likely to develop from the bottom up tend now to be imposed from the top down. Modern devices, such as focus groups, have replaced the continuous exchange of information and opinion between the levels of a national party. Such devices were originally developed by social scientists as an aid to styling and promoting commercial products. Their merits are matters of belief rather than substance and in terms of statistical significance they are, to say the least, dubious. The results are subject to human interpretation and are therefore of suspect disinterest.

Party conferences are now carefully choreographed to portray a placid unanimity, while genuine passionate disagreement belongs to the past. Centrally chosen candidates are parachuted into constituencies over the heads of local activists. Party apparatchiks wonder why the electorate are more and more reluctant to turn out and vote and mutter about the need for subsidies by the taxpayer.

The American political system remains unique in many ways. It is dominated by lawyers, who hold more than a third of seats in Congress, while the overriding determinant of election results is big money. The constitution is designed for conflict and candidates flirt with mutual destruction in the catfight for the top job. It is a large diverse country and solid party machines tend to be localised phenomena; yet the dominance of the Washington apparatus is legendary, though under constant challenge.

Things are different in Europe, where political debate is overcast by the shadow of the EU, a theoretical construct largely invented by French socialists. Its overweening bureaucracy issues diktats that are often seriously damaging economically and originate from trendy science fantasies, such as universal chemophobia.

In the UK the lost of contact between the party hierarchies and what remains of membership in the country is manifest. The Thatcher administration, arrogant in its electoral invulnerability (not inherent, but gifted by an opposition voluntarily rendering itself unelectable), simply ignored the party in the country and let the world’s most effective electoral volunteer army decay into impotence. The subsequent move by the leadership towards European idealism was not popular with the rump of a party and the fiasco of the European Rate Mechanism exceeded their worst expectations.  Having lost its reputation for economic competence, the party in its turn became unelectable. After a merry-go-round of unsuccessful leaders it panicked and submitted itself to a coup by a minority greenie faction. This faction, ignoring a basic principle of electoral politics (First secure your core vote) launched a series of bizarre PR stunts that repelled many of its traditional supporters, consequently losing an election that had been handed to it on a plate. So it found itself in an uneasy coalition with the Lib-Dems. These Lib-Dems themselves form a very broad coalition of widely disparate parts, ranging from old-fashioned fluffy lovers of liberty to adamantine authoritarian socialists. To give them their due, they are the least divorced from their base support and they often win seats by exploiting local issues. In office, however, they have displayed a prima donna tendency to promote their own electoral interests, which distracts attention from the very serious economic problems.  Such problems in the UK arise from the disastrous rule by “New Labour” which was dominated by two warring leaders; the unctuous actor-manager and the dour advocate of tax, borrow and waste. This situation is quite independent of the EU crisis, which is an inevitable consequence of the fatal congenital disease in the single currency, but the effect is similar. By rights Labour should be condemned to years in the wilderness, but they have been granted a gratuitous boost by an extraordinary display of serial incompetence by the Coalition Government.

The idea that a Member of Parliament primarily represents the interests of his constituents is obsolescent. As ever, this is taken to extremes in the pseudo-parliament of the EU, in which factions are forced into multinational groupings under threat of the withholding of perks. A modern electoral abomination is the party list, which purports to be an implementation of a more democratic proportional representation. Instead of voting for candidates, you merely give your proxy to one or another party machine, the “choice” is often nothing but a Morton’s fork. In theory, the real power in Europe lies with the council of Ministers, but in reality it resides in the anonymous bureaucracy of Brussels, which prepares the agendas and briefings. Within that Council there is considerable pressure for “the colleagues” to converge on a united view. Coercive methods, such as sleep deprivation, are employed to enforce this unity. It all falls apart when the theories come up against reality, as with the inevitable throes of the euro, and the consequence tends to be paralysis.

Politicians are a superstitious lot. That elections tend to be lost rather than won is an unacceptable proposition for them; so they tend to look for omens within the tactics of the winning party and slavishly imitate them. The current fad is to put up young men, who have never run anything, and wonder why it all goes wrong when they are given a country to run. It is now the ultimate condemnation of a leader by his opponents that he has lost control of his party; a contemptuous reversal of democratic principles.

The UK House of Commons is currently debating the future of the upper house. Cut away the grossly excessive verbiage and the proposal boils down to a simple scheme to hand over control to the party machines. To members of the political class the electoral process is a holy rite, immaculate in its conception. It is, of course nothing of the sort. It is a pity that most of them are too young to have seen all those monochrome Hollywood movies in which a major plot element is the corrupting effect of election of the behaviour of legal and policing officials. Without any attempt at justification, they have already set in motion an electoral process for the appointment of heads of police authorities. Most of us lack any expertise that would enable us to make a sound choice in such a matter. Apparently excellent potential independent candidates are dropping out because of the severe financial penalties for trying and failing: so again you end up with the same old bunch of political hacks, who can be relied on to toe the party line.

Over recent years the party organisations have become ossified. Policies are developed in secretive smoke-free rooms and suggestions from ordinary party members are not welcome. The political class have become more remote and isolated from ordinary people. For example, only three MPs voted against the National Economic Suicide Act (aka Climate Change Act), which by a long way fails to reflect opinion among the electorate. Britain now spends over a billion a year on subsidising worse-than-useless wind turbines, which is paid for by onerous stealth taxes on energy, leaving increasing numbers in fuel poverty and driving manufacturing industry out of the country. It has recently been demonstrated that MPs have no understanding, or even interest, in this mounting economic disaster. Meanwhile the profligate Brussels bureaucracy is to get an extra 350 million pounds from British taxpayers for grandiose building projects at a time when the nation is sacking soldiers and other essential workers on grounds of cost.

It’s a mad world, My Masters.

22/07/2012

Heaven preserve us from moralising ministers

Though it originated with the Chancellor, Cameron boosted it when he labelled a comedian immoral though that man was merely being hypocritical. It was not only politically gauche for a national leader to single out one of his flock (however tawdry) in this way; it was a cardinal error to launch a moral crusade over legal tax avoidance. The onus of cleansing the Augean stables that are our present tax system is upon the political class. In opposition they invariably promise to clear up the mess. In office they invariably tinker at the edges and make the situation worse.

In organised society taxation is a necessary imposition that depends on a compact between the rulers and the ruled. Governments undertake to provide essential services, such as defence of the realm and policing of the streets, while exercising due care with money that is provided by taxpayers under reasonable and equitable conditions. Breach of that compact can have the most dramatic consequences (such as the eventual creation of the United States of America), but modern finance ministers have a tendency to behave like Plantagenet princes in exercising their demands. In the UK taxes have risen beyond the peak at which they maximise income (the Laffer maximum), so both avoidance and evasion are increasingly influential. Popular resistance is building, not just because of the amount of taxation, but also the wasteful and irrational way it is spent. When political leaders start moralising about the duty to pay taxes it is a sure sign that the unspoken compact is at the very least under strain.

Enter The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (how many knew we had one?) one David Gauke. Taking the hint from his master, he launched an attack on ordinary people who pay cash for minor services such as house cleaning. Many of the people who pay cash earn less annually than, for example, what Mr Gaulke claimed for tax paid on the transaction to purchase a second home.

The cash economy has several positive attributes. It is the seed-bed in which many successful businesses germinate. It allows people like young mothers with children at school, who are well below that tax threshold and often even do not have bank accounts, to earn a bit of pin money. Their clients are often pensioners, let down by the state, who could not possibly afford a transaction encumbered by massive government-imposed overheads. It provides a cushion against the harm that out-of-control governments can do to ordinary people. When Denis Healey introduced pip-squeaking taxation in his budgets in the 1970s, having submitted to IMF supervision of the economy in exchange for a loan, the cash economy swung into action and kept the nation going.

What is really immoral in modern life? Could it be, for example, a chairman of a parliamentary committee who uses that position to promote rackets from which he is profiting?

James Delingpole has shown interest in the activities of Tim Yeo. Remember him? He appeared in the early days of Number Watch, under headlines such as The unacceptable face of Socialism. Reminiscent of the time even earlier when your bending author came under attack from a company owned by John Gummer, who just happened to be a major parliamentary propagandist for greenie enterprises.

Moral is as moral does.

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Number of the month – 2

According to new calculations 2 is almost exactly the factor by which the claimed rate of warming in the USA has been erroneously magnified. This error comprises two components – the use of data from sensor installations that do not conform to agreed specifications and a scientific process known as “fiddling the books”.

Meanwhile, the BBC put out a story under the headline Ex-sceptic says climate change is down to humans. Oddly enough they first issued it under the classification of Politics, later moving it to Sci/Environment. Even more curiously, they included a link to the above contradictory story, which on their broadcast media would be strictly verboten. On their main audio talk station, Radio 4, global warming is a constant drumbeat and sceptics are totally excluded. They also refer to Judith Curry, who declined to be a co-author of the Damascene Conversion paper. Curiouser and curiouser!

Odd chap, that Richard Muller: has the look of someone who has seen something nasty in the woodshed.

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31/07/2012

Index, search box and begging bowl 

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