Category: Historical


George Friedman on the Posh versus the Blokes

George Friedman of Geopolitical Futures looks at class and Brexit:

The Posh versus the Blokes in the UK

I arrived in London on Saturday afternoon. Traffic was heavy and it took nearly two hours to reach my hotel, giving ample time to speak to my driver. It was time well spent. He was a Scotsman who had been living and driving in London for a long time. We discussed the election, of course, and the devastation of the Labour Party and the rise of the Conservatives. He had voted for the Tories. He explained that this was because of his loathing for what he called the “posh in London” and their hatred of England while enriching themselves shamelessly and despising anyone who doesn’t worship as they worship.

By “worship” he was not referring to religion, but their belief that Britain is corrupt and demands ruthless reform. He particularly was enraged that the playing of “Rule Britannia” was seen by the posh left as disgraceful, because it paid homage to an evil that Britain ought to apologize for over and over: the British Empire. The loss of empire didn’t bother him. What bothered him was that the posh left was unwilling to respect that whatever faults Britain might have had, Britain was a great moment in human history, and he as a British subject and as a Scotsman was not prepared to be ashamed about it.

What has happened in Britain is something that can be seen elsewhere. The left-wing party has become the party of the well-to-do and educated elite. The conservatives have become the party of the workers. The former demand the right to hold on to their status but also to redefine the meaning of a nation’s history, and use their power to force moral principles on a society not prepared to respect them. England’s Labour Party had been the party of the working class but seems to a great extent to have turned on the workers.

The European Union question is mixed in with this. The posh (I will use this name for them) supported EU membership eagerly. According to my driver, the left-wing posh are all involved in finance, and they saw EU membership as beneficial to them. But there was another aspect he did not mention. If one of the things you wish to do is take ownership of British history and deny the British the right to admire the greatness and forgive themselves what harm they did, then the EU is the perfect vehicle. In announcing and trying to impose a European identity, devaluing one’s own nation, the EU gave the posh a powerful tool with which to subordinate the brilliant, dark and beloved history of Britain.

The desire of this class to make more money is easy to understand. Harder to understand is this class’s desire to redefine British recollection of their past. When voters opted to leave the EU, this class was both dumbfounded and enraged. You could read many times about how the people who voted to leave were considered to be uneducated, lacking all understanding of what they were doing. The posh wanted to delegitimize the election and insisted that it be replayed. The desire for a do-over was in their rational interest, but more was going on. The posh believed they had a right to rule, and that those who voted against them were illegitimate pretenders. As the struggle to reverse Brexit intensified, the battle to delegitimize the enemies of the EU also intensified. Having opened by declaring the voters ignorant, they extended their assault to include a range of other values, such as patriotism, and the right to preserve and celebrate British culture. The struggle over Brexit did not start the culture war, but it pushed the industrial working class into an uprising against the posh and their belief.

There was of course a massive economic dimension. The industrial working class of the Midlands were not experiencing the benefits of the EU. The posh of London were. The EU played a major role in this. Britain is the second-largest economy of the EU, and its loss would be extremely painful. The EU had two possible routes. One was to reach a redefinition of the relationship with Britain. The other was to be utterly rigid in finding a resolution. The EU assumption was that rigidity was more rational, since it would force a shift in the British political alignment that would reverse Brexit. It did everything it could to make Brexit appear a disaster, and it convinced all those who already believed it, while building rage against the EU in those who didn’t. The political collaboration between the posh and the EU drove a further wedge between the two English classes and strengthened the belief that rational acceptance of the EU was being blocked by primitive and ignorant nationalism. Thus the economic and financial battles merged.

The British political structure has now massively shifted. The Labour Party had been the party of the industrial working class and aligned with their culture, unlike Marxists who wanted to transform it. The Conservative Party was the party of the well-to-do and of empire. Today, Labour is the party of the posh, demanding cultural shifts, while the Conservatives are the party that lost posh London and took a huge chunk out of the industrial Midlands. It should be noted that the major shift was cultural and not economic. Labour was unclear on the EU and shared with the posh the desire for moral reform. The Conservatives sided with the working class on both economic and cultural matters.

The British realignment is something we also see more broadly in the Euro-American world. Parties that were formerly working-class parties have shifted to supporting the well-to-do and focusing on cultural change. Parties that were formerly the parties of the wealthy are now speaking for the workers, and particularly for their cultural views. This isn’t particular to Britain at all. The desire to protect traditional cultural values is powerful among working classes, who see the assault on their values by former allies as a betrayal. Thus the Labour Party became the party of the posh, and the Conservatives speak for my driver.

That conclusion is reinforced by YouGov post-election polling. Alain Tolhurst of PoliticsHome reports that “Tories now more popular with working class voters than middle class ones, reveals election poll”:

A survey by YouGov found that the Conservatives won 48% of voters in the lower C2DE social grade at last week’s election, as opposed to 43% in the higher ABC1.

The C2DE grade is made up of skilled and unskilled manual workers, pensioners, casual workers and the unemployed, while ABC1 is managerial, professional and administrative staff.

The Tories triumph, but a modern version of the Roman slave whose task it was to murmur into the victorious general’s ear, “Remember, thou art mortal” would whisper to them, “Young people overwhelmingly vote Labour”. Yes, it was ever thus, but now it is more thus. Another change: women are now more left wing than men. For most of the twentieth century women tended to be Conservative stalwarts.

Parliament cut off its own nose to spite the people’s face

Two things have been key pillars of parliamentary government’s ability to function for the past 330 years.

One is the government’s power of dissolution. Bagehot (‘The English Constitution’) explained that parliamentary supervision combined effectively with government functioning because:

“Though appointed by one parliament, it can appeal if it chooses to the next.”

The ridiculous fixed-term parliament act (passed to provide reassurance to the libdems during their 2010-2015 coalition with the conservatives) removed that pillar.

Another is its direction of the parliamentary agenda.

I am guided by and must operate within the Standing Orders of the House. (Speaker Bercow, 26 September 2014)

The Standing Orders are of course our rules, and by those rules we must all abide. (Speaker Bercow, 29 June 2017)

Those conventions and precedents are important to the collegiate operation of this House. (Speaker Bercow, 26 March 2018)

I am clear in my mind that I have taken the right course of action. (Speaker Bercow, ditching 330 years of precedent against the unanimous instruction of his law clerks on 9 January 2019 – and on several occasions thereafter, h/t the Spectator)

If parliamentary government could have functioned, it could have delivered Brexit, so, egged on by a cross-party coalition of MPs, most of whom were breaking highly-specific election pledges, and led (appropriately) by a speaker whose job exempted him from facing a contested election at all, they wrecked parliament’s ability to function rather than submit to the humiliation of obeying their promise to voters instead of their own opinions.

The result is: parliament has been non-functional for most of this year – and everyone sees it. People who think ‘parliamentary standing orders’ are how it pays the electricity company for lighting in late-night sittings see it. People who think ‘parliamentary standing orders’ are MPs’ drink preferences at the House of Commons’ subsidised bars see it. People who haven’t a clue what happened in 1689 see it. Every day in every way, this parliament is getting itself more and more despised – not the way I’d have chosen to show I belonged to an elite.

By whom is control taken back

The people after Brexit will not rule in any more sense than they ruled before. But the questions put to them may be less of a choice between various species of stinking fish.

(Conclusion of an interesting historical comparison from Sean Gabb on what the realignment might look like.)

I want a (much) less-rotted fish to vote for. I want an end to recent innovations (FTPA, supreme court) that are instruments of anti-populist control. (The old constitution has enough of these. The high court does not need a supreme court to reverse it. Parliament does need to fear surprise elections.)

Brexit didn’t have to expose this. It was always inevitable that those who loved the EU would love these things. I’m not sure it was inevitable they’d cheat so hard as to expose them for what they are to so many. In 2016, I thought they’d do what Sean says they’d have been wiser to: keep their promise (i.e. accept the result) and keep their preeminence. But our harder fight offers us a greater victory.

Righty ho, Guy

Just when the Remain side had got some traction for their line about the evils of inflammatory language with that embarrassingly crude tweet from Leave.EU that called Angela Merkel a “kraut” and invoked the two world wars, along comes this soon-to-be-viral nugget from the European Parliament’s Brexit Co-ordinator.

The Independent – not the Express, not the Telegraph, not the Mail, the extremely pro-EU Independent – reports:

Brexiteers ‘are the real traitors’, EU’s Guy Verhofstadt says.

The European Parliament’s Brexit chief has branded Brexiteers “the real traitors”, in a significant escalation of rhetoric from Brussels.

Speaking in a debate in the EU’s legislature Guy Verhofstadt accused Boris Johnson of blaming everyone but himself for the situation the UK found itself in.

“The real reason why this is happening is very simply: it’s a blame game against everybody. A blame game against the European Union, against Ireland, against Mrs Merkel, against the British judicial system, against Labour, against the Lib Dems, even against Mrs May,” he said.

“The only one who is not to be blamed is Mr Johnson himself, apparently. But all the rest are the source of our problems. That is what is happening today. All those who are not playing his game are ‘traitors’ or a ‘collaborator’, or ‘surrenderers’.

“Well in my opinion, dear colleagues the real traitor is he or she who risks bringing disaster upon his country, its economy, and its citizens, by pushing Britain out of the European Union. That is in my opinion, a traitor.”

Let us hope the Liberal Democrats invite him back soon to do some more campaigning for them, so we can see how that line goes down on the doorsteps of Britain. Even in Camden it might be a hard sell.

BBC accurate, but for the ‘but’

Jacques Chirac, the former French president who championed the EU, but whose later years were blighted by corruption scandals, has died aged 86.

This sentence from today’s BBC red-button news seems an accurate summary – except that I am puzzled why the word ‘but’ connects the descriptions of the two main interests of Monsieur Chirac. Surely ‘and’ would have been the more appropriate conjunction.

We have had enough of experts. Yes, really.

Michael Gove’s famous or infamous quote about having “had enough of experts” has often been held up as an example of anti-intellectualism. Perhaps if Faisal Islam had spent less of the next half minute in outraged repetition of the words “Had enough of experts?” he might have heard what Gove said next about the particular experts in question having been wrong before. FullFact belatedly acknowledged that the full quote about specific experts with a bad record was a good deal less incendiary than the truncated version about experts in general, when the site made this correction:

We’ve updated this piece to source the full quote from Michael Gove. Previously it read “People in this country have had enough of experts.”

But you know what? Even the simplistic, cut-off-mid-sentence version of Gove’s quote does well enough. The referendum result demonstrated that a lot of people had had enough of anything billed as expert opinion in the field of economics, and no wonder. Predictions of equal accuracy to theirs could have been obtained from expert astrologers. Matthew Goodwin has written a piece for UnHerd that talks about why the record of economic and political experts is so dismal:

How political bias blinds us: Ideological cocoons prevent experts from seeing, and engaging with, the wider world.

When the referendum arrived in 2016, another survey of nearly 600 experts delivered a remarkably clear view. Nearly 90% expected Remain to win. Just 5% felt that Brexit was the most likely outcome. Journalists were noticeably worse: 97% predicted Remain and just 3% Brexit. And most expected Remain to win by at least 10-points. There were simply too few people willing to question and challenge the herd thinking.

“lt will take time for full realisation of this to sink into party headquarters…”

“lt will take time for full realisation of this to sink into party headquarters…”

The Spectator, 21 July 1973

“The full realisation of what?” I hear you ask. Here is the context:

The Government managed to get its wretched little European Communities Bill — under which this monstrous regimen of bureaucratic Brusselsdom was statutorily but unconstitutionally allowed to assume sovereignty over us — through Parliament by arguing that the fears expressed by anti-Market MPs were groundless, and that in practical terms Britain’s entry into Europe would increase rather than decrease British control over Britain’s future. We were not, according to this glib and ignorant hypothesis, so much losing sovereignty as gaining power. Daily, the disproofs of the daft hypothesis mount.

The public knows this already. It never liked the Common Market, and now it realises that the experiment is a disastrous flop. lt will take time for full realisation of this to sink into party headquarters; it will take it even longer to sink into our most Eurofanatical MPs; it may never sink into this particular Government. But sooner or later there will be a government and a House of Commons united in their determination to restore to themselves (and thus to the people), the powers of decision foolishly and ignorantly ceded by this Government and this Parliament. The sooner such a government is in power the better, for the less difficult will be the unscrambling process. it is not, as the Labour leadership still seeks to pretend, a question of renegotiation. It is a matter of repudiation; and the first party which appeals to the country on a clear policy of repudiating the Treaty of Rome will be rewarded with office by the public whose voice will have at length been heard and heeded.

That realisation took longer – one suspects – than even The Spectator had anticipated.

Interesting that mention of “power”. That was precisely what Lord Heseltine said in an interview with Michael Portillo for a Channel 5 documentary on the EU just a few weeks ago. Did we ever get any?

Also interesting is the talk of “repudiation”. Repudiating a treaty is a big deal but it is not difficult to foresee the circumstances in which a British government might do precisely that.


Phineas Phosgene

Farming and Brexit: whatever did we do before the EU?

As the saying warns, those who do not learn from the past are condemned to relive it – but sometimes, reliving the past is worth considering at least. 🙂 After all, it was in the past that we were not in the EU. How did we survive in that dim and distant time?

When Britain joined the EU (it was called the EEC in those days), many people – on both sides of the channel – pointed out that the UK’s prior method of supporting a viable farming sector had some things going for it.

– The EEC set minimum prices for agricultural products – so had butter mountains, wine lakes, etc. (Basic economics: want a surplus? – set a minimum price; want a shortage? – set a maximum price.) Food cost more, which was bad news for the poor inside the EU, and EU protectionism was especially focussed on agriculture, which was bad news for the poor in the third world. (When the UK industrialised, it let its farming sector shrink as Europe sold it food in exchange for high-tech products. Thanks to the EU, Europe’s approach to the rest of the world is the opposite.)

– The old UK system of “deficiency payments” for farmers was a negative sales tax. UK farmers sold what they could in competition with imports, and, instead of paying sales tax on it received a ‘deficiency payment’ – an annually-set sum per unit sale for farm products in the scheme. Thus food was cheap to the consumer, and a lot of it was imported, but UK farmers could budget each year to compete with third-world farmers without having to adopt a third-world living standard.

I’m not a fan of state intervention. However even Milton Friedman says that keeping enough of a local farming sector to survive e.g. another WWII can (sometimes) be a valid exception. If today’s politics tells us that Brexit’s effect on farmers will be addressed somehow then I’m prepared to discuss how best to do what will anyway be done. Joining the EU raised food prices. Why shouldn’t leaving it lower them? If the government will spend money on it anyway, then what do people think of motivating farmers to produce for the market instead of for the surplus, while helping the UK poor by lowering food prices instead of giving them yet another state handout, and allowing the poor in the third world to sell us what they can produce instead of tariffing them? It’s what we did before.