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A joy to read

Written By: - Date published: 9:24 am, December 10th, 2020 - 18 comments
Categories: boris johnson, International, national, politicans, Politics, same old national, uk politics - Tags: ,

There are the odd occasions when you find a political opinion that is a joy to read and quite revealing.

This morning whilst reading the Economist, I read a Bagehot column – “Tidying Boris Up“. Despite my almost total lack of interest in the UK from this fifth generation kiwi, it read exactly like my opinion on the current conservative scene in the UK.

I thought I’d share it. But it is paywalled. So you may need to give them a email to read a few articles a week and allow them to pester you. But it is often worth it.

Setting the scene

THE FIRST months of Boris Johnson’s tenure as mayor of London, back in 2008, were, by common consent, a mess. Projects fizzled. Senior aides flounced. Chaos reigned. Then “bungling Boris”, as the newspapers dubbed him, appointed a talented chief of staff. The self-effacing but effective Simon Milton brought order to chaos and turned dither into decisiveness. Mr Johnson became Britain’s most popular Tory and was re-elected by a landslide.

His first year in Downing Street recalls those early days in the mayor’s office. A slow response to the outbreak of covid-19 may have doubled the death rate; clumsy handling of the purchase of personal protective equipment left front-line workers vulnerable and led to dodgy deals to get hold of the stuff; faffing about exams generated confusion and anxiety. The angry departure of Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser, and his Brexiteer acolytes left Downing Street shell-shocked. Party discipline has collapsed.

The Economist: Tidying Boris Up

There are other words being written about Brexit right now. It looks like brinkmanship is the only resort after the negotiators appear to have left the field exhausted. Personally I’m feel that there will be some kind of agreement on Northern Ireland, but not that much else. A hard and painful exit looks likely.

The internal title of the column is “Introducing Dan Rosenfield, Boris Johnson’s organisation man”. Essentially it argues that this is exactly the kind of person to bring some order to the UK Prime Ministers office. It is probably a pity for the UK that the organisation only joins the place around the time that Brexit goes hard and the economy starts really getting damaged.

Mr Rosenfield’s first day in the job could be difficult if, as looks quite possible, Britain leaves the European Union without a deal. Even if there is one, he will be wading into quicksand. The prime minister’s biggest problems are political rather than purely organisational. Brexit was always a bundle of contradictions held together by a shared hostility to the EU and a vague optimism about freedom. Mr Johnson’s taste for waffle and fudge made him the perfect leader of the movement as long as it was about protest. With the end of the transition period he will have to focus on what he likes least: making difficult decisions and tough trade-offs.

Party management is also becoming harder, as the dysmorphic Tory party completes its transition from the natural party of government into a British version of the Taliban, dominated by a bunch of right-wing revolutionaries and in a permanent state of fury and factitiousness. It was always going to be tricky for a prime minister who made his career by rebelling against the leadership to impose party discipline. The party’s disintegration into factions that reflect warring ideological and regional priorities has made it almost impossible: the One Nation group of liberal Tories, the 109 Group of new MPs (oddly named, since there are 66 of them), the Northern Research Group, the Covid Recovery Group and the grandmother of them all, the European Research Group of Eurosceptics. Many of the last lot are battle-hardened, addicted to revolt and already convinced that the Downing Street reset is an establishment plot to neuter Brexit and return to business as usual.

The Economist: Tidying Boris Up

That the conservatives look, from here, of “British version of the Taliban, dominated by a bunch of right-wing revolutionaries and in a permanent state of fury and factitiousness” also seems to be a genetic complaint amongst conservatives world wide at present

The conservatives in our own National party look just like that these days. The moderates are gone or leaving. The struggle that caused two turnovers inside National leadership this year were not only about trying to not lose so heavily. They were also about the factional conflict between the liberals, conservatives and the religious. This is expressing itself deeply in the candidate selections. See Richard Harmon’s pay walled article “Shaking up the Nats“.

Basically it is the struggle of who National is going to represent in the future. Most of NZ as Jacinda Arden and the current Labour caucus seem to be doing (almost despite the do-more pushes here and in other places on the left) or just their own in-fighting aged melanin deprived males with the thin XX leavening of Judith Collins and a handful of others.

It is no longer the ‘same old national‘ – one of our favoured categories. It is getting far worse.

You can see the same thing across the Tasman. The sagas of Barnaby Joyce, Abbott and Peter Dutton come to mind.

It is hard to look around the world at present and see a coherent right. Most of them appear to have contracted some form of the frothing madness of dogs or Taliban. Either rabid or cowering like most federal and state Republicans in the US. More concerned about culture wars than combating crises.

18 comments on “A joy to read ”

  1. AB 1

    British version of the Taliban, dominated by a bunch of right-wing revolutionaries and in a permanent state of fury and factitiousness”

    And yet they are in power – and appear likely to stay so as Starmer (maybe under bad advice) torches his own party by fanning the anti-Semitism lie into an inferno. They are in power because the Labour right and the Lib Dems preferred the Tory "Taliban" to mild-mannered social democrat Corbyn. Astonishing – as we watch the murderous uselessness of the Tory response to Covid unravel.

    • lprent 1.1

      The state of the Labour party in the UK doesn't look great at present. I was on a business trip to the UK (my first – avoid winter) during the election. Bleak weather. People were sick of the brexit debate. It was pre-covid.

      I'm pretty sure that the obvious dissent and disagreement within Labour that was spilling all over the public arena made the conservatives with their similar issues just look somewhat safer. Apart from a few hard core conservatives with a 'communist' interpretation of Corbyn – no-one seemed that engaged in the election.

      It was more that they just wanted it to be over.

  2. Ad 2

    The core quandary of modern developed-world politics is that as the right fractions and appears to collapse, it is rising in influence, in popularity and in power.

    The Christchurch massacre reverberation curiously militates against this rise of the outrageous right occurring here.

    Voters across the developed world including the UK are rewarding emotiveness, division, nationalism and irrationality (currently the right are best at that) much more than they are rewarding policy coherence and the gradual societal rewards that brings (usually the preserve of the left).

    I don't currently see any reverse of this, other than in a few minor developed countries like ourselves.

    • lprent 2.1

      I am more optimistic. Based on my reading of history. These tendencies seem to come in waves and you tend to find that the ending of catatophies (like covid) tends to change the mood just as strongly.

      Viewing with alllaaaarmmm! goes out of favour after the actuality happens.

      I suspect that the post covid environment in another year – maybe two will show a different pattern The right haven’t been effective. just useless

      • Ad 2.1.1

        It's a welcome optimism, but the degradation of effect of left-leaning parties has been occurring since at least 1989 and the splitting and rise of various super-nationalist and xenophobic parties has been going since the turn of the century.

        I have no doubt that governments like that of Trump and Johnson will be viewed poorly once histories are evaluated.

        But outside Australasia, developed-world politics has a long long way to travel deep down the wave before it hits the trough.

        • Sanctuary

          The decrepitude of the Atlantic Anglosphere is a sign of a decadent ruling elite that has ceased to function as a competent administrative class and is now only interested in perpetuating it's own privileges and power.

          Europeans in general are never happier than when doubling down on a bit of ethnic cleansing, and historically multi-ethnic and multi-cultural states have an anathema finally dealt with by mass ethnic cleansing post WW2. The rise of the right IMHO is in a big part due to the stresses of legal and illegal immigration by ehtnic an cultural out groups, itself a consequence of global capitalism seeking to cut labour costs and labour shortages by importing cheap labour with little regard for cultural fit or the long term consequences of mass immigration. NZ does not define it's identity by skin colour anything like white Europeans in Europe/USA so we are insulated from rabble rousing over illegal immigration by our mighty, thousands of miles wide moat.

          I was musing to myself about whether or not the far more competent and successful ANZAC COVID responses is a harbinger of our becoming increasingly culturally an Asian democracy, and if COVID is a concrete example of an absolute decline of Europe as the Pacific century gathers pace.

        • Stuart Munro

          the degradation of effect of left-leaning parties has been occurring since at least 1989 and the splitting and rise of various super-nationalist and xenophobic parties

          That's because blithe economic pronouncements about the universally benignant properties of mass low-wage immigration have not been borne out in practice. When a Blairite party has been propping up all the myriad forms of slavery and blackbirding in a labour market, the traditional left, who daily encounter the cold face of employer misanthropy will desert them for absolutely anyone – even Trump or Billy TK.

          Let a self-styled Left party actually deliver something credible to their constituents instead of peddling identitarian claptrap spread thin over an unsustainable neoliberal premise, and they could enjoy ongoing support, as they did back before they sold us down the river for Roger Douglas and property portfolios.

          • Phillip ure

            I am increasingly coming around to the p.o.v. that there could well be a/enough space in our political spectrum for a new neoliberalism-refuting/'left' political party..

            ..to further the green and maori party aspirations to provide some spine/real change to (the evermore thinly spread) labour..

            labour themselves are so terrified of all the neoliberal vested interests..

            ..I see no way of them doing what needs to be done..

            I have 'left' in italics..'cos any new party must be presenting new ideas/concrete plans of how to fix what so blights us..

            and really..I mentioned b4 the just published book from yanis varoufakis..'another now'..'dispatches from an alternative present'…and give it the highest possible recommendation..to read..

            it is choka-block full of good new political ideas/blueprints..

            and while reading it I thought it could easily be re-worked into the manifesto of a new political party..presenting these new alternatives to the new zealand electorate..

            I feel that many would view them in a good light..

            and I would suspect that was in the mind of varoufakis when he penned this tome..

            forget marx…here is varoufakis..

            ..a political thinker for our times…

  3. Forget now 3

    With Johnson not having to hold a general election until 2024, what UKLabour does to itself isn't very relevant. Did the Economist piece suggest any other CPMP who might be eying up the PM seat (and capable of coordinating the party factions)? Perhaps they aren't too willing to drink from that poisoned cup just yet.

    Still, Johnson tied his brand to Trump's in a now rather inconvenient way. With the UK facing a hard Brexit, they are going to have to do whatever they can to buddy up with Biden appointed trade negotiators. I don't expect him to be leading the Conservatives in the next election.

  4. RobbieWgtn 4

    "…as the dysmorphic Tory party completes its transition from the natural party of government into a British version of the Taliban,"

    Well, the Economist would say that the Tory party is "the natural party of government" wouldn't they. Same vested interests at play as to why the NZ Herald says the same about the National party.

    • lprent 4.1

      Yes. That is of course why I read it – most economists tend to have a inherent aversion to anarchy.

      However the reason I started reading it back in the 1980s was because economists are analytical. They like looking at what the actual effects of things are rather than then what than what ideologically should happen. Excellent at pointing out where things aren't working.

      In my case I read an analysis of economic impact of types of healthcare systems. It stated very clearly what the disadvantages of both something like the NHS and our system at the time against something like the US or soviet systems at the time. I disagreed with some of it (I tend towards disagreement as a routine).

      But it gave me some pretty clear pointers about modes of failure in a healthcare system for the society and economy as whole. Both the US and Soviet systems pretty much followed the path pointed out to failures in different ways. The US system continued to be both the most expensive to run and the least effective at public health in the wealthy nations.

      The problems about rationing that they pointed to for our type of system and that of the NHS are still coming to a head with the aging population. It has only been held together here by immigration for everything from taxes to medical staff – something that carries its own problems.

  5. Ad 5

    One useful pointer of the article is that a leader is generally only as good as their staff. The role of Alastair Campbell in sustaining Tony Blair for three terms has been well attested.

    In New Zealand the presence of Heather Simpson in working with Prime Minister Helen Clark was very clear – and she among others is one of the few policy leaders to give backbone to the current government over a decade later from Clark. If only there were more of that capacity.

    Wayne Eagleson was the National Party equivalent under Key and boy they sure don't have his equivalent operating now. With Eagleson, the left were shafted and Key shone.

    As we can see with local governments from Tauranga to Invercargill right now, strong and efficient political office leaders are the filament between the political and executive leaders – and stuff breaks down real fast and in full media glare when it's not there.

  6. syd 6

    "It is hard to look around the world at present and see a coherent right"

    Surely you jest? We are, and have been, living under the most coherent right series of governments on the planet…just depends how authoritarian you like it.


    • Maurice 6.1

      With this rather serious codicil from the US presidential elections section at that link:

      "However far-fetched this scenario may be, it is worth remembering that a classic prelude to fascism has always been an enfeebled opposition."

    • lprent 6.2

      All government is inherently authoritarian. But of course there hasn't been anarchy that I know about that hasn't deteriorated to a warlord or feudal system or has some really nasty bigotry being expressed.

      ….just depends how authoritarian you like it.

      However if you want to discuss that – then do it in OpenMike – not on my post. I really can't be bothered whose thinking is so far up their arse that can only express themselves in meaningless aphorisms.

      Shares of Rick Mayall’s satire in the Young Ones.

  7. Chris 7

    The only trouble is that "the frothing madness of dogs or Taliban" still wins elections.

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