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Showing posts from May, 2015

Sub fusc and the limits of liberalism

Here is a brief and absurd canter across some ground in political philosophy, through the lens of the sub fusc referendum.

If you don't know what that means, fair enough. Sub fusc is the traditional academic dress of Oxford University. It looks like this, and the current university rules are that you have to wear it, along with an academic gown and mortarboard, when you're taking exams. Currently, the Student Union is holding a referendum on whether that rule should be abolished so that sub fusc will be non-compulsory.

You can read the official cases for and against the change, but actually they're kind of misleading, because the real division is whether you think the fact of tradition, just taken by itself, has any value. If you do, then more or less nebulous concerns about projecting an image of elitism won't worry you; if you don't, then there's no real benefit to sub fusc, and so the worries about access (nebulous or not) are good enough a reason to get rid…

The Labour Party is in fine shape

There, I said it.

I may be the only person who thinks this. The debate happening now is raging between people who think that Labour needs to move to its left, and abandon its partial endorsement of austerity at this election, and people who think it needs to move right, back to the Blairite New Labour centre.

It seems to me that the New Labour camp is winning this fight. But the whole fight is driven by a peculiar version of the pundit's fallacy. People who think Labour should be more centrist also think this is the key to electoral success. People who think it should be more left-wing also think that is its only path to victory.

Among actual pundits, a slightly more nuanced story is taking shape, in which Labour is in deep trouble because it needs to tack left to regain seats in Scotland, and right to win more seats in England. This story is also wrong.

Labour's bloodletting, distilled

Prompted by Ben and Ed, a clarification on what Labour should be thinking about after this election.

There are two outcomes that need explaining:
(A) Why Labour lost this election  (B) Why Labour did so badly at this election And, broadly, three explanations available:
(1) Labour was facing a first-term government, only a few years after a 13-year period of dominance which ended with it presiding over a serious economic crash. (2) Labour was wiped out in Scotland by the SNP.  (3) Labour was too left-wing and too far away from Blairite 'New Labour'.
What I think is this.
(A) is essentially fully explained by (1). It may be that (3) also had a role, but there is at the moment basically no evidence for this. If the more left-wing, Miliband message had produced a result like this in 2020, then there'd be more reason to go for (3). But a result in which Labour makes modest net gains on the Tories in England, but not enough to seriously threaten their government, is more or less…

Democracy in the UK #6: Picking up the pieces

Well, nobody expected that. The final projections are still in my spreadsheet, here, and now look like a snapshot of a strange collective delusion. Even the numbers that looked most positive for the Tories underestimated their eventual tally of seats by 35; everybody had Labour and the Lib Dems well above where they eventually ended up. Pollsters - not to mention Labour Party members - are thoroughly shell-shocked. It's a result so surprising, in several different ways, that it can't be boiled down to one key point; but here are a few things to think about.

1. How did this happen? The main story is just that Labour didn't pick up anywhere near as many votes as it had to, or as it was expected to. They went from 29% at the last election to 30.4% this week, rather than the 33-35% most people were expecting. That would have produced a modest increase in Labour seats, made up of gains from the Tories and Lib Dems in England and Wales almost cancelled out by losses to the SNP in…