Showing posts from 2017

Courts aren't touching the worst part of the immigration executive order

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled 10-3 against Donald Trump's immigration executive order, keeping in place an injunction against its enforcement. This, for those struggling to keep up, is the second 'travel ban' order: the President gave up on defending the first one in court after it appeared headed to resounding defeat. The new version is somewhat less obvious in its Muslim-targeting, but the courts are still taking a dim view of it.
Or most of it, anyway. One major part of the order, in both versions, suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days and cuts the overall refugee quota for 2017 from 110 000 to 50 000. These sections are not at issue in the 4th Circuit case, and there's not much any court can do about them: the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is run largely at the discretion of the president. In one case, state governments are arguing that refugee numbers can only be reduced after 'appropriate consultation' w…

The UK as one-party state

We live in hope, but the overwhelming probability is still that Theresa May will win next month's election by a landslide that effectively makes it impossible for Labour to win a majority in 2022. If that happens, then from 1979 to 2027 the UK government will have changed partisan hands two and a half times. Forty-eight years with only two changes of government, or three if you insist on taking the Lib Dems seriously.

This is not normal. Even counting only to now, not ten years into the future, Australia has had four changes since 1979; the USA, at least five, probably eight; France, somewhere between three (if you count Presidents, with their very long terms) and seven (if you count Prime Ministers).*

The story only gets stranger if you think about what politics has actually looked like during these long stretches. For most of its recent political history, the UK has resembled a one-party state in which the only opposition sat in total disarray, apparently incapable of mounting a…

The tuition fee storm in a teacup

The Labour Party has now officially announced that it's going to abolish university tuition fees if it wins power, throwing itself into a debate that's been floating around student politics since they were tripled to £9000 in 2010. We have sort of known about this for a few weeks, and even before that everybody suspected it might happen, given the general tenor of Corbyn's politics and the passions of his base.
The main thing you need to know about the tuition fees debate is that it doesn't really matter.

Everyone's bullshitting about the French election

Emmanuel Macron beat Marine Le Pen extremely resoundingly last week. It was an electoral defeat for right-wing populism that, unlike in the Netherlands, wasn't achieved by pandering to nativism. That's a happy outcome, and an exciting prospect, so it's natural that everyone is rushing to learn lessons. The angles are varied. Today we have Chuka Umunna arguing that the result shows Labour can succeed by embracing an unashamedly open, pro-European message. Yesterday Rachel Sylvester reckoned the real moral of the story is that centrists should split from established parties, particularly on the left. There are lots more. But all these self-serving hot takes are wrong.

It's on

Like it or lump it.
The Lib Dems are back - even if Brexit doesn't matter
A mostly ignored fact about the 2015 election is that Tory gains came from the Liberal Democrats, not from Labour. The Conservatives were able to take 27 seats from their coalition partners thanks to a combination of factors: some very astute decisions about campaign resource targeting, the general nationwide tanking of the Lib Dem vote, but also a counterproductive pickup in the Labour vote. In quite a few seats, particularly in the southwest, Labour increased its vote share at the expense of the Liberal Democrat candidate and allowed a Tory to win - sometimes even when the Tory vote barely moved, or even decreased, from 2010.
So there are some seats - in particular Twickenham, Kingston & Surbiton and Eastbourne - that the Lib Dems would take back even if the only thing that happened was that people who switched from Liberal Democrat to Labour between 2010 and 2015 switch back. Pure 'Labour is bad&#…


You may have heard of Andy Burnham, the Labour MP who was obviously going to win the Labour leadership, until he obviously wasn't. Since he's refocused himself on winning the mayoral race in Greater Manchester, Burnham has really amped up his man-of-the-people, 'screw those politicians' schtick. Sometimes this takes the form of wrong-headed and xenophobic pandering to anti-immigration sentiment. Sometimes it's more entertaining:
Bit bizarre hearing these right-wing calls for a "Barista Visa". God forbid the idea of waiting longer in the morning for their posh coffee. — Andy Burnham (@andyburnhammp) April 17, 2017 Of course Burnham didn't invent the idea of cafe culture as a symbol of metropolitan elitism. The first time I remember coming across it was in Don Watson's 2003 book about political language, and you can find a New York Times article referring to "planet-saving, latte-sipping individualists" from 1994. Unsurprisingly, what was…

The party decided

The Party Decides is a 2008 political science book, which argues that presidential nominations in the US are controlled by party establishments. This used to be literally true, but the book's claim is that since popular primaries were introduced in the 1960s and 70s, the parties have developed ways to support their chosen candidate, who usually ends up winning even when they weren't initially favoured by voters.
It's come in for a bit of a pasting in the last year and a half, for pretty obvious reasons: the Republican Party establishment did not want Donald Trump, and they signalled that very clearly, and yet. You can read various bits of musing about that here, here and here.

What if the party did get what it wanted?

Dissecting the US refugee swap

I have an article in Overland, examining the US-Australia refugee swap deal: how the Australian government is forced into pursuing this option because of the long-term cruelty of our policy, and how it perversely puts asylum seekers' fates in the hands of Donald Trump. Have a look.

Reviewing from the road

I’m on holiday, winding my way from Toronto down to New York, not thinking much about politics, and reading a lot. So, for something a bit different, here’s what I’ve been reading, listening to, watching, etc… If you want to read about the holiday, head to my TinyLetter. (If you just want to look at it, my hyperactive Instagram is here.)
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante. Like a lot of these, this is shameless and quite late bandwagoning. I’d never heard of Elena Ferrante until the explosion of commentary and debate when her real name and identity were (against her will) revealed. My Brilliant Friend is the first in the quartet of novels she’s most celebrated for. It was not what I expected. The way Ferrante’s work has been reviewed and praised, as well as the general fact that it sparks a lot of discussion in more highbrow outlets, had me anticipating a quite literary work full of elegant prose. My experience of it was quite different, more like the way I read as a child than anythi…

The emptiness of Malcolm Turnbull

Over on New Matilda, I have a piece about whether Malcolm Turnbull really believes in anything. The narrative that still dominates our political discussion is that he's personally committed to various socially progressive causes - marriage equality, strong action on climate change - but can't pursue them because of his Coalition colleagues. That story is less and less believable as time goes on.

Brief thoughts on the incredible shrinking US refugee deal

The Washington Post reported last night that Malcolm Turnbull's Saturday phone call with Donald Trump was, contrary to initial reports, a huge disaster. Trump hates the refugee-swap deal, under which the US will resettle refugees held on Manus Island and Nauru and Australia will take refugees from Central America. If anyone was unsure about the reporting, he helpfully tweeted a few hours later about the "dumb deal". Lots of freaking out has ensued, particularly from Americans. Scattered comments, before I leave for the morning to work (which at the moment, depressingly enough, means reading more about refugees.)

1. The key to thinking about this is to realise that Australians, on the whole, do not care what happens to these refugees. Obviously a sizeable and passionate minority do, but taken together we have demonstrated over the years total political indifference to their plight. The refugee swap was announced in November last year. Before that, the Turnbull government …

Getting angry: gaps in migration thinking

I wrote this piece a couple of weeks ago about Labour's position on free movement, and people tended not to agree with it. The extremely brief recap of that post: it's not worse to have migration controls with Europe than it is to have them with the rest of the world. The ideally just policy is to have open borders generally. But a policy position that says "immigrants are not the cause of our problems, but now that we're resetting our relationship with Europe to parallel our relationship with the world, we'll have migration controls as we do with everywhere" is a regrettable but probably necessary concession to current political reality, aimed at defusing rising political xenophobia, and should be treated that way - not as some kind of deep act of evil.
Your mileage will probably still vary on that, and I'm not going to go over it again. But I think it's an interesting window onto two (related) distortions in how we tend to think about migration pol…

Hindutva on the march

Here's me on the Oxford International Relations Society's blog, writing about some of the ways that Narendra Modi and the BJP have pursued a Hindu nationalist agenda in India since they won government in 2014. There was a lot written at the time about Modi, from all sorts of perspectives, worrying a lot about what he represented and what might happen with him as Prime Minister. There's been very little written about it since, which is a shame. If you had a temporary interest at the time, hopefully you'll enjoy rekindling it.

Labour and free movement

Even more than everywhere else in politics, immigration is an area where the reasons politicians support a policy and the objective merits and demerits of that policy rarely have much to do with each other. Some of the most important merits relate to the benefits to people overseas, and those are never even considered. But even taking a narrower view, immigration policies are supported and defended for a variety of nakedly political reasons, many of them deeply morally troubling, which don't really have anything to do with their impacts on society.
With few exceptions, immigration is not a main driver of economic deprivation or even of social disenfranchisement. So it's usually right to be suspicious of politicians who come out saying they support reducing immigration. The policy is not going to be a way of massively improving the lives of voters; its actual effects, one way or another, are probably going to be marginal. So why are they bringing it up? Most of the time, the a…