"Revolt on the Right" - the story of UKIP
Patriotism, as we know, is the last refuge of a scoundrel or, as Oscar Wilde put it, the “Virtue of the Vicious”. And yet still today there is patriotic tub-thumping on, it seems, every occasion. And we even have a political Party, UKIP, and a wing of the Conservative party predicated on what they see as patriotic principles.
Some patriotism is benign if a bit daft (worship of the Monarchy) and some rather engaging (support for sporting teams which represent the Nation). But when patriotism is blind and when it is strongly negative about those who are seen as not being of our tribe it becomes dangerous. This is when Patriotism becomes Nationalism.
“My Country right or wrong” that jingoistic aphorism is the war cry (often literally) of nationalism. We saw it at its most venal during the Falklands war. Nationalism from the Argentinians when they invaded the Falklands and nationalism from Britain when we took them back. Was the shedding of so much blood really worth it to take a nationalistic stand to either annex (Argentina) or recover (Britain) some sparsely-populated dull and distant islands just because the Union Flag flew there and a couple of thousand vaguely British types lived there? One combatant was to die, and three times as many were to be injured, for every two Falkland Islanders in this absurd nationalistic adventure.
Whilst the situation in Gibraltar is not so lethal (two EU powers are hardly likely to come to blows over such a territorial dispute) the case has similarities. Gibraltar is part of Spain geographically but was taken by force by Britain 300 years ago. The case for British sovereignty, as with The Falklands, is legally strong but it is so archaic and anachronistic that it needs urgent review. It is worth remembering that Britain had sovereignty in perpetuity over Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Only the New Territories had to be handed back to China in 1997. But Real Politick determined that the whole Territory was handed to China – the idea that some nationalistic fervour should have caused Britain to dig its heels in and try and hold on Hong Kong is absurd
The cases of The Falklands and Gibraltar are not dissimilar to that of Hong Kong. In both cases only a misplaced and out-of-date nationalism makes Britain hold on to them. But what about the people I hear you cry? Don't they have rights? Indeed they do. But if we could put nationalism in its guise of “Sovereignty” off the table the problem would be solvable. Britain could concede sovereignty to Argentina and to Spain but lease the territoires back for say a hundred years and co-jointly with the sovereign power undertake to protect the interests of the residents of the two territories. Britain would confirm that these people would have full British nationality and Argentina and Spain would grant them self governance. The Argentinian and Spanish flags would fly, but the people of the territories would run the places. That is what happened in Hong Kong (the British nationality aside, shamefully) and it works!
The history of the twentieth century was one of clashes of nationalisms. The most evil of the various ideologies – Fascism and the “Communist” totalitarianism of the Soviet Union and China - were selectively countered by the democratic West. Hitler was defeated militarily, as he had to be, but the not much less evil and no less nationalistic Stalin was an ally. The United States disastrous adventures in Vietnam and in the twenty-first century in Iraq and Afghanistan were carried out under the nationalistic banner of the “Stars and Stripes”. The dangerous and unquestionably nationalistic dogma of American and “allied” Neo-Conservatism caused untold misery and distress – and it still does.
The very basis of Nationalism requires us to define the Nation we promote or defend. Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimea is nationalistic in that he declares, with some justification let it be said, that Crimea and the Crimeans are Russian. In essence this has been welcomed by Crimea because they see themselves as more Russian than Ukrainian and the decided that they couldn't be both, so they chose Russia.
Which brings me to Scotland. The de facto Scottish National Anthem, “Flower of Scotland” contains the following lines:
“Those days are passed now
And in the past they must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again
That stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again”
The key words here are “We can still rise now, And be a nation again”. Nominally this refers to Bannockburn (1314) but in fact, of course, it is to a Scottish Nationalist equally applicable today. Many of them will mean when they sing it be an independent nation again. Only with a positive (“Yes” vote) outcome to the referendum to be held in September 2014 will, they believe, this occur.
Scotland is a Country, historically and actually and nobody would question that. If “Nation” is used as a synonym for “Country” then Scotland is a nation and there is no need for it to rise and become one. It already is! But the word that takes the argument one step further is “State”. Here we are talking about governance and in that respect Scotland is only partly a “State”, but mostly not. It has a Parliament but that is effectively a regional assembly because it is, or could be made to be, subordinate to the Parliament of the United Kingdom – which is the “State” to which Scotland belongs, of which it is a constituent part.
The question that the Scottish voters will be answering in September is:
"Should Scotland be an independent country?"
The key word here is, of course, “independent”. For the Scottish citizen however it is rather more complex than that. It is essentially a nationalistic question. He or she is being asked whether they wish to give up their British citizenship and exchange it for a Scottish one. But trim away the citizenship issue and if we must accept that Scotland cannot be a “Nation State” within the United Kingdom. It can be, as it is, a “Country” within the UK and arguably also a “Nation” – but it cannot be a State without being independent.
Scots have two choices. The status quo under which they are (mostly) residents of and emotionally connected to Scotland as well as being citizens, not of Scotland, but of the UK. They are Scottish as well as British. That's choice one. Choice two sees the Scots breaking all governance links with the rest of the United Kingdom and in this case “Country”, “Nation”, and “Nation State” would become synonymous.
It is not for nothing that the SNP are “Scottish Nationalists” – it is the rawest form of Nationalism to seek to be independent. This is very similar to the pitch of UKIP regarding the UK and Europe. UKIP believes that all decisions in respect of the governance of Britain should be taken in Britain, not in Brussels. The SNP believes the same about Scotland and the UK - Edinburgh not London.
Those of us who abhor nationalism, especially in a British context, would argue that the interdependence of Nation States these days makes it inconceivable that Britain should not be a member of the European Union. Is the EU a “SuperState” as critics charge? Well yes up to a point it is. But do the French or the Italians or the Germans feel any less French, Italian or German because their countries are also members of the EU. I very much doubt it! And nor should we. Similarly I see no problem with Scots being proudly Scottish and proudly British at the same them. There is no anomaly here. Britain is an entity that was arguably as much created by the Scots as it was by the English (and the Welsh and some of the Irish as well of course). But that is for the Scots to decide. Back to patriotism. Can you be patriotically Scottish and patriotically British at the same time. Of course you can. Look at Andy Murray, or Chris Hoy. Can you be a British Nationalist and a Scottish Nationalist at the same time? No. And my hope is that none of us will want to be either of these things. Nationalism has left too many war graves around the world, led to too much slaughter of the innocents and is inclusive and profoundly dangerous – as history teaches us.
Dan Hodges has become the Pub bore. The person who inspires you to move seats or even pubs to escape his predictable rants. He recycles the same old anti Ed Miliband polemic in every article. Here is the latest version. It is neither informed nor original any more, if it ever was.
Journalism is about more than having an opinion and then peddling it at every opportunity. A degree of balance would be welcome. But failing that how about Mr Hodges actually thinking whether he has anything new or original to say before he drafts another piece. Or how about the Comments Editor saying to him "Come off it Dan, you've done this. Again, and again and again. I'm not paying for it any more.”
In a post on the ConHome website Garvan Walsh, who was National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party until 2008, says this:
I graduated with a BA (Hons) in Business Studies in 1970 which, to save you the math, is 44 years ago. Virtually everything that I studied on that course is relevant today – indeed more relevant because most of what we learned was unencumbranced with the MBA bullshit that was later to infest this area of study! In the Economics part of the course we covered the subject pretty thoroughly and in a linked area we looked at private and public investment. The latter was particularly interesting as unlike the former social considerations were uppermost.
The social (including environmental and other consequences) impact of private investment projects has been seen to be increasingly important in recent times. That said the main consideration has to be the potential returns over time for private shareholders. They are businesses after all. But for public sector investment it is different. Here return on capital and profit potential are far less important than the total benefits (and costs) of proceeding with a scheme. This is where, on my course all those years ago, Cost-benefit Analysis (CBA) comes in – and it still does. The definition of CBA in Wikipedia seems to express what it is rather well:
“In CBA, benefits and costs are expressed in monetary terms, and are adjusted for the time value of money, so that all flows of benefits and flows of project costs over time (which tend to occur at different points in time) are expressed on a common basis in terms of their "net present value."
The key point about CBA as a tool in project evaluation is that it requires that values are placed on consequences where the effect is not necessarily easy to determine in monetary terms. So, for example, the actual monetary cost of a construction project ought to be forecastable with a reasonable degree of precision. However the social cost of (for example) the disruption during the construction phase is much more intangible and assumptions have to be made. A project that we looked at in some detail was the construction of the Victoria Line in London and the CBA that was carried out on it:
You get the general idea of the approach from this brief summary. Which brings me to both HS2 (the High Speed rail line going North from London) and to capital expenditure on flood protection projects – both very much in the news at the moment.
The first thing to say is that it is intellectually bereft of reason to say that we should either do one or the other of these projects as if capital rationing is such that we can only afford to do one! Nonsense. In an economy the size of Britain's, particularly in the context of a European Union which not only supports infrastructure projects but often part-funds them, every project must be looked at on its own. So this sort of thing in a letter in the Daily Telegraph is drivel:
SIR – Looking at the photographs of storm wreckage along the east coast and up the Thames, it seems that the proposed HS2 money would be better spent on flood defences to prevent the catastrophic flooding of London in the future.
Save London rather than a few minutes’ journey time.
In short if the CBA for both projects is positive then by definition they can be afforded and ought to proceed – all other things being equal. But let me emphasise that it is essential that the cost of intangibles is fairly assessed. For example HS2 involves a huge number of Compulsory Purchase Orders – people and businesses (etc.) will lose their homes to make way for the line. The compensation paid is only part of the cost – what about the social and personal costs to those whose lives are disrupted? They must be properly calculated in so far as it is possible to do this. This does not mean that the line should not proceed – far from it. Every railway line since the early nineteenth century to today has involved disadvantages to those who live on the planned route. But these disadvantages can be assessed, and must be.
In The Netherlands the massive Delta Works were constructed at huge capital cost but the overall benefits unquestionably exceed the costs. Similarly with the Thames Barrier in London. Cost-benefit Analysis techniques helped prove the cases for these projects and they are essential for HS2 and are being used – as you would expect. The same applies to the potential capital projects for the creation of effective flood defences so that, like the Dutch, we actually protect our citizens in future.
My argument here is for more science and more calculation and less emotion. This may seem a tad callous for two projects which really do affect people’s lives and which have oodles of emotion in them. But if we look not at the macro level, where complexities get lost, but at the micro-level where real and intangible costs and benefits can be assessed we have a better chance of actually doing the right thing!
“You don't make something that’s bad better by making something that’s good worse.”
I visited my old school last week. Now the very term “old school” gives you a hint as to what sort of school it is – add “tie” and you’ll get it. “The Leys School”, where I spent my teenage years, is an independent school in Cambridge. Originally a Methodist foundation it is now a very modern coeducational secondary school which, whilst not secular, is far from a non-conformist truth factory. Actually it wasn't particularly religious when I was there in the 1960s either - despite our having to go to chapel twice a day, every day! Christopher Hitchens, a contemporary, remarked late in his life that he had “Learned more in the chapel than anywhere else in the School”. I know what he meant, paradoxical it may seem for atheists to say so.
I was at The Leys to see the opening of the new “Great Hall” its new centrepoint for gatherings of all sorts. It is a 300+ seat theatre but is so designed to be flexible and to be swiftly capable of being transformed into a wide range of configurations depending on what is needed. It has cost £9m substantially from bequests and donations including a modest contribution from me – which is why I was there. The Hall was opened by the Monarch’s youngest son and, republican though I am, I have to say Edward did the job very well.
In some respects The Leys is typical of the very best of the independent schools sector. Well I would say that wouldn't I ? Back in the days when I was there and for a while after I left The Leys and schools like it were described as “minor Public Schools”. That term has fallen away a bit – although it is used by Charles Moore in his biography of Margaret Thatcher. Moore is an Old Etonian – nuff said! Anyway minor or not it is a very good school indeed and as such surely to be supported? This is where for a Leftie like me things start to get tricky. At best I can be accused of hypocrisy and at worst of defending privilege and elitism.
If we were creating an education system from scratch today would there be a place in it for schools like The Leys? Well not as selective, expensive indulgences for the middle-classes there wouldn't. Does the school confer advantages on its pupils that the State system does not? Of course it does – that is the main reason parents send their children there. Does your “bog-standard comprehensive” have a Great Hall – of course it does not. So if you believe in “Equality of Opportunity” you cannot defend The Leys can you? Well here’s the rub – we are not creating an education system from scratch. We have what we have. In Britain there is a diversity of schools which is unique in the world and even within the state sector in any area there is likely to be bewildering range of school types: High schools, Church schools, other “Faith” schools, Grammar schools, Academies, Free schools – and so on. They operate with different teaching methods, recruit from different cohorts of society and even teach against different curriculums. Its a shambles. Along with this muddled State sector there is the fee-paying independent sector, of which The Leys is part.
Around 25% of the intake of the 24 elite “Russell Group” universities comprised independent school sixth formers - although these schools educate only 7% of all of Britain's pupils. And by virtually every other criterion the products of these schools have a better chance in life then the average pupil from a State school. Its pretty iniquitous and I find it impossible to defend what we have. So do I want to abolish the independent sector or at least make life more difficult for it by removing the charitable status that the schools have as educational establishments? Emphatically not! Would one State school be improved one iota if The Leys was forced to decamp to (say) America because it was no longer welcome in Britain? Would teachers who chose to be in the independent system suddenly willingly return to the State system – some might, others might follow the School to America (or wherever). What is good about The Leys, and the rest, can be a model to which State schools aspire. And if this is patronising (it is!) it is also true.
I am proud to have been at The Leys and proud that it has blossomed as a fine School by any standards. I don't like inequality in education any more than I like inequality anywhere in our society. But:
“You don't make something that’s bad better by making something that’s good worse.”
The Market Research Society defines a “Leading question” as one that is “…badly constructed [and] tends to steer respondents toward a particular answer.” It is for obvious reasons never a good idea to have such a question in any poll whose findings you want to use seriously.
The leading pollster YouGov has recently published poll results which purport to show British attitudes to immigration. The answers to two of the questions have generated headlines. This is how YouGov themselves presented the results:
“Moving onto the issue of immigration, 76% of people support David Cameron’s stated aim of reducing immigration to the “tens of thousands”, but the overwhelmingly majority (83%) of people think it is unlikely he will achieve it, only 9% think it is likely. When YouGov asked the same question two years ago 15% thought it was likely Cameron would hit his target, so while net immigration has fallen somewhat over recent years, its not registering with the public.”
But when we actually look at the survey results and in particular the questions this looks like very sloppy research and the comment is tendentious. Here are the questions:
Both of these questions are “leading”. In the first one the respondent is lead by the “David Cameron has pledged to reduce net immigration” introduction into believing that such a policy must be a good thing. There is no attempt at balance in the question. Obviously if reducing immigration is a good thing then the bigger the reduction the better. So 76% agree that it’s a good thing. Hardly surprisingly.
In the second question the very nature of the question suggests that for Cameron to be able to “deliver the pledge” is questionable. And given inbuilt attitudes to politics and politicians at the moment the respondent is likely to disbelief the pledge – as 83% of the respondents do.
You could ask the same questions in a different way and get completely different results. For example if you said in place of the Cameron pledge intro “A recent study by University College London has shown that immigrants have a net positive effect on the UK economy…” then respondents would answer very differently. This would, of course, be equally wrong! Leading questions are always wrong.
A fellow twitterer,
@baggins_dil , has drawn my attention to this from “Yes Minister” which makes the point very well and humorously. Essential viewing !