Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Slavery Reparations

David Cameron has become the first British Prime Minister in 14 years to visit Jamaica. I, for one, am particularly pleased about this, as I think we should be doing more to forge closer links with other Commonwealth Nations and Realms.

Unfortunately, his visit seems to have been overshadowed by calls from campaigners for the United Kingdom to pay reparations for its role in the Atlantic Slave Trade. This is further brought to light by the fact that one of Cameron's descendants was a slave-owner.

Let's be very clear about the Atlantic Slave Trade. It was an appalling chapter in human history, with the better part of 13 million people being trafficked from Africa into the Caribbean and the Americas to act as slave labour. The level of suffering and death were considerable, and it arguably takes its place alongside the Holocaust as one of the most despicable acts ever perpetrated. The UK was a party to these shameful events, and it is perfectly reasonable that, with the benefit of hindsight, we, as a nation, should apologise for our role, in the same way that Germany has apologised for the Nazi atrocities in World War II.

But it is also important to place the Atlantic Slave Trade in its historical context, and therefore worth noting a few facts which contribute significantly to the debate:

  1. Britain was not the only party involved. Holland, Spain, France and Portugal were also heavily involved in the slave trade - indeed, the Portuguese shipped more slaves than the British. Added onto this was the fact that the European powers often did not capture slaves directly - they left that to the sub-Saharan African states to abduct them from various parts of the continent. The colonial authorities in the Americas - often at least semi-autonomous, and the direct successors to the modern Latin American states - were also active participants;
  2. Britain was at the forefront of the abolition of the slave trade. Court cases as early as 1569 ruled that slavery was incompatible with English law, and that slavery was effectively illegal within the British Isles. Parliament passed an Act in 1807 expressly prohibiting the slave trade and emancipating all slaves throughout the British Empire. The Royal Navy was used to unilaterally enforce this on other Powers, including the Spanish and Portuguese. Throughout the 1800s, various Powers capitulated to British pressure, signing treaties to outlaw slavery;
  3. The Atlantic Slave Trade was by no means the earliest example of slavery in human history. It was a relatively common state of affairs, widespread across numerous civilisations including the Arab Caliphates, China and South East Asia, Africa, Ancient Rome, Greece & Egypt, the Aztec, Mayan & Inca Empires, the Mongolian Empire, Medieval Europe, Viking & Celtic tribes and even some Polynesian tribes such as the Maori. Western involvement in slavery was by no means a special case - it was an affliction which affected every civilisation;
  4. Modern demands for reparations based on events which happened over 200 years ago are vexatious. No one currently alive in the former slave colonies has ever been a slave, nor has anyone currently alive in the old slave Powers ever owned such a slave. If the UK (and others) were to pay reparations now, it would effectively mean that people who have never owned slaves would be forced to pay compensation to people who have never been slaves. It would be like demanding that Germany continue to pay reparations for World War II indefinitely;
  5. Just how far back can we take reparation demands? Just about every country on Earth has suffered from slavery at some point in the past. Britain has been invaded by the Romans, Saxons, Angles, Vikings and Normans, and even suffered from Barbary coastal attacks in Medieval times. Arguably, that gives the UK the right to claim reparations from Italy, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France and half a dozen African states. It even gives Israel the right to claim reparations from Egypt.

This is typical of left-wing activism - feminists complain about how women are treated in the Western world, and yet ignore the far greater ordeals they have to face in less civilised parts of the world. Supporters of Palestine rail against Israeli excesses in Gaza and the West Bank, but don't criticise when the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah attack schools and hospitals with suicide bombers. Unilateralists demand that Western powers decommission their nuclear arsenals, but say nothing as Pakistan, Iran and North Korea gradually move towards developing their own. Anti-war protesters demand an end to Western occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and American imperialism in South America, but say nothing when Russia annexes whole sections of Georgia and Ukraine. And anti-slavery protesters demand reparations from Western nations which criminalised slavery hundreds of years ago, whilst ignoring the active practice of slavery by countries in the Middle East and Africa. This kind of two-faced hypocrisy really makes my piss boil.

So actually, you can fuck off with your pious, holier-than-thou bullshit. No nation on earth has done more for humanity than Britain. Sure, we've done some shit. There's plenty of blood in the ledger, but the good far outweighs the bad. Britain's greatest association with the slave trade is that we abolished it. Our legacy to the world is the rule of law, habeus corpus, democracy and the destruction of fascism. How many people has Britain saved and granted freedom to through those advances?

Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Case for Capitalism

Since the financial crisis, there has been a lot of protestation about our current economic system and how it is not fit for purpose. This has resulted in widespread protests, upheavals in the Eurozone, ideological battles between Left and Right, and what can only be described as a communist being elected Leader of the Labour Party. Even the Pope has stuck his oar in, complaining about how horrible the current setup is.

Variously, the charges against capitalism are:
  1. It serves the needs of the few, not the many. Equality between the rich and the poor is at an all-time high. Capitalism is fine if you're lucky enough to be one of the elite, but ordinary people are crushed by it;
  2. It is prone to crisis. As the various market bubbles of the 20th Century and ultimately the financial crisis of 2008 show, unrestrained markets massively overheat, requiring expensive State intervention to set it right;
  3. It is an affront to democracy. Because it concentrates wealth into the hands of a select few, they are ultimately the ones which wield political power. Capitalism is in effect a kleptocracy, with the very rich profiteering out of the very poor.
 There's just one problem with all of these accusations... they're all bollocks.

1. Capitalism Serves the Needs of Everyone
A quick history lesson needs to be brought forward here. From the advent of human civilisation, up until about the 17th-18th Centuries, life expectancy of your average human remained pretty much the same, i.e. between 20 and 30 years of age.

Let that sink in for a moment. For virtually the entire time that humans have been in existence, from about 2.5 million years ago to 300-400 years ago, life expectancy didn't change that much. If you lived to age 30, you were lucky to be alive.

The reason for this is pretty simple: technology. Human technology, before the 17th and 18th Centuries, was relatively primitive. It involved lots of manual labour, and societies were pretty much entirely agrarian - farmers subsisted on the land, with barely enough to get by on. Disease and famine were rife.

Something happened about 300-400 years ago which significantly changed that. All of a sudden, we became much more efficient and productive. Humans - especially in the Western world - started to realise that, if they specialised in one particular thing, they could excel at it, and produce a surplus which could then be traded for other things. And we started doing it big style. With sudden leaps forward in technology, resulting in mechanisation and industrialisation, trade exploded, and capitalism was born.

The great thing about capitalism isn't that it gives everyone more money, because it doesn't. But the massive increase in productivity brought about by the division of labour (i.e. specialisation) means that the goods the most people rely on to survive suddenly become a lot cheaper. Everything, from food, clothing, energy, water to housing, has become higher quality and more affordable over the last 300-400 years, because of the division of labour and the capacity to trade. That's capitalism. It doesn't necessarily make ordinary people richer, but it makes the things that everybody needs cheaper and more readily available. A direct consequence of this is a massive improvement in quality of life.

Average world life expectancy in the 21st Century is 65. That means that, compared to 400 years ago, the average human is living over twice as long as they were. That's a 100%+ increase in just 0.02% of the time that humans have been in existence, and it corresponds directly with the rise of capitalism.

And it's only going to get better. We are on the cusp of large scale automation - autonomous robots will soon be able to perform the vast majority of manufacturing and agrarian work. The result will be that the price of pretty much all foodstuffs and manufactured goods will drop through the floor. Of course, companies and their shareholders will profit from this, but so will everyone else. Ordinary people might not get a share of the profits, but they won't have to pay out as much. So they will have more money to spend on luxuries, and more free time. Roll on the good times.

2. Capitalism is a Surprisingly Resilient Economic System
The great advantage of capitalism as an economic system is that it is not heavily centralised. This gives it significant advantages:
  • If a single company fails, it is unlikely to bring down an entire industry. The company's competitors will step in to replace the supply left by that company;
  • The principles of market competition have a tendency to force companies to be increasingly efficient, especially when savvy consumers use their buying power;
  • Even the most calamitous failures, e.g. the banking system, can work out for the best. The UK economy is now recovering well from a massive system shock.
Ah, but the banks needed to be nationalised, I hear you say. Well, yes, they did, but only because they held hugely dominant positions in the market. If we had a more competitive and diverse banking sector, no one individual bank would have needed bailing out by the Government, because it would have been absorbed by its competitors. The problem with the banking sector is that it has very few players in the market, and there are significant barriers (many of them regulatory) to entering the market, making it difficult to establish new competition. If anything, some of the regulation has made things worse, not better.

Despite the banking crisis being the worst financial shock since the Great Depression, we appear to have weathered it quite well. Socialist economies have been ruined by lesser crises, even forcing entire regimes to their knees (Russia, Uganda, Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea...). Socialist command economies fare no better than capitalism in times of crisis - in fact, based on previous experience, they fare decidedly worse.

3. Capitalism Strengthens Democracy
As previously discussed, capitalism makes essential goods and services cheaper and better quality for ordinary people, freeing up more of their money to spend on luxury goods. This makes them consumers, and their combined buying power is far greater than those at the very top. There's only so many Aston Martins that a billionaire can be bothered with. Once he's got ten, why bother with any more? He's never going to drive them all.

Contrast that with 40 million people who all want a Ford. Which market are you going to go after? Capitalism is a great leveller, because it puts ordinary people's buying power on a par with rich people, on a level never seen before in human history. In terms of disposable income, life expectancy and quality of life, we are more equal now than we have ever been.

The idea the capitalism concentrates profits to a small elite is again, a fallacy. Most socialists imagine that the majority of corporate shareholders are fat, red-faced men in pinstripe suits and top hats, smoking cigars and drinking cocktails made from children's tears. Actually, the majority of corporate shareholders are retail investment funds, commonly accessed through pensions.

In other words, the biggest shareholders are ordinary people. So when company profits and share prices are high, the main beneficiaries are ordinary people, because the fund values in their pensions and investments are higher. This affords them a higher quality of life. And, of course, most people tend to work for companies, so when a company is doing well, it generally increases pay to retain its successful employees and attract new ones. Other companies then have to provide more competitive wages, so overall wages begin to rise. People get paid more for the same work... so their quality of life increases. Profits are good.

Capitalism increases people's quality of life, making them happier, healthier and more content. Such people are significantly less likely to engage in violent protest, and the governments of such people are significantly less likely to do anything to piss them off. This results in a massive increase in political stability. This is demonstrated primarily in the Western world, where political transitions happen regularly and peaceably following free and fair elections, compared to less capitalist countries, where elections are marred by corruption, intimidation and violence.

In short, capitalism is the best economic system yet devised. It has, and continues to, significantly improve the lives of billions of people, by making their essential needs more affordable to them, and increasing the amount of free time they have by making better use of their labour. It makes them happier and more content, is significantly more resilient than alternative economic models and also helps to strengthen and incentivise democracy, the fairest form of government yet devised.

Capitalism's fucking ace.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn: Nationalising the Railways is Stupid and Wrong

The Bearded Sage has announced his plans over the weekend to gradually return the railways to public ownership. Cue much orgasm from the Hard Left, to whom state ownership of everything is mana from Heaven. But, as ever, nationalisation of the railways is a bad policy.

1. Based on False Premise
Corbyn's implied assertion is that he wants to take Britain back to the Golden Age of Rail, which he intimates was when the rail network was nationalised. However, this is total nonsense. The Golden Age of Rail was arguably when rail was a new technology, developed in the early 1800s. The entire rail network was in private ownership from its inception in the 19th century until 1948. Far from being the Golden Age, British Rail (the nationalised company) oversaw an unprecedented decline in railway use, as the country transitioned to automobile transport. So if you want to go back to the Golden Age of Rail, the economic model to follow is the one we've got now.

2. Assumption of Public Sector Efficiency
The assertion also follows that the rail system was so much more efficient under British Rail than it has been since the privatisation. This is hogwash. Trains regularly ran late under British Rail, and passengers were entitled to no compensation. Furthermore, the train traffic under British Rail was significantly lower than it is today - as previously mentioned, British Rail oversaw a huge decline in rail usage. Probably because people were sick of their shit and bought cars instead.

If anything, the railways are more efficient and more fair to consumers today than they have ever been. There is simply no case for change.

3. Myth of Price Controls
Another oft-touted argument for returning the railways to public ownership is the idea that that ticket prices can be fixed by the State. Again, this is actually bollocks. The price of a ticket is ultimately determined by the cost of operating the train, plus a profit for the train company. Let's assume that the State runs the railways on a non-profit basis. Well, that would reduce ticket prices initially, although the absence of price competition and the efficiencies that ensue would probably render the difference negligible. The only factor then would be operating costs.

As operating costs increase (salaries, health & safety, maintenance, repairs, investment in new rolling stock etc.) then so do the ticket prices. The Government has very little control over these factors - if new rolling stock need to be bought, then they need to be bought. If something needs fixing, it needs fixing. These are the costs of running the concern, which are effectively passed onto the consumer via the ticket price.

Now, of course, the Government could keep ticket prices artificially low, but then wouldn't receive enough money to cover the running costs of the railway. In order to stop it from becoming dilapidated and unsafe, it would therefore require a bail-out, courtesy of John Q. Taxpayer. This results in either higher taxes, spending cuts elsewhere, or higher inflation if the Government recklessly just borrows the money. In this manner, every taxpayer in the country ends up paying for something that only a few taxpayers use.

And where is rail usage the highest? Ah, yes - London and the South East. Who uses it the most? Commuters into London. So El Corbyno advocates a policy where shelf-stackers in Middlesborough have higher taxes, lower-quality public services and/or higher prices to fund a transport perk for commuters in Hampshire?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The people who use the railways should pay for them, and the only way to ensure that is to keep them in the private sector, using price competition to drive through efficiency.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn: The New PMQs Won't Work

This is starting to become real fun, listing how Dear Old Jezza is wrong about everything. His latest wheeze is changing the format of Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs), traditionally the highlight of the Parliamentary week, to a less abrasive format.

Typically, all the MPs squeeze into a packed House of Commons to watch the weekly bunfight between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. They also stand a chance of being able to ask the PM a question themselves, if they catch the Speaker's eye. It's the real cut and thrust of political debate - theatrical and occasionally artificial, but it's the only real bit of entertainment in the otherwise tedious and boring business of lawmaking.

David Cameron, it's fair to say, is pretty good at PMQs. He plays the man as often as the ball, and with both Brown and Miliband, made it a contest between personalities as well as policies. This has served him in good stead so far. Jezza is obviously pretty mindful of this, and given the unusual and occasionally downright dodgy things he has said in the past, is probably pretty keen to avoid being made a mockery of by Cameron. So he has come up with a couple of ideas which he now appears to be putting into practice.

1. Accepting Questions from the General Public
This is experiment number one, which was duly tried at PMQs yesterday. Normally, the Leader of the Opposition gets to ask six questions, which the PM must answer to the best of his ability. These questions are normally provided by the Leader of the Opposition's staff, who will have spent the week diligently researching and identifying gaps and weaknesses in Government policy. This will give their boss well-researched lines of attack, assuming they do their job properly.

Of course, because such questions tend to be highly focused and require extremely specific answers, the PM's office is usually furnished with the questions in advance, to allow them to brief their man. Otherwise, the answers would be a bit dull: 'I don't have the figures to hand, but I will happily write to the Right Honourable gentleman in reply' is normally the place-holder response.

El Corbyno has opted to drop this tried-and-tested approach and go for asking questions from the general public. He crowd-sourced his questions, chose his favourites and put them to the PM one by one. This did have the advantage of taking the bruising impact off Cameron's responses, but gave Cameron another wonderful advantage: he didn't have to be specific. None of the questions highlighted particular failings in Government policy - they were just low-level, broad-brush scrutiny. Cameron's response to was reply simply and effectively and then to re-state Conservative policy.

In other words, Corbyn turned PMQs from a bunfight where the PM could potentially by defeated into a cool, calm platform for the PM to wax lyrical about how fucking wonderful his policies are. If he's pinning his hopes of victory on this reform, I think he's barking up the wrong tree.

2. Not Asking Questions Himself
Although he hasn't yet tried it, Corbyn has implied that he might not always do the asking himself, but cycle it through the Shadow Cabinet. This is another attempt to throw Cameron off - he's very good at playing the man rather than the ball, ridiculing his opponent to discredit the question. Definitely not cricket rules, but it has the advantage of working in modern politics, where personalities are as important as the actual policies. The idea is that, if Cameron doesn't know exactly who he's facing, it's harder for him to tailor his answers to combat the questioner.

However, it hands Cameron another advantage. If it's not Corbyn himself who stands at the Dispatch Box, then Cameron can easily portray them as a proxy or a lackey. Someone unimportant, someone irrelevant. 'This is how the Leader of the Opposition values parliamentary democracy - he sends an errand boy to do his job!' You can imagine it now. Or even nastier: 'the question put by the Honourable Member is important, and I will answer it. I feel that it is a shame that it couldn't be put by the Leader of the Opposition, who is too cowardly to face me in the Chamber!'

It would make Corbyn look weak and cowardly, and the Shadow Cabinet look irrelevant and unimportant. Again, not really a strategy I'd pin hopes on.

If you're the Leader of the Opposition, a big part of your job is convincing the general public that you'd do a better job of being Prime Minister than the other guy (or girl). The only way to do that is to personally show that the current PM's not up to it and that you won't back away from a fight if it comes to it. PMQs is pretty much the only bit of Parliamentary proceedings that normal people are actually aware of - it's the Leader of the Opposition's main chance for taking the fight to the PM. Corbyn is setting out to give Cameron a really easy time of it, which suits Cameron just fine.

Just like the rest of Corbyn's leadership suits him just fine.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn: People's QE is a Load of Shitey Balls

I'm actually quite pleased that Jeremy Corbyn has been elected Labour Leader. It gives me something to vent my spleen at. Miliband just didn't cut it - he was too much of a comedy act to really get some invective going.

Corbyn, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. So I'll happily engage in tearing chunks off his stupid and idiotic policies, one Leftist retardism at a time. First on the list is an economic policy he's been toying with: 'People's' Quantitative Easing.

Quantitative Easing (or QE) is what the Bank of England has been doing since 2010 to stop the economy from sinking. A brief explanation is as follows:
  1. In order to fund the public services we need (and a fair few we arguably don't) the Government levies taxes on us. It collects the tax money (revenue) under threat of imprisonment and spends it on stuff it thinks we need. Most of the time, this revenue isn't actually enough to cover the Government's bills, which leaves us with an annual shortfall (or deficit);
  2. In order to plug this deficit, the Government effectively borrows money. It issues IOUs called gilts (because they used to be issued on gilt-edged paper), where companies and individuals lend the Government money, and it agrees to pay them interest at a fixed rate for a set term, and then pay the money back;
  3. Once someone has lent the Government money, they own the gilt. They can then sell it on to a third party if they want. Depending on the rate of interest, remaining term and outstanding loan, they can fetch a higher price than their face value. Once sold, the third party owns the gilt, and the loan and interest are owed to them. With me so far?
  4. Lots of companies and financial institutions use gilts as low-risk investments, because they generally pay better than just a basic bank account, they're regarded as safe because the Government has never defaulted, and they can be bought and sold reasonably quickly, because there's lots of them and lots of people who want them;
  5. When the Good Old Credit Crisis hit, everyone wanted lots of money out of their banks, and so the banks had to sell lots of gilts in order to release the cash. However, because all the banks wanted to sell, nobody wanted to buy. So liquidity in the gilt market dried up pretty quick, leaving the banks in a really bad situation;
  6. In circumstances like this, you would expect the Government to step in. But the Government couldn't, because it didn't have any spare money. It raised money on the gilt markets, which it was now finding impossible because, as previously discussed, nobody wanted to buy. So they were up shit creek without a paddle as well;
  7. Enter the Bank of England. The Bank of England is basically in control of the Sterling currency. It knows how many pounds actually exist, approximately where they are, and where they are going to. More than that, it can actually create or destroy currency, which affects how much the pound is worth. If there are more pounds, they are worth less & vice versa;
  8. The Bank of England took one look at the gilt market and screamed 'AARRGGHH!' at the top of its lungs. It immediately decided to create 200 billion extra pounds (which in the proper vernacular, constitutes a Fuckload) and started buying up gilts. This provided the much-needed liquidity to prevent the banks (and the Government) from collapsing;
  9. The price of this has been above-average inflation. The worth of a pound is, very roughly, the size of the economy divided by the number of pounds in existence. Given that the economy shrank, and the number of pounds grew, when you divide a smaller number by a bigger number, you get a teensy number. So all the pounds were worth less, so prices were higher;
  10. Obviously all of this is fairly complicated. Various people have coined phrases which attempt to describe what has happened. The most accurate analogy is probably 'printing money'. El Corbyno's preferred description is 'handing over lots of money to the bankers'. 'Bailing out the banks so they don't smash to pieces evaporating our savings' is probably more accurate.
Where does the aforementioned El Corbyno fit in with all this, you may ask? Well, his Wonderful Idea is to change the Bank of England's mandate from just adjusting the money supply to control inflation and ensure financial stability, to letting it engage in further QE, but with the money being invested in projects close to Lefties' hearts, i.e. public spending.

This is a phenomenally shit idea. As discussed, a pretty unpleasant side effect of QE is inflation - the currency is worth less, so prices are higher. This is a particularly nasty consequence for poorer people, because the prices that tend to rise the most are food, energy, fuel, clothes etc. - all those things that you need to survive. Survival generally has a base cost, say about £6,000 a year. If you earn £10,000 a year, about two thirds of your income go on just living. If you earn £100,000 a year, it's only a fraction of your overall income. So to put it bluntly, inflation is a tax which transfers the value of money from the people to the State, and it hits poorer people harder. Ergo, getting the Bank of England to print money to then hand to the Government and spend on shit it thinks we need is effectively a form of punitive taxation on the poorest in society. So morally, it's utterly fucking repugnant.

The next reason that it's a shit idea is that if inflation is consistently above what people would consider tolerable, they won't want to hold their savings in pounds. The interest rate or investment growth they would obtain wouldn't match the rate of devaluation, so they'd be losing money all the time, or at least running a very high risk of it. Rational investors (the 'smart money') don't like taking too much risk, so they would start pulling their money out of the UK, and putting it into countries with more stable currencies. This is called capital flight. And as the rational investors are generally very rich, you lose a lot of capital very fucking quickly.

Now, when you take money out of one country into another, you effectively sell one currency and use the proceeds to buy another. So you'd be selling pounds, therefore increasing the number in circulation... therefore devaluing them further, therefore making inflation higher, making prices higher, and meaning the Bank of England would have to create more money to give to the Government to run public services. You start to get a spiral effect, which under extreme circumstances can lead to hyperinflation. For further details, see Weimar Germany, latter days of the Soviet Union and Zimbabwe. Not a great place to be, as it generally leads to giant piles of dead bodies.

The Government could stop this by imposing capital controls - limits on how much money people can take out of the country, or even out of bank accounts. Can you imagine that? The Government telling you that you can't go on a foreign holiday, or you're only allowed to spend £100 a day?! People generally get extremely fucking pissed off when the Government infringes on their freedom to such a degree.

So you can see how 'People's QE' could, in a very short space of time, lead to entrenched poverty and anarchy. That's why I think it's a really, really, really shit idea, and anyone who even thinks about trying it should probably be beaten. Very hard. In the face. With a brick.

Jeremy Corbyn: Why I Don't Think He'll Be PM

So the impossible has become possible. Jeremy Corbyn, the hard-Left rank outsider for the Labour leadership, won the vote by an impressive 60% in the first round. He has been busily assembling his Shadow Cabinet after a slew of front bench resignations. His supporters are overjoyed.

So, of course, are the Conservatives. Because the odds of a Conservative victory at the 2020 General Election have just significantly increased.

Hubris? Complacency? I don't think so. I could be wrong, of course, but I cannot seriously see Corbyn as a genuine alternative Prime Minister. The reasons for this are as follows.

1. Lack of Appeal
Quite simply, Corbyn does not appeal to a broad enough section of the electorate to win a General Election.

Hang on, I hear you say. He's been MP for Islington North for about 30 years, and he's just won the Labour leadership by 60%! How can you say he's not electable?

The answer to this is quite simple. Neither the constituency of Islington North, nor the Labour Party generally, are representative of the voting population of the United Kingdom. Approximately 46.5 million people are entitled to vote in UK general elections. Of those, approximately one in four hardly ever bother to actually vote. So you have about 35 million people who do vote, who have a range of political views, from hard-Right to hard-Left. Most people, assuming a normal distribution (which is not an unreasonable assumption to make given the diversity of the UK's population), tend towards centrist political views.

Furthermore, our electoral system of First Past the Post (FPTP) tends to punish political parties with widespread, but low level support, and amplify the gains of parties with concentrated high level support. In the last election, nearly 3.9 million people voted UKIP, but were rewarded with only one seat in the Commons. The SNP polled 1.5 million votes - less than the Liberal Democrats (2.4 million votes and a mere 8 seats) - but won 56 seats. In order to win a significant number of Commons seats, UK political parties have to have widespread and concentrated support.

Corbyn represents a relatively uncommon strand of political thought. He has the ardent support of many Leftist voters and activists, who are loudly proclaiming his victory. Many of them have joined the Labour Party precisely to install a leader who shares their values. The problem is, they only represent 10-20% of UK voters, which is not enough to form a Government. Many centrist voters will be put off by his views, and those on the Right will find them abhorrent. The only way Corbyn can realistically command enough support is by capturing mainstream public opinion - the centre ground. But doing that will probably involve political compromises that he is unable to stomach.

2. Mobilisation of the Right
Corbyn is utter anathema to anyone on the Right of the political spectrum. He has advocated renationalisation, unilateral nuclear disarmament, heavy taxation, money printing, and withdrawal from Overseas Territories such as the Falklands. He has therefore handed a sizeable constituency of voters to the Tories.

Ah, but they'd vote for the Tories anyway! I hear you say. Not necessarily. Many voters who are put off by their party of choice, don't vote for the opposition - they just don't vote. Ed Miliband experienced this at the last election - Labour voters didn't necessarily switch to the Tories, but they just stayed at home. Corbyn is so toxic to the Right, you can be sure there will be a big mobilisation against him. This will inevitably increase votes for the Tories as the Right unites to keep him out.

3. Attitudes in England
UK general elections are won and lost in England. The biggest nation in the UK represents about 80% of all Parliamentary constituencies, and England is not really a socialist country. Corbyn's attitudes on foreign policy and defence will be of particular concern. Most English people see the UK's place in the world as a projection of their own national pride (compare this with the SNP, for whom the UK's wider foreign and defence policy is one of their key grievances with the Union). If Corbyn wants unilateral disarmament, withdrawal from NATO and the Overseas Territories, he is saying to the English: you don't matter any more. England is not a powerful nation, and the Union is an empty projection of greatness long spent.

Now, I could be wrong, but I don't see a majority of English people buying into that subtext. I see them being openly hostile to that narrative and turning out in force to reject it. And, although it is possible to win a UK majority without having an English majority, in practice, it's pretty difficult.

One of the unsung stories of the 2015 General Election was the rise of UKIP. They came second in many Labour constituencies, reducing Labour majorities. This confirms what Nigel Farage has been saying for some time: UKIP are now taking votes off Labour. They've damaged the Tories about as much as they're going to. Now, they're hurting Labour.

Many working-class voters feel that the New Labour era was not representative of them. They looked at the front bench and saw people who were utterly alien to them. They looked at Nigel Farage, with a fag in one hand and a pint in the other, and they saw something familiar. So they voted for him.

Now, it remains to be seen whether Corbyn can reverse that trend. I'm skeptical. Corbyn has the backing of the unions, who are making noises about mobilising the working classes and general strikes, but union membership is at pretty low levels compared to their hey-deys in the 1970s, and overwhelmingly public sector. Disaffected constituencies in the inner cities and the North of England have been voting Labour for decades, and they're still in the same state. The people who live there don't see Labour or the Tories doing anything for them, and they have a deep mistrust of the EU and immigration. I can only see UKIP's vote share in these areas increasing.

5. Perception of Chaos
It has already started. Many Labour front-benchers have resigned. The mood of the Parliamentary Labour Party is reported to be foul, after they have had a leader foisted upon them who has made a career of rejecting the whip, rebelling against his own party and generally making a nuisance of himself. The Party seems on the brink of a split. It is uncertain how Corbyn will hold sway over his mutinous colleagues in the Commons.

All of this contributes to a public perception of chaos and instability, which are hardly criteria the British people regard with much affection when eyeing up a potential future government. Indeed, with the mood of his Labour colleagues so mutinous, all that is required for an uprising is a figurehead for the rebels to coalesce around. Alternatively, the Party could split (SDP redux), shattering Leftist unity and making another Tory victory all the more likely. 

Either way, I can't see Corbyn being Prime Minister. He'll be utterly smashed by the Tories.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Why Making a Pass is NOT Sexual Harrassment or Misogyny

It's been in the news and all over Twitter. Of course it's all over Twitter - anything with a fucking sniff of outrage trends on Twitter these days, which is rapidly becoming the digital equivalent of a baying Roman mob. Charlotte Proudman, a PhD student with a profile on LinkedIn, got a friend request from a 57-year-old lawyer. I'm not going to name him, because the poor bloke hasn't done anything wrong, and I'm not going to contribute to his name being scattered across the ether.

In this message, he made a clumsy pass at Miss (or is it Ms? Or Mx? Or who fucking cares?) Proudman, complimenting her on her appearance. Miss Proudman duly responded with accusations of sexism and misogyny, and how it's inappropriate for him to be saying such things to a woman half his age. She then posted the exchange on Twitter, feeding the aforementioned baying mob to whip them up into an outraged frenzy. She's even got herself on the news, with lots of people saying it's outrageous... outrageous that a man should deign to compliment a woman on her appearance. He might even want to have sex with her, God forbid.

This is pearl-clutching, puritanical, Victorian bullshit. Seriously, is this what we have descended to? We've fucking regressed about 200 years in our social attitudes.

Let's begin with an elementary lesson in basic sexuality, shall we? As I have previously blogged, human sexual behaviour follows patterns well-established throughout the animal kingdom, especially in terms of male initiation. Sexual contact is virtually always initiated by the male - peacocks displaying their feathers, stags fighting off competitors, and humans by making a pass. Paying a compliment, buying a drink, buying a big fancy BMW... you get the idea. This is human nature - men have evolved to initiate sexual contact, and women have evolved to respond. This is not bloody rocket science.

So it is therefore perfectly fucking natural for a man to make a pass at a reasonably good-looking woman. It's not sexism, it's not misogyny... it's programmed instinct which has been around since, oh, I don't know... the dawn of fucking Time. Here's a great big shocker for you... heterosexual men like to have sex with pretty women, especially pretty young women, who are more likely to bear healthy children. In other news, the sky is blue, Hitler was a naughty boy etc.

Now before some whackjob feminist starts munting on about 'male entitlement', entitlement has got fuck all to do with it, and anyone who maintains that men feel entitled to sex hasn't got a God-damned clue about what it's like to be a man. Try fucking asking a man how entitled he feels to sex. We're not entitled to sex, but we want it, and a complex combination of genetics, social attitudes, cultural expectations and learned behaviour direct us to engage in certain activities which increase the chances of it happening. One of those is making a pass. And the reason that men do it so often is because women hardly ever do. If men didn't make passes at women, hardly anybody would ever have sex.

Now, in the same way that men are programmed to try to initiate sex, women are programmed to be choosy. After all, the risks are considerably greater for them - they have to spend the best part of nine months bearing the child, and potentially much longer raising it, especially if the man doesn't stick around. There's also the risk of death in childbirth, both for the mother and the child. So women are therefore more likely to pick men who are likely to produce healthy children, and more likely to stick around afterwards. This is simple biology.

So far, same old. Bloke makes pass at girl, girl spurns him. Nothing to see here, move along folks.

Except, what enters stage fucking left, is fucking feminism. A vile, divisive, totalitarian school of thought propagated on the lies that men and women are identical except for minor cosmetic differences, and that any expression of masculine identity or behaviour is misogyny, which is morally indistinguishable from rape.

This poor bastard admittedly made a clumsy pass at a woman considerably younger than him on a website where such behaviour is decidedly out-of-context. A bit of a social faux pas, to be sure. But does he really deserve to be publicly humiliated on a national scale for engaging in behaviour which is completely natural? The answer is of course, no. Miss Proudman could have borne the incident with good grace, by simply replying back that she was married, or engaged, or whatever. Or just ignored it. But she felt the only recourse was to write a snotty reply, accusing him of sexism and misogyny, and then have his name splattered all over the newspapers.

Are we really in a situation where we consider even the mildest expression of sexual interest in a woman to be misogyny? We have a society which constantly tells men that they're not as good parents as women, that they are all potential rapists, that even making a pass at a woman constitutes harassment. That sounds an awful lot like structural oppression to me.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Refugees and Migrants

It's the story currently gripping the headlines, and is dividing opinion up and down the country. As thousands - even hundreds of thousands of people pour into Europe from Africa and the Middle East, often taking dangerous journeys across the Sahara and the Mediterranean, sometimes with tragic consequences, the nations of Europe are divided over what to do about the biggest movement of people since World War II.

No one can help but feel anything but pity when the bodies of drowned toddlers are washed up on Turkish beaches, and the instinctive human desire is to do something - anything - to prevent such things from happening again. The debate has become rapidly polarised. Broadly, those on the Left are advocating more open borders, taking in the people enduring the perilous crossings. Those on the Right reject any further attempts to help. Leftists are painted as hand-wringing bleeding-heart liberals, Rightists are painted as heartless, uncaring xenophobes.

For what it's worth, my opinion is as follows:

  1. Rescue people who are in immediate danger. People who are crossing the Mediterranean in barely seaworthy craft, overloaded and without lifeboats or emergency floatation are at serious risk of drowning. The first action should therefore be to intercept such craft and rescue those people, otherwise they will die. This is morally intolerable.
  2. Deal with the people-traffickers. These people being loaded onto boats and set adrift at sea, hoping to get to Europe, are being trafficked by criminals operating out of ports in North Africa, Syria and possibly Lebanon and Turkey. Stop the traffickers, and you will stop the boats. These must be pursued through legal and military means if necessary.
  3. Distinguish between refugees and economic migrants. We have to accept the fact that some of the people making these attempted crossings to Europe are not refugees. They are not fleeing persecution, famine, war or disease - they simply want a higher quality of life. Europe cannot - and should not - attempt to provide for people, merely because they are poorer.
  4. Deport economic migrants to their home nations. People who are not genuine refugees - whilst we can sympathise with them for having a lower standard of living - should not be allowed to settle in Europe. They should be sent back to where they came from. It is up to their Governments to look to their needs, not ours.
  5. Recognise that refugees are a global issue, not just Europe's. The dialogue has always been, 'is Europe doing enough?' or 'is the UK doing enough?' What about the Arab countries, with whom many of the genuine refugees share a language, a religion and a culture, doing? It should not be Europe's place to act as the sole fount of solace in the world.
  6. End the conflicts in the Middle East, which the refugees are fleeing. Many would criticise any Western intervention in the region, given our recent forays in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the conflicts in the Middle East represent a clear danger to the Western world. A political solution is the only answer, but military force may have to be used to bring some factions to the table.
Ultimately, in order to stem the tide of migrants and refugees coming from the Middle East and North Africa, we need to accept that these places are not particularly nice places to live, and start doing something about it. That will probably include some form of military action, which is a rather comfortable, easy euphemism for young men dying thousands of miles away and being brought home in boxes. Sons, brothers, fathers and nephews, dying in the sand.

However, people are already dying. ISIS have killed thousands since their uprising in Iraq and Syria began. More have died fleeing them. And yet more will die as the conflict continues. Maybe a Western intervention could end it sooner. Maybe it would make things worse. It's a tough call to make, and an unpopular one. But someone had better make it soon, one way or the other.