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August 26, 2012


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There's a lot of truth in the idea that political parties (as self-perpetuating organisms) seek to maintain the familiar status quo, but there are countervailing tendencies.

Individual ambition means that some politicians will want to push through change, if only to satisfy their vanity by means of a lasting legacy; and there are times when both politicians and public mentally cross a watershed such that further delay would not be acceptable. Labour did not defer the introduction of the NHS in 1948 in order to fight the 1950 election on the issue of public health.

There is a danger that this functional criticism of politicians can lead to the advocacy of a managerialist and tecnhocratic approach - i.e. we should spend less time on principled causes that may take years to address and spend more time on pragmatic solutions for immediate problems.

joe arrigo

For the first time ever, Republicans are using and abusing the filibuster to regain power by thwarting anything that would be good for the country, since it may make Obama look good. Never before has there been such a nefarious and unpatriotic attempt to undermine a political adversary at the expense of the country and its people. To me, it's treasonous.

Chris Purnell

"Republicans are using and abusing the filibuster...."

Couldn't this strengthen Obama? After all only the dreaded 'Insiders' of the Beltway can manipulate the agenda in this way. So paradoxically, Obama could pitch himself as a 'outsider' taking on vested interests. An interesting position for a President.


"Argentina's invasion of the Falklands gave Thatcher the chance to fight a war that would double her poll ratings"

Really? Yes every Prime Minister would jump at the chance to follow a humiliating invasion with a 50/50 chance of bloody military defeat, with the political consequence of even victory uncertain. We know now that Britain would win and victory secure her future. No one, certainly not her, knew that at the time which rather undermines that part of this thesis.

I would note that Robinson et al don't use the Falklands as an example, so it is Chris who is pushing this post into tin foil hat territory.


The accusation of trolling I made is cheerfully withdrawn[1]. I merely felt that this

"leftist governments need to keep people relatively poor in order to claim to be fighting poverty and inequality"

is a rather strong statement, and strikes me as a version of the typical rightist riposte to left wingers: "you're only doing good to make yourself feel good."

I would, of course, be delighted if you could point me to specific instances of left wing politicians deliberately holding the poor down so as to further the lefties' own careers.

As to Ralph Milliband, I regret to say I haven't read any of his books. I will add them to the pile.

[1]: The definition of trolling I had in mind was "making outrageous or emotionally provocative claims in bad faith." I take this to include a lot of the contrarian positions you, Chris Dillow, occasionally adopt. But please note I do not mean this in an insulting or condemnatory fashion. Contrarian trolling can be helpful and entertaining, not least because it helps show up the sort of wowsers who really do only engage in left wing politics to make themselves feel good.


@ TACJ - Ta. To take just two UK examples of a Labour govt holding the poor down, how about the wage restraint exercised by the 74-79 Labour govt or New Labour's failure to redistribute income more strongly than it did?
We could also add a support for immigration controls (disastrous for the foreign-born poor).
I'm surprised at your definition of trolling; most of what are considered trolls act in all-too-good faith.
I've no intention of giving up occasionally contrarian positions (which I might or might not believe - not that it matters). I don't write to make friends, but because I think some things need saying.

Philip Walker

TACJ: right-wingers don't just make 'a version' of the claim that left-wing governments keep people poor because it's in their electoral advantage; start looking and you can find quite a few examples of that exact claim, in pretty much those terms.

(Disclaimer: I'm sort of right-wing, and I do think that in a softened sense, the claim about left-wing governments is probably true. Both sides of aisle can find it electorally advantageous to keep the poor down, but for different reasons: in the one case, it's to preserve a sense of mission, in the other, a sense of entitlement.)


You may be right in general, but there's a serious flaws in part of what you write.

"Tyrants and demagogues have always fomented hatred of minorities, and have justified repression by pointed to the (exaggerated) threat from external or internal enemies. But democratic politicians have done similar things ... Argentina's invasion of the Falklands gave Thatcher the chance to fight a war that doubled her poll ratings."

Logically, this implies that doubling a politician's poll ratings is "similar" to fomenting hatred of minorities, to causing repression, and to exaggerating the threat from enemies. The similarities escape me.

And I don't suppose you seriously meant to argue that Thatcher's response to unprovoked aggression from a military dictatorship involved anything like fomenting hatred of minorities, etc.


@ Stephen - I'm not saying Thatcher's response to the Argentinian invasion was equivalent to fomenting hatred. I'm giving different examples of a common phenomenon - that politicians need enemies. Sometimes these arise from luck, sometimes they have to be created.
That word "similar" referred to the need for enemies, not to similarities in how they are acquired.

Mark A. Sadowski

In Kurt Vonnegut's 1963 novel Cat's Cradle the cofounders of the fictional Republic of San Lorenzo work out a deal where one controls the government and the other controls a religion (Bokononism) which is made illegal by agreement. This serves both of their interests:



Thanks Chris.

"I'm surprised at your definition of trolling; most of what are considered trolls act in all-too-good faith."

This seems to be in line with the usual MSM meaning, but I think they have adopted too broad a definition of trolling. They take it to mean simply making obnoxious statements online, regardless of the *intention* of the statements.

Note that the archetypal "troll face" is locked in a leering grimace, rather than an expression of earnest rage. Most of the top definitions on urban dictionary seem to include some reference to deception or bad faith, and state that these characteristics are necessary conditions of 'trolling.'


While I see what chris is doing I cannot help feel this is a little unfair on politicians.

It is possible to argue that the introduction of the NHS by Nye Bevan was the pragmatic policy at the time. Bevans left wing background and confrontational style towards the Tories was used to attack the Labour Government by the Tory party and press. But any Government would have had to address the accumulated problems of the old system of health and the new problems of the war. The fact the Tories left the NHS alone when they returned to power demonstrates that their opposition was in bad faith and merely a tactical ploy. While Bevan was building Jerusalem by pragmatic compromise within a socialist frame work.

In the same way Incomes policy was not a ploy to impoverish the masses but an attempt to maintain full employment and thus spread the pain of economic adjustment widely rather then concentrate it in the minority who are unemployed. It is an egalitarian policy. While the replacement Thatcherite monetarism is a policy that produces mass unemployment and growing inequality in both pre and post tax income. New Labour were disappointing in the area of inequality; but that was a result of the obsession with pandering to Thatchrite ideology and electoral swing voters. A failure of pragmatism not a result of any failed attempt to create enemies but a fear of seeming extreme. If you let Bankers control policy then social democratic results are unlikely to happen. Shying away from confrontation is a policy that can fail and has.


Oh!- It's really interesting topics. I am very happy to got this post.

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