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October 13, 2012



'...Deborah Orr claims that the coalition "has slender claim to democratic legitimacy." '

Surely she is correct, despite Norm Blog saying the coalition came to power after a legitimate general election. The coalition's joint manifesto was never put to or approved by the electorate. Tuition fees, NHS "reforms", Benefit "reforms", Top rate tax cuts, are all policies which were not put to or voted for by the electorate.

Richard Murphy's question, "Governments across Europe are having to give up powers to the EU and must impose austerity on demand. This is democracy?" does falsely blame democratic failure when in fact electorates are getting what they voted for.

So Deborah Orr is correct and Richard Murphy is incorrect to blame democratic failure.

Worstall's post is, and the subsequent comments on the matter of Savile et al are surprisingly perceptive and interesting.


To echo anonymous, given that various coalition policies appear to directly contradict the manifesto promises of both parties (e.g. NHS reform) then it seems like a textbook case of problem with the democratic process, rather than the public's voting intentions.

But we knew (if only from Thatcher's time) that British democracy has a huge weakness where a government can do things far beyond (or in contradiction with) the manifesto and there is no public power to respond for 5 years.

On the wider economy, the public did vote for austerity, sold on false promises, but they did vote for it in the UK.

In Greece, I'll happily concede that they voted for austerity too. Although I think it's worth noting that Greece is a much more complex situation, because there are longstanding splits derived from the Greek Civil War which make drawing a direct line between voting and economic policy less valid.


@ Anonymous, Metatone - yes, the coalition has broken promises, but despite this, support for the Tories and Lib Dems now is around the same as that for Labour:
This at least suggests that the government has large support - which is consistent with my point, that leftism lacks large public support.


"British voters rejected anti-austerity leftist parties"

You write as if there was some huge gulf between policy positions in the 2010 election campaign, which I think is a dubious assumption. Certainly Darling admitted cuts would be worse than under Thatcher if Labour won (yes, during the campaign). That's an anti-austerity platform?

The Coalition won a larger share of the popular vote than Labour did in 2005. That's a simpler claim to democratic legitimacy in my books.

Chris Purnell

After last years riots reactive sentences have become institutionalised. The magistrates seem to have collectively taken on board "Cabbies Justice". It's a bit of moral panic, which will burn itself out.


Chris, if you re-read your piece with a critical eye you may see why others think that your main point was "British democracy cannot be improved, it is perfectly reflecting the will of the people."

Bernie G.

I’m usually among the first in line with a knee-jerk anti-government rant. However, in the years leading up the 2008 crash we were all complicit. Rather than debate the issues, confront our difficulties and risk causing offence – and because most were doing quite well, thank you – we were content to throw money at problems and ignore them, and it got out of hand. We are still doing it now. The only reason that the coalition doesn’t take more effective action is a fear that voters will throw their toys out the pram. As Europe – Merkel et al – have discovered: democracy can be a painful business; you have to lead the electorate by the nose, step by step. The Thatcher government didn’t have the luxury of pussyfooting around and it got messy. A repeat of that approach could yet be an option if events go against us.

George Hallam

"In this, they forget the words of Socrates:

In each of us there are the same principles and habits which there are in the State; and that from the individual they pass into the State?—how else can they come there?"

Of course, it's nice to quote Plato but you don't really buy this argument do you?

Under normal circumstances you don't regard the state as just a very big individual.

Emergent properties and all that...

Account Deleted

There's a conflict between your suggested actions in respect of Savile and offensive tweets: confront abuse and ignore abuse.

Perhaps your point is that the demos, insofar as we have a collective consciousness, suffers from cognitive dissonance, even psychosis. We vote for austerity and then complain bitterly about the all-too-predictable consequences.


British voters rejected anti-austerity leftist parties

Well, no; a minority of the electorate voted in a right-wing pro-austerity party, voted against a right-of-centre pro-austerity party, and also voted for a supposedly centrist not-so-pro-austerity party which discarded its professed beliefs when it became convenient to do so.

The rest of the electorate, realising that the whole thing was pointless, didn't bother voting.

Bernie G.

"The rest of the electorate, realising that the whole thing was pointless, didn't bother voting."

I guess that us the point: that the public tends to get what it deserves.


I agree this government has more support than the left usually admits. Likewise, I agree that anti-austerity approaches are not very popular.

Having said that, I think to blame this on the public's "mental weakness" is both vague and unhelpful. It doesn't really explain anything. The deeper question is: why is the British public behaving this way? What is driving their behaviour?

Along these lines, I think a better/ deeper explanation is that (some of) the UK public form an "aristocracy of labour". See eg:





http://economicsofimperialism.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/economics-of-british-imperialism.html (Long but worth it)

Basically, in the West, the working class get a host of privileges from the status quo. Our position in the world economy is dependent on the exploitation of the developing world.

This means that their material interests are very much with the status quo. Therefore, it should not come as a great surprise that the anti-austerity parties were rejected.

Instead, a case must be put to the British working class to the effect that we should look beyond the nation state and to the universal welfare of mankind. We need to develop an internationalist consciousness.


Surely the government has a weak claim to democratic legitimacy because a large chunk of people who voted for the Lib Dems did so precisely to keep the Conservatives out of power? That sort of tactical voting was taken for granted by many people. Once the election was over, rather than allow a Tory minority government, which would have been a much better outcome, they went against what many of their voters thought they stood for and formed the coalition.

As for voters in Greece, were they not repeatedly threatened and bullied by the leaders of other countries?

George Hallam

"British voters rejected anti-austerity leftist parties."

Lewisham People Before Profit is not a leftist party, but it is anti-austerity and I was certainly rejected by the electorate in Lewisham East in May 2010.

Here is part of my election address


This is not a normal recession
This is not a normal election
This is not a normal election address

Candidate: George Hallam

SYSTEM FAILURE: the economy and the political establishment are in crisis


Do not attempt to reduce public spending.
Read carefully before voting for a major party"

I got 0.8 percent of the vote.

LPBP did a lot better than this in the local election. Our candidate for mayor got over 5 per cent.


«The deeper question is: why is the British public behaving this way? What is driving their behaviour?
Along these lines, I think a better/ deeper explanation is that (some of) the UK public form an "aristocracy of labour".»

Ohhh please, that might have been the case during the empire period, for some categories of labour.

Right now the reason is very obvious: 70% of voters are petty rentiers, property speculators. dreaming of making free money tax-free with endless capital gains on shares and mostly on their houses.

The numbers quoted by the BBC here are pretty clear:

«In 2001, the average price of a house was £121,769 and the average salary was £16,557, according to the National Housing Federation. A decade on, the typical price of a property is 94% higher at £236,518, while average wages are up 29% to £21,330,»

This means that in 10 years owners of average houses have enjoyed tax-free capital gains of around £12,000 per year, or around 60-70% of the after-tax average income.

What the median voters want is startlingly clear: higher asset prices for themselves, and lower wages or benefits for everybody else. This is what Blair and now Cameron call "aspiration": the dream of making massive amounts of tax-free money speculating on property.

In particular this applies to middle aged and retired female voters, because:

* They own the majority of property thanks to divorce settlements and widowhood.
* They outnumber men in the same age voting cohorts because they live a lot longer.
* Because they outlive men and work less during their lives they tend to pay a lot less in taxes and get a lot more in state spending (pensions, health care).
* They tend to vote ruthlessly their wallets and swing more than male voters who tend to vote on traditional party lines.

But this goes further, see this quote:

The Times, 2011-09-17, Janice Turner:
«The C2 women who voted Conservative last time did so because they, in low to middling-paid roles such as nurses, secretaries and carers, believed welfare had grown too generous, that benefits rewarded the do-nothings while they toiled. They hoped the Tories would crack down.»

This during the worst recession in many decades...

Therefore the constant scramble by the Coalition to roll back those cuts that affect mostly female voters, and to enhance benefits that go mostly to female voters, while paying for those with ferocious worsening of conditions that have a disproportionate impact on male voters, especially those with a low paid job or no job.

The overarching policy goal of the coalition is to keep interest rates low and the pound relatively high (despite the collapse in UK oil production), and they are prepared to keep the country in a recession for as long as possible to achieve that.

The reason they want that is that nugatory interest rates benefit the two classes of rentiers who are the sponsors and the voting base of the Conservatives:

* Big rentier in the financial sector who are making enormous profits from truly colossal spreads.

* Small rentiers in the household sector who want low interest rates to keep monthly mortgage payments low and lower and thus asset prices ever higher (or at least not collapsing as fast as they should).

If the recession ended and interest rates went back to their historical range, monthly mortgage payment would go up a lot, house prices would collapse, as they partially did in the 1990s, and 70% of voters would be really pissed off that their dream of a luxurious middle age and retirement as ladies of the manor vanished.

Never mind that if interest rates went back to historical ranges the collapse in house prices would cut the value of most mortgages and cause the overt bankruptcy of the entire UK financial system; just a small decline in house prices "coincided" with the first bank run in a long time, and the nationalization of some of the largest UK banks.

After 30 years of "investing" the oil windfall in a strong pound and a massive debt boom, and the financialization of the UK economy to the benefit of rentiers it will be nearly impossible to achieve a soft landing. Most debt booms supported by a political alliance of petty and large speculators end in collapse, see Argentina 20 years ago.

Perhaps the UK will avoid an Argentian style collapse, and achieve a slow decline like Japan, but Japan had the benefit of a high domestic saving rate and a massive export sector, neither of which the UK has.


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