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November 15, 2017



I'm trying to understand why these factors (and the overall assessment) aren't applicable to the entire political class regardless of party. I'm struggling to make a fantasy cabinet with intellectual heft out of the MPs the three main parties consist of, never mind just the Conservatives.

Luis Enrique

political polarisation implies leadership by swivel-eyed loons.

A Centrist Dad*

* left of

james c

This is how it used to work
Friend of Dave - tick.
Token person -tick


Who, in this instance, is the we that expects only the echo of prejudices? Evidently not those responsible for either the rise of Jeremy Corbyn or Brexit. Quite the contrary, both indicate a desire/demand for something better. I'll give you we once had better politicians with “clarity of mind and purpose”; just a shame our most recent didn't recognise the inherent danger of institutionalising ideological bias given the norms of a rabid right-wing press determined to retain advantage.

On second thoughts, are you sure there isn't “integrity and seriousness of purpose” today. Are you sure that what makes a write-up as incompetence: say stories requiring the hospitalised, should they be benefit recipients, to first and foremost, beyond all else tackle their benefits conditionality clauses or risk homelessness on release, isn't actually well designed intent – the development of a hostile environment?

Dave Timoney

There's a risk of hindsight bias here. Carrington, who was never elected, resigned over the FCO's complacency in the run-up to the Falklands War; Howe should be remembered more for the disastrous 1981 budget than his elegant knifing of Thatcher; while Hurd's policy probably caused unnecessary deaths in Bosnia. To many of their contemporaries, they were distinctly unimpressive.

More broadly, we shouldn't forget that the goal of neoliberalism has been, in Will Davies' words, "the disenchantment of politics by economics". Perhaps it has succeeded.


Brexit is the responsibility of the British people not the government.

The only responsibility the government have for Brexit is in respecting the result of the EU referendum which is why I suspect some EU loyalists and the cosmopolitan middle class generally appear so contemptuous of the government, it is a reflection of their disguised snobbish contempt for the British people and democracy.


The most important factor is the decline in real people being involved in politics as in the collapse in Tory party membership and the much greater influence of speculative capitalists such as hedge fund owners and managers. And media owners having much more power from concentration of ownership. BOJO and gove and most of the other figures are hacks who say whatever their paymasters want to hear. They have no independence by design. This goes along with the ideological obsession with the idea that bankers and financiers should control the state by means of privatisations and contracting out. The public goods are neglected in favour of profit which is shared with politicians who mostly are in it to grab a slice of the profits they help generate with these policies. This is a decline in democracy itself not just personal moral failings. The people who are charged with representing the community are merely fawning on the wealthy and facilitating their enrichment.


dilberto is wrong. We never get a vote by plebiscite on issues that matter like destroying the NHS or starving the disabled with benefit sanctions. The plebiscite is the method of the demagogue. The fake anti democrat pretending to represent "THE PEOPLE". The only people represented by dilberto and his ilk are the billionaires leeching on the public via far right economic policies. The defenders of privilege and corruption have taken to pretending to champion the common man, but that is a con. I am not fooled and neither should the readers be.


it's probably more to do with what people see as cool


@ anthony

he's just looking at tories to, now and past, so he's comparing to groups he feels similarly towards poltically.

I expect he thinks the mechanisms are affecting labour and others too


"I expect he thinks the mechanisms are affecting labour and others too"

Never seems to mention tho.......even after the evidence of years of John Prescott. Jesus, there were (still are) Labour MPs who were shaved chimps, they're that dim. They just got to the top of the union tree in their locale, and inherited a safe constituency. Fair enough, they are as representative of the working man as anyone, but lets not pretend that Labour were ever full of towering intellects.


I think you have not really answered the crucial question: why do we get mediocre leaders? The answer is that the elite have let people down. The elite includes economists, perhaps most especially economists. Blair and Clinton were fantastic politicians. Give them the right policy, and they would get it through. Unfortunately they were given the wrong one - by a whole lot of vector autoregrssion and rational expectations fed experts. The EU likewise could have been a fanatastic institution. But it was contaminated by the same MIT-led cosmopolitan elite. These people are not thinkers. They do not understand or want to understand the real philosophical foundations of modern economics. They are, to use Paul Keating's phrase, "feral abacuses".

I think you need to think about the causes of the rise of populism and mediocrity in the political classes and the absence of real leadership. I would argue that this is a consequence of the lack of intellectual leadership. Where are the Poppers, Hayeks and Freidmans now?


Tony Holmes

You refer to Thatcher's clarity of mind and purpose, yet it's probably no coincidence that the collapse of Tory Party membership started while she was Prime Minister. She alienated many "one-nation" small-c Conservatives with her obsession with "free" markets. Vision, yes, but tunnel vision.


Assessment of political ability is very difficult for the simple reason that one only tends to evaluate the outcome of 'active' political decisions, rather than 'passive' decisions, i.e. stopping things happen. I suspect Hammond might spend a rather lot of his time fighting the hare-brained schemes of his colleagues, for which sadly he gets little credit.

And as a tangental aside, I was rather horrified by the assanine grin Patel wore to her sacking by May. This person has a very, very serious job. Yet she seemed to treat the occasion with all the seriousness of a sixth former on muck up day.


As former Conservative member I can confirm MP selection is largely as james c suggests. The first string A-list have serious wealth/power connections e.g. Zak Goldsmith. The second string are vetted apparatchiks e.g. spads/researchers/PPE types. Cameron led big push for tokenism in second string i.e. being minority ethnic, LBG, or some sort of pseudo-feminist credential could get you ahead of other spads/researchers/PPE types without the token value. Occasionally someone who had served years in local politics might get on shortlist as sop, but it would be managed to ensure strong candidates from local pool were kept out in case they displaced an A-lister.

Opening up the selection processes might resolve this, Rory Stewart, one of the better Tory MPs; intelligent, well travelled, etc... got in through an open caucus. This was given a bit of hot air a few years ago but Central Office quickly decided it was not helpful getting A-listers in to safe seats.

For all that, I don't think Labour is necessarily better. It has its own parachute candidates, its own spads/researchers/PPE types, union candidates whose actual 'work' experience is pretty slim, and people who come from the most politicised sectors of law and journalism. Momentum isn't changing this, if anything it will make it worse as more ideologically pure no marks push out technically competent but underwelming apparatchiks.


I don't think we can overstate how poor the current Tory cabinet is. The mediocrity of Norman Fowler or the venality of Douglas Hurd is one thing, but Jeremy Hunt? Boris Johnson? Chris Grayling??? Philip Hammond is just about the only person in Cabinet who's not a halfwit or a charlatan - no wonder the rest of them all hate him.

John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry, Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey - the Shadow Front Bench may not be staffed with philosopher kings, but I defy anyone not to recognise a certain basic level of competence there.


PS Don't forget the towering intellect that is David Lammy:



MJW, one thing that does exist in the labour Party is the "Trigger Ballot" where a sitting MP can be forced, by his CLP, to undergo reselection. This is not a perfect mechanism but does give the Party activists some leverage. Does such a thing exist in the Conservative party?


I wonder if this is connected with hockey-stick inequality, the 0.1% against the 1%? It used to be the case that you needed a reasonable cross-section of the UK's company directors to finance a conservative party.

These days, though, you can do without the CBI if you can find a mad billionaire. Politics is cheap compared to individual payoffs in some parts of the economy. Also, it may be the case that the hit-or-miss dynamics of some fields e.g. macro hedge funds or VC select for or shape weird people (extremist Peter Thiel, creep Steve Jurvetson, fractally crazy own-piss-hoarder Robert Mercer), who then fund weird politicians.

Nick R

Hayek wrote an essay about why the "worst rise to the top" in politics. https://fee.org/resources/the-road-to-serfdom-chapter-10-why-the-worst-get-on-top/. Long story short, in politics you don't have to succeed by providing good products or services; you can succeed by being a glib or gifted speaker, or a skilled manipulator of people. The extreme case is totalitarianism, where voters and constituents are non-existent; the populace is to be cowed and terrorized into passivity and exploited. After Lenin's death, was it an asset to have a conscience if your rival was Joseph Stalin? Yes, there have been good and principled politicians. But virtue and principle might not make you a better politician.

Russell Hogg

Interesting. Give seems an outlier to me.

Russell Hogg

I meant to say that Gove is an outlier.



There are arcane rules about reselection, but they seem to change regularly and have various caveats, so local associations seem to be perpetually on the back foot and inevitably reach whatever decision CCHQ intended.


My Answer in Two Words.

"Cultural Relativism" ( God and Religion )

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