Monday, 26 December 2011
In a feature for Manchester-based news website Mancunian Matters, I examine whether or not the Liberal Democrats have a future in the city following their collapse at the last local elections.
Sunday, 25 December 2011
In a feature I prepared for my journalism qualification, I examine the history, performance and prospects of the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland from Home Rule to the present day.
Monday, 19 December 2011
My first piece as Chief Reporter for Gossip Tory is an article I originally wrote as a London Spin column in the aftermath of Ben Howlett's re-election. It looks at the failure of online voting to seriously impact turnout and examines why this might be.
Monday, 12 December 2011
In my latest TSJ article, I moot that the concept of 'the pension age' is an outdated relic of post-war policy that needs fundamental reform, and that the younger generation should not feel entitled to a long retirement the nation can't afford to give them.
Thursday, 8 December 2011
I've got an article in the December issue of BullsEye, the magazine of the European People's Party youth organisation European Democrat Students. You can download it here.
My article can be found on page 14 and is entitled 'No New Christendom', and makes the argument for the admission of Muslim states into the EU. I also had an article in the previous September issue arguing for a reform of European energy policy.
Wednesday, 7 December 2011
In my latest piece on the Conservative Future elections, I postulate that next year's elections will be closer to last year's brutal contest than this year's soporific effort.
Tuesday, 6 December 2011
There are times when I fear the pro-market right can be guilty of a double standard. On the one hand, we decry any leftist who claims that businesses should be run ‘in the national interest’. It sounds like the opening of an attempt to bring private enterprise under the long shadow of the state.
We quite rightly point out that the business of business is business, and that government attempts to co-opt businesses into the state are usually authoritarian and wrong. We defend the right of private citizens to run their own affairs and defend, within the constraints of the law, their own interests.
But with this public sector strike some of the right has turned on its head. Suddenly, the unions are selfishly refusing to subsume their private interests into the national interest. Their strikes are ‘irresponsible’. The distinction between the private and the public interest, which we so keenly defend for businesses and individuals, gets inexplicably blurred for unions.
Yes, people get hurt when schools and other public services close due to strike action. But people get hurt when factories close and companies move to more business-friendly countries. Why should we believe that unions have some kind of duty to people other than their membership?
Of course, the unions bring some of this on themselves by striking ridiculous poses. Claims that the public sector unions are somehow striking for all workers, or for the nation, are absurd. The idea that public services would simply cease to function if public sector workers were paid private sector wages is a fantasy.
But the right should not sink to their level. Rather we should always seek to point out the blunt truth of the matter: the public sector unions are doing their job. It might seem hypocritical for people who pose as selfless public servants to be causing so much disruption in defence of an unsustainably generous wage and pension settlement, but that is an argument for the conscience of the individual public servant, not the union.
The union’s job is not a heroic defence of justice or social democracy, whatever their spokespeople might claim. A union’s purpose is the ferocious defence of the interests of its members, and that alone. The state of the public finances is not their duty. Why should it be?
A union in under no more moral obligation to refrain from striking ‘in the national interest’ than a business is to pay exorbitant taxes for what a left-wing government believes is the national good. They are both private concerns with private interests that the market right should recognise and accept.
If the job of the unions is to deliver the best possible deal for their members, the government has an opposing function. As an employer it has a duty to get the best value for money out of public labour as possible on behalf of its stakeholders, the taxpaying public.
Unlike a private sector employer the government has for a long time failed in this duty because while a private company cannot simply wish profits into existence, when the government comes off badly from a wage negotiation it can simply tax the money it needs out of the public.
With the new and desperate need to bring down government costs, the government is finally starting – and only starting – to do its job and face down the public sector unions in order to deliver the best possible value for money on the public wage bill. This is the opening salvo in what will probably become a long-running battle between successive governments and the last trades union dragons in the public sector, which needs fundamental reform.
I opposed the strike, like many millions of others, but I don’t think it’s somehow illegitimate for the unions to be trying to defend their settlements and it is hypocritical of many rightists to claim such. Industrial action is a simple trial of strength between organised labour on the one hand and the employer and their stakeholders on the other.
The fight between an employer and the union is thus a natural and morally neutral result of their opposing functions. The unions represent their members, and the government represents the rest of us.
The government must make that message clear, and not let the unions continue to pretend they’re striking for anyone but themselves. Then we must defeat them, and remove one of the most formidable barriers to meaningful public service reform.
Thursday, 1 December 2011
In my latest article as LondonSpin's CF election columnist, I criticise the candidates for confusing a 'clean' campaign with a timidly inoffensive one and call on them to start attacking each others' policies and records.
Wednesday, 30 November 2011
I was invited back to be part of a 14-strong panel in Livesey's Lounge for their Strike Special, debating the strike and pensions proposals. Listen in iPlayer here.
Tuesday, 29 November 2011
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
C. S. Lewis
English essayist & juvenile novelist (1898 - 1963)
English essayist & juvenile novelist (1898 - 1963)
This year, millions of people across the Arab world have risked life and limb to topple entrenched dictators. A man in Tunisia literally lit the powder keg by setting himself on fire. In Egypt, protestors continue to die in clashes with security forces. In Libya, a poorly armed and badly organised rag-tag rebellion defied a ruthless and well-equipped regime – their heroism leading to NATO intervention, not stemming from it.
From the sixties through the eighties, oppressed blacks marched, fought and died to overthrow racist regimes in the American South and South Africa. They faced down hostile mobs, police crowd-control, and organised mechanisms of state persecution. Many died.
In the forties, a huge collection of nations across the world saw tens of millions of men and women perish resisting a horrifying form of ultra-nationalist totalitarianism rolling across the globe from Japan and Germany. They could – the gay, communist and racially impure aside – have elected to preserve their lives by finding some accommodation in their soul with their would-be masters. They fought, showed exceptional courage and died far from home to preserve a world better than that.
Do you understand the logic of these people? I think most people do. I’ve not come across many people who look at a great struggle for liberty and instinctively ask ‘why?’ Whether the reason is cultural or instinctive, the war of liberation is a concept we understand, and usually admire. In short, dying for freedom is something we get.
It is interesting that our attitude to dying of freedom is totally at odds with that. When we calculate what an acceptable ‘cost’ of freedom is, the context is everything. Millions of men dying on the battlefield for freedom? That makes sense. A few thousand people a year dying of lung cancer caused by smoking? Totally unacceptable.
The list goes on. We wring our hands over adding 10mph to the speed limit in case it causes a few more deaths. We whack huge deterrent taxes on products we deem to be harmful. We grumble about but fundamentally tolerate an ever more restrictive health and safety culture. We see people willing to tolerate swingeing restrictions on personal liberty with the justification “if it saves just one child…”
Does it make sense that we can justify paying millions of lives for freedoms we sell for only one?
There are several reasons this bizarre disconnection might have happened. The first is that when we see soldiers fighting for a cause, they aren’t fighting for the little freedoms with which we’re personally acquainted. They’re fighting for Freedom, the sweeping, capitalised abstract concept that most people agree is fundamentally important. The enemies of freedom often come offering such unappealing prospects as racial purging or, latterly, clerical authoritarianism, which helps us appreciate Freedom all the more.
Freedom feels harder to defend, however, when its opponents attack it piece by piece and with good intentions. Defending the rights of people to kill themselves with cigarettes doesn’t have the same heroic feel to it that dying for democracy does. To launch a big defence of little freedoms can seem disproportionate and petty. People might even think you’re some kind of libertarian.
Another reason might simply be that when we measure up the two transactions in our heads, freedom is not actually our primary concern. The people dying in the big battles for the big issues look and sound heroic, and we admire the heroism. The people fighting for the small freedoms can sound petty.
Perhaps we instinctively dislike the idea of letting people make bad decisions, but just don’t like this authoritarian instinct shoved in our faces with uniforms and barbed wire.
Or perhaps it is just a product of becoming dependent on the structures originally put in place to protect us. I’ve written about the impact of universal healthcare on liberty before, but I approached it from the government’s perspective. Consider it from the people’s perspective.
Morally speaking, the fundamental principles of the NHS seem argumentatively bulletproof. Everyone, everywhere in Britain, shall have access to the healthcare they need free at the point of delivery. There is no way that someone can fall through so tightly woven a safety net – our consciences will not permit it. You’d surely have to be a monster to oppose such a thing?
If we were prepared to apply this honourable principle in conjunction with personal freedom, that might be fine. But we’re not. While with one hand we push universal medical cover onto everyone in Britain and offer to foot the bill, with the other we try to claw back as much of that money as possible.
‘Cost to the NHS’ has become the justification du jure for the restriction of personal freedom. Smoking; obesity; idleness: all of these cost the NHS money. We’re not prepared to meet that cost, but our ‘social consciences’ refuse to let these people out of the system to choose for themselves. So to spare our wallets we take their freedoms away in the name of doing them good.
This is perhaps the most ingenious vehicle for oppression yet devised, because it is powered by the very people whose freedoms it takes. A people who have come to value the safety net more than their personal liberty are left to languish in the long shadow of their own charity.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. I mean, stripping cigarette branding, or minimum alcohol pricing, or banning marijuana. Those are only little freedoms. Who died for them?
What we lose sight of is that ‘Freedom’ is made up of all the spaces in which we are left to choose for ourselves. In trading them piecemeal in exchange for being better protected from ourselves, we’re part of a terrible long term transaction.
It is a certainty that free people will not live as long as those who are the prisoners of good doctors, but nobody aspires to imprisonment. Put the question to someone in those terms and they’ll reject it, the same way they reject authoritarianism when it comes with jackboots and brown shirts.
Today’s authoritarians march in small steps, so we must always be prepared to fight for small freedoms. To paraphrase the popular phrase: look after the little liberties, and Liberty will look after herself.
Monday, 28 November 2011
In my role as CF election columnist for London Spin, I outline the serious advantages held by an incumbent and try to wake Southworth and McDonough up to the fact that they're completely wasting their campaigns. Read it here.
Thursday, 24 November 2011
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Tuesday, 15 November 2011
I've been neglecting writing for a little while due to a bout of flue and an exam. Hence I wasn't aware that Ian had posted a response to my critique of his federalist position until I got a message about it on Twitter. I've since brought myself up to speed and will respond again.
However, this isn't going to devolve into a fisk-fight, with Ian and I posting increasingly long line-by-line rebuttals of each other's positions. Instead, I'll simply provide a succinct presentation of my views on the various issues Ian raises here.
Edit: The succinct thing got lost the moment I hit the thorny issue of 'Englishness'.
Edit: The succinct thing got lost the moment I hit the thorny issue of 'Englishness'.
First, I would like to clarify that I do not believe that a Conservative government can reverse devolution, nor do I think I argued thus. What I do believe that unionists need to do is hijack devolution and change its shape. Instead of the 'devolutionary centralisation' of the SNP and Plaid, where they simply seek to claw as much power as possible to the national assemblies, we should be advocating more radical localism. Local councils, elected mayors and so forth can all be used to sate people's lust for localism without boosting nationalism.
Ian's point about adopting a make-or-break option to the nationalists is one I completely concur with. The Scots have a right to decide whether they're in the UK or out of it, but if they choose to be in it then they must negotiate that position with the rest of the British. The idea that the SNP can simply cherry-pick their relationship with the UK is as ridiculous as the belief that the UK can do such with the EU.
The 'Greater England' point is one which Ian and I are not going to agree on. Put simply, it is all a matter of perspective. Ian sees an over-mighty English bogeyman squatting at the heart of the union because he insists on viewing the union through the prism of the home nations. I take the position that whether or not you are Mancunian, Brummie, Glaswegian or from any other corner of our country, you are British and that in order for Britain to continue to warrant existing we must be governed as British.
This is what lies at the heart of my argument that unionists need to start fighting for the conscious British identity. Labour first started undermining it when they adopted anti-English posturing in Scotland in the Eighties, and the nationalists have piled on that bandwagon since.
Ian says that at a recent event the idea of 'Northern Irish' as a primary identity went unchallenged. That's fine. Unionism is not about choosing whether or not you are Northern Irish or British, but about being Northern Irish AND British. The understanding that you can be both is one of the things that makes unionism superior to nationalism, with its worship of a primary identity.
His very focus on 'England' serves to undermine Ian's argument. He is right to note that England and Scotland have diverged economically, but that masks the true story. The north of England is economically and politically very much like much of Scotland (sans the nationalism). Any story about the 'divergence' of the areas of the UK should be about how the capital-driven, well-connected and prosperous south has increasingly left behind the post-industrial, remote fringe.
But that narrative doesn't fit into the arbitrary lines of the Home Nations. Given that the North of England has suffered a similar fall from industrial grace as Scotland, Ian's treatment of England as a single unit is no more legitimate than my belief in Britain as one, and his statements about how unconsciously recent policies have represented 'English' interests are thus wrong. If anything, they represented Southern interests.
England's lack of identity does not mean that British identity is English. Ian commits the fundamental flaw - common amongst ideological nationalists - of assuming that 'England', as a cultural unit with convergent economic interests, has to exist. But this isn't the case - the only thing making Scotland's relationship with the South different from the North's is the lack of a border. The English nation is a cartographical fiction, and Ian's adoption of arbitrary national boundaries rather than actual regional politics and economics demonstrates the anti-unionist world view that underlies his argument.
Finally, I maintain that Scandinavia was an absurd example for Ian to use in his first post, and his explanation confirms that. He is right to say, in his counter-rebuttal linked above, that a Scandinavian model is where a lot of Scottish and Welsh nationalists would like to end up. I don't doubt that. But Ian was using it to illustrate an apparently 'unionist' argument. And as an example of an end point unionists are supposed to find desirable, pointing to Scandinavia is a bit like pointing to Austria-Hungary.
In short, my original position is unaltered. The frame of reference Ian uses when he forms his world view really shapes his conclusions before he starts. He adopts the Home Nations as the fundamental building blocks from which an argument must be formed despite the fact that 'England' is just as arbitrary a construct as 'Britain'. He continues to play down the role of 'Britishness' and explicitly states that Britain is not a unit.
This is an entirely honourable world view for a nationalist to adopt. But it is a very strange one for a unionist, because it holds that Britain is a fundamentally illegitimate concept. The idea of deciding policy on a British level is seen as 'doing what England wants'. If you view the Home Nations as fundamentally sovereign then the Union simply doesn't make sense. If Ian thinks like that, I'd be interested to know whether or not he actually considers himself a unionist.
For myself, I continue to believe that unionism requires a believe in the validity of the British state and conscious identity. The assumptions behind nationalism, including those behind Ian's argument, are at heart arbitrary. Pan-British democracy could be viewed as doing what England says; but it could be equally said to be doing what the South and Midlands say or even just what the majority say. Choosing 'England' rather than one of the latter two is the product of a fundamentally nationalist view of the world where those lines have some special importance.
Unionists - the best unionists, anyway - hold that no particular line on a map holds some sort of mythical, fundamental importance. That's why I'm proud to be one.
Unionists - the best unionists, anyway - hold that no particular line on a map holds some sort of mythical, fundamental importance. That's why I'm proud to be one.
Friday, 11 November 2011
My latest TSJ article rounds off my three-part contribution to the Atlanticism-vs-Continental foreign policy debate, by making - or in less than 1000 words, summarising - the positive case for British engagement with the European Union.
Thursday, 10 November 2011
In my second article for The Commentator, I challenge the Archbishop of York and postulate that the Church has no place taking sides in the 'Occupy vs. Capitalism' dispute.
Myself and Mahyar Tousi, Chairman of Manchester Metropolitan Conservative Future, were invited back on to Tony Livesey's show as part of another student panel, this time debating tuition fees.
I open with a sparring match against Caroline Dangerfield, President of the University of Salford Students' Union, before its opened up to the wider group.
You can find it here, with our segment starting about fifteen minutes in.
Monday, 31 October 2011
In my latest article for TSJ, I take a look at why the Conservative backbench rebellion over 'renegotiation' was such a pointless folly.
Note to Times readers - I wrote and submitted this before Phil Collins' excellent comment piece in that paper.
Note to Times readers - I wrote and submitted this before Phil Collins' excellent comment piece in that paper.
Saturday, 22 October 2011
During work I fired some questions off to the Murdo campaign about how exactly his new party would work in relation to the national Conservative Party. To his credit - and my surprise - I received responses fast and (it appears, at least) from the man himself. For those interested I've put the questions and answers below.
Q: Would a Scottish MP be able to lead the whole group, including the sister party, and become Prime Minister?
A: I can confirm that under the new arrangements I will seek to put in place a Scottish MP from our new centre right party which will be a sister party of the UK Conservative Party and take the Conservative whip at Westminster will be able to lead that whole group and become Prime Minister. I often use the example of Alex Douglas-Home: he was elected as the Unionist MP for Kinross & West Perthshire but then became UK Conservative leader and Prime Minister. I would envisage us having similar arrangements to those that applied pre-1965 and comparative to those that exist between the German CDU and the Bavarian CSU where CSU members serve for example as Cabinet Ministers in the federal government.
Q: Would I be able to be a member of both the new party and the Conservative Party? I would love to remain involved with the Scottish Conservatives if they took on your new shape, but I am resident in England at present. The Conservatives allow membership of any party that does not compete against them in an election, would your new party do the same?
A: If I win the leadership contest and the special constitutional conference of the Scottish Conservatives decides to move towards setting up a new centre right party then I would be delighted if you wished to join it. The UK Conservative Party under these circumstances would cease to operate in Scotland and so the new party would not be competing against them in any elections here.
Q: Would you have the two parties cooperate in setting policy for reserved areas? How would that work? Obviously the party would set its own devolved policy, but reserved policy must surely be worked out by some body representing the national alliance of Conservative parties?
A: I would expect the new centre right party to co-operate closely with the UK on policy towards reserved matters in a similar way to how the Scottish party does now, via strengthened policy forums and through our elected representatives. I want to help David Cameron win a majority at Westminster in 2015 and this means Scotland needs to do more than return a single MP to support that government; I genuinely believe that the creation of new centre-right party, building on the current Scottish Conservative Party, gives us the best opportunity to increase our number of MPs at that election and therefore increase our ability to influence UK policy in Scotland’s interests.
Q: By what mechanism would a Scottish party MP become leader of the alliance? Would there be an allied conference of some kind where they were elected? Or would there be a separate position of 'allied leader' with the leaders of the UK and Scottish parties being put to a cross-party ballot of members?
A: Under the current arrangements for the election of a UK leader candidates must be nominated by any two MPs taking the Conservative whip and this would apply to any Scottish MP elected from our new centre right party. If more than two candidates stand, then MPs first hold a series of ballots to reduce the number to two. At this point an all-member ballot takes place and party members of the new centre right party would have a vote in this leadership ballot.
I hope these answers are helpful and thank you for your interest in the current leadership contest.
Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Scottish ConHome equivalent Tory Hoose have kindly published an article of mine that I wrote in response to a pro-Murdo article I read there. Please take a look.
Saturday, 8 October 2011
In my first article for The Commentator, I look at how this Conservative Conference showed the first inklings that the Conservative leadership is preparing for face Salmond, and look at the problems Cameron will need to overcome to turn his party into a well-oiled anti-separatist campaigning machine by 2014.
Wednesday, 5 October 2011
I've decided to structure this piece as a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis (and where necessary refutation) of Ian's argument, in a manner that appears similar to a fisk. This is often used as a format for quite hostile articles - you need only read my own fisks to see that - so I'd like to stress that no hostility towards Ian is intended.
A sudden inflow of links led me to this article by Ian James Parsley over on his blog. Saddened as I always am not to see the UCUNF logo at the top of it, I went to take a look.
He has taken two articles on the issue of federalism - one by me, another by an English nationalist on Open Unionism - and used them as a basis for concluding that federalism is the only hope for unionism. Ian raised some interesting points which I would like to take this opportunity to counter if I can for I believe that his reading of what unionism actually consists of is wrong on quite a fundamental level.
I have been increasingly of the view that Federalism and Unionism (both in the very broadest sense) need to be the same thing if the Union is to survive at all (I am not stating a particular preference for it to survive, merely my views on how it can).
The article of mine that Ian links too makes clear my reasons for thinking that federalism and unionism are, in the British context, fundamentally incompatible. I don't see the need to repeat those arguments here. What I would like to know is that Ian means by 'the very broadest sense' of Federalism and Unionism.
Firstly, my judgement is that Unionists in England (and occasionally elsewhere) too often make the mistake of trying to present the Union as some sort of “Greater England”. This may or may not be intentional – in Dilettante’s case I have no doubt it isn’t – but it is the outworking of most English “Unionist” logic.
The 'Greater England' line is one that crops up a lot in nationalist critiques of the Union. The rationale behind assuming that unionists in England were 'greater Englanders' is the idea that they shared the nationalist pre-occupation with a sub-British identity - that their primary identification was with England and they were only comfortable with Britain because they had projected England onto it. Even England football fans used to waved Union Flags, which must only have confirmed this suspicion in the minds of many of the more paranoid nationalists.
Yet this belief is predicated on one fundamental misconception - the idea that most 'English' unionists prior to devolution had any serious conception of 'England' at all. Hard as it might be for a Celtic nationalist to believe, 'Englishness' really isn't - or certainly wasn't - much of a thing. 'England' was too diverse in makeup and origin to sustain a cohesive identity without institutions to frame it, and so the Kingdom of England quite happily blended into the United Kingdom. Lacking the myth of a unified celtic origin that sustained Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalism, during the birth of nationalism in the 19th Century the English simply accepted Britain.
Even today, the business of reimposing 'Englishness' on the English is largely left to external nationalists, especially the SNP. The English are being defined negatively - they are the ones who don't have a parliament, who don't get free prescriptions or tuition fees, or whatever. There is little to nothing by way of a grass-roots nationalist movement in England, and the country is all the better for it. So the word 'unionist' has no place in scare quotations in Ian's paragraph.
Secondly, following on from this, English Unionists have been distinctly discomforted by devolution. Yet the opposite of devolution, implicitly advocated by Dilettante, is centralisation in England – with 85% of the UK population, that means English rule, intentionally or otherwise, with people in England prepared to justify it on numbers alone if necessary. English rule only gives ammunition to Scottish, Welsh and Irish Nationalists to present their case in national and even anti-colonial terms.
Just to clarify, I'm not 'implicitely' anti-devolution: I'm explicitly anti-devolution. I believe as I always have that devolving power to the nationalist - rather than the local - level is wrong.
Now, this paragraph really gets to the nub of my problem with this piece. Before I get to that though, I'd just like to clarify something that came up in the comments: it is not a straight choice between devolution and centralisation. I advocate, as others such as Airey Neave have in the past, that unionism ought to be combined with genuine localism - devolving power to institutions such as county councils.
Indeed, at the core of Neave's sadly abandoned integration proposals - probably the greatest missed opportunity in the history of unionism after the failure to pass Catholic Emancipation in 1801 - the permanent abolition of Stormont went hand in hand with the resurrection of the province's county councils. This tandem approach ensures that great power rests in the hands of people to decide local issues while ensuring the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom.
Yet Ian's complaint about 'English rule' giving Gaelic nationalists an 'anti-colonial' mandate is telling, because it reveals what I consider the key flaw at the heart of his argument. His whole piece is a comparison of the balance of power between England and the other Home Nations. At no point in time does he consider Britain, and the mandate of Britishness.
If Britishness exists, then it stands to reason that a decision voted for by a majority of the British people is legitimate across the UK. If not, that raises serious questions - was the South of England living under 'colonial rule' since 2001? Can a government really claim a mandate to govern a constituency that didn't vote for it?
Assuming that Ian doesn't hold this absurd view (and I don't think he does) then his analysis demonstrates a complete lack of any consideration for Britishness. This is expanded upon in his next paragraph:
The only chink of light for the Conservatives post-devolution was in Wales, where the party – unlike in Scotland and Northern Ireland – moved quickly to embrace devolution and the opportunities it brought about, and backed subsequent yes-campaigns for more powers. This is not a coincidence. The social trends are towards greater devolution, a great sense of English, Scottish, Welsh and even (unmistakably in recent years) Northern Irish identity. That doesn’t stop anyone being British any more than being Bavarian stops someone being German, or being Norwegian stops someone being Scandinavian, but it does have implications on where people expect decisions over the laws and policies which affect them to be made.
I'd like to make it clear, Scandinavia is a terrible, terrible example with which to illustrate a supposedly 'unionist' argument. Since the dissolution of Sweden-Norway in 1905 Scandinavia has consisted of entirely separate countries which share some very broad cultural similarities - which is where Britain and Ireland are now and where the nationalists would like all the Home Nations to end up.
At this point, I think Ian's clarification above about not actually being a unionist is very important, because he isn't describing anything I'd really call unionism. His response to the social trend towards the fragmentation of identity across the UK is one of enthusiastic acceptance, not reticence (the sign of a hard-core unionist) or balance (the sign of a moderate unionist). He shows no sign of mourning or wanting to defend the concept of British identity, nor to strike a balance between identities that allows both to function. Instead, he is yet another advocate of the idea that unionists should simply resign themselves to running with the nationalists. I'll deal with this in more detail looking at his final paragraph.
His invocation of Germany and Scandinavia are as ill-suited to this argument as the CDU/CSU comparison is for the Conservatives, has he himself pointed out earlier in his article. In both of those instances, the devolution or independence was underpinned by a deep sense of blood-and-soil nationalism. In the pan-Scandinavian case it never got anywhere, but the identities that underpin Scandinavian and German identity are of the gut-instinct kind that nationalists work with. The British identity, based as it is around the idea of quite distinct nationalities overcoming their differences for cooperation and mutual enrichment, is both richer and more fragile than that.
Britishness has evolved; indeed, it has devolved! Deepening devolution – thus, in fact, a form of government within spitting distance of federalism – is the only route seriously open, and any party unaware of that aspect of contemporary Britishness has no right to call itself British. Or to call itself Unionist, for that matter.
Of the whole article, this is the only paragraph I find actually objectionable. I find the suggestion that anybody who rejects the idea that we need to carry the nationalists to the brink of breaking up our country cannot call themselves unionist or British frankly insulting. In fact, the very idea that someone who goes against received opinion should be disowned is fundamentally wrong. I hope that Ian will withdraw this statement.
It comes back to the question I wanted to raise at Conservative conference - why should unionists only be unionist when the polls permit them to be? That sort of thinking would never have got the nationalists anywhere. The SNP didn't give up after 1979, and both they and Plaid came from very humble beginnings indeed. Plaid and the SNP have achieved what they achieved by fixing a goal in mind and working tirelessly towards it, undermining both the fact and the idea of Britain at every turn. Unionists have shown no such resolution.
Rather than simply treating the supposed Zeitgeist as part of an inevitable historical tide to which we are powerlessly subject, unionists should wake up to the fact that human beings are things whose minds can be changed, that public moods can be altered. And that includes standing up for the concept of Britishness, the marked absence of which lies at the heart of Ian's article.
Britain and Britishness are, like most identities born of a union, mutually dependent. Britishness invests legitimacy in British institutions - in turn, these institutions provide a point of identification for 'Britishness'. Without those institutions the cosmopolitan, civic identity of the union withers against the pressure of 'purer', blood-and-soil nationalism. Ian's article thus fails to do several things:
First, it fails to describe how 'Britishness' would actually survive the disembowelling of the British state - the rapid implosion of the 'Anglophile' tradition in southern Ireland suggests it wouldn't. Contrast Northern Ireland, where the latest Life and Times survey shows a Catholic majority in favour of the union, with the Republic, where even the suggestion of joining the Commonwealth of Nations is now beyond the pale as the pro-Treaty tradition faded away. This is the same Commonwealth that countries like India are comfortable joining.
Second, it fails to justify the continued value of any sort of residual union in a scenario where Britishness is so weak that it cannot provide legitimacy to any meaningful central government. If Britishness is not enough to sustain a government, where is the positive case for sustaining the state?
Third, it fails to explain how unionists running with the ball right to the edge of the abyss would prevent the likes of Alex Salmond pushing us over it - again, the evidence of experience which suggests that the very opposite is true. For example, the Welsh nearly rejected devolution in 1998, but returning to that scenario is certainly difficult in the medium-to-long term. Every concession offered the Scottish nationalists has simply loudened their demands for concessions. The idea that weakening the British state somehow strengthens it is one I hear a lot from defeatist 'unionists', but I've yet to hear of any evidence that it will work.
Looking over the article as a whole, what strikes me is that it isn't really a 'unionist' argument at all - it barely even bothers to dress up as one. Ian doesn't make a positive case for the union he outlines here. He doesn't even describe which parts of his 'union' would actually remain. The entire tone of the article is one of "Britain is over; unionists best get on the winning side while they can!" That isn't unionism. That's giving up.
Unionists are unionists because they believe in Britain and what the union represents - multiple peoples coming together to build something stronger and richer (in both the cultural and economic senses) than their individual nations. They believe in being British and being governed as British, and they are loyal to British institutions. They believe that the many tribes of these islands are one people and should remain so, and no argument that doesn't can be described as 'unionist'.
This isn't antipathetic to being Welsh, Scottish, Irish or even 'English', but it involves balance. Any unionist proposal must maintain a meaningful role for the united state, which this proposal fails to do. Implicit in Ian's argument instead is the complete resignation of the concept of Britishness and any legitimacy it bestows upon British institutions and instead 'deepening' devolution because the course of history is telling us to.
In short, he isn't describing a way that the union might survive - he's surviving how we unionists might collude with its ending, in exchange for wrapping its corpse in the Union Jack for a while.
Tuesday, 4 October 2011
I decided not to write a day-by-day account this year, not least because I'm in college for most of it. Instead, I thought I'd report back on the significant moments of my wanderings through the two days of Conference in one post. I've promised a more complete 'Conservative Conference from a Unionist Perspective' to The Commentator too.
1) The 'A United Kingdom' Debate: Hosted by Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan, the panel consisted of:
Andrew R. T. Davies: Leader of the Welsh Assembly Conservatives.
Owen Paterson: Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
David Mundell: Conservative MP for Scotland
Annabel Goldie: Leader of the Scottish Parliament Conservatives.
I noticed an interesting dynamic here. The Welsh and Northern Irish speakers did little more than name-check their achievements. On the other hand the Scots, perhaps needing something other than achievements to talk about, gave strong unionist speeches. Annabel Goldie's especially remains for me a highlight of this years conference - probably the most passionate unionist address I've heard a mainland politician give, and you could tell she meant every word.
I did put down to ask a question here, but I was not reached. None the less, it caught David Mundell's eye and he recalled it when I spoke to him the next day. For posterity's sake, the question was:
"If Nationalists argue their corner at all times, and Unionists only when the polls permit, is it any surprise that the momentum is all in one direction?"
2) Meeting Annabel Goldie: Alright, this one probably has no long-term significance to the future of unionism. But in the middle of an edging-to-aggravated debate with Iain Dale over the future of the Scottish Conservatives, Annabel wandered past and stopped to say hi. When she looked at my name tag, she said:
"Oh, Henry Hill! I know you, you're a blogger."
That blogger almost died of pride right on the spot.
3) Murdo Fraser's Reception: After my encounter with Iain plus a particularly heated exchange of views with a fellow Tory in the bar upstairs, I wasn't up for taking on Murdo's separatism for the third time in one evening, so hid at the back.
Got quite a long chat with his campaign manager. While a perfectly nice man, he failed to assuage the fears I raised in this piece, and I remain hostile to Murdo's proposed dismemberment of the party.
The main thing I noticed - and I noticed this at the hustings the next day, too - is that Murdo and his team are ferociously trying to mask his fundamental proposal with a strong emphasis on continuity. As very little of substance was said at this meeting, I'll address that point more fully when describing the hustings.
Speaking in support of Fraser were Iain Dale of Total Politics and Struan Stevenson, Conservative MEP for Scotland.
4) Scottish Conservative and Unionist Leadership Hustings: See here.
5) Scottish Conservative and Unionist Reception: Despite rushing as fast as I could, I couldn't make it across Manchester in time to see Annabel Goldie's speech. I did see the Prime Minister's, including his laudable statement that he will share a platform with anybody who wishes to stand by the union.
As the Prime Minister was leaving, I managed to resist the less-than-subtle attempts of his security to block me to ask the following question:
Me: "Prime Minister, should Conservatives across our United Kingdom be able to stand as Conservative and Unionist Party candidates when they face the electorate?"
Cameron: "In a word - yes!"
David Mundell also expressed support for my campaign to allow southern Tories to appear as Conservative and Unionist on the ballot paper, as did Jackson Carlaw and Annabel Goldie. A productive evening indeed.
I took the opportunity to ask some questions of Mr Carlaw, mainly clarifying points in his speech. One thing that did stand out for me was his pledge that, if elected leader, he would try to establish a precedent that the Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservatives was always sitting in Westminster, either as an MP or a Peer, in order to improve coordination between Edinburgh and London.
6) Northern Irish Conservative and Unionist Reception: If I have a regret about the Northern Ireland reception, it is that I only got to exchange about ten words with Owen Polley, of 3000 Versts fame. As he put it, I went 'haring off after Lord Empey' and lost track of him.
However, the meeting itself was fine. The speakers were not a particular highlight, although given the nonsense he's had to put up with I was mightily relieved to see Irwin Armstrong at the podium again this year. I also had a chat with the Chairman of the North Down association about the boundary changes - depressingly, he thinks that the new seat of Glenshane will effectively put unionist-held East Londonderry into SF hands. All the more reason for a unionist party that can reach out to Catholics, I suppose.
I did get to speak to Lord Empey, which was very useful. Our discussion this year was not so much about Northern Ireland as the developments north of the border in Scotland. Showing foresight that contrasts markedly with the 'England's difficulty is Ulster's opportunity' nonsense one sometimes hears from unionisms apparent leaders in Northern Ireland, Empey identifies Scottish nationalism as "a bigger threat to the union, and Northern Ireland's place within that union, even than Irish nationalism."
I asked Lord Empey if he feels that Northern Irish unionists should play an active role in any Scottish independence referendum, and he was unequivocal in saying that they should. He added that he would personally take the stand in Edinburgh and Glasgow during any referendum campaign. With luck, this means that representatives of each of the Home Nations will be making the positive case for the union come 2014.
7) Welsh Conservative and Unionist Reception: Shouldn't really be on this list, because I couldn't go. Nor could many people. I wasn't even aware one existed until I bumped into Iain Dale's assistant Grant Tucker, who mentioned he was going. When I asked where it was and why it wasn't in the fringe guide, I was informed that: "We've kept it out of the fringe guide. It's secret, invite only. The Prime Minister's going."
Brilliant. I met a fair number of delegates at the Scottish and Northern Irish receptions who had been looking forward to attending the Welsh event, to find out how this Celtic Fringe Conservative Party had managed to rally so well after 1997. A chance to come together and share expertise squandered, then. I hope that Mr R. T. Davies and the rest of the Welsh Conservatives thought it was worth it.
P.S. Next year, oh Conference overlords, would it kill you to try to schedule the Scottish and Northern Irish (and CF, come to that) receptions at different times? They're the three wings of the party in most need of cultivation, yet they're scheduled so that proper attendance of all three is impossible.
"This party has to stick together or it is nothing!"
Murdo Fraser MSP, being ironic.
To my delighted surprise, the hustings was a really good event. I ended up writing about it at sufficient length to split it off from my conference diary, and my report is below.
Candidates had to outline their vision in short speeches, then take questions, then summate at the end. The candidates drew lots on the speaking order, and Murdo Fraser went first. This was something of a mixed blessing.
Fraser is a good speaker, and of the opening speeches it was he who roused cheers and applause from the audience (although not, I should point out, for his own proposals). But once Carlaw, Mitchell and Davidson took the stand the direction of travel was clear. Each of them, in more or less explicit terms, outright rejected his separation proposal.
One thing I really noticed about Murdo was how far he's having to play the 'no change' card in order to try to sell his main idea. It was he who specifically name-checked the national leader when he spoke of 'electing MPs to support David Cameron in Westminster.' In his speech he also made many allusions to the old Unionist Party, indicating that this could well be the new party's name. His campaign manager the previous night had seemed substantially less keen on it, however, and the Scotsman lists several (terrible) alternative proposals that he is apparently considering.
The denial ran deeper than that, though. Fraser mentioned several times how he wanted 'a new political direction for the party' and that his proposal was 'more than just a name change'. Yet he also consistently argued that the problem didn't lie with the Scottish Conservative leadership, activists or policies.
The tension is apparent: if Fraser genuinely thinks there's been nothing holding the party back except its image with Scots, surely his proposal is primarily an image makeover. On the other hand, if he believes his own rhetoric that a fundamentally new direction is required, how can he heap praise upon policies, strategies and strategists that he clearly considers deficient? It appears as if he's either trying to claim his name-change is more fundamental than it is, or trying not to insult the party faithful so they'll vote for him.
As he had gone first, Fraser had no opportunity to respond as each of the other candidates in turn rallied their supporters and went on the attack. This trend only got worse over the course of the debate. With one or two exceptions, questioners were all pre-occupied with Mr Fraser's proposal and were almost universally hostile. After one particular round of answers from the panel the Chair felt moved to offer Fraser a second response, that he might try to pry out some of the knives the others had planted in him in their responses.
Yet it was to no avail. Although ToryHoose's exit poll (which I sadly had to miss) found a percentage-point lead for Murdo, the problem is that all of the remaining two-thirds of respondents are hostile to his core proposal. If he wins, but fails to get his split ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Scottish Party, he will be left at the end of what will undoubtedly be a bitter and divisive road without a shred of credibility left, just as Salmond is gearing up for the referendum. Yet despite Fraser's supposed position as the front-runner, chances of this scenario appear to be narrowing - the Telegraph's Alan Cochrane describes his chances of winning as "akin to pushing water uphill."
To me, the hero of the hour was Jackson Carlaw. I'm personally in the Davidson camp, because I think she represents the sort of change the Scottish Conservatives need, but I hope that if she wins she finds Mr Carlaw a key position in the party. A confident and charismatic public speaker, instantly likeable, with a firm grasp of the issues and the most sophisticated and effective critique of Murdo's proposals to boot, he's a debater I can see going toe-to-toe with Alex Salmond and an asset any northern leader would be a fool to squander.
Ruth Davidson performed credibly, emphasising her youth and the new perspective she hopes to bring to the party. Her slogan - "Scottish. Conservative. Unionist." - makes her position on the name-changing proposal perfectly clear, and she was probably the least-subtle knife-wielder of the three. One perception I left with was that she is much better at being generally positive - for example talking up the party's future - than being specifically hostile i.e. attacking Fraser. If she wins, the job of going toe-to-toe with Salmond would probably need to be deputised.
Davidson went into the meeting having recently gained the support of David Mundell, who has declared that he'll have no part of a new party and will stand as a Conservative regardless. Whether or not a growing perception of Davidson as the 'establishment' candidate - ironic, given her recent election - will help or hinder her campaign remains to be seen.
I felt a little sorry for Margaret Mitchell. I've been in her shoes - nervous and under-prepared, stumbling over lines, repeating points and casting around for things to say. Difference is, I did that when I was asked to speak at the University Debating Union at an hour's notice, not when I was running for leadership of a party at that party's annual conference.
As the apparent arch-unionist candidate, I had expected to like Mitchell. Her politics might still be brilliant, for all I know. But she is not leadership material. She's a quiet and nervous public speaker who cannot command a room or project an argument. Sending her into battle against Salmond would be like rowing out to sea in a sieve.
Thursday, 29 September 2011
We Aren't the Magic Key to Palestine's Problems, Nor They to Ours: Dilettante on The Student Journals
In my latest contribution to TSJ, I rebut an article by Sabine Saade that argues that UN recognition of Palestine would not only resolve that benighted region's problems but also provide the solution to our own foreign policy problems in the Middle East. In my view, it would do neither such thing, and only make matters worse.
Friday, 23 September 2011
I was invited back on to the Young Parliament panel on Up All Night last night, battling the twin plagues of flu and socialism. Topics covered include nuclear power, the Palestine vote at the UN, alcohol pricing, foreign intervention and the coalition.
My segment starts an hour and a half into the program and runs for 90 minutes.
My segment starts an hour and a half into the program and runs for 90 minutes.
Apologies to those who can hear me coughing, I am currently in the throes of a nasty cold. Still, you do not turn down a radio invitation if you ever want another one, so I drugged myself up to the eyeballs and got through it. Other than the coughing and my slowed responses, I don't think I performed badly.
Sunday, 18 September 2011
Dilettante on Open Unionism: How will Fraser's 'Made in Scotland' be any better than Carson's 'Made in Ulster' Conservative Separation?
In my first contribution to Open Unionism since becoming Editor, I argue that Murdo Fraser's plan for a 'Made in Scotland' Conservative Party will be just as bad for the Conservatives and the UK as the separation of the Ulster Unionists was, if not worse. I also explain and demonstrate how hard it is for regional parties to work in the national - rather than regional - interest.
I originally wrote this article for ConHome, but they've not expressed interest so I've published it on OU - that's why the tone might be a bit more self-consciously Conservative than my usual writing.
Edit: This piece has also been published on Tory Hoose, ConHome's Scottish equivalent.
Edit: This piece has also been published on Tory Hoose, ConHome's Scottish equivalent.
Saturday, 17 September 2011
In the last of my submissions to the Adam Smith Institute, I make the libertarian case against devolution and local government.
In my latest article for The Student Journals, I contend that the equalisation of constituency sizes is a just and necessary reform, and that identity politics is no just cause for an unequal franchise.
Thursday, 15 September 2011
My second article is up over at the ASI blog, discussing the libertarian solution to the smoking ban.
Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
If the decision of certain elements of the Scottish Conservatives to try to found a new party by taking a section of the Conservatives is distasteful, it is at least understandable. They've been losing for quite a long time. Not losing the way the old Liberals used to lose, of course - they've still been getting a fair number of MSPs, councillors and votes.
But in Westminster terms their performance has been soul-crushingly poor. Or has it? In terms of MPs delivered the party has certainly failed, but what about the popular vote? I decided to run a little exercise that Liberal Democrats are often fond of running: divide the popular vote of each party by the popular vote they got to see 'what it takes' to elect an MP. Here are the Scottish figures for the 2010 General Election:
Party: MPs - Votes - Votes/MP
Labour: 41 - 1,035,528 - 25,257
Liberal Democrats: 11 - 465,471 - 42,316
SNP: 6 - 491,386 - 81,898
Conservative & Unionist: 1 - 412, 855 - 412,855
In other words, the Conservative vote would, if distributed as efficiently as Labour's, deliver 16 MPs. If distributed like the Lib Dem's, it would deliver ten, and if like the SNP's a decent five.
Now, like most Conservatives I consider First Past the Post to be a good and fair system of electing representatives to parliament. But it does serve to mask total support behind regional variation. While only having one MP is disappointing - and something I hope Ruth Davidson will work ever harder on if she wins - why on earth have we as a party allowed the other parties to talk up this myth of a vanished Tory Scotland? Particularly the Liberal Democrats and the SNP, neither of whom command a popular vote much greater than ours despite their more favourable representation.
Murdo and the other defeatists need to take a good, long look at those figures, and snap out of it.
Monday, 12 September 2011
The first of the articles I submitted as part of my winning Young Writer on Liberty entry has gone up on the Adam Smith Institute, discussing how a libertarian state would approach employment regulation.
Saturday, 10 September 2011
Just a little update to let everyone know that I will shortly be taking over from Geoff McGimpsy as Editor of Open Unionism. I'm also delighted to announce that Paul, of Unionist Lite, will be returning to manage the site's Facebook and Twitter feeds. OU was one of the first places to publish me when I started out, so I'm particularly grateful to Geoff for all his efforts.
It will remain a place where anybody can submit content, and I plan to broaden its scope to cover unionism across the United Kingdom. So if you're a reader of this blog and fancy writing something yourself, don't hesitate to drop me a line.
Tuesday, 6 September 2011
Since I first heard about Murdo Fraser's plan to abscond with the Scottish Conservatives a few days ago, I've been trying to work out how to respond. Whilst trawling my archive to see what I've written on the subject in the past, I realised that I have written about why the party splitting is a terrible idea before. I've also written about the need for an optimistic, courageous unionism to replace the staid, defensive, defeatist version we have at present. Neither of these cases really need restating.
Instead, I want to look at the issue in more specific terms: namely, with reference to the federalists and other separatist fellow-travellers within the unionist tent, particularly the Conservative and Unionist Party. I've taken a few days out before writing this, as anything I wrote in the immediate aftermath of my hearing Mr Fraser's proposal would have been unprintable.
Now I'm a counter-devolutionary, and proud to be so. I see no reason to hide the fact that I am an integrationist as a matter of principle. However, I'm not a fantasist. I fully accept that devolution is here to stay for the present, and that Conservatives must work within the British constitutional framework, even as they try to change it. As long as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own parliaments, the Conservative Party should do its utmost to engage with them all. I believe there are few members of the party who don't hold this view.
|United yet distinct: the Conservative and Unionist Party reflects our country.|
However, a distinction must be drawn between those unionists who are compromising with their political circumstances on a pragmatic basis, and those who demonstrate an ideological inclination to go far further than is right or necessary. There are those within the Conservative Party who argue that only by out-doing the nationalists at their own game can the party and the union be preserved. Their argument appears to be that if you actively pursue a fully autonomous parliament, support divisive language differences and assist in the cultivation of completely separate political arenas in each of the home nations, then maybe, maybe, we'll get to keep the currency, the crown and the flag.
The logic of this argument is - at least from a unionist perspective - ridiculous. It's like trying to head nationalism off at a pass that doesn't exist. Every step taken to weaken the union does just that, weaken it. The federalist 'solution' would reduce this country to a mere alliance, a defensive and economic contract between the home nations with Westminster and the monarchy providing a skeletal constitutional superstructure. The United Kingdom is more than a flag and a name, and any unionism worth its name should defend the fact of union as well as the appearance of it. The day that Great Britain is not governed in the greater part as one entity, the union is already half-gone.
Which of the two schools of devolutionary 'unionism' is Murdo Fraser from? Is he simply defeatist, unable to see a future for 'old' unionism and thus determined to redirect it down the disastrous road upon which he himself is set? Or is he, as evidence suggests, a committed and enthusiastic pseudo-federalist, who would be set on pursuing an autonomist agenda even if he could not make the case that electoral exigency was forcing his hand? If he is of the former school, he is selling the Scottish Conservatives short. If he is of the latter school, he is betraying their principles. In neither case should he be leading them.
|Selling them short, or selling them out?|
Mr Fraser's new party, should it happen, might see a partial recovery in the electoral fortunes of the Scottish centre-right. But it would come at an unacceptable cost to the political unity of the UK. What the Scottish Conservatives should be pursuing is the renewal of the British centre-right in Scotland. Creating a separate party in the style of the Ulster Unionist Party is (as I explain more fully in a ConHome article that may or may not be published) a terrible precedent that plays right into Alex Salmond's hands.
Mr Fraser may dream of setting up a centre-right pseudo-separatist party. So, too, might whoever it was that proposed that the Welsh Conservatives rebrand themselves to "Ymlaen" - an idea even Nick Bourne dismissed as "nonsense". But these people should have the decency to go and found their own party, rather than trying to abscond with the assets, both material and political, of the national Conservative Party. Murdo should not have the gall to try to enact his separatist vision under the label of a 'new unionism'.
Unionism must aim to preserve the union in fact as well as in name. British Federalism is its own ideology, currently espoused principally by the Liberal Democrats. In my view, it pays lip-service to the cosmetic aspects of unionism whilst abandoning its fundamental principles. This is not always the case where federalism is concerned: in Europe, for example, federalism represents an historic attempt to overcome centuries of bitter divisions and move towards "ever closer union". But for a country as old and well-integrated as the UK, every step towards federation is a step backward.
Monday, 5 September 2011
In my latest article for TSJ, I examine the popular reaction in Canada to the death of Jack Layton, examine similarities between Layton and other populist politicians like Blair and Obama, and make the case that Layton will be remembered as a great prime minister who never was precisely because he never had the opportunity to disappoint.