Monday, 25 April 2011

Why on earth are the Greens nationalists?

 The British left puzzles me. I've been familiar with left-wing politics and ideas for a while now (I even used to be one, a long time ago) and one of the things that I've always found more appealing than the rest is the internationalism - and the anti-nationalism - of much left-wing rhetoric and action. After all, it didn't matter if your oppressed proletarian was Russian, British or Chinese, the struggle was essentially the same. Later on, the Seventies and Eighties saw white, middle-class people protesting about poor, black people in South Africa. Arguing that all humans were on some fundamental level the same and that we should care about people beyond our borders (even if events beyond those borders were substantially more complicated than those protesting envisioned) showed the left at its best.

  I believe that, viewed from a left-wing perspective, the Union should be a progressive edifice. After all, the basis of the union is that what unites the Welsh, Scots, Irishmen and English is more important than what divides them, and that we're stronger together than we are apart. The nationalist, on the other hand, makes a fetish of division, worshipping lines drawn by medieval warlords and sanctified by nineteenth-century intellectuals. Where a progressive unionist asks "What do we share?" a nationalist asks "What makes us different?", and if they don't find a substantive answer - as in Wales - then strenuous efforts are made to resurrect linguistic and cultural barriers that time and progress have eroded. Surely the very opposite of rational, progressive politics.

Anti-nationalism: the best of the left.

 But if left-wing politics is supposed to be rational, forward-looking, internationalist and inclusive, how did the British version come to be laced with nationalist toxins? I'm not talking about British nationalism of course, that remains the almost exclusive preserve of the BNP and the right. I'm talking about about the various Celtic nationalisms, which all seem to range from social-democratic to outright marxist in character. Now, nationalists being leftwing I've always understood - after all, caring equally about members of a nation makes sense from a nationalist perspective - but always from the position that these people where nationalists first, and that informed their other beliefs. On the other hand, people who claim to have a non-nationalist political preoccupation - in this case the planet, just about the most pan-human cause one can choose to adopt - supporting nationalism astounds me.

 Yet throughout the Troubles the great bulk of the British left supported Irish reunification - outside the Union, of course. Only the British and Irish Communist Organisation - a group whose pro-Union position was still based in nationalist theory - took a different line, a position so unusual that it seems to have become their defining feature. I still know Labour friends who go beyond passive support for reunification and wish the active pursuit of "reunification by consent" was party policy. But these are old, Eighties symptoms. I thought perhaps the new left, no longer attracted to nationalism just because it tried to murder Margaret Thatcher - might be different. Suffice to say, it is not.

 Until recently, I never realised there was ever a pan-UK Green Party. I knew about the Green Party of England and Wales, I knew about the Scottish Green Party and the Green Party of Northern Ireland, but I had always imagined those parties had separate geneses. Indeed, the GPNI is now "the Northern Ireland subdivision of the Irish Green Party". Apparently the fact that it maintains connexions with the mainland parties is a symbol of its cross-communal nature, although in my opinion there is nothing border-neutral about voting to become a regional wing of a foreign political party. The Scottish Green Party also supports Scottish independence, need you ask. 
Green Party of England and Wales logo.svg
There are no border lines on their
logo. Does that reflect beliefs, or
just lazy designers?
 Yet according to Wikipedia these groups used to be part of the Green Party (UK), before the Scottish and Northern Irish bodies voted for 'amicable' independence (the Welsh Greens, as seems to be the typical Welsh lot on such occasions, settled for autonomy with the GPEW). I've not been able to find anything definitive about the split, but given the direction of the Scottish and Northern Irish parties one can only assume that nationalism lay at the heart of it. These are people whose primary motivation in politics is the need to save the world and all the people in it and restructure it along their own lines and yet here they are, expressing the vital importance of ethno-cultural divisions to their politics. Its just bizarre.

 I can't for the life of me work out why Greens are nationalists. Maybe its just a sign that the Green parties don't actually represent a new left. After all, the Scottish Socialist Party are also pro-independence and most of the hard-left factions across the UK are still anti-unionist, so perhaps this is just one more way in which the Greens are a twenty-first-century shell wrapped around a deficient nineteenth-century ideology. Its a shame, because green issues are important and it would be a good thing to tackle them. That can only happen, however, once the environment really ceases to become a non-aligned issue without automatic political or cultural assumptions behind it. As long as the Green parties continue to function in the same left-wing ideological space as their socialist predecessors, they're never going to reach out to right-wing or pro-Union voters. Which can't be good for the planet.
A planetary disk of white cloud formations, brown and green land masses, and dark blue oceans against a black background. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disk, while Antarctica is at the bottom.
Think of the planet! Stop supporting

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Last Orders

 Sadly, Paul, author of A Pint of Unionist Lite, has decided to hang up his laptop and retire from the blogging game. Unionist Lite was one of the blogs that first got me into blogging and supported this blog when it started. His opinions on many issues closely matched my own and his insight into Northern Irish politics was always a pleasure to read. I'm very sorry to see him go.

 Whenever this happens, I always reflect on how changeable the blogosphere is. I've been blogging for not yet one year, and already most of the blogs that inspired me to start - Letters from a Tory, Tory Bear, the exceptional Scottish Unionist and now Unionist Lite have all ceased to be, and Charlotte Gore's postings are growing ever more infrequent. 

 These excellent people need replacing. If any of you reading this have ever considered setting up a political blog, I really recommend you give it a go. Its easy to set up, and whatever your political niche I'm sure there are people who'll help get you started the way Paul and Owen of Three Thousand Versts supported me. I'm also happy to give pointers and advice, just drop me a message via my blogger account.

 In the meantime, I'm happy to report I intend to continue writing for a while yet.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Rumours of Lords Reform: Three criticisms.

 I'm sorry, I really am. I'm a pro-Coalition Conservative. I used to be a Liberal Democrat, long ago, and I have many friends who remain of the yellow persuasion. I normally try to see the silver lining in whatever storm-cloud currently besets our government. But this is too much.

 I've heard it elsewhere, but one link will suffice: Liberal Vision report that, if the Liberal Democrats lose the AV referendum, David Cameron will have to throw them a serious bone. Worse still, rumour is that the bone in question could be a fully elected House of Lords. As support for AV "collapses" this scenario is looking ever more likely. It cannot happen. I'm not the biggest fan of much of what goes on on the Conservative back benches, but if David Cameron tries to push this through I may have to stain forever my reformist credentials and go to the trenches with them.

 There are three main problems that need to be addressed: first, what is an elected Lords actually for; second, David Cameron can't simply continue making concessions he has no mandate for on issues as serious as the constitution; third, the Liberal Democrats need to grow up and get used to losing.

  The House of Lords is a revising chamber. It doesn't have the power to initiate or veto legislation from the Commons. It is a mixture of appointed experts, party dinosaurs and fascinating constitutional relics who between them bring experience and specific expertise to legislation drafted by career politicians in the Commons, and then compile recommendations that the politicians with a mandate debate.

 Before you can insist that the House of Lords needs to be elected to have a democratic mandate, you need to work out what it actually needs that mandate for. It doesn't require an electoral mandate to carry out its current duties - indeed, elections would probably negate its current function. Making the Lords elected would grant it a mandate to challenge the Commons - do we want that?

 One thing I've not heard much (if at all, in my recollection) is why Britain needs a bicameral, American-style legislature. The logic simply seems to be:
 We have a House of Lords = It is unelected! = Let us fix that.
 That isn't good enough. If the House of Lords' role as a chamber of revision is unnecessary, that on its own is simply a case for its abolition. Supporters of Lords reform need to first articulate their case for an equally-weighted bicameral parliament, and then win the country round to the idea.  Until they do that, they have no right to enact it. 

 It certainly can't be delivered as part of a grubby ransom payment, which brings me to my second point. Quite simply, the constitution of the United Kingdom is more important than David Cameron's premiership. Labour screwed around with the constitution, instituting the Supreme Court in place of the Law Lords and assaulting the integrity of our kingdom with devolution, but at least they changed the constitution because they believed in change. 

 David Cameron has never given much (if any?) indication of being in favour of serious reform to the Lords. He's certainly never articulated clearly why we need a powerful second chamber. The manner in which he's going about this is a sorry reflection on him. He should not - and certainly should not be allowed to - play fast and loose with the constitution of our union to try to preserve his rule in Number 10. He bounced his backbenchers into supporting the AV referendum, and that is quite far enough. They didn't sign up to anything more, and he has no mandate for it.

 Really though, the final share of the blame must rest with the people putting Cameron in this position: the Liberal Democrats. As a Coalition supporter I'm very disappointed, but the Liberal Democrats are - to put it mildly - not performing particularly impressively in government, and their behaviour on this occasion is little short of disgraceful.

 They lost the General Election. They didn't win a majority for their arch-reformist ideals, even on total share of the vote. They're a protest party that hasn't propped up a government since the 1970s and hasn't participated in one since the Second World War. Yet their stars aligned, a hung parliament combined with a particularly daring Conservative leader and they have their chance in government. This is their opportunity to demonstrate that they are a serious party capable of governing the country.

 Their primary focus during this government should be accruing credibility, aiming for a payoff in 2015 when they can claim credit for helping steer our country through a dire economic crisis as part of a stable and effective coalition government. That would be a long-term view. Instead, they're constantly fretting over short-term popularity, and pandering to a party base completely unused to the discipline and realism required in a party of government.

 Both the Conservatives and Labour have been very unpopular in the past. Both have had their 1983's and their 1997's, periods in which their rivals were totally in the ascendant and serious soul-searching was required. That both these parties remain the big players in British politics is testament to a key lesson the LD's need to learn: if you're doing anything important or difficult, to govern is to be unpopular. Governing parties do haemorrhage council seats whenever they have to enact a tough, serious measure, or tell the electorate something they don't want to hear. Short-term unpopularity is less important in the long run than being perceived as a sensible, mature party in the long-term. I don't think many people can claim the Liberal Democrats are there yet.

 The other thing the Lib Dems need to learn to do is learn to lose with grace. They got a referendum on changing the voting system out of a Conservative party deeply opposed to the idea. They never got a guarantee of victory nor did they ever get promised some kind of insurance against defeat. If AV is defeated in May, the Liberal Democrats should stop, assess the campaign and try to work out why they lost. They should not turn to David Cameron and ask what serious constitutional form he's going to offer them without a referendum to keep then in government, to make up for the one they have failed to acquire from the electorate. That is not the way a mature coalition partner behaves, it is the thought process of a spoilt child.

 Despite the macho talk of Vince Cable's 'nuclear option', the Liberal Democrats have a lot more riding on the Coalition than the Conservatives. This is their chance to prove two things: first, that the Liberal Democrats are a serious party of government; second, that coalition governments are strong and stable enough to steer the country through even this most tempestuous of times. If they terminate the coalition mid-term, in some fit of petulance over not being given something they had no right to extort from their coalition partner, that will stick in the minds of the electorate long after the ever-fickle anti-cuts storm has faded away. It will not only tar the Liberal Democrats, but it will taint the perception of coalition government - the very thing they claim to champion - in the minds of the electorate. The LD's terminating the coalition will just demonstrate that, when times are tough, coalitions don't work.

 Lords reform is a terrible idea that hasn't been put before the public even as a debate, let alone a vote. David Cameron should not butcher our constitution to hold onto power. And the Liberal Democrats should learn that being in government involves disappointments, defeats and dirty tactics, before its too late.

 Update: Almost as if to prove my point, Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron writes in the Times (23/4/2011) that a House of Lords elected by PR would have more legitimacy than a First-Past-The-Post Commons. That's the best argument against PR for the Lords I can think of.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Coalition Politics on your Doorstep: Why I'm No2AV

 It should surprise none of you if I confirm now that I am an opponent of a change to the voting system. I can be entirely honest about my reasons. Despite being in favour of this government, I am not at all keen on the idea of coalition government in the long term - it is simply that the Liberal Democrats are a better coalition partner for the Conservative Party than its own lunatic backbench fringe. A healthy majority Conservative administration is preferable. More than that, I don't attach great significance to an MP gaining 50%+ of the vote on people's multiple preferences, and I think that any step towards PR is a bad idea. I just straight-up like FPTP and the principles behind it.

 But such honesty doesn't preclude consideration of AV as a system, and whilst debating it I got thinking about one of the points that keeps coming up: under AV, minor parties will have more influence because their votes will be counted multiple times. I think this is true, but I've seen it knocked down a few times, mainly because it gets the emphasis wrong. So this is a short post just to outline why I think that AV will grant inordinate influence to the supporters of minor parties.

 The key issue isn't some basic mathematical calculation of vote worth (i.e. if my vote is redistributed four times it is worth four times as much as your non-redistributed vote), but rather the greatly magnified influence of minor parties due to AV encouraging practises that, if they occurred, would effectively neutralise the supporters of main parties. The number of times a minor parties support is redistributed beyond one is irrelevant; its that they're redistributed at all that counts.

 One key point hammered home by AV supporters is that it will help to take the adversarial edge off politics (although why this is good I don't know), and another of the main selling points, according to many of its proponents, is that it brings an end to the necessity of tactical voting. Whoever your first choice would be, you can place a tick (or rather, a 1) in their box, and then with a clear conscience set about tactically voting with your preferences. This is fine, if you're a fan of a very small party. But once the supporters of major parties start doing this we run into problems on both counts.

 Lets examine the impact on marginal seats. In a two-way marginal, the normal course of electioneering is that each of the parties in with a shot of winning tries to woo the other party's supporters, with Conservative candidates pitching to the left and Labour candidates pitching to the right, and so forth. This has the effect of orienting politics towards the centre: each candidate has to compromise to some extent in a bid to win the support of people naturally inclined to support the other candidate. Would this happen under AV? In most cases, no.

 The problem with AV is that there is no longer any point in major parties pitching to each others supporters. If the supporters of major parties all cast their votes in a purely non-tactical manner, those votes will not be redistributed. They're gone, stacked up in the red, blue or gold column and entirely unreachable by the other side. The only votes in play are the votes of those minor parties further down the ballot who will get disqualified, your UKIPs, Greens and yes, your British National Party's. 

 It is the votes of their supporters that will actually get redistributed and thus decide the election in that seat. Suddenly, the political centre of gravity shifts to the poles. Instead of trying to woo the other sides supporters by moderating their views, each side is in a race to rack up the preferences of the extremes, with Conservative candidates chasing UKIP votes whilst Labour hare off after Green and TUSC preferences. Not only is this the very opposite of the moderating influence AV supporters claim, but it means that a minor party need only build up a certain low level of support in a constituency to get policy concessions laid at the feet of its voters every election. In genuine two-horse races you might end up with both contenders desperately offering bigger and bigger carrots to the third-placed party in order to secure its transfers. Its all the undemocratic demerits of coalition politics, but actually played out on a constituency level. Charming.

 Perversely, this means that people 'disenfranchised' by the current system by living in a safe seat (an interpretation I reject, but many electoral reform advocates subscribe to) will be joined in their sad state by all those who are solid supporters of a major party, even in marginals. When their non-tactical vote can be counted on, parties are bound to neglect the base in pursuit of those elusive extremist deciding votes. Supporters of minor parties replace people in marginals as the only people whose votes - if you buy this interpretation - actually 'count'. 

 The worst thing is that if you support a major party, your best bet is still to vote tactically, precisely as you would under FPTP. If you're a Lib Dem in a Labour/Conservative constituency but it isn't so tight that the Liberals will get knocked out and their preferences distributed, a vote for them is just as 'wasted' as ever it was, and you're better off - as far as actually influencing the outcome is concerned - tactically casting your first preference for your preferred potential winner. 

 So in the end, supporters of the major parties in a given constituency cast their first preferences just like FPTP, their second preferences being irrelevant. Supporters of secondary parties in a constituency that aren't likely to be knocked out are better off voting tactically, and probably will, as their second preferences are also irrelevant. Supporters of fringe parties, whose transfers are relevant, become the new political sirens, luring politicians away from the centre in pursuit of their few deciding votes.

 Its coalition politics, on your doorstep. No thanks.

 P.S. Quite a few of the debates I've had with people regarding this piece stem from their position that AV won't cause a serious shrinkage in the size of the floating voter pool. Given that I think a substantial portion (at least) of the floating voter pool is made up of people with soft partisan leanings who are willing to be wooed, I contest this assumption. And if anybody was in any doubt, the Yes campaign sent me an email today (29/04/11) containing this:

This week alone, more than 500 of your fellow supporters have donated to help win votes for AV. People like Robin, who told us why he decided to give to win fairer votes:
"I have voted in every election since I got the vote, many times for the candidate who I thought was most likely to defeat the one I didn't want. I want the chance to vote for the person that I want to win and this is why I have donated to the campaign." 
Do you want to put an end to tactical voting? 
This referendum is your chance, but time is running out - this time next week it will all be over.
 So yes, the argument above is posited on the assumption that AV will significantly reduce the amount of people casting their votes tactically and contributing to the total of floating voters. Given that this is a stated aim of the Yes campaign, I don't think its an illegitimate line of counter-attack on my part.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Jonathan Freedland in Denial

Jonathan Freedland's article over at Comment is Free is interesting for what it tells us about what - and how - Labour true believers are thinking. Sadly for them, it appears to be the same sort of denial-laced intellectual comfort food that was the die-hard Conservative fare of choice throughout our disastrous '97-'07 decade. The idea appears to be to sit tight, continue to claim that the deficit wasn't Labour's fault and wait for the magical pendulum of destiny to deliver another 1997. Its an appealing religious vision for the party faithful, but its a terrible idea for the Labour Party.

 Several things in the article bear comment, but the most significant has to be this assertion that the progress of the pendulum is an inevitability, that the Tories must have our "1997 moment", to borrow Freedland's phrase. This seems to completely fail to take into account the fact that 1997 was the product of a range of Labour successes, Tory disasters and outside influences that aligned like malignant stars to completely decimate our electoral strength. It is no more a natural part of the electoral cycle than the result of any other election. This reads like little more than wishful thinking, and if heeded would doubtless do little more than foster dangerous complacency and encourage self-indulgence - again, see the post-'97 Conservatives.

 The other key thing to read is Freedland urging Labour not to take responsibility for the deficit:
It's not Labour profligacy that caused the deficit – if the last government was spending too much why did the Tories promise, until summer 2008, to match its largesse?
The fallacy there is that it implies that Mr Freedland sets great stock by Conservative opinion, which is palpably false. In my view, the Conservatives supported government spending plans during the boom years because the public did not want to hear the case for public spending restraint, and fundamentally a party exists to get elected. Something can be a bad idea and still command enormous public support: see how David Cameron has completely ring-fenced NHS spending rather than daring to attack wasteful largesse in that organisation to ameliorate deep cuts elsewhere. Furthermore, the banking crisis was triggered by the trading of sub-prime debt packages that would not have existed if tens of not hundreds of millions of people had not wilfully tried to live beyond their means. Public popularity is not a measure of how fiscally sensible a given policy actually is.

 Urging Labour not to take responsibility for the deficit is also a symptom of denial mode. Labour didn't cause the banking crisis, but the deficit is how much they spent beyond their income and that was their fault. The fact that they operated with wilfully irresponsible spending model on the assumption that the actions of one country's government had somehow banished the economic cycle from affecting Britain, even though Britain is deeply embedded in a highly responsive global finance economy, is just criminally irresponsible. Labour politicians should be pulled up on this whenever they try to play the "it started in America" line. Yes, it did. But Labour allowed Britain's economy to operate in a way that made it hugely vulnerable to financial changes in New York (or Hong Kong, for that matter) and yet ran their government in such a way as to completely fail to defend against it. Its like owning a castle, failing to post any guards and then when you're invaded bleating that the problem started abroad.

 Labour need to avoid making the mistake the Conservatives made after 1997. That mistake was to assume that we were the natural party of government, that the public couldn't be that sick of us, that we'd automatically be back in power in a few years time, and that we wouldn't have to change. This attitude made us appear hubristic and out of touch, ensuring we couldn't even mount an effective opposition to the Blair/Brown government (instead leaving them to fulfil that role for each other) let alone seriously threaten the government in an election. If Labour wants to seriously challenge this government and return to office, it must beware the siren songs of the true believers who just want things back the way they were before the public passed judgement in 2010.

 P.S. I really struggle with this claim that the Conservatives will 'destroy society'. I can't remember the exact year, but if I recall correctly our oh-so-horrific cuts to public expenditure are only taking spending back to roughly 2007 levels. Do you remember 2007? Labour had been in power for a decade, and I'm quite certain they were pleased with the state of the country back then. Mr Freedland appears to be peddling the idea that I hear from many leftists, that you can only cut a very small amount, if anything, from public expenditure before plunging the country into a terrible abyss. This seems to hold true regardless of how much public expenditure there has actually been, or what it has been spent on.

 The Conservatives don't 'destroy society'. The Thatcherite government might have neglected certain areas of vital spending, but despite the sincerest wishes of the likes of Freedland this is not a Thatcherite government. The public don't perceive Mr Cameron as a foaming-mouthed, axe-wielding ogre because they accurately perceive that he's of the older, one-nation tradition. He's not a profligate spender or a socialist, but he's not an arch-cutter or libertarian either. Not to mention the fact that while Labour might be more willing to throw money at schools, its the Conservatives who are willing to face down the vested interests of the educational establishment to try to reverse the decline in standards that has been a factor of British schooling since Tony Crosland inflicted his terrible legacy.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

No, It Isn't: Fisking David Cowan

 Although it is a practise I greatly enjoy, I don't fisk very often on this blog. This is mainly because regular fisking is really the proper domain of an attack blog, and it doesn't encourage one to develop flexibility as a writer. However, the odd one here and there can't hurt, and this piece on ConHome contrived to put me in a suitable mood.

 I'm still trying to figure out what exactly about this article has me so wound up. Am I simply in tune with Clegg, and filled with rage at the author's enviable internship? Perhaps I'm simply jealous that my own submissions to ConHome (on both sides of the Atlantic) have yet to see the light of day whilst this sort of thing gets published. Maybe I just can't stand the sight of a poor argument being badly presented. Regardless of motive, let us proceed with our dissection:

The current division inside the Conservative Party is between the “Old Whigs” and the “High Tories”

 This title inspired my own above. To its credit, it does serve as fair warning of what awaits.
David Cowan is an intern at the Institute for Economic Affairs and will be going to Christ’s College, Cambridge, in the autumn to read History.
 Just some information about the author.
There has been a public debate over the divide between “liberal conservatism” and “mainstream conservatism”. The focus has been on policy differences rather than the philosophy of the Party. If we choose to look at the philosophical outlook of the Conservative Party then a dividing line between the “Old Whigs” and the “High Tories” becomes clear.
 By "public debate" I'm going to assume he means "a debate on ConHome". Whilst we're on it, I'd just like to express my contempt for 'mainstream conservatism' as a label. Like 'progressive', its a label that seeks to cast any opposition to it as instantly negative or outlandish by default, a habit I strongly dislike. Furthermore, it defines 'mainstream' as a majority opinion of Conservative activists on ConHome, which is not only a deeply unscientific sample but also smacks of a tendency to play to the party base, which is what cost us so dearly in 01 and 05.

 Back on topic: the second line introduces the first flat-out mistake of the article. The idea that the debate between liberal, modernist, one nation, Thatcherite and traditional Conservatives has been about much else than the philosophy of the party is ridiculous. Policy debates have nearly always been drawn back to what faction a particular poster or Cabinet minister appeared to be from. The third line then proceeds to spell out the articles line of argument, which shall be addressed below. Suffice to say, such a dividing line does not become clear. From a writers perspective, I think the paragraph could have done with being a little longer, in order to help it flow better. 
Conservative strands of thinking are firmly rooted in “love”. That is not just romantic love, but also love of companionship, love of family, love of community, love of nation, and love of God. They are the bonds between us and give meaning to our lives. It is not a view which embraces the harsh utilitarianism, brutal modernism, and rampant libertarianism of modern society. It is a view based on trust and cooperation. The state is an intruder as it denies freedom and coerces us.
Adam Smith recognised that we are not just motivated by “self interest”, but also by “sympathy” for one another. We emotionally invest ourselves in others by trying to make them happy, consoling them, or sharing their sorrow. Roger Scruton argued that Conservatism understands the human condition and recognises humanity's evolutionary nature as we develop traditions, values, and a culture which passes from one generation to the next.
 These two paragraphs amount to a florid testament to traditional Conservatism and not much more, and bear little relevance to the actual argument other than letting you know which side the author is on.
 The Conservative Statesman must seek to protect and articulate what the Conservative Philosopher values by focusing on family, education, and work. Of these the most important is family. It is the best social institution in which an individual can develop and be loved. For without love in our lives we cannot grow as individuals. Education also acts as a key part of our emotional development. It is the means of passing down knowledge, the appreciation of beauty, and self expression. At school we are elevated beyond our base instincts and learn about our history, culture, and morality. That is why it is essential that everyone has access to a decent education.
 I debated whether it was even worth splitting this paragraph off. It is just a rather wordy exposition of the traditional Tory approach to education and the family. Four paragraphs and over three hundred words into the article, and there's no sign of Mr Cowan's argument. This is proving a dull fisk. 
Once we leave education, it is important that we find a vocation which can be an act of emotional fulfilment and can give us purpose. The welfare system must allow work to pay, reward enterprise, and give independence. David Cameron has managed to abide by these principles.
 I sense the David Cameron thing is the start of the actual argument, although it is presented in a novel way by opening with the supporting evidence rather than the thesis, which presumably is to follow.
The “Big Society” is at the heart of David Cameron's Conservatism. It is about cutting back the state in order to allow the voluntary bonds of community to thrive. The overbearing nature of the state has caused Britain to become a consumer society dominated by a focus on the individual's needs, alienated from our neighbours as communities become atomised, and a lack of clear meaning in our own lives. This has happened because the state coerces us into being charitable by taxing us in order to redistribute wealth and provide services.
I had been going to lump this in with the above paragraph and handwave it through, but I did spot something I took issue with. Whilst it is certainly true that the statist left destroyed many of the voluntary, mutual and co-operative bodies that were the bedrock of pre-war society, I think David is wrong to try to absolve Margaret Thatcher (who he describes as a 'High Tory', see below) and the consumer revolution of the Eighties of any blame. 

 Furthermore, society in general has become more individually-oriented as advances in science and communication technology broaden the scope of individual agency and lessen mutual interdependence. Tight-knit communities often lie within narrow horizons, and we simply aren't as geographically or materially restricted as previous generations were. Although without doubt a significant malefactor, sole blame for this process cannot be laid at the feet of the state.
We then conclude that we have done our bit for society and can thus focus our energies on the pursuit of our own happiness rather than the happiness of others. The “Big Society” is the means by which we can cooperate voluntarily for the public good without coercion from the state. That is not to say “self interest” is a bad thing. Adam Smith's example of the woollen coat is a classic example of how “self interest” results in mutual benefit. But, the principle of “sympathy” has been eroded away by the state.
 The first sentence, presenting the argument that the philanthropic instincts and charitable mechanisms of pre-war Britain have ossified as the state usurps their functions (as argued by James Bartholomew amongst others) is solid, but the second one is puzzling. The big society (the constant scare quotes get vexing) is a means for cooperation? I always thought that a big society was the end, in pursuit of which Cameron will pass actual policies to encourage voluntarism and charitable giving. I can't see how the big society functions as a specific enabling mechanism.

 The paragraph itself could also use a few improvements. First, the second and fifth sentences should be swapped (the latter losing the 'but' obviously), and the fifth sentence could perhaps even be added to the first one. As it stands, the paragraph is something of a non sequitur, as it shifts from problem to solution to counter-point within problem to problem again at the end. Re-arranging to address the problem, then the counter-example, and finally the solution is more sequacious and reads better. Also, when writing for a popular audience always explain examples, otherwise referencing Adam Smith amounts to little more than intellectual name dropping - a practise that university lecturers have no time for, apropos of nothing. Briefly summarising the woollen coat example to someone who hasn't heard of it would have taken about half a sentence.

 550 words in, only three hundred to go, and still no sign of an argument. This article is resisting my fisk by studiously avoiding getting to the point.
However, David Cameron has not protected traditional Tory values. Ken Clarke's “Rehabilitation Revolution”, deep defence cuts, Constitutional vandalism, and increased European integration are the key examples. It is the erosion of the British concept of the nation state, and it is the Liberal Democrats who have forced this assault on Tory principles, thus allowing cover for ministers, like Ken Clarke, to pursue Liberal policies.
 And lo! The point... has not arrived yet. That would involve Mr Cowan defining his terms and laying out his thesis, which he has completely avoided doing thus far. Nonetheless, we do now have some meat to get to grips with. It seems almost superfluous to say it, given that I imagine most of my readers are at least passingly familiar with the paleo-Conservative right, but there is little acknowledgement in this paragraph of attacks that we're in either a coalition or a recession, two things that seriously impede Mr Cameron's ability to govern as he pleases. Where the Liberal Democrats are mentioned, they are simply cover for nefarious liberals like Ken Clarke and Cameron to get away with doing nasty left-wing things. The idea that some of these might be the consequence of the necessary compromises of coalition government appear to be beyond the scope of our subject.

 In terms of the actual arguments, the second sentence is a pretty standard shopping list of right-wing complaints, some of which (such as opposition to defence cuts) I share. However, I would dearly like to know how Mr Cameron - who has arguably the strongest Unionist credentials of any Conservative leader since Bonar Law took the salute of the Ulster Volunteers - is eroding the conception of the British nation-state. Setting aside the fact that I consider Britain to be a Union, not a nation (and better for it), devolution was enacted under Labour. Like many Conservatives, I would dearly like to return to the uniform rule of law across the United Kingdom - but it would be electoral suicide to pursue such a course, even if the way our regional parties have become cheerleaders for essentially nationalist projects is distasteful. Other than engaging with the devolved parliaments (which is counter-balanced at least by his commitment to the Northern Irish Conservatives) how is Cameron eroding the UK? I don't know, Cowan doesn't tell me.
However, the tide may start to turn as the recent motion on prisoners' right to vote and other Tory rebellions have proved. The “High Tories” are seeking to reassert the Tory principles of the Rule of Law, National Security, and Parliamentary Sovereignty. They have their roots in the reactionary wing of the Party which has produced a minority of the Conservative Party’s leaders, though its most prominent alumni are Lord Salisbury, Lord Curzon, and, arguably, Margaret Thatcher.
 There are so many things going wrong in this paragraph, its hard to know where to begin. Lets start with the most glaringly obvious: Margaret Thatcher was not a High Tory, and was anything but a "reactionary". It was her election, supported by the 'Peasant's Revolt' of the backbenchers, that finally finished what Heath had started in killing off what little remained of the old High Tory tradition within the party mainstream. I'd be interested to see who else Mr Cowan considers a High Tory leader of the party, because as it stands he seems to simply use the term to mean 'right wing' and 'unyielding'.

 Which brings me on to the second point. The contrast between the 'Old Whigs' and the 'High Tories' is supposed to have been the main thrust of this article. The paragraph above this one began with 'However' and then proceeded to outline Mr Cowan's case against Cameron and other liberally-inclined Conservatives. This should have been developed, and the use of the label 'Whig' justified. Instead, after one short paragraph of criticism, we have another sentence starting with 'However' and the narrative chicanes, bringing us to the second half of a criminally under-developed argument and a description of the 'reactionary' counter-attack. Given the author's obvious sympathies, we can hope that this side gets a little more meat on the bones.
They believe in the moral values expostulated by David Cameron but their loyalties to British tradition, culture, and patriotism are much deeper. They vehemently reject the modern Liberal consensus that David Cameron and the modernizers have sought to accommodate. This struggle between the “Old Whigs” and the “High Tories” may well define the course of this Parliament.
 Right, I'll be brief to spare repetition. The traits described in the first sentence are not equivalent to High Toryism as it is commonly understood, being more in line with the 'Faith, Flag and Family' mantra of the Cornerstone Group. Mr Cowan continues to provide no justification for his appropriation of the label. No analysis is given for why the struggle between his two mislabelled groups may define the future of this parliament or the party, although this is what the article is supposed to be about according to its own title.

 As for the 'liberal consensus' thing, I have two serious problems with it. The more immediate one is that we didn't win a majority. Maybe if we'd won a few more seats we could have been cutting deals with the Democratic Unionists and it would have produced a more socially conservative - although decidedly less stable - coalition, but Cameron had to play the hand he'd been dealt and he did so brilliantly. There is nothing particularly admirable about a platoon of die-hard true believers in very safe seats undermining the first government we've formed in thirteen years, jeopardising the careers of their more marginally-seated colleagues and the future of the party.

 More importantly, the people who resist this 'liberal consensus' have already accepted the last one, and all the ones before that. Furthermore, they represent the sort of party faction whose defeat is always necessary for the party to survive. The great, enduring genius of the Conservative Party has been to continue as an electoral force through reforms and social changes that the left assumed would kill it. The Great Reform Act 1932, the defeat of the Lords in 1911, universal male suffrage and female suffrage, all were forecast as the death knell of our party. We survived by adapting, by accommodating change and continuing to reflect the wishes of the British people. When we abandon this policy for dogmatism - as Labour did in the Eighties - the result is certain disaster.

 Referring back to Cowan's short paragraph on Cameron's 'Whig' betrayal, how far back to you take 'traditional Tory values'? In its long history the Conservative Party has supported homosexuality being criminal, the disenfranchisement of women and the poor, placed the interests of the land-owning few above the lives of millions starving in Ireland, and various other policies ranging from the distasteful to the detestable. Were they not once 'traditional Tory values' too?
David Cameron is very much an “Old Whig” Conservative in the tradition of Burke, rather than a “High Tory” Conservative in the tradition of Lord Salisbury. He has sought to take Conservative values into the 21st century by placing the focus on family and community, and by reforming education and welfare.
However, we have also witnessed his willingness to allow the erosion of Tory principles in order to appease the tensions of coalition politics. This is where the dividing line lies. The “Old Whigs” who wish to protect traditional values but also to accommodate with the Liberal consensus, and the “High Tories” who wish to conserve the British Nation State and a traditional way of life.
 Finally, in the final two paragraphs, we get some form of explanation paid to what the title talks about. Fascinatingly, we see that Cowan appears to simply equate 'Whig' - sorry, always 'Old Whig' for some reason, as if there were new Whigs - with liberal. Let's take a quick look at what Whig ideology actually consisted off. Wikipedia lists their core ideological tenets as: classical liberalism, constitutional monarchism, rule of law and 'radicalism' (which equates to such things as demanding freedom of the press and the universal franchise). By those standards I, along with the vast bulk of the Thatcherite wing of the party, are 'Whigs'. Given that whatever definition of Whig Cowan is using covers Burke, that group extends to the vast majority of the party. The rest are social conservatives and perhaps those with authoritarian tendencies. I doubt we have any High Tories outside the Lords.

 In summary, this is at best an inconsequential piece. What argument there is is presented backwards, as the reader encounters evidence to support points that aren't made until the end of the article. The core thesis is under-developed, with a substantial body of the article dedicated to an homage to traditional conservatism entirely beside the supposed point. Cowan frames his entire argument around the appropriation of Eighteenth Century political labels without ever taking the time to update them to a Twenty-First Century context, leaving them worthless if not flat-out inaccurate. The attempt to create a niche for the article by claiming that nobody has yet discussed the philosophical differences between liberal and traditional conservatism betrays either ignorance of the broader debate the author presumes to comment upon, or breathtaking hubris.

 If we pare this article down to its core argument, all it says is 'traditional and liberal conservatives don't get on', 'Cameron has compromised for power' and 'I am a traditional conservative'. None of the other arguments are substantiated enough to warrant inclusion in such a summary. Thus this article manages to spend eight hundred words contributing next to nothing to the debate on the future of the Conservative Party.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The May Elections Beg the Question: Were the Liberal Democrats ever viable as a concept?

 The Liberal Democrats are often compared to the German Free Democratic Party, both by party supporters and outside observers. On the face of things, it is an attractive comparison. Both are liberal third parties in systems with big, dominant parties of the left and right. Furthermore, the way the FDP operate in Germany's political system is the way that Liberal Democrats have said they want to operate for a long time: a balancing act, working to check the illiberal elements of both major parties and quite capable of cooperating with either of them in government. Indeed, this idea goes back beyond the formation of the Liberal Democrats and can be found in the rhetoric of the Alliance at the 1987 General Election, as this famous PPB demonstrates (jump to about six minutes in).

FDP logo

 However, watching the  latest travails of the Lib Dems I'm not convinced that the parallel is particularly exact. This article by ConHome, in the latter half at least, encapsulates quite nicely the role that the FDP play in German politics. It is a centrist, genuinely liberal party that stands up for social justice in right-wing governments and market-economics in left-wing ones. A contributing factor to its current woes is that it hasn't managed to persuade Chancellor Merkel to make the tax cuts, as Tim Montgomerie writes:
"Part of the reason for the decline of the FDP has been Westervelle's failure to convince Merkel to prioritise supply-side tax cuts over and above her cautious fiscal conservatism. Lower taxes had been such a defining selling point for the FDP that a failure to deliver them has hurt Westervelle's partly very badly."
This does not sound much like the Liberal Democrats to me. Set aside some of the hugely capable right-of-centre liberals amongst the leadership, and the story of the first year of coalition has been just how uncomfortable the bulk of the party, including an overwhelming majority of the grassroots membership, is when working with the Conservatives. Every Liberal and Liberal Democrat leader alive today (save the one they presently have) admits that their hearts lie with Labour, that they viewed Labour as their natural partner, and that they viewed a 'realignment of the centre left' as one of the main goals of their party. One Liberal Democrat councillor rather tellingly recounted that they were a party "largely of social liberals, led by largely economic liberals." That division is significant.

 Personally, I define as an economic and social liberal. By that I mean I'm liberal on economic issues (low taxation, strong private sector) and largely liberal on social issues (same-sex marriage, permissive society etc.). But the definition of Social Liberalism provided by the Social Liberal Forum is rather different. Their article explicitly divides the social strain of liberalism from the economic. You can't be both, and the majority of the membership are certainly the former.
 This begs the obvious question: can the Liberal Democrats operate in the 'balancing' way they claim they want to, and could they ever? I've mooted before that the two wings of the Liberal Democrats would serve their respective causes much better from within the two main parties. However, while I argued that the separate, faux-third position party was far from the most effective means by which its various components could enact their policy agendas, I did not go so far as to argue that the party might actually be an unworkable concept. Now, I'm beginning to think that may be the case.

 Since their foundation and before, all the way back to the Alliance, the Liberal Democrats have been a 'nice idea'. Good, decent, ordinary people, as uncorrupted by power as they were remote from it, who would promise you a utopian tomorrow if ever they got into power at Westminster whilst getting on with fixing your potholes or saving your library. They attracted a diverse spectrum of support and, much like a multi-faceted mirror, to some extent reflected back the political ideals and aspirations of any given supporter, allowing them to appeal to people from classical liberals to very left-wing non-authoritarian socialist types. As a protest party model, it was strong, and they managed to rebuild from six seats to nearly sixty over the course of half a century. Unlike governments, they didn't need to alienate anybody by taking actual decisions. I address this more fully in point three here.

 Government, the ultimate stress-test of any political product, has opened up some glaring weaknesses. Key to these is the fact that the party lacks a distinctive third position, and its disparate elements don't balance each other out to create one. In short, the social liberals are far too strong amongst the wider party, and this lies behind the key problems the party faces now. 

 The overwhelmingly left-wing make up of their pre-election support presents them with a problem on two fronts. The first is with the right. They can't really go into coalition with the Conservatives without alienating much of this support, not to mention a lot of existential angst amidst even the upper echelons of the party hierarchy. As a result, the Liberal Democrats look to be facing serious defeats in both England and the Celtic nations. Their party lacks the experience of being unpopular, and appears increasingly to lack the discipline to cope with this new sensation.

 If the Liberal Democrats can't cooperate with the right, then that opens up a second, even more fundamental problem: why do they exist at all? If their sole ambition is a 're-alignment of the centre left' and permanent coalition with Labour, then why not just be Labour? Is the party really nothing more than a clever left-wing branding exercise designed to win southern seats? Does it aspire simply to be a federal constituent of a united parliamentary left, in the same way that the Conservatives once sat with National Liberals and Scottish and Ulster Unionists up until the mid-sixties? As the fate of those parties has demonstrated, at the end of that road lies absorption. 

 Nick Clegg has an interesting few years ahead of him. He'll have to try to maintain the leadership and hold the party on course as the rigours of government wash away those Liberal Democrat gains that have, over the years, been built on the soft sand of permanent opposition. His challenge is not just to survive, but to demonstrate that the party is capable of behaving credibly in coalition with the Conservatives, and to ensure that it remains a place where he, Liberal Vision and other Orange Bookers can organise and effect change on the nation. If he loses, if Chris Huhne seizes his job and the party pulls out of coalition in a fit of left-wing petulance, it will discredit the Liberal Democrats not only as a party of government, but as a concept.

Orange Book.jpg
Manifesto, or memorial?

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Dilettante for Manchester Council!

 A distant dream, of course, but nevertheless I'm standing for the Conservative and Unionist Party for the ward of Chorlton Park in the Manchester City Council elections. My dissertation is due two days before polling, so I don't envision a very long campaign, but you never know.

 Pleasing as that is, there are a few things I would like to change about the way the party conducts itself vis-a-vis local candidates and elections in the future. 

 1) The below image, first seen at last years conference, has effectively become the emblem of the Conservative Party. It is far superior to the old tree logo. Please hurry up and register it so that it can appear beside our names on ballot papers across the land.

 2) The official name of our party is the Conservative and Unionist Party. Whilst the latter half of that might matter to some of us more than others, the fact remains that it is our official party name and we should be free to use it. Not having it registered to appear on the ballot outside Scotland is a disgrace.

 3) I addressed it not many posts ago when discussing the state of the Conservative youth movement, but the party really, really needs to give its members a little more leeway. When I filled in the candidacy forms I was given advice on precisely what I should and should not fill in on the ballot paper. I was not allowed to indicate how I would like to appear on the ballot (Conservative & Unionist, obviously) or even how I would prefer my forenames to appear (although I did that anyway). Maybe its just a different political culture, but the Liberal Democrats at least trusted and respected their candidates enough to let them fill out their own forms in full. I just found being a candidate a remarkably dis-empowering process.

 Still, I can't complain too much - I have now got my name on Wikipedia, at least. One thing that fascinates me is why Manchester has no Conservative presence any more, even in wealthy areas that used to return them, whereas other cities like Birmingham have seen a Conservative recovery since the Nineties. Topic for another article, perhaps.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Local Victories, National Defeats: Why does the Conservative Party fail to capitalise on local success?

 For those of you who have read my archive, you may remember a couple of pieces I wrote entitled "The Second Fronts", about the Conservative performance in Scotland and Wales. The main thrust of my argument, especially in Scotland, is that the blunt fact of Westminster defeat often masks what advances the Conservatives have actually made - in addition to highlighting a depressing disparity between our local and national electoral performances. This post is prompted largely by two things I noticed over the last couple of days: 

1) The Liberal Democrats have consistently come fourth behind the Conservatives in the Scottish elections, yet still managed to return twelve Scottish MPs to our one in the 2010 General election.

2a) Birmingham City Council has a Conservative/Liberal coalition in power yet at the 2010 election Labour managed to retain every seat, including seats like Edgbaston. In some seats the Conservatives held before the Nineties, such as Hall Green and Yardley, they now poll third or fourth (behind Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Respect).


2b) The Conservatives have closed the gap in a lot of seats. A 10.4% swing in Birmingham Erdington, a 6.6% swing in Birmingham Northfield and a 4.8% swing in Birmingham Selly Oak put the Conservatives in close contention in these seats.

 What puzzles me is why the Conservatives can't translate local gains into national gains. In Scotland the answer is perhaps readily apparent, a combination of the SNP sucking up centre-right anti-Labour votes and the fact that Conservative supporters don't believe their party can win a Westminster contest.

 But Birmingham? There isn't another centre-right party to absorb the Conservative vote. Nor is there the phenomenon you get in Manchester of Conservative supporters voting Liberal Democrat because there is practically zero chance of the Conservatives taking the seat. If the phenomenon is limited to Birmingham, it could suggest they simply have a very effective team of councillors who can outperform the national party in the minds of the electorate. The other possibility is that for some reason the national Conservative Party can't persuade people to vote it into Westminster even as they vote its local representatives into City Hall.

 One can't be hyperbolic, of course. It wouldn't have taken a much greater swing for the Conservatives to have taken Edgbaston, Erdington, Northfield and Selly Oak, in which case this article would read 'Why can't the Scottish Conservatives do what Birmingham can?' Nevertheless, I hope the party is making serious enquiries about what happened in Birmingham, because we need to start breaking back into the cities if we hope to see a healthy majority ever again.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Mancunion Article: Are Hypocrisy and Empire Really the Greatest of Sins?

 Published in The Mancunion, issue of 04/04/11.

 I’m usually a staunch supporter of foreign intervention by the west, including in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya, and I’ve debated with opponents of such actions on many occasions. While many of their arguments are cogent and considered, others – and these are often the most commonly heard – are incredibly weak. Very simply, the sadly common argument that western intervention abroad is hypocritical and imperialistic is, even if you accept its assertions at face value, incredibly deficient, and does not itself pose any serious challenge to the case for action.

 The argument is made of two main component assertions: that western foreign policy is inconsistent and therefore not ethical, and that the west has ‘imperialist’ motivations for those interventions it does undertake. I’m not asking if the west is in fact hypocritical or imperialistic, but rather, so what? Hypocrisy or imperialistic motivations are not enough to invalidate military action by themselves. 

 Let’s start with the charge of hypocrisy. Taking Iraq as our example, there are two ways that the charge of hypocrisy could be introduced. The first is to point out that America and the West backed Saddam Hussein against Iran in the Eighties, and the second is that we haven’t intervened in other countries with deplorable governments such as Zimbabwe or North Korea. There are perfectly good geopolitical and strategic answers to both these criticisms, but if you examine what must be the underlying logic behind using these arguments to try to prove the case against war, all you find are glaring deficiencies. 

 Why does the fact that we supported Saddam Hussein in the past make toppling him now morally worse than continuing to support or ignore him? If supporting one of the twentieth century’s worst regimes was wrong (as I’m sure everybody advancing this argument believes), it was because he slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people, consistently persecuted ethnic minorities, oppressed Iraq’s Shia majority and turned the country into an isolated, dystopian police state. For the hypocrisy argument to stand, one has to believe that a u-turn in western policy is somehow intrinsically more harmful than allowing this brutal dictator to remain in power – which is clearly nonsense.
 The same applies to the “but we’ve not invaded here” formulation. One of the most common examples is to point out that we’ve not overthrown Robert Mugabe, but we have overthrown Saddam Hussein, thus once again showing western hypocrisy at work. The problem is that the fact that the Iraq invasion inconsistent with other foreign policy decisions doesn’t make it wrong. 

 Bringing up the Zimbabwe/Iraq inconsistency in an argument about Iraq has three possible meanings. First, to argue that overthrowing dictators is right and that leaving Mugabe in power is wrong – clearly we’re not talking about that one. Second, that overthrowing dictators is wrong and that leaving Mugabe in power is right – the problem here being that the objection expressed isn’t to hypocrisy but to intervention under any circumstances. The third meaning – and the only one where hypocrisy is the main criticism – holds that the wrongness of being inconsistent in our treatment of dictators is so great that actual moral consideration of the consequences of dictatorship isn’t even required. When presented with two despicable governments, it is better to overthrow neither than one, because there is no greater sin than inconsistency. Why is it better to allow two horrific regimes than stop one? I’ve never got a decent answer. This is the logic behind trying to use ‘western hypocrisy’ to win an argument on the rightness of any given war, and I hope you can see it’s insane.

 The Iraq/Zimbabwe comparison also often leads to the second great shibboleth of many opponents of war – the assertion that western involvement in country X is ‘imperialist’ and thus, apparently, wrong. This argument suffers from the same problem that the hypocrisy argument does: even if you accept the assertion that a western action is ‘imperialist’, without analysis as to why an imperialist action is worse than ethnic cleansing, genocide or repression it isn’t actually an argument against war at all. If we ascribe to America the very worst of motives and claim it went into Iraq for the oil, if this brings about an improvement in the lives of Iraqi people why is it worse than leaving Saddam Hussein to oppress and butcher his people in peace? Why is a liberal empire worse than a system of oppressive nation states?

 Using ‘imperialism’ as an argument is not the same as arguing, as some do, that Saddam’s Iraq wasn’t all that bad or that the botched occupation has only made things worse. To oppose war on the grounds of imperialism is to posit that even if a war fought for imperialist reasons deposes an awful government and improves the lives of the residents of the target country, the imperialist motivations equate to a greater harm than the continued rule of the dictator. Once again, it begs the question “why?”

 I get the impression that many who make it have a lurking, perhaps subconscious understanding that the ‘imperialism’ argument is seriously deficient, as it often comes hand in hand with large dose of cultural relativism. This has the astonishing effect of transforming what I consider to be the benefits of intervention – the opportunity to hold elections, educate women, enjoy freedom of speech and association and various other things we in the west consider fundamentally important – into imperialist harms. Universal human rights become the tools of western hegemonic attack on the cultures of the people we impose them on, while dictators and oppressive systems are sanctified by supposed tradition and removing them becomes an attack on the very people they oppress. 

 Quite why government brutality, sexism, homophobia and theocracy are dismissed as inviolable elements of foreign cultures by many of the same people who strive diligently to expunge them from our own is a mystery to me. So is the reason why, if liberal democracy is a product of imperialism, that fact apparently makes democracy worse rather than imperialism better. The fact that the west is inconsistent or self-interested doesn’t make intervention in Libya, Iraq or anywhere else automatically wrong. 

 The decision to go to war is a serious one and must always be properly debated and considered. There are many good reasons from all manner of viewpoints to oppose foreign intervention and conflict: the human cost, the risk of overstretch, national self-interest, national sovereignty et al. Genuine opponents of war owe it to themselves to use good arguments to try to bring round pro-war people to their point of view. So next time we’re thinking of intervening in a foreign country, please don’t waste time telling me that it’s imperialist or hypocritical. Tell me instead why it’s wrong.