Archives for posts with tag: politics

This is the fourth part of my overview of QED 2016. To see the previous entries, please check out Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

The March of Unreason

Taking a break from the formal talks (and I am sorry I could not see Paul Zenon), I went to a panel discussion discussing the forthcoming British exit from the EU and the “post factual” age we are now apparently in.

img_0232

The discussion featured NHS Campaigner Emma Runswick,  journalist Hugo Dixon, Max Goldman from Sense About Science, broadcaster Michael Blastland and law professor Michael Dougan. The panel was chaired by Geoff Whelan of Manchester Skeptics.

“A lie can run around the world before the truth has a chance to get its boot on.”

Emma observed that on complex political issues people tend to follow the advice of friends over experts.

People are more likely to trust their friends over experts, because they think that experts don’t have their interests at heart.

Michael Dougan broke the Brexit lies down into four parts –

  1. Telling lies about the here and now: According to the media now, the referendum was won by the working class of northern England. This is not true. The southern English middle class vote was by far the most important.
  2. Fantasies about the future: Boris Johnson is still being dishonest about “special deals” that Britain will get upon exit.
  3. Rubbishing anybody who disagrees. The message being put out at the moment is that anyone who disagrees is anti democratic.
  4. Debasement of parliamentary democracy. A referendum only used when you can’t get what you want in parliament.

Max observed that fact-checking was relatively new to UK politics.

Are we in a “post truth society”?

img_0233

Hugo Dixon made the point that demagoguery was a direct result of the financial crisis. When politicians don’t seem to be up to the job, voters start looking elsewhere.

In the land of the liars, the authentic liar is king.

Michael Dougan expressed a concern that once people find a way to get their views accepted in the mainstream, it’s only a matter of time before they seek a new target. What next? Global warming? Women’s rights?

Michael Blastland felt that a lot of the post factual talk was a direct result of scandals within the expert community.

There is nothing so damaging to the domain of evidence than the preacher who sins.

 

The conversation could easily have gone on for a few more hours. It was a packed room and at one stage, about thirty hands went up when the moderator asked for question from the floor. As was clearly evident from the panel discussion, Brexit is causing considerable anxiety to skeptics, scientists and rationalists in Britain and everywhere. This story has a long way to run yet.

Last piece coming up.

Voters in most countries elect politicians to work in the national interest. This means taking strategic decisions that advance the cause of that country, whether that be economically, politically, culturally, scientifically, you name it. Politicians, and particularly senior politicians, are put there to make the right moves; not necessarily the popular ones.

And then we have Brexit. A constitutional referendum in July returned a wish by a majority of voters in England and Wales (but not in Scotland or Northern Ireland) for the entire UK (including Scotland and Northern Ireland) to leave the European Union. The Tory Party in the UK, currently in government, has promised to make good on this wish and is threatening to pull the rip cord in 2017.

I ask myself how any of the following predictions are really in the UK’s national interest:

  • Scotland’s departure from the UK. The Scottish National Party are the largest political party in Scotland. They have already tried once to break their links with the UK. Under Brexit they would almost definitely do it again. And they would almost definitely win this time.
  • UK banks fear that they may lose “passporting” or ability to trade freely with the EU.
  • The CBI in the UK are reporting a significant year on year drop in sales in September.
  • London may lose its top spot in banking to other cities, including Singapore, New York and Zurich.
  • A European army might come into existence following a UK exit from the EU, contrary to British wishes.
  • Dramatic fee increases are on the cards for British university students as research funding becomes uncertain.
  • A consensus is forming that a hard Brexit would knock off 9 billion pounds in value from investment banking and capital markets.
  • New border posts could be required in Ireland, threatening a hard won peace. 

These are just a smattering of headlines from the last few weeks.

Flight of capital, brain drains, breakup of the UK, decline of strategically important industries, trade tariffs reimposed, worsened security situation: that’s one hell of a price to pay for restricting the number of Polish and Romanian migrants to England and Wales and putting one over on Johnny Foreigner.

If this is working in the national strategic interests of the UK, then I’m a Dutchman.

Goede Nacht.

I’m not so worried about Donald Trump becoming the next president of the United States. 

Back in 2012, Barack Obama’s campaign was not in good shape. Obama had just presided over four of the toughest years in America since the Great Depression. Unemployment was high. Morale was low. Obama could not call on the magnificent rhetoric that brought him to victory in 2008. He had a record of tenure now, and the indications were not good.

The Republican Party, sensing blood, organised a well resourced campaign to throw him out of power. Their candidate, Mitt Romney, was a fair choice, as he had a better chance of appealing to swing state voters than anyone else on the ticket. The Republicans threw everything at Obama. They fueled their core voters. They tried every trick in the book to dissuade potential democrat voters from turning out. They sent millions on clever attack ads. It was a masterpiece of campaigning and it failed. Obama regained the presidency by a comfortable margin.

In the aftermath, it was clear what lost the Republicans the presidency: demographics. The Republican core vote, appealing to white, self-employed, evangelical, rural and libertarian voters, was no longer enough to win, compared to what was now a majority of minority groups. The Democrats, with their particular appeal to urban, multi-ethnic and well educated voters, had the numbers. Republican Party strategists sensed this. They talked about making their message more appealing to a wider cross section of American society. 

None of this happened. Instead, they got Trump.

Donald Trump is the most divisive candidate America has seen in the last 50 years. His only real achievement, since starting his campaign, has been to crystallize a large segment of the Republican base into a red-hot mother lode of fury. He has alienated, not just the target Democratic constituency, but many Republican and evangelical voters, to the point that many of them may well stay home on election day.

Meanwhile, the demographics continue their glacial shift away from the Republican worldview. Bad and all though the numbers were in 2012, it’s worse for them now. They have done nothing to reverse the decline, in fact the opposite is the case. Despite Hillary Clinton’s apparent weaknesses as the Democratic candidate, she has not alienated potential voters in quite the same way and she has given waverers little reason to vote Trump.

It’s hard to see it any other way: the Republican Party are going to lose on an epic scale this year. A Democratic House, Senate and Presidency? It’s on the cards.

Dear Britain,

Last week, you were asked the question if you wanted In or Out of the European Union. You voted Out.

Since then, the Pound has crashed, shares have plummeted, you lost your credit rating, Scotland has threatened independence, both major political parties are in turmoil, companies are threatening to pull out, other companies are putting investments on hold. A full blown recession is on its way.
European citizens have been threatened on the streets. Racists chant their slogans, write graffiti, leave notes and fly their flags. People are terrified.
A fragile peace in Ireland could fall apart. The UK – a Union more intermingled and intermeshed than anyone can possibly imagine, might fall apart. History has shown that such breakups are fraught with pain, injury and death.
The campaign leaders for Leave lied through their teeth. They promised none of this would happen. They were wrong. They laughed at those who urged caution. They were wrong. They admitted they had no plan beyond the referendum. This is incredible.
So here’s what you need to do. Ignore it. Drop it. Put it on ice. Kill it. Do not sign Article 50.
This was a non-binding referendum. Your people spoke, but the answer they gave threatened the very stability they wished for. In fact it did the exact opposite. It’s clear now, to anyone with half a brain, that an exit, without a properly worked out plan, would be suicide. You don’t need to go this way.
This will cause deep, deep upset, but it’s the right thing to do. Given what’s happened, I’ll bet more than a million people have since changed their mind, so a majority will breathe a huge sigh of relief if it were to happen (or not to happen, to be more precise).
Some voters may be driven to the extremes, to UKIP and the National Front; many politicians might soon lose their seats: but if there’s proper leadership and a proper explanation, this might be surmountable. Bring your best leaders to bear on this issue. Work to heal the wounds. Your politics will no doubt be colourful over the coming years, but it’s better the fights take place in parliament than on the dole queues or at the barricades.
Referendums may die as a useful political tool for a generation, but what of it? They often get side-tracked into peripheral issues anyway. Most ordinary people are not politicians: that’s why we have a parliament in the first place. Let them do the hard work of thinking and debating in the national interest. That’s what they’re paid to do.
You asked the question and you got an answer you didn’t want. In other words, you blew it. You demonstrated to the world that mistakes can happen at the highest levels, involving millions of people. So what? Eating humble pie, no matter how unpalatable, is far preferable than knowingly walking into disaster.

You might not want us, but lots of us want you. We need you. Come back from the brink. Please.

Yesterday, English nationalists won a victory in the UK. They voted to leave the EU, to kick the immigrants out of their country, to sacrifice UK cohesion, economic health and a hard won peace to achieve what they call “independence”. They voted to keep the pound and to burn up long-standing agreements with their neighbours. They voted to throw social protections into the bin, to smoke indoors and to revive steak-and-kidney pie as the national meal. If they want to call people of a different appearance by their traditional nicknames, they expect they’ll be able to do that too.

One of the major worries now is that other countries will take heart and follow suit. Nationalist movements in the Netherlands, Poland, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary and across Europe will be emboldened by this. The re-emergence of a fractured, hateful Europe raises its head, should politicians take their collective eyes off their ball.

People have asserted that this harks back to the 1930s and the rise of a new kind of fascism. But let’s pause. There is a big difference. The revolutionaries are not in the prime of their youth. It is a revolution of the elderly. A counter-revolution populated by people who are, themselves, on the way out. True, old people will be replaced by more old people, but the values sustaining them will not be as strongly felt as they are right now. To borrow a quote from Max Planck, societal change, as with science, advances one funeral at a time.

We see signs of this counter-revolution everywhere. Poland, Hungary, Russia, Turkey, the United States and now England, as elderly authoritarians attempt to roll back the clock against the steady march of liberal values. 

Equal rights, equal access and opportunities for women, LGBT people, brown people, black people, foreign people, Muslim people, non-believers, people with physical and mental issues, people with intellectual disabilities, children, traveling people, poor people, the marginalised. Food standards, health standards and living standards for all, not just the privileged few. It’s not just about people: clean water, waste reduction, carbon neutral living; sanctions against polluters and those who would be cruel to animals. This has caused great upset to some people. As change becomes becomes more evident, their annoyance only deepens.

So they fight back. They organise. They campaign. They vote. Donald Trump’s rise as a serious political force in the US is a sign of this. So too is Brexit.

But we also must remember that backlashes often create backlashes of their own; particularly if they are sudden and powerful, like what happened yesterday. With hard work from those of us who believe in progress, they will find implementing their wishes monstrously difficult. They will encounter problems and roadblocks at every opportunity. They will me made to look foolish, craven and incompetent at every turn. Theirs will be a record of failure, allowing people of goodwill a chance to make genuine change when their opportunity comes along. We might yet look back on these times and reflect, not on the breakers, but on the efforts of those who repaired what was broken.

Brexit is a setback. An enormous one. But let’s not forget that it’s happened because the march of progress has been overwhelmingly in the direction of liberal values. Those who oppose this are organised, but they are not, in the main, young. They may have their day in the sun, laughing at foreigners and trumpeting their national values, but the road is much longer than them. If we fight back, our values will win in the end. 

With the rise and rise of Donald Trump (and his pal Cruz) in some parts of the US, it seems that an amnesia has settled over conservative America about what conservatism means. 

Conservatives prefer the old order, the existing order of things. They want to conserve this, thus the meaning of the word. It implies that the current situation has value, whether that be law and order, economic order, education, healthcare, administration, whatever. Progressive moves to change these things are seen as dangerously experimental. This is not such a silly thing: look before you leap, etc. Boiled down, it’s an avoidance of unnecessary risk, lest it create more problems than it solves. I sometimes think that if the existing order were more secular, more tolerant of diversity and more evidence-based, I might tend towards conservatism myself.

Trump and Cruz, the darlings of the non-establishment right, are dangerously radical. They are not about maintaining an old order, unless that order is some sort of mythic 1950s amalgam that never existed. Trying to turn the clock back 60 years, in a networked age of global trade, greater equality, fluid labor and international competition, is not something you can just push back in a box. It is not conservatism. Bringing back white male dominance, fanning discord, creating barriers and fomenting war, is not conservatism. Setting aside the US Constitution, to do to their enemies what they badly want to do, is not conservatism. Pushing the poor to extremes is not conservatism, lest you wish to hark back to middle ages feudalism.

Meanwhile, the hated Democrats have stolen the middle ground. Obama, with his focus on improving the economy, better international cooperation and sensible changes to a broken healthcare system, made few great risks during his presidency. He was no radical progressive. History might see him as a conservative politician in the true sense of the word. I expect that Hillary Clinton might appeal to conservatives in much the same way. If you are risk averse and you have to select someone to lead your country into the next decade, who are you going to vote for? Donald Trump? Ted Cruz? Seriously?

A few days ago, during the General Election, I tweeted this:

It got a lot of retweets because the politicians I mentioned represent the extreme cases of those who are less interested in national politics than they are about pandering to the needs of their own local community. They are caricatures, easily lampooned and despised. To them, it’s all about Kerry and Tipperary, and the rest of the country can take a running jump.

But, honestly, I’m somewhat conflicted about all this. While I despise the gombeen image, I think the local nature of politics in this country serves us very well.

It’s important, I think, that we know the people we are voting for. If someone is effective on a local level, then we get to see through the slogans. We get an insight into the people themselves. We derive something about their character. The voting process can winnow the best of these from the less able. In the main, good people are sent to Leinster House.

Another thing to celebrate is that our political process is rooted in the life and history of our country.  We are never more than 10 feet away from a local politician here. This helps to mitigate the sense of disenfranchisement so keenly felt across the Western world. In Knocknaheeney, a deprived suburb of Cork I drive through almost every day, there was a palpable sense of energy in the run-up to the election. The next Dáil will contain many people who will represent the voices of the deprived, and this is a good thing.

The system can result in narrow-minded councillors topping the polls, but what’s amazing is that, more often than not, it delivers quite good people too. Michael Lowry, Mattie McGrath and the Healy-Raes represent the extreme of our local system, but that doesn’t mean that the system in general is dreadfully wrong. It might actually be the best thing to come from 1916 – something that makes us who we are: democrats by instinct and nature.

Even though the next government is still uncertain, I am quite optimistic about the outcome. Ireland is not built for grand overthrows but evolutionary change is quite possible. Our local system of politics, with its abundant compromises and contact with the struggles of real people, makes such change possible.

 

The latest verbal outrage by Donald Trump has everyone talking again. Every day his rhetoric gets worse. Every day, he stokes the fires of racist and sectarian hatred, all in a frantic bid to become the world’s most powerful man. By appealing to the most regressive and darkest mindsets in American life, it is inevitable that his statements will result in innocent people being injured and killed.

I do not believe he has any chance of becoming the next President of America, even if there were to be a major event between now and the election. He has alienated too many people. Liberal, minority and moderate voters can’t stand him. I reckon that a sizeable number of Republicans would, if push came to shove, vote Democrat even if they would only do it with their noses pinched. Trump is promoting values that have nothing to do with America and nothing to do with how it achieved greatness. Throughout its history, people came to America because it was a free and fair country, not a fascist dictatorship. Americans fought world wars and spilled blood against fascism. American history and the history of America’s place in the world, is the strongest guarantor that Trump’s bid will go nowhere.

Even if Trump, by improbable good fortune, did become the next US President, it’s hard to see how he could have any success at all. In his zeal to enact his policies, he would start battles that would render effective government impossible. Since his greatest enemy, at times, appears to be the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights – he can expect fulsome and ferocious opposition at every turn; not just from politicians but from the many thousands of people – police, soldiers, doctors, officials and ordinary citizens – through whom he would expect his edicts to be enacted. They would find ways, overt and covert, to thwart his policies. Unless he was determined to turn the country into an autocratic police state (even more improbable), his presidency would be an utter shambles. I doubt if he would even make the full four year term.

If Trump has created a legacy, it is to revive a tradition of bigotry and hatred, mainly among the entitled cadre of white, elderly elitists who have seen their country become more diverse, more tolerant, more secular and more globally integrated, despite all their efforts to the contrary. My worry is, that as their numbers and influence wane ever further, we can expect greater extremism and violence from these quarters. They will not go quietly.

Despite this, I am optimistic about America. I think the chances are good that the moderates will win out. The recent success of progressive laws, such as same-sex marriage, is an indication that the forces of deep conservatism are on the retreat. I think a tipping point is near, if it has not already passed. What we are witnessing with Trump is the rattle of a mortally wounded snake – ugly, venomous and vicious. but doomed nonetheless.

I had a brief chat with my son this evening. He told me that there was some kind of initiative going on where kids were going to learn politics as part of their final year exams. At first I thought it was a dumb idea. Surely, kids could learn about that by picking up a newspaper or watching the news on TV?

But when I thought about it some more, I changed my mind. And it’s not just because of the obvious question: I mean, what kid reads newspapers or watches TV news these days?

Here’s the real problem: our generation and the generation before us have made a complete balls of looking after the world. We have all these really serious issues, like climate change, poverty, inequality, radicalisation, racism, sexism, terrorism, access to medicines and drinking water, overuse of antibiotics, biodiversity decline and ocean acidification, to name but a few. Huge problems. And who have we chosen to solve these problems for us? In the main, a bunch of space cadets.

Our generations, when given a chance, have blown it, choosing instead to elect populist dickheads again and again and again and yet again. Instead of electing someone who might know a thing or two about managing complex problems, we’ve gone repeatedly for the political equivalent of the drug pusher. Yeah man, Pop this Pill and All your Worries will be Gone. The Problem is Not You; It’s Them.

I despair for the future if our kids grow up with no interest in politics, because we’ve left their generation in the invidious position of having to clean up after us. They are the ones who’ll be left with no fish in the seas. They are the people who’ll need to deal with all the carbon dioxide in the air and the oceans. They are the ones who will need to tackle youth unemployment and unrest and desperate social inequality. And all because the incompetents we elected did precisely nothing about it when they had the chance to. In fact, they did worse than nothing: they made these bad situations even more abysmal than they were.

If the next generation grow up in our footsteps, apathetic about the world they live in, they won’t even have the language to tackle the problems we’ve left them with. Instead, if they vote at all, they’ll be left voting for blowhards in the footsteps of Berlusconi and Trump, only because nobody in their right minds would enter politics in a fit. Imagine this: George W Bush is now considered by many commentators to be a moderate. A moderate. My god.

I have one caveat about giving the next generation a sense of political awareness. If they ever realise what our lot did on our watch, they’ll immediately have us all locked up. But then again, it’s nothing more than we deserve.

Minister James Reilly must face a panel of 4 doctors and two psychologists if he wishes to keep his job, a government source revealed today.

“I really want to keep my job”, Reilly was quoted as saying, “but the doctors and psychologists think I’m a danger to civil life, and they are suggesting I abort my well paid government position as soon as I possibly can”. According to draft legislation, Reilly can appeal to a further panel of doctors and psychologists, but he faces stiff opposition. “We expect this legislation to go full-term, but not if it emerges out of an asshole”, commented one doctor, who wished to remain unnamed.

Since he became minister in 2011, his political life, rather than the health of his citizens, has been foremost in his mind. Now an expert panel will rule over whether his right to choose trumps the choices of everyone else, or whether this latest act, in a long sequence of mishaps, is political suicide.

A source close to the situation believes a termination is the only possible course of action in this instance. “Ideally it might lead to resignations on demand, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.”

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: