Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

Both left and right seek a moral purity that is illusive and destructive

25/04/2016, 10:17:07 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“Football, and the Premier League’s integrity, needs Leicester to win the title,” writes Louise Taylor in the Guardian. If, therefore, you want anyone other than Leicester to win the league, you want a football sans integrity. Spurs fans must be morally debased to want their club to win the league.

Similarly, in a wonderfully detailed critique of Bernie Sanders, Robin Alperstein notes that his rhetoric seeks to convince that, “anyone who supports her (Hillary Clinton) is part of the problem. And then it becomes an act of immorality to vote for her, and a symbol of one’s own moral purity, indeed a rejection of corruption itself, to vote for Sanders”.

As Spurs fans, according to Taylor, cannot in good conscience want their club to win the league, it takes a special depravity, Sanders implies, to vote Clinton. This is tiresome and corrosive.

It has been argued that the indiscretions of Jamie Vardy make Leicester City less virtuous than other Premier League Clubs. I wouldn’t go that far. All clubs, like all collections of human beings, contain good and bad eggs. And the good eggs aren’t always good. Nor are the bad eggs always bad.

The Taylor contention, of course, is the opposite: that Leicester are more virtuous. Given the association between Vardy and racism, it is tempting to see this as the Guardian looking past this scourge. You’d think a left-wing paper would be vigilant to racism. But the paper’s readers’ editor acknowledged in 2011 that they needed to be “more vigilant” to language that might be construed as anti-Semitic.

The lines between criticism of Israeli policy and anti-Semitism feel ever more sharply contested. The Palestinian plight is undeniable. Sympathy for them, however, can lead to attacks on Israel that go beyond the legitimate and into the anti-Semitic. As support for Sanders can be built on an unjustified equivalence between Clinton and immorality. Or desire for Leicester to win the Premier League can rest atop dubious claims about their unsurpassed integrity.

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John McDonnell and George Osborne: Two faces of Gordon Brown

19/04/2016, 10:56:55 AM

by Jonathan Todd

John McDonnell is bringing to mind the Gordon Brown of the 1992 parliament, while George Osborne is coming to appear the Brown of the 2005 parliament. Where Brown had neo-endogenous growth theory, McDonnell has an entrepreneurial state; both have public investment at their core. Where the later Brown had 10p tax, Osborne has tax credits; too clever by half missteps by Stalins transfiguring into Mr Beans.

“Business investment is falling,” McDonnell noted in a speech last month. “Exports are falling. The productivity gap between Britain and the rest of the G7 is the widest it has been for a generation. Without productivity growth, we cannot hope, over the long term, to improve living standards for most people.”

It is a powerful critique, grounded not in the overthrow of capitalism but in making it work more efficiently. Notwithstanding their divergent accents, you can close your eyes and imagine Brown, as shadow chancellor, castigating the Major government. Or more recently, Ed Balls attacking the Cameron administration.

The fiscal rule that McDonnell espoused in his speech might be interpreted as a crisper version of that which Balls took Labour into the last election with. The practical consequences of the McDonnell and Balls fiscal rules may be little different but McDonnell more explicitly backs capital spending.

“We believe,” McDonnell declared, “that governments should not need to borrow to fund their day-to-day spending.” This hawkish position on current spending contrasts with a more dovish approach to capital spending. “Alongside this, we recognise the need for investment which raises the growth rate of our economy by increasing productivity as well as stimulating demand in the short term.”

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Labour in the second machine age

31/03/2016, 05:11:21 PM

by Jonathan Todd

I’ve admired Thomas Paine throughout my adult life. But I didn’t expect to find a discussion of his ideas towards the end of a book subtitled “work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies”, The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

In the second machine age, the world that digital technologies are creating around us, as steam enabled the first industrial revolution, “we need to think much more deeply about what it is we really want and what we value, both as individuals and as a society,” Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue, which is why reflections on Paine and other philosophers are brought into the book’s concluding section.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee are to be congratulated for bringing these debates out of the reflective corners of Silcon Valley and Tech City, and to a wider audience. But public and political debate should be more urgent. Labour has been guilty of not contributing as fully as we might.

While debate among economists has raged for two decades as to whether globalisation or technological change does most to explain widening inequality in advanced democracies, Labour has tended to put more rhetorical and policy emphasis on adapting to globalisation. Research reproduced in a new Policy Network book (see Figure 1, page 8) makes clear that economists see technology, rather than globalisation, as the bigger driver of inequality.

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Sex, fear and social media

21/03/2016, 04:45:34 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“I’m afraid I’m pretty much a flaming ball of hurt and anger at the moment.”

“Maybe you should stop reading tweets.”

That exchange comes from Purity, Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel. It a dirge, according to some reviews. But Uncut found it a fast paced engagement with eternal themes of longing and friendship in contemporary contexts of coffee shops and social media.

The “experts” are wrong about Purity, as they have been about Donald Trump, who was never meant to get this far.

Many Trump supporters are also flaming balls of hurt and anger. Made more so by time spent on Twitter. As Trump understands and exacerbates.

“This is a pattern,” observed Marco Rubio, before he crashed out of the Republican race, “this is the game he plays. He says something that’s edgy and outrageous, and then the media flocks and covers that and then no one else can get any coverage of anything else.”

There is finite media oxygen and Trump’s aggressive, social media driven campaign has starved Republican opponents of it. Nonetheless, if Trump fails to win a majority, he will be at the mercy of party procedure at the Republican convention. Which would be, in the vernacular of Twitter, a real #getspopcorn moment.

Uncut is unpersuaded, however, that there is enough popcorn in the world to stop Trump getting over the line as the Republican candidate. The likes of Eisenhower and Lincoln previously emerged as Republican candidates after contested conventions. But the power of backroom deals must be more limited in less deferential, more connected times.

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Labour should see the bigger picture on the UK in the EU

22/02/2016, 10:27:58 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“In 1941 there were only a dozen democracies in the world. Today there are over a hundred. For four centuries prior to 1950, global gross domestic product (GDP) rose by less than 1 percent a year. Since 1950 it has risen by an average of 4 percent a year, and billions of people have been lifted out of poverty. The first half of the twentieth century saw two of the most destructive wars in the history of mankind, and in prior centuries war among the great powers was almost constant. But for the past sixty years no great powers have gone to war with one another.”

These, according to Robert Kagan, in a book published at about the same time as Obama’s second term began, with the clear intension of dissuading the president from stepping back from global leadership, are American fruits. Since then, Kim Jong-un and Putin, Syria and the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, have brought into question America’s global reach. Nonetheless, Obama has held the international institutions that have held sway throughout much of the period venerated by Kagan – EU, NATO, IMF, UN, World Bank – in as much reverence as any modern US president.

We have our discontents with globalisation (and these are justified, notwithstanding its gains, which, in Kagan’s historic sweep, are considerable, even unprecedented). We have our grumbles with Obama (but it is hard not to feel that he has made a sincere attempt to recalibrate American strategy and recraft international institutions for ongoing transition to a more multipolar world). None of these discontents and grumbles, however, justify a retreat to nineteenth century statecraft.

John Kerry bemoans Putin playing by “19th century rules”, while Thomas Wright has chronicled Donald Trump’s “19th century foreign policy”. Trump – like Nigel Farage and George Galloway – holds Putin in high regard. The feeling is mutual. The Russian leader has said of Trump that he is a, “really brilliant and talented person”.

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We are locked in a Dad’s Army politics of the left and right

02/02/2016, 02:44:44 PM

by Jonathan Todd

As Europe faces its biggest refugee crisis since World War II, our prime minister tours the continent talking tax credits. The puniness of David Cameron next to the magnitude of events, the narrow, inward focus of his preoccupations, means that if he were a film he’d be a Dad’s Army remake.

Why, Peter Bradshaw not unreasonably asks in his Guardian review, do we need this film?

The answer, Uncut suspects, is involved with an observation previously made by Bradshaw’s Guardian colleague, Jonathan Freedland: “We have turned 1939-45 into a kind of creation myth, the noble story of modern Britain’s birth”. Basking in this myth is preferable to the grim reality of Europe’s shared contemporary challenges.

During World War II, Freedland argues, “we were unambiguously on the side of good. That, of course, is a key difference between us and our fellow Europeans, for whom that period is anything but simple or unambiguous.” The war has inculcated a sense of Britain, separate and special. This is reinforced as consistently on the printed pages of the Daily Mail as the Kardashians feature in its digital edition, wildly popular in the US. Soft porn celebrity, soft porn history.

While it is to be hoped that no one invested in Dad’s Army anticipating box office on the continent, some jokes amid the myth do little harm. It is our myth, our humour, our film. Let’s not expect it to pack Berlin cinemas.

Entertainment is one thing; politics is another. Politics ought to be more than myth peddling. But that is what Cameron provides when he claims that tax credit collection by citizens of other EU countries in the UK is the big issue now facing us and the rest of the Europe.

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Who’d want to be “the next Labour leader”?

25/01/2016, 12:26:31 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“You have to be ready for anything,” Dan Jarvis told the BBC when they recently asked about his Labour leadership ambitions. “Owen Smith: I am interested in being Labour leader,” reads a New Statesman headline from earlier this month. This appeared not long after Jess Phillips had been the subject of similar in the Spectator. Stephen Kinnock and Michael Dugher have also been touted as future leaders.

That foraging in the undergrowth is the cut and thrust of competition to be trademarked “the next leader of the Labour party”. Andy Burnham was sufficiently deemed so to enter the 2010 leadership election as favourite, while Chuka Umunna once had the strongest claim on this title among the 2010 intake. Those comprehensively beaten by Jeremy Corbyn (Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, as well as Burnham) may struggle to again accumulate the political capital necessary to mount viable leadership campaigns, while Umunna has slipped behind the likes of Jarvis et al in “the next leader” stakes.

The experiences of Burnham and Umunna ought to be salutatory to those now seeking to be “the next leader”. “The next leader” is rarely the next leader. Gordon Brown in 1994, for example, was “the next leader”; Tony Blair was then the next leader. Given that Labour is unlikely to recover in 2020 the 59 parliamentary seats lost in Scotland in 2015, and the boundary review will probably cost Labour a further 20 seats, a new leader before 2020 seems a much worse bet than Blair in 1994 to be the next Labour prime minister.

All the more reason to not want to now be “the next Labour leader,” right?

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The Progressive Dilemma remains – only sharpened

07/01/2016, 06:43:58 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The reshuffle has done little to dampen perceptions that Jeremy Corbyn is the most left-wing, pacifist and unbending Labour leader ever. Keir Hardie and George Lansbury might compete. Corbyn, nonetheless, is still the most preeminent such leader since Clement Attlee succeeded Lansbury in 1935.

In this sense, the dilemmas posed by the Corbyn leadership feel uncharted. They portend, however, only a deepening of the British left’s core dilemma.

Throughout the period since Labour overhauled the Liberals as part of the duopoly of UK politics, as David Marquand wrote in the second edition of The Progressive Dilemma (1999), “apart from a brief period in the early 1980s, Labour was strong enough to prevent anyone else offering a serious challenge to the Conservatives, but too weak to make its own challenge effective.”

For all the reshuffle’s sound and fury, this position remains, only painfully deepened. Recent analysis by Glen O’Hara and Adam Boulton suggests that Labour remains too feeble to overhaul the Conservatives, while being too electorally entrenched for anyone else to.

Having waded through the evidence on polling and electoral performance, O’Hara concludes at the Staggers that, “the Party is dicing with a double-digit defeat at the 2020 general election.” Equally, however, as Boulton warns (£) in the Sunday Times, “Labour’s core vote is a lot for Corbyn’s internal opponents to walk away from, as some Bravehearts would like, and to form a new party”.

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Centrists need new ideas and purpose, not a new party

15/12/2015, 11:40:32 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Phil Collins comments in the Times on speculation within Labour of an SDP type breakaway. Those favouring this move believe that, “the volatility of politics makes 2016 a more propitious moment for novelty than 1981.” Collins, who remains a Labour member, is unconvinced. “The only reason to stay (in Labour),” he wrote a few weeks earlier, “is that it (the Corbyn leadership) can’t last.”

“Corbynism for a decade?” asks Stephen Bush in the New Statesman. “It no longer sounds ridiculous”. In the sense that it was until very recently a widely unanticipated outcome, which would leave many, not least the likes of Collins, distraught, it still sounds pretty ridiculous. But what Bush means is clear.

“Many more than the 66 (Labour) MPs who did vote for airstrikes were convinced on the case for extending British bombing against Isis from Iraq into Syria,” reports Bush, “but pulled back due to pressure from their constituency parties”. CLPs, which MPs need to support them if they are to remain so, are increasingly under the grip of Corbynism.

If MPs are prepared to place political self-preservation before voting with their consciences on Isis, there’s probably nothing – no indignity, daftness, or nastiness – that they wouldn’t endure to extend their political careers. If in the dark nights of their souls, they affirm that this makes them happy, we can only wonder about their souls.

They might read how Tom Harris is happier as an ex-MP than he was as an MP. And Harris got out before Corbyn began. You get the sense that he doesn’t envy Ian Murray, Labour’s only Scottish MP.

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The renaissance of the Livingstone tendency

30/11/2015, 09:25:22 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“There are people within the PLP who have never accepted the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn,” claimed Clive Lewis on Today on Saturday morning, in the context of a debate on Syria. This hints at the charge that Diane Abbott has previously made: Labour MPs want to bomb Syria to harm Corbyn. It takes a particular cynicism to suggest that MPs would put political advantage before matters of life and death.

It is precisely because the decision to go to war is so consequential that elected representatives cannot be bound by mere partisan calculation. MPs need to be able to look constituents in the eye and tell them that they acted as they thought necessary to keep them safe. They cannot – and, pace Abbott, do not – let how they feel about a party leader, or a whip, stand between them and doing so.

Ministers similarly need to be able to look people in the eye. They must be prepared to defend military intervention undertaken or not undertaken by the governments of which they are a part. The shared position of ministers forms the line of the party in government and all parties that wish to be taken seriously as parties of government require such common positions.

If ministers or shadow ministers cannot support these positions, they should resign from the frontbench. If backbench MPs cannot support whips consistent with these positions, they should not so vote. Whether the grandest prime ministers or the most humble backbenchers, all act in accord with their interpretation of the national interest.

We might – though it strains practical limits – live in a direct democracy, where military decisions are determined by popular referendum. We might – though it is also impractical in a world of classified military intelligence and rapidly emerging security threats – have a have a parliament of delegates, who vote as mandated by local electors or party members. Neither, however, are this country.

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