Friday, 18 August 2017

Who would want to be in the centre party?

Hugo Rifkind makes a similar point to the one in a Vice article I linked to before, i.e. that the potential new centrist/anti-Brexit party is an endeavour motivated by a feeling that all is basically right with Britain at the moment, or that this is as good as it gets, or at least better-the-Devil you know. That is to say, it is an inherently conservative project. For reasons I explore below, I think that will doom it.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Three links with brief comments

1. Things to hang on your mental mug tree. Rory Sutherland and therefore recommended. His comment about architecture reminded me of an observation from Roger Scruton to the effect that the main consumers of architecture are the people on the outside of the building rather than the inside. It's not surprising that the owners of buildings are not prepared to pay much for the architecture. But he has a lot more to say, all worth thinking about.

2. This, from Megan McArdle, makes several good points about That Google Memo. Here's one: "A "natural" split of, say, 65-35 could evolve into a much more lopsided environment that feels downright unfriendly to a lot of women." Here's where the danger is. If the majority of people in a given profession consider (rightly or wrongly) that it is natural that one gender predominates then it's easy for them to create a culture that is ready to welcome people from that gender and harder to welcome the other. I suspect that doctors and lawyers, after a difficult initial period, just realised that there was no 'natural' reason for men to predominate. But think of those rooms in One Born Every Minute where the midwifes hang out drinking tea and eating chocolates in between delivering babies. Everyone there is going to be thinking (even if only subconsciously) that it is entirely natural that it is a female-dominated space. They are probably right about that too. But it could end up putting off a few good men from helping there too.

3. This distinctly dull article about abortion has one point to make (sometimes people talk about the foetus as separate from the mother, sometimes not, and they are not necessarily consistent about this as they pick and choose depending on the point they are making). Your average sixth former has thought about all this already. But this work has - bizarrely - "received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme". I'd like to think that Brexit will at least have some upside if this sort of thing gets left by the wayside in favour of funding actual research and innovation, or just plain tax cuts.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Raja of Mahmudabad

This little BBC video is subtitled, but only so that it can be shared on social media with the sound off. You should watch it with the sound on. Of all the unfortunate consequences of Partition, the legal affairs of the Raja, sitting in the better rooms of his crumbling palace, are among the less serious. But - perhaps because he is an educated man and speaks, to English ears, so nicely - he has my sympathy nonetheless. On the other hand, perhaps there are Indians who hear him and then a 'Vive la Revolution!' feeling wells up in their hearts.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Links worth a look

1. Two from Vice, each with a more imaginative (and also entertaining) take on modern politics than one normally finds elsewhere.

First, here is why people who want a new middle-ground party are fantasists. The writer imagines the party taking shape: "It was one of those cathartic moments: finally someone was saying what we were all thinking, which was: "Everything is pretty much OK, but could you make some minor adjustments?" and then the new party's campaigners "out on the streets bedecked in their new political home's colours of beige and grey – handing out leaflets, knocking on doors and winning round swing voters with rational arguments grounded in key metrics and meticulous use of data-based policy soundings".

Second, Sam Kriss, the Marmite of such writers, with an account of how some Remainers now sound like Leavers: "They are not left or right. They are not neoliberals or social democrats. They are Remain. As they look out on a world grinding itself apart, where zombie governments shovel themselves deeper into a mouldering power, where tower blocks blaze up fuelled by class warfare and cynical profiteering, where hundreds of millions of people are living in vast tracts of land that will shortly be as uninhabitable as the moon, there are people whose main political self-identification is still that they don't want Britain to leave the EU." I often find myself violently disagreeing with Kriss, but often agreeing with him about what is worth disagreeing about.

2. Gef, the talking mongoose of the Isle of Man.

3. Another anecdote about Britain hacking the US political system. All in a good cause.

4. This is quite rude, but this (carefully crafted) quotation from it isn't: "I am certain a large number of men are more attracted to overweight women than skinny women but try to date skinny women to impress their friends and family members.... the data from dating sites tells us that just about all men try to date skinny women. Many people don’t try to date the people they’re most attracted to. They try to date the people they think would impress their friends. ... There are a lot of single men and single overweight women who would be sexually compatible. But they don’t date, while the man tries and fails to date a skinny woman even though he’s less attracted to her. And then there are women who practically starve themselves to remain skinny so their husbands won’t leave, even though their husbands would be more attracted to them if they weighed more. The desire to impress people causes all kinds of inefficiency."

5. A Buzzfeed list of 14 things, but not at all amusing: 14 suspected killings by Russia on British soil; and here's a suspected one on US soil too. Read Bill Browder's testimony here.

6. "“There is no case on record in which a secular society has been able to uphold its birthrate,” Lord Sacks says." Well, maybe. I'm not totally impressed with the argument that something can't be done because it hasn't been done before: sometimes things get done for the first time. And if he is right, then religion will be fine - all the secularists will die out, so what's the worry? But Lord Sacks may well be right that the future for all religions (in the West at least) will involve them looking a lot more like Judaism.

7. "When all job differences are accounted for, the pay gap [between men and women] almost disappears". Tell that to Google.

8. Japan spends less on education than other countries but has better schools. Yawn. But what about this: "In a classroom I visited, all five second-graders in the school watched a teacher demonstrate flower-arranging as three other teachers surrounded them, helping them with each step." We need more flower-arranging in Western schools. Or at least - isn't it worth a try?

Monday, 17 July 2017

To what extent should a party's policies be decided by self-interest?

Let us confine ourselves political parties in democracies and let us assume that the electoral and financial success of a party is at least to some extent determined by its policies. To what extent should a party choose policies simply in order to benefit itself?

There is clearly no simple answer. It is not right to say that parties should be defined by eternal and unchanging principles and never change policies: even unchanging principles require new policies in new situations; and we might even say that a party committed to democracy is required at least to reconsider its views in the face of electoral defeat.

Equally, it not right to say that there is no dilemma. For example, one might say that any party that betrays its principles will lose votes, but history gives us too many examples to the contrary to believe that. Or one might say that the dilemma does not affect the party that considers being in power itself (or excluding the other party) to be a matter of principle; but a principle stated as baldly as that, with no account taken of the nature of the party (or its opponent), does not deserve to be called a principle.

Even if there is no simple answer, I am certain that we can do better than saying that anything goes. It is possible that a policy can be so obviously adopted by reason of a naked appeal to votes and financial support that the party adopting it has crossed a line between democratic evolution and outright corruption.

These thoughts have been prompted by the change in policies on immigration in the US. (See further below.)