Friday, October 08, 2010

Friday Prediction Thread

Since so many of you are still commenting, how about having a go at predicting Nick Cohen's Sunday effort? I think the Shadow Cabinet is a pretty safe bet (going by Twitter, there won't be a dinner party in the country that doesn't at least mention it).

I detect the unmistakable odour of 'eau-de-spin' here. Is it just me?

Also worth discussion: I'm starting to think that electing the Shadow Cabinet isn't a good idea. Specifically, I think voting for people for given positions makes sense; voting them onto a committee - like the NEC or the Supreme Court - also makes sense; but saying Candidate X would be a good cabinet minister depends very much on which department she is minister for.

To come back to the original subject, I also think Nick will venture strikes at Ed Balls and Charlie Whelan. I'm underwhelmed by the Shadow Cabinet. I suspect it shows greater concern on Ed Miliband's part for not allowing any of his cabinet the opportunity to build a power base than for pyrotechnical debating. But then, the Tory cabinet is pretty unimpressive too. Osbourne particularly so, positively embarrassing when you consider that he's been preceded by Howe, Lawson, and Clarke how could at least have argued their ways out of a wet paper bag. Oh, and don't call him Gideon. Doing so is the mark of a wanker.

43 Comments:

Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I think it'll be one of his 'press release from a pressure group' weeks.

10/08/2010 05:58:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Hmm. I agree with the consensus in the last thread about John Harris, btw. After much thought, I've come back to the view that the Guardian has some of the best journalism in the country - but I still only buy the Weekend FT, and the Guardian also has a lot of the most self-indulgent hogwash trees ever died for.

I agree with Oliver Kamm that blogs are parasitic on journalism (in the main: not always, specialist academic blogs are immune from this), but, apart from being sent the odd press release (and that could change: spamming press releases to 100s of bloggers is certainly possible, and may happen already), so is Nick Cohen.

But if it's pressure groups, it'll be 'whatever were 10:10 thinking?' and 'the Greens are growing in popularity in Germany [true]: bloody Krauts, they elected Hitler, you know.'

Would there be any interest in switching the focus of this blog to watching all the mad Tory Cameron haters - James Delingpole and Simon Heffer spring to mind? (Or starting a blog with that theme.) Two immediate problems: I have no sympathy with their views (other than sharing their belief that Philip Blond is a wanker) and find reading attacks on the government from the right a Sisyphean trudge. On second thoughts, a blog consisting of "I think Cameron's a twat, but he's not a twat because, after five months in office, he hasn't gassed every gypsy in the country, and he may have listened to what scientists say about global warming before making his mind up!" isn't going to work, is it? I still such commentary merits investigation.

10/08/2010 06:17:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Oh dear Christ. Some wonderful Shadow Cabinet news. Can anyone confirm this? I hope that it was a self-deprecating joke in unstuffy and likeable mode. Surely he had to pick up economics, if not as a union leader, then as a minister? Because both are all about budgets.

I think I'll stick with Plan A: it's all about the Shadow Cabinet. Fair (IMO) assessment of Miliband/Johnson [Telegraph].

But let’s look at the positives first. The charismatic former postman speaks human, is experienced, wise, and has a backstory that will resonate with those struggling in difficult times. He is not factional, and does not brief against colleagues. He will be loyal to the leader, and Mr Miliband will be spared the worry of having a rival running the Treasury brief. What’s more Mr Miliband will be able to run economic policy himself: whatever choices the party makes, they will be his. Promoting Mr Johnson will also go some way to placating those in the PLP who felt cut off from a leader they did not vote for. The Blairites will be cheered (a bit) as will those over 50 who thought all that stuff about a new generation a bit sick-making. As a public face of Labour economic policy, Mr Johnson will add his own brand of confident, avuncular emotional intelligence to Mr Miliband’s, making them an appealing counter to the hard edge of the Cameron-Osborne cutting combine.

I'm not sure about the sentences starting "He will be loyal" and "What’s more Mr Miliband" if the import of the latter were true, there would be no need for a Chancellor: the civil service would take care of it. Otherwise, a much more accurate adumbration of Alan Johnson's strengths.

I don't remember AJ as noticeably brilliant and despatch box cut-and-thrust, and, since the next 12 months will be all about cuts, isn't that what's called for?

Also, what is this bruiser stuff?

10/08/2010 06:34:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

maybe septicisle and the rodent are with me on this - my main knowledge of Harris comes from religiously reading the indie mag select in the 90s. I quite liked his last party book but the links between the music and nulab seemed too forced. more on nulab music metaphors later maybe, i'm off out now...

10/08/2010 07:17:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I assume Johnson's there as a caretaker, perhaps because Miliband thought he might actually know some. Allows him to dump him if the economy improves dramatically or even just in a shakeup before the election - the assumption has to be its 4.5 years' away after all.

10/08/2010 07:44:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Matthew, I see your point, but I disagree with the philosophy, shall we say. I suppose where I'm coming from is rooted in athletics training and possibly educational theory. First, you build a base. That is, you can't catch up just before your finals, unless you're very very talented like Stephen Fry. You have to put the hours in getting the basics. In this case, the opposition should be opposing the government from now, if now before. And that's more than going, "Nyah, privileged Tory wankers" that's getting them on spending, and budgets, and so on. Labour won in 1997 not just because the Tories were tearing themselves apart (though that clearly helped) but because heavyweights like Brown and Cook had been bombarding them for years. I say, start the campaign now. Otherwise, the Tories can say, "well Labour were quite happy with all these cuts and the unemployment... and with the starvation and rioting which followed" (I'm making that up, but perhaps not enough).

Secondly, there's the "for the country" argument. I'm a believer in Blake's "opposition is true friendship." I think democracies work, when they do, because bad ideas are exposed. (In psychological literature, the Bay of Pigs fiasco is held up as an example of 'groupthink'. No one said, "this looks like a really crap idea." Picture this: Tory chancellor floats really dense but ideologically watertight idea. If the Shadow chancellor will rip him to pieces, so that he'd come back and shout at his staff, said staff may pipe up with objections. If his Shadow just says, "Oh, Gideon, you're an ass" as he always does, there is no motivation for the backroom boys, the civil service, or the interns to risk their necks - well jobs. Hence we get another poll tax. Which I really don't want.

In short, I believe the strongest possible opposition is the best one. I accept that Alan Johnson can argue well - when he's on top of his subject. He knows the Home Office. I really doubt he can get up to proper speed on the economy in the time he has. I want Osbourne bombarded with flak just to show what an innumerate little turd he is. If Cameron can't appoint Vince Cable in his place, at least let it be Ken Clarke.

Sure, the country being utterly fucked in 2015 raises Labour's chances. I don't know about you, but the prospect scares me.

10/08/2010 09:35:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Aargh! The comment I meant to leave concerned this. I predict that Aaro will write about what women want from men's shoes. http://bit.ly/aST95O. We bring you the pressing topics of the day. I used to wear shoes like this bloke. Nothing wrong with them at all.

10/08/2010 09:44:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

All the pop music writers I know loathe Harris, which is one of the reasons I like him.

I don't know where this "Gideon" business has come from (well, I do, obviously, but I don't understand why now). I've been encouraging everybody to call him Fat Little Fuck but it doesn't seem to be catching on.

10/08/2010 09:54:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

All the pop music writers I know loathe Harris, which is one of the reasons I like him.

Pop music writers are, considered as a bunch (and I used to aspire to be one), pretty much a murder of villainous talent-free back-stabbing envious little shits.

Because I'm a nice guy, I stick to their better points.

I know nothing about Harris' music journalism. But he at least goes out and speaks to the hoi polloi, which makes me like him more that that Kettle bloke.

10/08/2010 10:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

I didn't like his music journalism (different tastes - inevitable really), but I like his political stuff a lot. Its not just that he's perceptive, but that he writes from the perspective of an outsider. Rather than writing tedious assumptions about what X demographic thinks, based upon a drunken conversation with a pollster/spin-doctor - he goes out and asks them. Which is nice.

10/09/2010 12:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Cian said...

I've been encouraging everybody to call him Fat Little Fuck but it doesn't seem to be catching on.

I call him the boy wonder, and I really don't know why. I have kids, so Little Fat Fuck would be ill advised. Martin Rowson seems to have the measure of him though. His stuff is deadly at the moment.

10/09/2010 12:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Cian said...

Oh yeah, Alan Johnson was a really poor choice. Tactically smart (destroy your enemies), strategically very stupid (if you can't beat the Tories...). Labour can't win fighting on the Tories' turf. They need to create their own turf. Roberts and Balls could do that. Johnson's going to flounder badly. Pity.

10/09/2010 12:14:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Would there be any interest in switching the focus of this blog to watching all the mad Tory Cameron haters - James Delingpole and Simon Heffer spring to mind

Like a sort of British Crooked Timber?

10/09/2010 08:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Tactically, I still think it looks pretty good - and Miliband's position in the PLP is weak enough that he needs to work tactically. Giving Balls the Shadow Chancellor post would have been seen both as a huge promotion for Balls & as setting him up as Brown to Miliband's Blair - not good. And making Johnson Shadow Home Secretary would have been awful - but giving him anything more lowly would have been seen as a kick in the teeth to the Blairites.

Yes, Labour need to oppose intelligently & consistently, but first they need to unite - which realistically means a lot of factional messing about. (And now that party democracy is no more, the messing-about takes place at the level of the PLP.) Miliband's managed to keep Johnson in, ideological Blairism out and Ed Balls down; I think he's making a good start.

10/09/2010 09:02:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Thanks Phil, that was the best explanation for EM's decision so far, and it pretty much convinces me.

Does anyone think that someone in Balls' camp briefed Kevin Maguire of the Mirror?

I don't think supportive newspapers should be sycophantic, but that piece is nasty.

10/09/2010 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

By coincidence, Tim Harford on Groupthink. He's right, dissent is vital. Blair avoided dissent by basically bypassing the cabinet where he could. George Bush also didn't handle disagreement well. As far as I can tell, if you went against him (or Cheney) you got fired. I think both leaders will become known to history for their incredible clusterfucks. The whole Iraq thing ("war"/occupation whatever it should be called) looks like just the concatenation of the worst possible decisions at every stage.

10/09/2010 10:17:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I think the Ed Balls decision was fairly astute. As Phil says, making him cancellor, no matter his economic pedigree, would have been a disaster in PR terms - would have looked like a continuation of the Brown era, and would have wedded Ed M too firmly to him. It's also an ineffectual use of his attack-dog skills to have him in the treasury because it's clear now that Osborne is highly protected, and in any case the attacks would be too ideological and technical. he's well-suited to shadow home sec, where the issues are easier to explain, and also Teresa May is not an especially strong politician.

just as a note, was anyone else confused that after Michael Gove very publicly offered Niall Ferguson a consultancy gig on the curriculum, it's now announced that the far more left-leaning (and i thought labour-affiliated) Simon Schama's going to do it? on top of that I'm a bit annoyed by either - working in america shouldn't invalidate a historian's ability to advise on British policy but it's surely a bit frustrating for UK-based historians...

Also agree on Alan Johnson - he couldn't stay as home sec, doesn't seem well-suited to foreign, and anything less would be a demotion. As an aside, anyone remember the massive Decent hard-on for him, a while back?

Onto John Harris. When I was an indie kid teenager I really didn't like the direction he took Select in, and like the Angry of London I am I wrote in to complain; to his credit he personally responded to my emails (this was in the days when magazines first tentatively launched on the web so he probably didn't actually get many emails...). Still, I was never that keen on his music writing. I enjoyed 'The Last Party' more than I thought I would, but it felt like two books poorly glued together - an interesting one about britpop (things like Elastica's drug-taking and the actual reason for blur vs oasis) and a fairly formulaic one about New Labour. The link between the two didn't work all that well I don't think - the politics stuff, sound though it was, feels in retrospect like a bit of a job advert. Also on music, one of the reasons his time at Select was so depressing was that he was only interested in formulaic guitar bands - for me the real musical metaphor for nulab is commercial dance music. But that's another day and another project...

10/09/2010 11:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Cian said...

Schama and Ferguson are probably the only historians Gove has heard of who are still living. Gove seems like the Tory politician most like Blair, only minus the charisma and political instincts.

I wouldn't argue on Ed Milliband's reasons for doing what he's done, as I thought it was kind of obvious. The problem is that by doing that (and Yvonne would have been a respectable compromise), Labour have ceded the economic argument. As the Democrats found out during the Bush years, being a pale shadow of your opponent's policies does not win you elections. The Tory program of cuts is insane. It will not work, anymore than cutting your leg off in an attempt to solve obesity would work. Currently Labour are in the position of arguing for cutting off the arm instead. Whereas what Ed Balls was arguing for was a policy of diet and exercise...

I don't agree that Osbourne is well protected, either. So far he's faced very little opposition, and when he has faced opposition he's mostly resorted to bluster about Greece. He's very obviously out of his depth. Ed Balls has a real talent for taking complex economic issues and making them comprehensible. I think he would have eviscerated Osbourne.

Now its possible that Ed Miliband had no choice, or possible that he just felt too weak to risk Yvonne/Balls, but I suspect the damage to Labour electorally will be considerable. Its what, three weeks until the Conservatives announce their policies. So Labour are still in the stage that the Tories were in in the early 90s, which means there will be no opposition just when such opposition would be most useful. Great...

10/09/2010 03:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

Martin Kettle says it was the right thing to do. My case rests.

10/09/2010 04:10:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Johnson comes out fighting in the Obscurer - attacking the policy on jobs and security, which is probably as good as he can do for now

Agree with Cian about Osborne. Like Gove (but without the intellect), he's an accident waiting to happen. The child benefit fiasco is just the first indication.

10/09/2010 09:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cohen is back on the sauce

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/10/terrorism-islam-abdulmutallab-nick-cohen

10/09/2010 11:20:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Dear Flying Spaghetti Monster, that was godawful.

If I understand Cohen correctly, he seems to think that academics should act in loco parentis for students (why? they're not children) and should run student societies for them. Because university is all about continuing dependence.

One can be too sarcastic. He raised the serious and threatening spectre of the underpants bomber. Clearly inspired by students wasting time on things other than their studies.

10/10/2010 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

The Tory program of cuts is insane. It will not work

That very much depends on what their aims are. Insane, but in a Hannibal Lecter kind of a way, perhaps.

10/10/2010 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

I don't agree that Osbourne is well protected, either. So far he's faced very little opposition, and when he has faced opposition he's mostly resorted to bluster about Greece. He's very obviously out of his depth. Ed Balls has a real talent for taking complex economic issues and making them comprehensible. I think he would have eviscerated Osbourne.

This is spot on. Balls' attacks on the Coalition's spending plans during the leadership contest were very focused and articulate. I'm not sure about Phil's idea regarding the PLP. Surely at some stage if Ed M really wants to break with Blairism he will have to marginalise people like Johnson. Maybe he doesn't have the strength within the party to do this yet but it has to come at some point.

I must admit that I also with Cian on John Harris's music journalism. It is dreadful. This was the worst piece of music writing I have ever read. Plus I can't forgive him that terrible haircut.

10/10/2010 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

This was the worst piece of music writing I have ever read

No it wasn't: you could read it, for a start. It might be wrong, but it's not actively badly-written, and that's the point.

It's a point which most music journos are incapable of grasping, since

(a) they mistake being cool for having something useful to say

(b) they mistake writing clearly and comprehensibly for writing poorly, and mistake writing over-excitedly for writing well.

That's before we get onto their penchant for charlatanry.

10/10/2010 12:52:00 PM  
Anonymous BenSix said...

This was the worst piece of music writing I have ever read...

Good Lord, how much of it have you read?

Cohen's today was downright odd. I'm quite willing to admit that ISOCs up and down the land have played host to some dodgy people (I saw one talk at my old Uni and it was, erm --- uninspiring). When he castigates the "War on Terror week" it's desperate stuff, though. Showing images of the Twin Towers is "extreme"? Our news media must be a bunch of fucking radicals then.

10/10/2010 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I didn't know about RipFork. What a splendid idea.

I'd add Ross McKibbin to my list of the Contemporary Estimable. (I assume Chris Williams knows his professional work, some of which I've read and very much liked.)

10/10/2010 02:51:00 PM  
OpenID yorksranter said...

Up to a point, tactics are underrated. You look at Obama - there's an awful lot of smart strategising, but they're still wondering how to get across the 50 yards of no man's land and what to do about 'baggers yelling a lot. The strategy is stalled because they can't solve their tactical problem.

Also, "engage the enemy more closely" was a tactical statement but it resulted in strategic triumph.

10/10/2010 03:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

if Ed M really wants to break with Blairism he will have to marginalise people like Johnson. Maybe he doesn't have the strength within the party to do this yet but it has to come at some point.

I don't think he does have the strength within the PLP to do this now, which may well be why he hasn't done it now. I don't think there will be anyone to pick up the Blairite torch when Johnson retires, though - and he's 60 now.

10/10/2010 05:37:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Ok I confess. I stopped reading the music press in 1987. I can't understand how people in their 30s or 40s can get worked up about pop music. Its like middle aged people who are still goths or WWF fans. Call me intolerant but it's just not right.

10/10/2010 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Wait, Phil Woolas? This was the only link I could find, by the way. So far Google News has nothing; checked the Guardian, BBC, and Telegraph sites too.

Lucy Lips on Nick Cohen's column. Are they really calling for university thought police? It's pretty obvious that Abdulmutallab wasn't radicalised by UCL teaching. That's what the inquiry found.

We must defend liberal democracy by controlling thought?

Finally, through the might of Twitter, I searched for Nick Cohen (as Oliver Kamm puffed him, and I was curious what the consensus was) and I was rewarded with Josef A Darlington who doesn't even mention NC but linked to him, so: Oh look, muslims are sometimes racist too! Of course its "seductive" when Muslims do it - the EDL "express tensions". http://bit.ly/artnb9 Seems like a good bloke.

10/10/2010 07:39:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

"We're steadily refocussing the media narrative to focus on fears of Muslims, gays, and Mexicans." What if Nick ever stopped to think that he might be part such a project? Yes, it's a video. Yes it's one of those. But it's a good one, promise.

10/11/2010 10:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder how much Cohen's drinking influences his islamophobia? For someone who I once thought to be a decent and humane journalist, he seems to have become an obsessive paranoiac.

john f

10/11/2010 11:24:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

am too busy to post much on this but still:

luckily i didn't buy the obs yesterday but I'd feel pretty short-changed if i did. Cohen's just shortened - not even edited, bits of phrasing are IDENTICAL - the following Standpoint article from March:

http://www.standpointmag.co.uk/node/2712/full

John sutherland interview and all (NB John S is an emeritus professor who retired the year before the pantsbomber arrived at UCL). you'd have thought that at the very least, this time around, he could be bothered to actually interview John S's anonymous mate... but nope, that'd be too much like hard work. also note that Cohen doesn't seem to have even read the UCL inquiry in question, which isn't quite as much of a whitewash as

cohen's self-plagiarism aside, when this whole furore about UCL broke the exact same thing happened - lots of ranting about how awful these people are, lots of copy and pastes from HP Sauce, but a singular lack, form anyone on the 'right side' of TGISOOT, to actually suggest any practical way that CL or any other university could handle this kind of thing differently. genuine suggestions from people at 'The Spitoon' were the following: forcing universities, who just had their funding cut, to video every single student society meeting (colossally expensive, and you'd then have to pay someone to listen to everything); forcing academics, in their spare time, to attend student socities; forcing student unions, at their own expense, to pre-vet every single speaker who is invited by a society (which they do in a curory way via google). That was all they could come up ith. when i pointed out just how unworkable ANY of thees ideas was, they came back to me that i 'wasn't admitting there is a problem'...

With Decency this is syptomatic really of the 'something must be done' approach. They're big on condemnation, low on ideas.

also just as a note but it's quite hard to see how the pantsbomber could have been radicalised by the UCL Islamic society - the main evidence for this is people he invited to speak - thus he'd have to be, er, self-radicalising.

10/11/2010 04:38:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

The child benefit fiasco is just the first indication.

Not much of a fiasco, though, I wouldn't say. (Self-link)

And not being funny, but aren't the economic credentials of the person sits opposite Osborne going to be pretty irrelevant for the next three years or so of carnage? Unless the coalition can somehow be broken, little can be done from the opposition benches unless the Tories make a really big electoral misjudgement.

Even then, we are talking building support for the next election, i.e. after the worst damage is done. Not that that isn't worth doing, but I'm not sure how much impact parliamentary debates on economic issues are going to have there either.

Which reminds me, have those who spoke out against coalition (e.g. Abbott) been expelled yet?

(- btw, the economic state of emergency complete with military rhetoric - the War on Deficit - is I think being accompanied by a bit of a shrinkage of the War on Terror/muslim menace echo chamber, though not of the recently-swollen MI5, whose new head has been giving interviews:

The recession [sic - read recession + brutal cuts] could have a long-term impact on Britain’s national security, making the country more vulnerable to terrorism, espionage and radicalism, he suggested. History had shown that previous worldwide recessions had had worrying repercussions. The security threat would depend on whether the downturn proved to be a “watershed moment”, affecting British society on a much larger scale than was now the case. [it will - again, he politely doesn't explicitly mention the cuts.] Although there was no direct relationship between economic distress and extremism, the security repercussions should the West become less economically dominant had to be kept in mind.

Which is nice.)

10/11/2010 06:29:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Goddam, Nick has a point. Balloon Juice a dodgy speech by the New York gubernatorial candidate, Carl Palatino. And I don't want them [children] to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option. He's surrounded by bearded members of a middle-Eastern religion - clearly the sort of chaps who view the 18th century as a mistake they hope their descendants avoid.

10/11/2010 09:24:00 PM  
Blogger AndyB said...

"That was all they could come up ith. when i pointed out just how unworkable ANY of thees ideas was, they came back to me that i 'wasn't admitting there is a problem'..."

Which is exactly the argument I had with pro-war people before Iraq. I'd point out the stupidty, destruction and sheer horror of what they were proposing, and their response was. 'Well, what would you do?' Not going to war, in one way or another, simply wasn't a possibility. Just as not introducing some kind of campus thought police is not a possibility. And not engaging in some kind of smashing of the welfare state is not a possibility.

'Well, what would you do?' seems like a reasonable question, but to engage you have to believe that a) the problem exists in the terms poreviously defined, and b) something can actually be done.

10/12/2010 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's go back to the question of Groupthink. It's an important idea but it depends on certain groups of people being nervous of dissenting: the important question is "why are these people nervous of pointing out the unwarrented assumptions in someone's argument?" Why were MPs nervous of pointing out that Blair didn't actually know that Iraq had WMD? They must have known that he didn't actually know this as a fact, so why accept this killer assumption? Groupthink isn't much of an idea unless you can explain why sometimes people will question assumptions and sometimes they're nervous about it.

My other doubt about Groupthink is that the Bay of Pigs is always cited as an example. In my opinion, the CIA knew very well that many of the assumptions in the plan were dubious. However they also made the assumption that they could bounce Kennedy into an open US intervention when the operation got into difficulty. On the day, they couldn't: he really meant it when he said that everything had to be plausibly deniable.

Guano

10/12/2010 02:43:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

@Tim Wilkinson

Re the fiasco. I thought that it combined quite a few things.

1. Incompetent execution - you don't get much of a reputation for mathematical prowess by devising system that allows two earners of £88k a benefit that one earner on £45k doesn't get.

2. Conceding that tax increases on the middle/upper incomes are fair. Here I take the opposite view to you I guess. You think it's window-dressing that improves their "hard-but-fair" position. Personally I think Labour now have a counter to any accusations about possible increases in middle class taxation - that the Tories also agree to it. That's why the Mail, etc. jumped on it.

I agree, though, that the removal of universal benefits is a main Tory target. We are already far too close to the US situation where there is no buy-in from the middle-classes to benefits because they don't get any.

10/12/2010 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Groupthink is a topic dear to my heart and I'm a bit disconcerted to find I don't have very much very useful or systematic to say about it.

What I do have off the top of me head is:

I tend to think of it as involving actual self-deception or similar pathological cognition, rather than just motives to suppress dissent - but that's fairly irrelevant so far as the motives of the deceiving sub-person (or whatever tf is involved there) are recognisably rational, I mean whether the dubious thing is 'really', in some sense, believed can drop out of the analysis to a great extent.

Also, the Iraq war vote was probably to do with ordinary influences that aren't strictly groupthink, just reasons to keep yer gob shut and go along with it like the whip, the political 'virtue' of party loyalty, supposed national interest in being subservient to US, etc.

Quick brainstorm on groupthink:

1. Safety in numbers - if (when) it goes tits up, you are pretty safe being in an anonymous crowd.

2. Emperor's new clothes/fear of ridicule or demonisation, even if you know it's unwarranted + additional fact that you are either demonised or demonising. (Here an ambiguous element of possible self-deception comes in too)

3. Lack of critical mass, or of a means to establish the fact that many others dissent too

4. Sense of powerlessness - why dissent when it won't make any positive difference (then the co-ordination problem that there may be lots of people in same situation, so jointly not powerless, but see 3)

5. Genuine deference to majority or leader

6. Look what happened to Robin Cook. Only joking, that's unthinkable, and even if it weren't - which it definitely is - it would be irrelevant, I mean if it weren't unthinkable in the first place, which it is.

7. Information cascades - I'm not quite clear, this may be basically an updated name for groupthink, but a useful lead anyway.

8. Invisible-hand type reinforcement mechanisms that I do not know about - I bet there are theories about them though, probably even some that aren't bollocks.

Some of these overlap, o course.

I'll try to make this a spur to get round to doing some half-arsed internet research on the phenomenon, possibly even report back if anyone still seems to be interested. Random subset of social psychology based on availability of free pdfs, here I come (oh for fresh Athens credentials).

10/12/2010 07:03:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Sorry george missed yours while blurting the previous one.

You make good points there, but I'm still inclined to stick to my version in broad outline. I could try to devise some reason for the inconsistency but I think (limited) cock-up is indeed the explanation.

At a stretch I could say it tends to show that this was a hurried measure and not part of a comprehensive plan to make high-earners cough up, a sort of accidental signal.

But I do think there's a certain knowingness about the (faux-) outrage, and the affluent will be happy enough for the Tories to accept in principle that they may be taxed a bit more, as long as they don't actually do much in that direction. Top-income bracket types are going to see quite clearly on their P11s, self-assessment forms, etc what the score actually is.

Another point I suppose (again I wouldn't really try to claim this was part of a plan) is that if making that concession means that Labour will start insisting on more taxes on the rich (the very thought!), then that would actually suit the Tories very well.

It is rather more alarming coming from a party in opposition with EM already positioned as 'Red' - and a wealth of 'til the pips squeak' type quotes waiting to be wheeled out - than from the traditional party of the rich, who can show by theoir actions that (pssst!) they are not too serious about it.

I realise this it maybe sounds a bit contradictory or cake-and-eat-it to suggest this as well as the the harsh-but-fair angle, but it's not. This stuff is about balancing acts, subtle signals and dog whistles, dogwhistles about dogwhistles, all the exhausting convolutions of electoral politics - of course.

10/12/2010 07:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

Tim Wilkinson:
The fiasco is that they've created a benefits trap for people on the cusp of higher rate tax. And and awful lot of those people are swing voters in marginal areas. Its also going to occur to those people that its only those with families that are being hit.

The sensible (read non-ideological) thing to have done here would have been to have increased higher rate tax (something that would have hit me harder I suspect)

10/14/2010 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

This cross-posting lark is doing my head in. Erm, I repsond to Cian on my 'blog', and there make the point that this is specifically not a signal about tax rises, but benefit cuts - and I think the various unfairnesses (relative to status quo) are side-effect of the fact that child benefit is the only(?) benefit (as opposed to tax-break, etc) that the high-paid receive.

I think that means I conceded too much to george in accpeting that this was an acceptance in principle of tax-raising - in fact, it was exactly not that.

10/14/2010 09:06:00 PM  

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