Friday 21 June 2024

Playing the new political game

The first cricket test match I ever attended was England versus West Indies at the Oval in the baking hot summer of 1976. It was the final test of a series in which a truly magnificent West Indies side crushed England, to an even greater extent than the 3-0 scoreline suggests. It was also politically significant in terms of British race relations, having begun with the infamous pledge by England’s South African-born captain, Tony Greig, that his side would make the West Indies “grovel”. At the same time, the West Indies had enthusiastic support from Britons of West Indian descent, perhaps especially at the Oval, bringing steel drums and trumpets, much to the dismay of some English traditionalists. The racial and post-colonial politics of the series have been extensively discussed and are well-captured in the 2010 film Fire in Babylon.

I’m not sure to what extent I was aware of any of that at the time – I was only 11 – but what was apparent throughout the series, simply from a cricketing point of view, was that it wasn’t just that the West Indies were playing much better than England, but that they were playing an almost different, more modern, and certainly more thrilling game. That was most graphically visible at the Old Trafford test, when veteran English batsman Brian Close, who was 45 and had not played test cricket for nine years before being recalled that summer, was almost literally pulverized by the sublime fast bowling of Michael Holding.

Just as some English traditionalists abhorred the exuberance of the West Indies’ supporters, so too did they complain that such aggressive fast bowling ‘just wasn’t cricket’. But they were wrong. It was what cricket was becoming*. Inescapably, those complaints had more than a tinge of post-colonial angst and of racist outrage. Cricket, invented in England and exported to the colonies, was no longer that of the Bufton-Tuftons of the MCC and Lord’s, or, for that matter, of the working-class league cricket of northern England, where players like Close had their roots. And descendants of those who had once been slaves were the architects as well as the masters of this new cricket. At that Oval test I attended, Greig acknowledged that by going on all fours and ‘grovelling’ to the crowd.

Reactionary resentment

Well, I’ve been told before that cricketing analogies don’t have any resonance for many readers of this blog, so I’ll get to the point. I was reminded of all this by the publication this week of the Reform UK manifesto. I’ve already reviewed the specifically Brexit-related elements of this in a separate post which covers all the party manifestos, but it has a more general significance.

Part of that significance relates directly to the laments of the cricket traditionalists of my childhood. There is a lineal connection between the kind of ‘I want my country back’ nostalgia of the Reform party and that sense of not just English cricket, but England itself was being supplanted. There’s also a discernible connection between the post-colonial complaints of those traditionalists and the manifesto’s policy proposal that that “any teaching about a period or example of British or European imperialism or slavery must be paired with the teaching of a non-European occurrence of the same to ensure balance”.

Long before anyone talked much, at least in relation to British politics, about populism, it was being incubated in a reactionary resentment, a kind of sullen victimhood. Even in those days, now fifty years ago, I heard that phrase, ‘it’s not my country any more’ and, which is perhaps less heard now, the half-baffled, half-aggrieved one that ‘we won the war but we lost the peace’. That strand of cultural politics never went away, but became subsumed within the coalition of voters and ideologies which Thatcherism assembled. It was a coalition which gradually unwound, and UKIP was one expression of that. But what we are now witnessing is the dramatic, and possibly permanent, fracturing of the traditionalist and populist right.

So there is a literal connection between my cricket story, as a vignette within this strand of politics, and this week’s Reform manifesto. But there is also a metaphorical one, which works in the opposite direction. The literal connection posits populist politics as linked to reactionary horror at the new cricket of the 1970s. But the metaphorical connection posits populism as a new kind of way of doing politics which is making established norms of political arguing and campaigning seem outmoded and redundant, just as the 1976 West Indies’ team made England’s cricketers seem obsolete, almost to the extent of playing a different game altogether.

The anti-politics of Brexitism

The Reform manifesto is a good example, starting with its insistence that it is not a manifesto but a ‘contract’ with voters. For that very insistence is nonsense in suggesting that it entails some sort of binding commitment, given that what it proposes is undeliverable. That this is so as regards its costings was quickly pointed out by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), but it is equally true as regards many of its core pledges. For example, picking up migrants in the Channel and returning them to France is, in practical terms, impossible, as is the commitment to ending NHS waiting lists. It is certainly true of the core pledge to cut immigration to the bone. And the Brexit pledges, which I discussed separately, may not be literally impossible, but would come at an economic and political cost which is not mentioned, and no doubt would be denied. If this manifesto were put into practice, it would make the Truss regime look like a model of competence and stability.

However, crucially, and this is the sense in which the populists are playing a different game to ‘normal’ politics, simply demonstrating that the manifesto is nonsense, and the ‘contract’ is fraudulent, cuts little or no ice. For, as Farage’s response to being told just that shows, they themselves are happy to admit that it isn’t actually being put forward as a programme for government, as they have no expectation of winning the election.

So what is presented as a contract, because ‘manifestos’ are the supposedly discredited vehicle for politicians to make promises that they break when elected, consists of promises which are pre-broken by the anticipation of not being elected. This is politics as anti-politics. As for things like the IFS calculations, they can simply be dismissed as the usual Establishment nay-saying, from forecasters who ‘always get things wrong’. Yet even that is not the whole story, since the manifesto is shameless in referring to the FT, two former Governors of the Bank of England and, indeed, the IFS as having endorsed parts of its economic programme.

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because it is a version of what happened with the referendum, where the Vote Leave campaigners made impossible, and often contradictory, pledges. They, too, rubbished experts who painstakingly explained the impossibilities and contradictions simply for being experts (whilst happily relying on the authority of those experts who supported them, many of whom are the same people who are behind the Reform manifesto). They, too, gained strength from their lies being debunked, since the very debunking helped the lies to circulate more widely (the £350 million a week for the NHS being the prime example). They, too, when asked to produce a workable plan for Brexit, insisted that they were not going to form a government, so it was not for them, as campaigners, to do so, and one reason they were able to get away with that was the expectation on both sides that they would not win anyway. In this sense, there’s a continuity between pro-Brexit populist politics and post-Brexit populist politics, making Brexitism a useful term to connect the two.

The last chance for Tory traditionalists?

Of course, it’s true that Reform is not going to win this election. So we might just say that none of this really matters. But it isn’t as straightforward as that. This is not Screaming Lord Sutch and the Monster Raving Loony Party, standing for laughs, even if its proposals might as well come from them. As with UKIP before, Farage and Reform are deadly serious and they now know, because of what happened with UKIP before, that it is perfectly possible to have a big political impact without winning much, if any, formal political power. This time Farage says, and there’s no reason to doubt him, that his aim is to take over the Tory Party and to become Prime Minister in 2029 (£).

In response, Rishi Sunak might be expected to counter-attack. At the moment, his only message to Reform voters is that they will be responsible for increasing the size of the expected Labour majority. He could, instead, denounce Reform’s policies as unworkable and damaging, just as he does other political opponents, especially Labour, if only on grounds of fiscal orthodoxy. That, after all, was his pitch when opposing Truss in the Tory leadership election, and when he took over from her having been proved right about the consequences of her policies. But he is unlikely to challenge Farage in that way and everyone knows why: many of his MPs and most of his party members are themselves broadly supportive of Reform’s agenda.

There was a very interesting interview this week on Nick Cohen’s The Lowdown podcast with the journalist Rafael Behr in which he makes the point, amongst many others, that Sunak almost inexplicably flunked standing up to the populists in his party after he had easily defeated their attempts to derail the Windsor Framework and defied their desire to scrap the entirety of Retained EU Law (both of which, by the way, are now Reform policies). I, myself, had speculated at the time of the Windsor Framework that it marked a new chapter.

In fact, Sunak proceeded to pander to the populists, especially with the Rwanda policy. Or, perhaps, he was not pandering to them so much as showing his own beliefs. Either way, he could not satisfy them, and, as has been the story under all the recent Tory leaders, they simply demanded more. Now, there is another moment, perhaps the very final one, for a Tory leader to challenge the populist right, if only as the last act of his political career, but he is unlikely to make use of it.

The responsibility of voters

In any case, it’s probably too late. The genie of anti-politics will not easily be re-bottled. It thrives on attention and rebuttal (making even this blog a very small part of the problem), yet it also thrives when ignored or left unchallenged. So, what to do? No one has a satisfactory answer to that, but it surely has to be based upon facing down, rather than pandering to, populists, if only because pandering to them is self-defeating. Theresa May’s main argument, in itself a principled one, for delivering Brexit was that, were it to be abandoned, voters’ faith in democracy would be damaged. Yet, as was always inevitable, delivering Brexit did not satisfy its supporters and that also damaged their faith in democracy. And so those voters are now, once again, being mobilized by Farage.

Politicians obviously have a particular role in challenging Farage but, at the same time, I think it is insufficiently said, perhaps because it has become almost taboo to mention, that these voters themselves must take ultimate responsibility. They believed the impossible promises made for Brexit and yet, finding those promises not to have been delivered, are willing to accept still more impossible promises from the same people who made the previous ones. They revel in their worldly ability to see through the charlatanism of politicians who are ‘all the same’ and ‘just in it for themselves’, yet are entirely gullible in accepting obvious charlatans like Farage and Johnson as being ‘different’ and ignoring their obvious self-interest.

The numbers of voters involved aren’t small. On the basis of the latest opinion polls, Reform have 16% support and the Conservatives have 21%. Supposing that only a third of those Conservative voters have effectively the same views as Reform voters (and I think it is probably higher), that suggests a bedrock support for Farageist populism of 23%, or almost a quarter of voters. They will all have received years of free education, a lifetime of free health care, have or expect to have livable pensions, and have lived their entire lives without war or mass unemployment.

They are, in short, the beneficiaries of the post-war social democratic settlement and what still endures of it. That’s not to deny they may have all sorts of hardships and legitimate grievances, but by global and historical standards these are not the downtrodden and oppressed of the earth. I simply don’t buy the idea that many, if any, of these voters are so downtrodden and desperate that they can’t be blamed for latching on to any glimmer of hope, and are simply exploited by unscrupulous populists like Farage. It's an idea which is really just a misguided attempt at liberal understanding, or perhaps an expression of liberal guilt, and it plays straight into the hands of populists.

For to the extent that there is a near-taboo on saying such things it is, actually, just one of the many duplicities of such populists, who seize on it as ‘sneering elitism’. In fact, what could be more patronizing than to deny that voters are responsible for their choices? It’s true that criticizing such voters will do nothing to change their minds, and even, to the extent they hear the criticisms, it will probably cement their opinions, but it is still worth saying. Anyway, it’s not as if not criticizing them will make a difference either. And what certainly won’t make a difference is offering them undeliverable policies on the basis that to do otherwise would be disrespectful of their desire for such policies. On the contrary, as Brexit has shown, that just sets up a new cycle of resentment.

The coming political battle

There is a temptation to think that with a probably large, and possibly huge, Labour majority in prospect, it will be years before Conservatives or Reform matter again. I think that it would be a serious mistake to yield to that temptation. For one thing, Labour’s ability to win has to some considerable extent been achieved by Starmer ceding ground, in both tone and substance, to the populists, just as New Labour only won by ceding so much ground to the neo-liberals.

There’s an element of necessity to that in electoral systems where you can only win from the centre, given that the location of the centre changes over time. In one sense of politics, the centre is a reality that must be accommodated, and catered for, especially at elections. Starmer understands this, and It was Corbyn’s inability to do so which doomed him to oblivion. In another sense, which Corbyn understood and Starmer seems not to, the location of the centre is always a matter of political contestation, and that contest is continuous and not the same as, although it intersects with, electoral politics.

In that second sense, the battle with populism, as regards both its policy prescriptions and its anti-politics mode of conduct, will continue after the election. In fact, it will become especially important then because when, as will almost inevitably happen, and probably quite quickly, disillusion with the new government sets in, that will be a new moment of opportunity for the populists to say that the ‘mainstream’ political parties are ‘all the same’ and none of them will ever succeed. As they do so, there’s every possibility that Starmer’s government will try, just as Tory centrists did before, to accommodate and appease them, again pandering to rather than challenging their demands and, again, finding them implacable.

So, at best, the election will be a moment to briefly pause and take some pleasure in the end of what have been some long and truly ghastly years for anyone who is both politically sentient and committed to honesty, rationality or even just basic competence in politics. But it will only be a pause. Brexit won’t have gone away, and nor will the politics that brought it. On the contrary, unless there is a highly unlikely fightback from its more traditionalist wing, there must be every chance that the Tory Party will fully embrace a Farageist National Conservatism, whether led by him or not. The Reform manifesto looks like, and is, a ridiculous joke but, as Farage gloated in the European Parliament after the referendum: “when I came here 17 years ago and said I wanted to lead a campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union, you all laughed at me. Well, you’re not laughing now”.

It’s true that winning an election on anything like such a manifesto will be difficult. If my back-of-the envelope calculation of there being perhaps 25% bedrock support for it is correct, that leaves a fair way to climb to form a government, even under first-past-the post. But a ‘NatCon’ party espousing something like that manifesto would have a lot of influential and rich backing and a lot of media support, and, as I observed last week, unless Labour prove to be really effective in government, its large majority could easily crumble in a low-turnout election in 2029. In any case, even without winning that election, if a party on such a manifesto came even within contention it would have at least one very important consequence: it would kill, stone-dead, any prospect of the re-joining the EU for years, if only because it would make it too risky for the EU to accept Britain as a member.

Metaphors to live by

In that post last week, I finished with the image of us all being lab rats within the post-Brexit laboratory of political science, but in some ways that is misleading. I was mainly thinking of the fact that only quite a small number of people will directly influence the internal politics of the Tory Party. But as a metaphor in a more general sense, it fails to recognize the agency which we all have, to at least some degree.

One of my favourite cartoons concerns the famous Pavlovian experiment in which, after repeatedly ringing a bell at the same time as feeding them meat, dogs were conditioned to salivate merely at the sound of a bell. That is to say, they had no agency and their behaviour was a conditioned reflex. In the cartoon, there are two dogs salivating and a scientist in a white coat holding a bell. One dog says to the other: have you noticed how every time we dribble, that guy Pavlov rings a bell? It’s a nice subversion of assumptions about where agency lies.

Or, to put it another way, going back to cricket. I’m not the avid follower of the game I was as a child and a young man, and in fact the last test match I went to was in 2000. It was the last day of what again was the last test of a series between England and the West Indies, again played at the Oval. Since 1976, much had changed in cricket, including the way that English cricket was organized and the England team played it. Much, too, had changed in society.

The 2000 match was watched by a packed, multi-racial, crowd, with both sides having enthusiastic support, and I don’t think there were any of the racist or colonialist undercurrents there had been in 1976. There was certainly nothing resembling the ‘grovel’ comment. England won that game, and narrowly won the series, but the teams were well-matched. More to the point, they were both playing recognizably the same game. Things change.

But there is no inevitability in how they change. That’s down to agency; to the decisions which, collectively, we make, not just at elections but every day.


*One might argue that it was not new anyway, and English complaints about the West Indies’ fast bowling were hypocritical. It was England, after all, who had deployed ‘Bodyline bowling’ in the 1930s. But I think a new cricket was emerging in the 1970s, part of which was to do with faster bowling becoming routine, hence it was shortly afterwards that helmets began to be worn and became the norm. And cricket was changing in other ways, too, away from the still rather amateurish ethos that had prevailed (e.g. as regards fitness or squad-building) as well as in its financial and commercial structure, and in game formats, playing styles etc.


  1. "Well, I’ve been told before that cricketing analogies don’t have any resonance for many readers of this blog"

    I wonder how many % of your readers can understand how Cricket works / watch Cricket/ have played Cricket, compared to those who are just baffled.

    I managed to understand US baseball (it's still very boring, but I can get the main ghist), but I am still stumped on Cricket beyond "one team throws a ball, the other team has a bat".

    Is this part of a general social trend in England (or Great Britain) that Cricket as widely known sport (or maybe only widely known among certain society levels?) is disappearing?

    A US article some time ago predicted the death of US football as widely accepted (because of the health risks: players suing the league for brain injuries, now documented, will trickle down to schools, who won't offer it, so no new players; soccer might be the new trend, or Basketball and Baseball).
    If Cricket in general is on the downward trend because of social changes, it's another thing to feed the grievances of the want-to-be-sulking people (Brexiters).

    1. I’m one that is ok with cricket. I first saw the Windies in 1973 at Edgbaston. I’m not sure that cricket is on a downward trend for societal reasons; more that there are many alternative sources of entertainment.

    2. Baseball is a game based in the US and played by a handful of Caribbean nations, Japan and the Netherlands. All told you'd be struggling to get to half a billion people.
      Cricket is the favourite sport on the Indian subcontinent. That is India and Pakistan, together 1.75 billion people. Add England (not the UK, because Scotland and Wales hardly matter in cricket), Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, the Netherlands (yes, again) and the West Indies and you'll be touching 2 billion.
      In other words: no comparison.

    3. If you are not familiar with cricket and wish to understand it better I can recommend searching for "funny rules of cricket" on the internet.

  2. Great analysis, thank you. I think the Reform manifesto put in practice would be as brief as Liz Truss's premiership. As always, it is a discourse that works well in the opposition and moves a huge amount of naive voters. Liz Truss was the real example of Brexit (true Brexit as they call it) put in practice.

  3. Münchner Kindl21 June 2024 at 09:23

    "Well, I’ve been told before that cricketing analogies don’t have any resonance for many readers of this blog"

    How many (roughly) % of your readers understand Cricket/ have played Cricket / watch Cricket vs the many readers who are baffled by it?

    I have managed to understand the basics of US Baseball (I still find it boring), but Cricket, I've never gotten beyond "one team throws the ball, the other team has a bat, and something about stumps" because who runs from where and how much it counts is ... worse than higher maths.

    Is there/ has been a social/ cultural change in society of England/ Great Britain in the past decades where Cricket has lost its importance (and another sport has risen instead?) (A US article some years ago predicted that US football would vanish because of players suing the league for known head injuries and health consequences, leading to schools no longer offering the sport, so no new players, replaced either by soccer or Basketball and Baseball).

    1. I've no idea of the %age, I'm afraid. But I think maybe it's possible to understand the metaphor, just from the story I told, without needing to understand cricket?

      On your wider question, I'm no expert on that, but I think the costs and facilities needed have reduced the extent it is played in state schools. I suspect the fact that, since 2005, it has not been available on free to view TV has also reduced interest in it (that is certainly the point at which I ceased to follow it closely). But I don't really know, I'm afraid.

    2. "Is there/ has been a social/ cultural change in society of England/ Great Britain in the past decades where Cricket has lost its importance (and another sport has risen instead?) "
      Absolutely. Although cricket only ever mattered in England, not the UK, in the period since 2005 - its high point, with a England thrilling series win against Australia - it has only declined as it was, of course, sold off to the highest bidder at the peak of the market. How very emblematic of the neo-liberal Westminster consensus!
      As to new sports, soccer is now untouchable in the UK, at least in terms of TV status, which is above all what counts. It (mostly) isn't boring, it doesn't result in brain injury and it is the only UK/European sport big enough to survive - and flourish - as a pay TV product (absent current FTA things like Euro 2024).
      So basketball/baseball may come to take over in the US from football (their version), but I strongly suspect soccer is going to come to challenge them both there in the next twenty years or so, particularly at high school level.

    3. Brian Withington23 June 2024 at 21:03

      No need to apologise for cricket metaphors and analogies, Chris. As the great CLR James wrote in Beyond A Boundary, “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?”.

  4. As ever a great read. Personally I think the number of Tories as Reform sympathisers is much greater than a third of their current polled support. We know the membership is far right. A few MP’s who have been conspicuously quiet may claim One Nation status. But Sunak is very hard right economically and has continually pandered to the populists. He has a lot of time for Lee Anderson. Farage will at a time of his choosing be able to walk into the Tory party and take it over with only token opposition. Only then will those who can’t stand that thought find the courage to go elsewhere or form a Tory centrist party.

    1. Why are Tories such cowards?
      The likes of Denis Healey and Neil Kinnock fought the hard left. Tories have zero backbone against the far right - Sunak having the amount of backbone you’d expect from a fee-paying school education.

  5. Whenever I hear 'Reform' I think about reformed chicken meat or chicken nuggets. Clearly an unhealthy choice.

  6. the Tory governments with Brexit gave the racist British voters what they wanted: to kick out all the European immigrants who + by law + had to treat as equals. They will be rewarded.
    What is scary now is the fact that you have the Tories who want to get out of the ECHR and Farage out of NATO

    1. Just got the Reform party leaflet in the post today. A minimal A5 size, it said to me "we don't care and we'll say any old guff". They want out of the ECHR, but don't mention NATO. Funny that Brexiters never wanted out of all the Euro football competitions.

  7. I can never resist pursuing. an analogy, possibly to destruction, so point out that Close, like all others at the time, played without a helmet. In this case, perhaps EU membership was our "helmet", voluntarily given up to give the rest of the world to pepper our skulls with short pitched deliveries. Apologies to those contributors immune to cricketing metaphors.

    1. Yes, Close also asked for a drink when he left the pitch after one such battering from the West Indies' quicks and, when poured one, said something like this to his benefactor (Derek Randall); "Not like that, son, a proper drink (the final drink was nearly half a pint of rum)."

      They truly don't make them like him any more.

      An honorary mention should also go to David Steele who stepped into the fray and, despite his unprepossessing appearance (including spectacles and prematurely greying hair) made some very creditable innings including a century at Trent Bridge.

    2. Yes, Close was brave, and Steele was doggedly gutsy. So was John Edrich, one of my favourite players, and Dennis Amiss’s double century at the Oval, with his peculiar, remodelled, stance was also remarkable. But I think all of them can be seen as discernibly of a different era, and not just because of their ages.

      The lack of helmets of that time is one of the most striking things, looking at footage now, and of course began to change shortly afterwards. Of course, the WI bowling was not new in presenting real physical danger to batsmen. Apart from Bodyline, which I mention in the footnote, recall the huge row just a few years earlier when John Snow (who also played in the ‘76 series) injured Terry Venner in the 1970-71 series against Australia, having also hit Graham McKenzie in the face in the previous test. I suppose the difference with those WI sides of the 70s and 80s (making them also different to Australia who, in Lillee and Thomson, also had some fearsomely fast bowlers) was that they had a quartet of truly fast bowlers.

      One very different thing which strikes me about the difference between cricket then and subsequently is the way that the test team was selected (during home series, it was obviously different on tour) from all first class players, on the Sunday before the test. So anyone might suddenly get called up, or recalled, perhaps only for one match, and have to integrate into the side at a few days’ notice. I remember feeling real excitement when the team was announced, usually at tea time of the Sunday JP league matches. But, at least by the mid-70s, I think this was quite bizarre, perhaps because the gap between county and international cricket had grown compared with the past, and certainly seems amateurish now, in the era of central contracts.

  8. I had to go to A&E two weeks ago in Kingston Hospital, London. There were no doctors available for X-rays until next morning, patients were left stranded in the corridors, no nurses available, everything was shambolic, yet the Reform loons still get away with claims like migration should be reduced to zero. Beyond absurd.

    1. I feel like the kind of people to be attracted by Farage and his "immigration is bad" pov will be incapable of understanding the point you are making here.

    2. They would argue retirees can easily become nurses overnight.

  9. In the interests of balance, would history lessons inform us equally of the battles and wars that the English / British lost as well as those won? They could start with a book on my shelves, Frank Ledwidge ‘Losing Small Wars’.
    And would they also provide balanced information about the composition of ‘British’ forces? For eg Monty’s 21 Army Group comprised US 9th army and Canadian 1st army as well as British 2nd army (Bradley’s 12 Army Group was all US), 6 Group RAF was Canadian, the leading role in the Battle of Britain was played by a New Zealander, the outstanding squadron commander was a South African, the most aggressive squadron was Polish and the most successful pilot a Czech. And Prussians rode to the rescue at Waterloo, a battle commanded by an Irishman.

  10. Because every government will eventually screw up, it's important who the party in second-place is. Most voters don't look beyond, "We need to try somebody else," and don't especially vet who the somebody else is. Therefore if Labour becomes unpopular quickly - never an improbability, given the Murdoch press - already by 2029 an alternative will be sought.

    Farage has a core of 20-25% of the vote. That may seem small, but his voters are dedicated, in the same way that the Trump core is dedicated. Farage could shoot someone on Oxford Street and his core wouldn't care. That 20-25% isn't going to move to anyone else, no matter what. This makes it difficult for anyone else to be the second-place alternative, and in particular if Farage manages to pick up 10-15% from whatever source, then he *will* mathematically be the second-place alternative.

    So Farage in 2029? A real possibility, if Labour screws up.

    1. Anecdotal evidence from other european countries is that far right parties can easily get to ~20% support, but getting beyond that is very hard work. The voters are fickle and will switch allegiance to any other party very easily.

      In a PR system 20% of the electorate is significant, but not enough to really bring the house down. Once they start having to actually form coalitions things change quickly as they actually have to take responsibility.

      I fear that in FPTP like the UK, 20% is enough to have a big impact, but with no risk of ever having to take responsibility. The system basically ensures this group of people will *never* be represented. Which is bad IMO, because those 20% do have legitimate grievances and shouldn't be ignored like that.

  11. “There’s an element of necessity to that in electoral systems where you can only win from the centre, given that the location of the centre changes over time. In one sense of politics, the centre is a reality that must be accommodated, and catered for, especially at elections. Starmer understands this, and It was Corbyn’s inability to do so which doomed him to oblivion. In another sense, which Corbyn understood and Starmer seems not to, the location of the centre is always a matter of political contestation, and that contest is continuous and not the same as, although it intersects with, electoral politics.”

    A terribly naive view — assuming it is honest — of both Corbyn and Starmer. Corbyn, for his faults, was not ousted for poor performance but by a long series of underhanded attacks carried out by Starmer’s faction, including Cambridge-Analytica-style targeted misleading ad buys on social media, and literally unfounded accusations of antisemitism, which were denied directly and emphatically by the Jewish people whose names were used in the complaints — and all these attempts at undermining the party’s leadership took place DURING the Brexit referendum campaign, when one might reasonably expect any would-be leader of merit to suspend internal political machinations. Starmer, on the other hand, has always been a right-of-center figure, an acolyte of Tony Blair (who was notoriously ousted for going against the public will in order to support the Bush administration’s war in Iraq). Since Starmer took over control of the party leadership, the party has consistently moved rightward even as public opinion has moved leftward, and that included an attempt to kick Corbyn out of the party entirely on no grounds whatsoever. Pretending that Corbyn was a blundering far-left figure who gave way to a more pragmatic Starmer ignores just how concerted the Starmer faction’s dishonest right-wing push has been since before Brexit, and how underhanded their tactics have since been proven to be (including by Labour’s own internal investigations).

    When Labour fails to please anybody — the very rich won’t reward Labour for conceding everything to them, because they already have a party under their control, and the rest of the country will see Starmer’s betrayals for what they are — the fault will be with Starmer and his faction, and with the party membership who permitted them to take control at such a critical juncture.

    1. I sometimes regret Starmer’s timidity, but thanks for reminding me that his party has idiots like you still pining for St Jeremy, anti-semite and loser

    2. “A terribly naïve view – assuming it is honest”.

      There. Right there is why I know your comment isn’t going to make sense, and the exact way it isn’t going to make sense. What possible reason could I have to be dishonest about this? The answer can only be that I, too, am somehow part of the conspiracy against St Jeremy. For only the naïve or the dishonest could possibly make any criticisms of the very boy.

      And so it turns out. So, as for naivety, I’m certainly not taking any instruction in political analysis from someone in such total denial about why Corbyn failed and what went wrong with his leadership, including the good reasons why he ended up being expelled from the party. Naturally it can be nothing to do with his flaws, and he is the hapless victim of “underhanded” tactics and attacks, and of ‘factionalism’. It’s pitiful, juvenile groupiedom. Even the little bit about Blair being “notoriously ousted for going against the public will” for the folly of Iraq is plainly nonsense – he won the election that followed in 2005 and stood down of his own choice (albeit under pressure from Brown) in 2007, four years after Iraq.

  12. I'm surprised not to have seen any nods to New Gingrich's Contract with America and how all that turned out, but a worthwhile read as usual.

    It does seem that English nationalism is going to bring about the end of the UK. I'd like to think that Farage's latest remarks about Putin will prove harmful to Reform's prospects and render irrelevant his overt positioning for a 2nd Trump presidency. The more horrible the English supporters of Farage appear, the faster the UK will be wound up. Starmer's announcement that he will deny Scotland a referendum on independence seems provocative to me. Farage as prime minister would be the end.

    But there are also grounds for hope. If the Tories can be crushed for incompetence and corruption then Reform can too, and meanwhile Labour can, if it chooses, pass legislation on party funding and media regulation that will get the fingers of billionaires off the scales of democracy. If it fails to do so then it will choose England over the UK and take its chances.

  13. Thanks for the memories of a great game, Chris. I was there too, if a little older than you, and remember the great West Indian support ands the masterful Viv Richards in his pomp. It was a hot summer, the summer of Bob Marley echoing through the streets of South London, the summer when the newly laid turf in Stockwell Park curled up and died for lack of rain. It was a year when perhaps the West Indian influence on London life, even more than on the world of cricket, became undeniable and culturally important.

    I suspect the answer to Farage and his ambitions lies in something that seems impossible for any politician of the current era to offer: a coherent and attractive vision of a future - the sunlit uplands, perhaps ;-) - where the best of all worlds is at least something government can aspire to deliver. But then I'm a hopeless optimist...

  14. I'm going to buck the cricket analogy trend.
    I was amused by your recollections of the 1976 test series. I grew up watching Australia vs the same West Indies sides.

    But the amusement comes from seeing the same whining when England lost the last Ashes series. Its "the rules of the game" when England come out on top but "not the spirit of the game" when they don't...

  15. My take from your post is that from the Election after this one the UK may well be a fully fascist country. As an EU citizen the thought of the EU developing closer ties with the UK is concerning. Hopefully EES and ETIAS will soon be fully operational even though the majority of your citizens will be blissfully unaware .

    Turning to cricket I was lucky enough to grow up enjoying 5 or 6 three day first class county championship matches on my doorstep each
    season. Brian Close and his championship winning Yorkshire team left an indelible impression but not necessarily for the right reasons which again leads back to Brexit.

  16. I have a memory of a R4 interview with a former Welsh miner who had travelled up to London to be outside parliament when the Johnson 2019 "Get Brexit Done" government was being sworn in. He was asked why he had come and he enthusiastically said that this was the "people's parliament" (as opposed to all the other which hadn't been I imagine). This struck me at the time and I thought about it a lot. What I realised he meant was that for the first time in his life there was a UK government which for the first time had legitimised all the expression of dislike of "foreigners and immigrants" and the "woke elites" which this man somehow could blame for the dissatisfactions in his life. And so the beast crawled out from under its stone into the light

    1. Well at least the Welsh miner had a legitimate beef: that the coal and steel industry in Wales had been largely shut down without any significant attempt to replace the lost jobs. That he wanted to vote for the party and the politicians who were mostly responsible for this is really frustrating

  17. Just as the most anti-immigrant are often the immigrants who want to bolt the door behind them, so as to head off further competition, the most anti-establishment are often those who have benefitted most from the welfare state. Why should others have the advantages you grew up with? They might outcompete you now. This the anti-elite propagandists are often from privileged backgrounds who resent the fact their privilege may not guarantee success. They've had it easy, so how dare they be expected to work hard? How dare "others" come in and claim their inheritance? They would prefer to destroy the country in a sulk, to others gaining control. The irony is those who most support this reverse psychology, are least likely to gain from it. Fascism and Nazism employed a similar psychological gambit, and ended up devouring their adherents. But a hard rain is gonna fall. The centre cannot hold. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with a passionate intensity. WB Years...

  18. Farage has lined up with Putin with his assertion the "EU should never have expanded eastwards". Hardly a democratic viewpoint, since Farage doesn't speak for the EU - or the former Warsaw Pact and Soviet bloc states that were (and still are) desperate to join the free and democratic EU.
    On a related topic, Greece has recently repaid early e8 bn of EU loans. Perhaps not surprising since they now freely borrow on the ten year global markets at 3.67% - compared to 4.07% for the UK, despite the recent drop in inflation. So it seems the Greek "Euro Crisis" (often cited by Brexit apologists) wasn't really a crisis at all in any historical context.
    By the way, the France ten year bond is 3.17% - despite the gleefully reported current political problems.

  19. Just in passing, you unfairly demean David Sutch. I believe it is now at least 4 of his original OMRLP policies that are now the Law of the Land - a darn sight more than UKIP /Reform will ever manage (Votes at 18, Commercial Radio, Pet Passports and wearing of hairnets in food factories, since you ask). Let alone his out-polling the SDP in a by election that caused David Owen to call time on that party. And which party has a better '24 policy than "We don't need roadworthy cars : we need carworthy roads"?

    1. Well, ok - it's not a hill I'm going to die on.

  20. My own favourite Pavlov joke involves a visitor to his laboratory who arrives at the main entrance to the lab and rings the doorbell.
    A flustered Pavlov opens the door.
    “Couldn’t you just knock?”

  21. It is extremely refreshing and highly unusual to see somebody point out that voters actually have agency and thus at least some degree of responsibility for their voting decisions. Yes, person A got radicalised by Fox News, the Daily Mail, or Facebook, but they could have turned away from that, disgusted by the hate- and fear-mongering. Yes, person B was misinformed about the consequences of Brexit, and person C is misinformed about climate, but if they wanted, they could educate themselves instead of only ever believing things that appeal to their biases.

    Much appreciated.

    1. Seconded, thirded etc.

    2. Jordi Smithson27 June 2024 at 21:34

      Fourthed (if that's even a word). Thanks Chris.

      It's only when I left the UK that I realised just how little self reflection there is from voters there. They could have shown more interest in the electoral reform that could have saved Britain from such a catastrophic Brexit and all that flowed from it.

      As another commentator points out, once the populists get into power and have to actually govern, they get found out pretty quickly (e.g the far right doing badly in the Scandi countries recently, because they've actually been in government.

      Instead far too many British voters just dismissed politics as boring, whilst still complaining that their votes don't count because they're in safe seats.

      Thanks again for pointing out that supporters of Brexit / Tories should be responsible for their actions. But the responsibility goes wider than that for not changing the system to protect the country from Farage, Johnson and co.

    3. Münchner Kindl28 June 2024 at 10:03

      I remember being frustrated back in 2016 and following when discussing on Twitter - so many people wanted to excuse voting for populist lies, not just Brexit, but also Trump voters in US, or voting for AfD in Germany/ Le Pen in France etc.

      If the voters are too stupid to realize they are being lied to with sunlit uplands, then they need a supervisor to make the decisions in daily life that adults make.
      But if they are able to deal with daily lifes, then they know about lies and prefer to believe them because they like populist, racist, lies better than facts.

      While this parable is from a different tradition it was written long before MAGAs, Covid deniers, Brexiters - but it shows the character problem of denying facts.

      And when Fred re-visited his story after Trump won, he pointed out that it's not "dumb Jackie, PhD Jackie", but "bad Jackie, good Jackie".

  22. Out canvassing on the doorstep in what is likely to be a 3-way toss-up, but currently held by a many-barreled Con. Message from longstanding Con-voters is "either LibDem or Reform". Message from longstanding Lab-voters is "either Lab or Reform". Point being that your 25% of voters will come to Reform from the right is likely an under-appreciation of the reality. After this election I expect Reform to tack to sweep up all the populist left wing voters, coralling together a full-on full-throated populist alliance. Under a NatCon banner that might as well be in black and red.

    1. It's a good point, and I also expect this. Interesting what you say about those doorstop comments.

    2. Your experience would seem to well justify Mr. Starmer's reticence on the subject of Brexit

  23. "They will all have received years of free education, a lifetime of free health care, have or expect to have livable pensions, and have lived their entire lives without war or mass unemployment."
    Where were you in 1983, aged 21? Thatcher's mass unemployment wasn't quite as bad as the 1930s (employment rates 1983 65.9, 1932 60.7) but I'd say it still qualifies. I wonder how much of the current disillusionment relates to the failure of New Labour to repair the long-term damage in the Red Wall seats.

    1. Fair point, and it did cross my mind when I wrote that sentence. And I agree that what happened then, and the failures since, do feed through into some of today's politics, including Brexit. But I don't think that the grievance culture that Farage and Reform represent (and inflame) is mainly attributable to that, and one piece of evidence is the way they have so much less traction in Scotland than England. This idea that they speak for an impoverished underclass is just part of their schtick and, in any case, Farage and most of the other leaders idolize Thatcher.

    2. I believe there is also some evidence that Leave voting in Red Wall seats was more weighted towards economically secure property owners. Interpreted further, they felt secure enough to take a luxury or romantic vote on Leave - which less secure working people often couldn't afford. Also, working people were more likely to take heed of the warnings of business leaders - as well as have some modern understanding of relevant economic factors - such as supply chains and investment plans.

    3. My theory about why Blair didn't promise to do more to repair the "damage of Thatcherism" is that he reckoned that he would not win the election if he promised to do so.I think that KS has moved so much to the right for the same reason.

  24. One of the most interesting posts on Brexit for a while anywhere.
    While reading, one word came to mind throughout- racism. (obviously a concept neither proposed nor defended by Dr Grey here).
    To begin an empire, one has to have an enormous distain for those you are about to conquer. This distain is based on racism and its evil twin, supremacism. Obviously the previous slave owners of Lords didn’t like being on the receiving end when the Windies came to town, but their rage is based on the same racism that their forefathers had to invade, enslave and destroy the local cultures wherever they went.
    Still, the Establishment at play at Lords could take comfort in the fact that they were receiving ‘compensation’ for their loss of slave income until 2015 from the British government. That’s right, every man woman and child, white, Indian, or of African decent or from anywhere else in the colonies residing in the UK was paying tax to fund the slave owners loss of income from 1833 until 2015. When was the referendum again- one year later? Coincidence?
    Brexit Britain legitimised latent racism, and institutionalised it to another level- out in the open.
    Here lies the fall towards fascism, which unless very careful, will be Brexit Britain’s fate. Obviously painful to read, but having been on the receiving end of a very British type of racism, easy to write as is it is for me to say.
    As for Farage, he’s as much of a chameleon as Johnson, and as much of a liar and as much of a racist, if not more. Sadly for the UK, to have him even on the ballot is a tragic indictment of how far the nation has fallen post Empire, which in itself was and is nothing to be proud of.
    While I admire those who stand up for England’s dreaming, there’s no future in it while the Establishment maintain control. Rule Britannia indeed- ‘never, never shall be slaves’ means somebody has to be. Unfortunately for the UK, with no empire, and what international goodwill remaining towards the country diminishing as you continue to make a spectacle of yourselves, you’re running out of road, and the easy path of fascism appeals to the easily manipulated, of which Brexit proves there are many in the UK.
    Linton Kwesi Johnson once sang ‘is Britain becoming a fascist state? The answer lies at your front gate.’ Go to your front gate and take an objective look around and think about what you see.

    1. Further reading, for those of you interested in the institutionalisation of racism in the British establishment, can be found by going to Naomi Fowler's excellent work on the subject at the Tax Justice Network website.
      Amongst others, David Cameron's family received compensation.
      There's no such thing as coincidence.

  25. Thanks for the interesting article, excellent analysis as usual and I even enjoyed the cricket nostalgia though I am not a cricket fan. Just wanted to say that calling out reform voters is fine by me. I think of Gordon Brown trying to back track on calling a bigoted old lady a bigot and Hilary Clinton claiming that deplorables weren't really deplorable. That really worked for them. I'd prefer them to be honest.