When vital words lose their meaning, then democracy will die
Geoffrey M. Hodgson
Theresa May once told us that “Brexit means Brexit”. We were not made any wiser.
In George’s Orwell’s famous book 1984, the all-powerful Party has the slogans “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery”, “Ignorance is Strength.” We are much closer to that Orwellian World of doublethink now.
In the local elections on 2 May 2019 there was a surge in the vote for the remain parties – Liberal Democrats, Greens, Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru – who do not want Britain to leave the European Union. In a campaign with “Stop Brexit” as their by-line, the Liberal Democrats gained over 700 council seats, their all-time best performance.
Meanwhile, the two main parties who “respect” the illegally-gained referendum result and who are trying to get some kind of Brexit deal, suffered badly. Labour failed to make net gains against the worst government in more than a century, and the Tories themselves lost heavily.
Hence voting for Remain means voting for Brexit. The Orwellian world of doublethink has finally arrived, 35 years after the book predicted. Remarkably few media interviewers or presenters, including from the corrupted BBC and the populist ITV, have challenged this interpretation of the election results. Ignorance is strength. Remain means Brexit.
Brexit means Remain
But in this Orwellian world, Brexit means Remain too. We are now into double doublethink.
The brilliant and indefatigable Femi
Oluwole tried to put Madeley right. Femi is an expert in EU law. But it was to
no avail. The idea that remaining in a customs union means remaining in the EU
prevailed on a popular ITV programme, which boasts about 700,000 viewers daily.
Francois is an opportunist, pandering
to the ultra-Brexiteers who dominate his party. It is possible that, unlike the
poorly-briefed Madeley, he knows the truth. Hence the wily use of the “in
effect” fig-leaf here and there.
I did some polling myself. I did my best to get
Leavers to participate, but any Twitter poll of mine will have a sample bias
toward Remainers. The poll has a relatively small sample of a few hundred
responses, and the results have to be used with caution.
Amazingly, despite the likely Remainer bias, 22 per cent on my poll thought that the statement “If UK is in a customs union with the EU, then it is still a member of the EU” is true. 73 per cent thought it was false. 5 per cent of respondents did not know.
that means that over a quarter of respondents did not know that it is possible to
be in a customs union with the EU and not be in the EU. If it were possible to
compensate for the likely Remainer bias, then this figure would probably be
Turkey – already in the EU?
Turkey has a well-established customs union with the EU. This means that its trade tariffs and duties must match those of the EU. It also means that Turkey is heavily embroiled with EU agreements and EU regulations. But Turkey is not a member of the EU.
An EU member state is subject to the privileges and obligations of membership. The member states of the EU are subjected to binding EU laws in exchange for representation within the common legislative and judicial institutions. Turkey has no representation in the European Parliament, and no seat in the Council of the European Union or the European Council. Other than via op-in agreements, it is not bound by EU laws.
But, according to my poll, something around 20 per cent of the British adult population seem to believe that being in a customs union means being a member of the EU. According to them, Turkey must be a member of the EU.
So why did Boris Johnson and Vote Leave tried to scare people during the 2016 referendum by say that Turkey was “to join” the EU? If a customs union means EU membership then Turkey was already a member. But Vote Leave itself implicitly denied this.
According to the mistaken 20 per cent, if the UK stays in a customs union after declaring it has achieved Brexit, then Brexit has not truly happened. This particular Brexit means Remain. Many people, including some politicians and TV presenters, seem to believe this.
A threat to democracy
Whether these misunderstandings result from deceit
or ignorance, they are fatal for rational discourse in a democracy. If
different groups of people are using the same words to mean very different
things, then meaningful conversation is impossible.
Consequently, it cannot be claimed that the meaning of Brexit is generally clear, and it is “the will of the people”. It is no longer reasonable to say that the 2016 vote in favour of Brexit must be “respected” when there is inadequate agreement on what Brexit means, and at least one-fifth of the population misunderstand the basic facts of what being a member or non-member of the EU means. To many people, some Brexits mean Remain.
If our parliamentary system ever regains a measure
of sanity, then one of its first acts of legislation should be to place
constitutional voting thresholds in the use of referendums, especially those
that could lead to major constitutional changes or the removal of our rights.
Even a 60 per cent threshold may be unsafe as a basis for legislation, especially
when over one-fifth may not understand what the proposition in the referendum
means. A super-majority of over 60 per cent must vote for a proposition for it
to have any advisory or compelling force.
Television channels such as the BBC, ITV and
Channel Four have a public service broadcasting obligation as a condition for
the licence to broadcast. This system has clearly failed us. They have a duty
put out the facts, even if the public or the politicians do not want to hear
Television presenters that put out falsehoods such
as “being in a customs union with the EU means being a member of the EU” should
be reprimanded or sacked. A schoolteacher or lecturer that repeated similar
falsehoods would be deemed incompetent and would face a similar fate. There can
be no short measures here. Our democracy is in severe danger.
Driven to extremes
The level of public misunderstanding over what
Brexit or Remain mean puts the Tory government and its current Labour
opposition in great difficulty. To move toward Brexit, they need to agree to
the “backstop” conditions, involving a customs union with the EU, so as to
avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The alternative is a no-deal
Brexit that would put the UK economy into recession, destroy the Good Friday
Agreement and threaten peace in Ireland and even on the British mainland.
Both the Labour and the Tory leaderships have edged toward a Brexit that avoids a no-deal outcome and keeps a soft border in Ireland. A group of Labour MPs led by Stephen Kinnock want to go even further: they are pushing for Norway-style status after Brexit.
But the current level of misunderstanding over the
meaning of Brexit and Remain puts all these Brexit solutions into great
difficulty. Any Brexit deal involving a customs union or Norway-style membership
of the Single Market, will be seen by around one fifth of the population as not
Brexit but Remain.
Given this confusion, many Labour and Tory voters who
support Brexit will see their parties as betraying the referendum results that
the party leaders themselves have urged everyone to “respect”. Meanwhile,
Labour and Tory voters who support Remain will see the enabling of Brexit as
contrary to the national interest and a removal of individual rights.
Any deal-bound Brexit has now become extremely
difficult and potentially unpopular. Any deal with the EU must involve some
kind of customs union with the EU. But such solutions will alienate large
numbers of Brexiters and even more Remainers. The Brexit discourse has polarised,
with supports of Remain on one side, and advocates of “no deal” on the other.
Nigel Farage understands this. Before the 2016
referendum he advocated a Norway-style Brexit model. He now says that any customs union is a betrayal
and he is pushing for no deal. Thanks to his frequent appearances on the
pro-Brexit BBC and ITV, he is piling up his electoral support and pulling over
large chunks of Tory voters.
“This was the first Electoral test of our policy of ‘constructive’ ambiguity on Tory #brexitshambles. It showed that when you cower in the middle of the road on the biggest existential crisis facing Britain for generations you get squashed.”
As a result, as Bradshaw admitted, lifelong Labour
voters were deserting to the Liberal Democrats.
The battle now is between those that are
campaigning for Remain, including the Liberal Democrats, the Green party and
Change UK, on the one side, and those campaigning for the most extreme and
damaging of all possible Brexits, on the other. The Conservatives and Labour are
piggies in the middle. They will be the losers.
Over two thousand years before Orwell, the great
Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote:
“If names are not right, words are misused. When words
are misused, affairs go wrong. When affairs go wrong, courtesy and music droop,
law and justice fail. And when law and justice fail them, a people can move neither hand nor foot.”
Today, words have been misused. Law and
justice have failed. Politicians are immobilized. A catastrophe is brewing. We must
Double doublethink – where both Remain and
Brexit are given their opposite meanings – is making meaningful dialogue impossible
in a divided country. Unlike we act firmly and quickly, our democracy could be disabled.
Difficult and dangerous times are ahead.
Despite their declared support for free trade, Tory libertarians like David Davis and Jacob Rees-Mogg are acting as if there were still a British Empire.
Geoffrey M. Hodgson
The Brexiteers in the Tory Party do not understand the mechanics of modern trade and have no viable blueprint for Brexit.
Substantial harmonization of standards and regulations is required when trade crosses international borders. The EU Single Market enables massive gains from trade within a harmonized system of regulation. EU member states have a say in the development of those regulations, within a common system.
Outside the EU, the UK would have to replace a huge apparatus of EU-wide regulation that has grown up since 1973 when it joined. This regulatory legislation would be an even more formidable burden than any increased tariff levels that would be adopted if the UK leaves the EU Customs Union and Single Market.
This problem creates a dilemma for libertarians who distrust all state machines – especially large ones outside their national comfort zone. Hence, alongside nationalists and hard left socialists, libertarians were in the intellectual forefront of the 2016 Brexit vote in the UK, chiming in with overblown complaints about Brussels bureaucracy, made more strident because this bureaucracy spans national boundaries and is staffed by foreigners.
Some of these libertarians are atomistic individualists, unable to accept that markets consist of more than individuals in isolation. These libertarians are seemingly unaware that all trade and markets must involve commonly accepted rules, as well as the wills and assets of individuals. Markets, in short, are social institutions.
Entering or leaving markets requires dealing with systems of rules. In practice, exit from the EU Single Market means either that regulations have to be developed independently, thus reducing trade possibilities, or that EU regulations have to be accepted for future trade, while having little say in their formation.
The libertarian dilemma
Minimal-state libertarians are thus caught in a dilemma. They have either to accept the adjudications of a foreign court, thus dramatically violating their characteristic anti-state position, by accepting not only state legal system but one outside their homeland, or they have to curtail their cherished ideological ambitions for free trade and markets across national boundaries.
More generally, any contract between sellers and buyers across international boundaries requires agreement on the means of adjudication, if a dispute arises over its terms or fulfilment. Typically it is agreed that disputes will be resolved in the courts of one nominated country. The European Court of Justice was set up to deal with contractual disputes within the EU, and between EU traders and contracting businesses located outside the EU.
Regulatory harmonization and trade dispute adjudication create problems for libertarians. Just as big socialists believe in a fantasy world where the state can do everything, some libertarians believe in the obverse fantasy of a minimal state, where trade somehow operates without an extensive state legal infrastructure. As Jamie Peck put it, these “neoliberals” espouse “a self-contradictory form of regulation-in-denial”.
Nevertheless, when faced with the real world of business and contract, these libertarians acquiesce with the state machine and its legal system within their own national boundaries. Their nationalism means that they can live with that outcome.
But when trade crosses international boundaries, the problems of regulatory harmonization and dispute adjudication compel these libertarians to accept – especially when trading with a larger economic bloc – that disputes may have to be resolved in courts outside their national boundaries.
For closet nationalists in libertarian clothing, accepting the judgments of a foreign court is a step too far. The lenience granted to their national courts is not granted to those of foreigners.
Bring back the British Empire – and other fantasies
British nationalists in libertarian clothing may then call up another fantasy from the past. They can imagine that Britain is still a great power, and that it has the capacity to compel that all trade disputes be resolved in British courts. In their imagination these libertarians bring back the British Empire. Imperial power makes everyone else a rule-taker. They may talk of that bygone world in the corridors of Eton, but it is far beyond the reality of global power today.
Across the Atlantic, American nationalists in libertarian clothing perform ideological gymnastics by allying themselves with politicians such as Donald Trump. He an economic nationalist rather than an advocate of international free trade. As long as these dubious libertarians can concentrate their gaze on the domestic US market and avoid the world beyond, then with some additional fantasising they might continue to believe in their myth of a minimal state.
Instead of the Empire, a US national fantasy is the Wild West. Historically, this was a short-lived zone, partly out of reach of the state and its system of law. Deals were done, aside the barrel of a gun. It is the US version of a mythological libertarian paradise. Global reality today, however, is very different.
A third fantasy is the idea of Jeremy Corbyn that Britain can leave the EU and build socialism. This is a mythical as the other fantasies. Corbyn does not understand markets and has no viable blueprint either – but that is the subject of other blogs. In the meantime, we note that all these efforts to leave the EU are based on fantasies that have little connection to the world in which we live today.
9 July 2018
Published by University of Chicago Press in January 2018
Many people still call themselves socialists. But rarely is it made clear what they mean by the description. Few seem aware of its original definition, which persisted from the 1830s to the 1950s. Some will argue that the word has acquired a new meaning since then. Words do change their meanings. But there is no consensus on what that new meaning is.
Despite its idealistic connotations of purity and principle, the word socialism hangs around the neck of left parties. It serves as an invitation for infiltration by Marxists and others, who may enter any party proclaiming their “democratic socialism” or their “socialist principles”.
Having being invited by the s-word, they simply have to point to its original meaning to justify their maximalist stances on class struggle and public ownership. The retention of the s-word will always feed the hard left.
Owenites and Marxists
The term socialist emerged in English for the first time in 1827 in the Co-operative Magazine, which was published in London by followers of Robert Owen. It moved into wider usage in the 1830s. For Owen and his followers, socialism meant the abolition of private property. It also acquired the broader ideological connotation of cooperation, in opposition to selfish individualism.
As Owen argued in 1840, “virtue and happiness could never be attained” in “any system in which private property was admitted”. He aimed to secure “an equality of wealth and rank, by merging all private into public property”.
Owen and his followers attempted to establish several socialist communities in the UK and USA. All failed within a few years. The young Frederick Engels attended an Owenite meeting in Manchester in 1843, and was inspired by Owen’s notion of socialism.
Marx and Engels wanted the complete abolition of the “free selling and buying” of commodities. They advocated common ownership of all means of production and the abolition of commodity exchange and markets.
Hence, from the 1830s until the 1950s, socialism was almost universally defined in terms of the abolition or minimisation of private property and some form of widespread common ownership.
Marx and Engels insisted that markets should be abolished and all means of production should be placed in the hands of the state.
Marx and Engels often used the term communism instead of socialism. But this was primarily to distance themselves from the naïve ideas of contemporary socialists rather than to postulate a radically different objective. For them, communism was a label for their movement, rather than their goal. Thus in 1845 they wrote:
Sometimes, as in his Critique of the Gotha Programme of 1875, Marx referred to the “lower” and “higher phases” of communism, instead of socialism.
In 1917 Vladimir Ilych Lenin was writing his State and Revolution, on the eve of the Bolshevik seizure of power. Some left critics had argued that Russia was insufficiently developed for socialist revolution.
So Lenin redefined socialism as a transitional stage (still involving extensive state ownership) between capitalism and communism.
By contrast, Marx and Engels did not use the term socialism to refer to a future stage between capitalism and communism. Their aim was described interchangeably as socialism or communism.
Engels’ description of Charles Fourier and Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon as “utopian socialists” is inaccurate because – unlike Owen – they supported private ownership of the means of production. They imagined harmonious communities without poverty or strife. But some of Saint-Simon’s followers moved toward socialism.
Philippe Buchez was inspired by Saint-Simon. He promoted worker cooperatives as early as 1831, and his ideas became prominent during the French Revolution of 1848.
Contrary to most of his contemporary socialists and communists, Buchez and his followers eventually recognized the need for multiple, autonomous, worker co-operatives, each owning property and engaging in contracts and markets.
But this tolerance of markets was too much for Marx. In 1875 he described Buchez’s ideas as “reactionary”, “sectarian”, opposed to the workers’ “class movement”, and contrary to the true revolutionary aim of “cooperative production … on a national scale”.
Pierre Joseph Proudhon
In 1840 Pierre Joseph Proudhon published his What is Property? He used both socialism and anarchism to describe his proposed future society. But, like Buchez, Proudhon proposed a system of worker cooperatives linked by contracts and trade. This enraged Marx and Engels, who relentlessly attached Proudhon’s ideas.
Non-statist versions of socialism endured but were overshadowed by statist variants. From the 1870s to the 1950s the dominant view of socialism involved state ownership and control. To emphasise their dissent, Proudhon and other opponents of statist socialism often described themselves as anarchists.
The idea that private property and markets should be abolished was thematic to socialism and unconfined to Marxism. It pervaded the writings of socialists as diverse as Continental revolutionary communists and British Fabians. At least until the 1950s, hostility towards markets and private property were thematic for socialism as a whole. The founding influences of Owen and Marx were long-lasting.
Beatrice & Sidney Webb
Drafted by leading Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Clause Four, Part Four of the Labour Party Constitution encapsulated collectivist thinking when it was adopted in 1918:
“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”
This provided for no exception: all production would be in common ownership and there would be no private sector. Although some Labour Party thinkers began to entertain the possibility of some private enterprise, many party members remained resolutely in support of widespread common ownership.
Some Fabian socialists tried to lay out more detail on how socialism would work. The Webbs laid out their ultimate vision of a fully planned and consciously controlled socialist economy where all markets and private ownership of the means of production had been marginalized to insignificance. They wanted private ownership of the means of production to be ended: it was a “perversion”.
They envisaged a massive, complex structure of national, regional and local committees, all involved in decision-making over details of production and distribution. How would these cope with the huge amounts of information and specialized knowledge in modern complex economies? It was simply assumed that this was relatively easy to sort out in some rational manner.
G D H Cole
The British Fabian G. D. H. Cole is sometimes described as a “libertarian socialist” and as an advocate of “decentralized” or “guild” socialism. But he supported the wholesale nationalisation of industry and the abolition of private enterprise. To his great credit, and unlike most Marxists, Cole did actually try to explain how a future socialist society would work. But his explanation is a failure.
Cole did not show how devolved democracy could function and endure in a society where private property was abolished. His hyper-democratic account of socialism, where individuals make decisions throughout industry as well as the polity, failed to consider the problems of necessary skill in judgment, of obtaining relevant knowledge, and the overwhelming number of meetings and decisions involved.
Cole’s vision of socialism was of an integrated, national system where “a single authority is responsible both for the planning of the social production as a whole and for the distribution of the incomes which will be used in buying it.” Within this “single authority” he also sought devolved worker control. He wanted local autonomy of manufacturing, modelled on the medieval guild.
But Cole was tragically unclear about how the two were to be reconciled. How would the autonomous powers of the latter be protected from the control and centralizing ambitions of the “single authority”? There was no adequate answer. His whole system was unworkable.
Clement Attlee and Bertrand Russell
In 1937, eight years before he became UK Prime Minister, Clement Attlee wrote of the “evils” of capitalism: their “cause is the private ownership of the means of life; the remedy is public ownership.” Attlee then approvingly quoted the words of Bertrand Russell:
“Socialism means the common ownership of land and capital together with a democratic form of government. … It involves the abolition of all unearned wealth and of all private control over the means of livelihood of the workers”.
Even within the moderate and non-Marxist Labour Party, the word socialism endured with these collectivist connotations, posed in opposition to private firms, competition and markets.
Russell represented an important strain of thinking within the British left. He wholeheartedly supported the notion of a publicly-owned and planned economy, but he rejected “Bolshevik methods”.
But is it possible to promote a state monopoly of economic power, while preventing a central-state monopoly and potential despotism of political power? In no historical case has the first happened and the second been prevented. Statist socialism, with viable democracy, political pluralism and effective decentralisation, exits only in the imagination of impractical idealists.
In the 1930s the economist Oskar Lange and others claimed that mainstream economic theory can show how socialism could work. Lange and his co-workers argued that managers of firms should be instructed to expand production until marginal costs were equal to the declared market price of the product.
But this assumed that marginal costs could be calculated and that the central planners could smoothly and readily assess whether there were surpluses or shortages, and adjust prices accordingly. Lange and others wrongly assumed that such information was readily available.
These proposals for “market socialism” attempted to simulate markets within a planning system, rather than to establish true markets with private ownership and commodity exchange. There was no private ownership and no capacity for firms to make contracts. The models developed by Lange and his collaborators involved a high degree of centralised co-ordination that excluded any real-world market.
Significantly, no attempt has ever been made to implement a Lange-type model in reality. Lange himself made no effort to persuade the post-1945 “socialist” government in his native Poland of the value of the idea.
Hence the use of the term “market socialism” in this context is highly misleading. Unlike the proposals of Buchez or Proudhon, and unlike the system of worker cooperatives established under Josip Tito in Yugoslavia after the Second World War, Lange’s proposal did not involve true markets.
In 1956 C. Anthony Crosland published The Future of Socialism. This began Labour’s slow reconciliation with markets, private enterprise and a mixed economy. Signalling an attempted shift of meaning, Crosland argued that the central aim of socialism was not necessarily common ownership, but social justice and economic equality, and these could be achieved by different means. But although his argument was highly influential, it was widely attacked within the Labour Party and elsewhere.
In 1959 the (West) German Social Democratic Party abandoned the goal of widespread common ownership. In the same year, Hugh Gaitskell tried to get the British Labour Party to follow this lead, but met stiff resistance. The party did not ditch its Clause Four commitment to the complete “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange” until 1995.
Richard Toye noted that the Labour Party assumed widespread public ownership and failed to develop adequate policies concerning the private sector:
“Labour, until at least the 1950s, showed little interest in developing policies for the private sector. During the 1960s, the party demonstrated continuing ambiguity about whether or not competition was a good thing. This ambiguity continued at least until the 1980s.”
Tony Blair and New Labour
But in 1995, after 77 years, Labour’s Clause Four was changed. Tony Blair successfully ended the Labour Party’s longstanding constitutional commitment to far-reaching common ownership. But this was not without opposition. Tony Benn protested: “Labour’s heart is being cut out”.
The new wording of “Clause IV: Aims and Values” declared that: “The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party.” But the clause ceased to promote unalloyed common ownership and the full text admitted a positive role for markets and a private sector.
By contrast, the 1918 formulation did not use the word socialism – it had undiluted common ownership instead.
Blair introduced the word socialism in 1995, but he attempted to change its meaning. He promoted “social-ism”, which now meant recognizing individuals as socially interdependent. It also signalled social justice, cohesion and equality of opportunity, within a mixed economy involving both private and public ownership.
Hence, instead of tackling the problem of Labour’s old collectivist DNA more directly, Blair tried to change the meaning of socialism and to airbrush Labour’s history. He failed to promote an adequate alternative vision or philosophy within Labour to replace old-fashioned common ownership. To the traditional left, it appeared as the substitution of purity and socialist principle by fudge and capitalist compromise.
But oddly Blair was responsible for the explicit insertion of socialism in its aims. This inadvertently played into the hands of the party’s enduring, backward-looking left.
Learning no lessons
Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the financial crash of 2008 helped to turn the Labour membership against Blair and his compromises with capitalism. As evidence of the Freudian defence mechanism of regression as a response to severe stress, Labour reverted to an earlier stage of its history, re-adopting its infant ideological comforts of collectivism and state control.
The ghost of Tony Benn emerged. His Campaign Group in parliament moved from the margins to the party mainstream.
Like Benn, the current leadership of the UK Labour Party shows little awareness of the chronic problems of managing a modern, complex, centrally-planned economy. They now accept a “mixed economy” as a transition stage, but fail to promote the virtues or enduring role of the private sector.
To take one example, Jeremy Corbyn’s 2015 address to the UK Co-operative Party is overwhelming in its blandness and naivety. Therein Corby shows no awareness that viable and meaningful decentralisation of economic power must involve (cooperative or other) firms with the right to own, set prices for, and trade their outputs. He rightly mentions the virtues of worker and consumer participation in decision-making, but shows no awareness of the practical limits of such participation.
Corbyn simply waved the magic wand of “democracy” without any apparent appreciation that it is impossible to involve everyone in more than a tiny fraction of all the complex decisions involved in any modern economy. Corbyn showed no awareness of the practical problems of complex decision-making in large organisations, which are dependent on multiple, localised, skills and expertise.
Following Labour’s advances in the 2017 general election, the leadership of Corbyn and his allies seems entrenched. Recently they have gained control of the powerful National Executive Committee of the party. For future nominations for the Labour leadership or deputy leadership, it is probable that the 15 per cent threshold of support from Labour MPs will be lowered, making ongoing hard left prominence more likely.
In the 1980s and 1990s the hard left were pushed back with the help of large, moderate trade unions that were affiliated to Labour. Those countervailing forces have gone. The unions are smaller and some are more inclined to the hard left.
With the Brexit vote in 2016, Britain has entered its most dangerous political crisis since the Second World War. The country is governed by an inept Conservative Party that is tearing up the UK constitution and concentrating unprecedented power in the hands of its duplicitous ministers.
Labour’s 2017 electoral advances were partly due to Tory incompetence. In this volatile climate it is possible that Corbyn could soon become prime minister. Subsequently, an obvious danger would be that the concentration of executive power legislated by Tory opponents would prove too tempting for Labour in power to relinquish. After growing authoritarianism from the reactionary right, we might experience a new, collectivist authoritarianism from Labour.
A Labour government committed to dealing with the severe crises in the health, education and housing sectors can bring positive benefits. Substantial state intervention is needed to regulate markets, especially in the area of finance. But such a programme needs to be tempered by heavy measures of pragmatism, pluralism, cautious experimentation and ideological humility that are alien to the current leadership.
However outdated, it is difficult to dislodge the core principles upon which any party is founded. France provides an important illustration. Michel Rocard was a leading member of the French Socialist Party and a prime minister under François Mitterand. He long argued that French socialists
had failed to modernise and to accept the enduring importance of private property and markets.
Emmanuel Macron was a protégée of Rocard. Macron gained presidential power after breaking from the fractured Socialist Party and building a powerful centre force. Perhaps there are some lessons for progressives in Britain. It would not be the first time that the French have shown us the way forward.
13 September 2017
Minor edits: 16, 21 September 2017
This book elaborates on some of the political issues raised in this blog:
Published by University of Chicago Press in January 2018
Attlee, Clement R. (1937) The Labour Party in Perspective (London: Gollancz).
Bestor, Arthur E., Jr (1948) ‘The Evolution of the Socialist Vocabulary’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 9(3), June, pp. 259-302.
Blair, Tony (1994) Socialism, Fabian Pamphlet 565 (London: Fabian Society).
Cole, George D. H. (1920) Guild Socialism Re-Stated (London: Parsons).
Crosland, C. Anthony R. (1956) The Future of Socialism (London: Jonathan Cape).
Harrison, J. F. C. (1969) Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul).
Although the two biggest UK political parties are very different in important respects, Labour under Jeremy Corbyn and the Conservatives under Theresa May have each converged on different forms of pro-Brexit, economic nationalism.
Economic nationalism prioritises national and statist solutions to economic problems. Although it does not shun them completely, it places less stress on global markets, international cooperation and the international mobility of capital or labour. It believes that the solutions to major economic, political and social problems lie within the competence of the national state.
Other countries have turned in the same direction, including the United States under Donald Trump and Russia under Vladimir Putin. Previously, both Soviet-style and fascist economies have embraced economic nationalism. China has continued along this road, even after its acceptance of private enterprise and a market economy.
Economic nationalism has been used successfully as a tool of economic development, by creating a state apparatus to build an institutional infrastructure and mobilise resources. But it brings severe dangers as well as some advantages. Its reliance on nationalist rhetoric can feed intolerance, racism and extremism.
Furthermore, as it concentrates economic and political power in the hands of the state, economic nationalism undermines vital checks and balances in the politico-economic architecture.
As numerous social scientists (from Barrington Moore to Douglass North) have shown, democracy and human rights cannot be safeguarded without a separation of powers, backed by powerful countervailing politico-economic forces that keep the state in check.
From Thatcherism to Mayhem: Tory economic nationalism
In the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher changed the Tory party from a paternalist party of the elite to a more radical, free-market and individualist force, embracing the ideologies of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.
A logical consequence of this market fundamentalism was to embrace the European Single Market, which her successor John Major did in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. But this was too much for the Tory nationalists, who were already turning against the European Union and all its works.
The tension grew within the Tories between those that pursued international markets in the name of market fundamentalism, and those who worried that global trade and the free movement of labour were undermining the powers of the British nation state.
A compromise option – widely touted during the June 2016 EU referendum – was to exit the EU but remain in the single market. But a major implication of this was that the free movement of labour to and from the EU would have to be retained. May became prime minister and declared that Britain would leave the single market as well as the EU.
This marks a major ideological shift within the Conservative Party. The pursuit of free markets, promoted so zealously by Thatcher, has moved down the Tory agenda, in favour of nationalism, increased state control, reduced parliamentary scrutiny, and lower immigration, whatever the economic costs.
Forward together: the new-old Toryism
This shift is signalled by a remarkable passage in the 2017 Conservative general election manifesto:
“We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism.”
Crucially, the Tory Party was traditionally opposed to “untrammelled free markets” and it worried about the destructive and corrosive effects of individualism and greed.
As Karl Polanyi pointed out in his classic book on The Great Transformation, the first fighters for factory and employment legislation, to protect workers from the results of reckless industrialization in the 1830s and 1840s, were from the ranks of the church and the Tory Party:
“The Ten Hours Bill of 1847, which Karl Marx hailed as the first victory of socialism, was the work of enlightened reactionaries.”1
Tories like Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, were great nineteenth-century social reformers. The Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli railed against selfish individualism, particularly in his novels. For Disraeli, British imperialism was more important than unalloyed individualism.
May has brought the Tory party back to its pre-Thatcher roots. But, less enlightened than Shaftesbury or Disraeli, she has little appetite for protective legislation or constitutional reform. Instead, she celebrates her own powers of leadership and seeks a mandate to concentrate power in her hands.
She has little enthusiasm for democracy either. If it were not for the heroic efforts of Gina Miller and the decision of the Supreme Court, the triggering of Article 50 – to start the process of leaving the European Union – would have been taken by the executive without a parliamentary vote.
Bringing the state back in: Labour’s new-old economic nationalism
At least on the surface, there are dramatic differences with Labour’s manifesto, which, for example, contains more measures targeted at the poor and elderly. Labour also gives much more verbal emphasis to human rights and democracy.
But at the core of Labour’s 2017 manifesto is a strong dose of economic nationalism, with Labour’s greatest commitment to public ownership since the “suicide note” manifesto of 1983. There are plans to bring the railways, energy, water and the Royal Mail all back into public ownership.
The 2017 manifesto declares: “Many basic goods and services have been taken out of democratic control through privatization.” But there is little explanation of what “democratic control” would mean under public ownership.
How would it work? Would parliament take decisions on everything? In reality these proposals – whatever their other merits – would enlarge state bureaucracy: there is no explanation how they would extend democracy.
The words “control” or “controls” appear 32 times in the 2017 manifesto. There is insignificant explanation of how “controls” work. The Labour manifesto envisions a concentration of economic power in the hands of the state, notwithstanding its verbal commitment to regional and local, as well as national, public management.
While there are commendable measures to enhance and enlarge an autonomous sector of worker-owned enterprises, there is little recognition of the importance of having a viable and dynamic private sector as well.
Corbyn’s Labour: forward to the past
As May has brought the Tories back to the pre-Thatcher years, Corbyn has brought Labour back to its traditional roots, before the leadership of Tony Blair.
With his 1995 changes to Clause Four of the Labour Party Constitution, Blair brought in an explicit commitment to a dynamic private sector. Labour stood for an economy where “the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation”. Corbyn has returned to the spirit of Labour pre-1995 constitution, even if he has not yet changed the wording.
Corbyn has proposed that Britain can be “better off” outside the EU. He argued that EU rules block the kind of state-heavy industrial policy that he favours. But EU countries such as France and Germany already have strong interventionist policies for industrial and infrastructural development. In truth, Corbyn favours repeated doses of statist socialism in one country.
With some Stalinist exceptions in his coterie, Corbyn and his followers are mostly sincere in their commitment to democracy and human rights. But what they do not understand is that their proposed statist concentration of economic power will undermine countervailing politico-economic forces that can help to keep the state leviathan in check.
Jeremy Corbyn and Hugo Chávez
These countervailing and separated powers are vital. Especially in times of hardship or crisis, there will be a temptation by some in power (at the local or national level) to abuse rights and undermine democracy. Every single historical case shows this result.
Attempts “to take control of the economy”, even with measures of decentralization and local power, have led to restrictions on press freedom, arbitrary detentions, abuses of human rights, and even famine.
Forward together: economic nationalists take the helm
Further doses of economic nationalism may be possible in a country as large as the United States. In 2015, exports from the USA amount to about 13 per cent of GDP. Hence economic nationalists in the USA can reduce trade without too much contraction of the economy. It may turn further inwards, cut imports and still survive a loss of exports.
But the UK has become a globally-orientated, open economy, exporting 28 per cent of its GDP in 2015. About 45 per cent of these exports go to the European Union.
By exiting the EU Single Market, and by walking away from EU trade deals with non-EU countries that benefit EU member states, Labour and the Tories would threaten the UK economy with a massive downturn. The British economy would fall off a cliff.
In this crisis, rightist economic nationalists will blame foreigners and immigrants, and leftist economic nationalists will blame the rich.
It will be “the few” – designated by their ethnicity or by their assets – who will get the blame. Their rights will be under threat, as so will the liberties of all of us. Whatever variety is chosen, economic nationalism could severely undermine the viability of democracy in the UK.
21 May 2017
Minor edits – 23, 28 May, 29 June
This book elaborates on some of the political issues raised in this blog:
Wrong Turnings: How the Left Got Lost
Published by University of Chicago Press in January 2018
Moore, Barrington, Jr (1966) Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (London: Allen Lane).
North, Douglass C., Wallis, John Joseph and Weingast, Barry R. (2009) Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press).
Polanyi, Karl (1944) The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (New York: Rinehart). See esp. pp. 165-66.
“Bliss was that dawn to be alive.” With Labour’s landslide victory under Tony Blair, the general election of 1st May 1997 ended eighteen years of Tory rule.
The new government set out to implement a series of major reforms, including establishing devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales, setting a statutory minimum wage, and injecting much-needed money into the education system and the NHS.
After winning two further elections with large majorities – in 2001 and 2005 – Labour’s period of office came to an end on 5th May 2010, when the Conservatives became the biggest party in Parliament. The Liberal Democrats made the mistake of entering into a coalition with the Tories, and paid the price when they lost most of their MPs in 2015.
So began a period of Tory rule that now seems that it could last for decades. But the Tories rule with the support of less than 50 per cent of the voters. If Blair had implemented electoral reform, then what might have happened instead?
But Blair still wanted to cooperate with the Liberal Democrats on several issues, including on electoral reform. He insisted that the two parties were natural allies, and they should not have gone their separate ways a hundred years earlier. In his first speech to a Labour conference after his landslide election victory, Blair declared:
“my heroes aren’t just Ernie Bevin, Nye Bevan and Attlee. They are also Keynes, Beveridge, Lloyd George. Division among radicals almost one hundred years ago resulted in a 20th century dominated by Conservatives. I want the 21st century to be the century of the radicals.”
By “division among the radicals” Blair referred to the 1900 decision to set up a party in parliament independent of the Liberals. Blair wished to reverse that mistake and install an enduring radical majority.
Labour’s 1997 promise of electoral reform
Blair wanted Labour and the Liberal Democrats to work together for progressive change, and, if possible, to exclude permanently the Tories from government, at least until they were forced to modernise and to abandon their reactionary, inward-looking nationalism.
“We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed early to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system.”
After the election, Blair continued his secret talks with Ashdown on co-operation between their two parties, including on the issue of electoral reform.
But what voting system should be chosen?
One problem was that the two parties found it difficult to agree on what “a proportional alternative” might mean. But a possible compromise emerged with a top-up system called “AV+”.
In addition, under AV+, each voter would get a second vote to elect a regional-level representative from a list of candidates for each party. An additional group of MPs would be elected via this route. This “top up” would ensure greater proportionality in Parliament.
Some people dislike AV+ because it creates two types of MP, with not all of them being responsible for a manageable constituency. In addition, AV+ does not satisfy purists who want a more proportional system.
Division of Labour
But the biggest problem with Blair’s strategy for long-term reform was Labour itself.
While leading figures in his Cabinet such as Robin Cook, Mo Mowlam, Clare Short and Peter Mandelson supported electoral reform, Blair faced the implacable opposition of Chancellor Gordon Brown, Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State John Prescott, Home Secretary Jack Straw, numerous trade union leaders and an energetic campaign against proportional representation from Labour’s ranks.
Reasons for this opposition to electoral reform within Labour were numerous. But perhaps the most enduring argument was that Labour saw itself as a party committed to radical change in favour of working people, which was bound to meet fierce opposition from rich vested interests and the reactionary press.
I can speak with a little authority here, because this was once my own major objection to proportional representation (PR). As loyal and active Labour party members, Peter Hain and I published a booklet in 1982 entitled Proportional Misrepresentation?
We argued that PR would favour parties of the centre, against parties like Labour who represented working people and were committed to radical change. The advantage of the existing system was that Labour could gain power and show piecemeal and in practice how socialist measures could work.
Although we were against PR, Peter and I argued for a change to the alternative vote (AV), without a top-up element. A few years’ later, Peter suggested that we develop our pamphlet into a book.
Thatcher in power
But this was after six years of Margaret Thatcher in power. Her Tory Party had won an overall majorities in 1979 and 1983, in both cases with less than 44 per cent of the vote. After 1983 I came to the view that Labour could not win the next election and the Tories could be power for about 15 years.1
Just as the existing electoral system might be used by a left party for radical reform, it was being used by a newly-radicalised Tory party to divide the country, to undermine the welfare state and to attack the rights of working people.
I had developed serious doubts about our 1982 arguments. So I declined Peter’s kind offer and he published the book in 1986 under his own name, fully acknowledging our previous joint arguments.
Others developed concerns similar to mine, especially as the years passed and the Tories remained in power with minority support. All this gave the impetus for Blair and others to push for PR in Labour’s 1997 manifesto.
But elements of Labour’s class-based tribalism remained strong, as did commitment to an ever-vague promise of something called “socialism” that only a majority Labour government could deliver. Hence Labour internally remained deeply divided on this issue, as it does to this day.
The Jenkins Commission
In December 1997, in line with the manifesto commitment, Blair set up a parliamentary commission under Lord Roy Jenkins, the former Labour minister and then Liberal Democrat peer. The Jenkins Commission would recommend which particular proportional system should be put before voters in a referendum.
The Jenkins Commission reported in September 1998 and suggested the alternative vote top-up (AV+) system. Blair immediately faced intense opposition, from within his own Cabinet, from a large number of Labour MPs, from a large section of the Labour Party in the country, and from several trade unions.
In 1997 Labour came to power with 43 per cent of the vote but won 63 per cent of the parliamentary seats. Any significant move toward greater proportionality would have deprived one hundred or more Labour MPs of their seats. Over one hundred turkeys would have to have voted for Christmas. The political barriers to this reform seemed unsurmountable. The recommendations of the Jenkins Commission were kicked into the long grass.
In fact, a referendum on AV was held in 2011, under the coalition government. The proposal was defeated by a large majority. This demonstrated the problem of convincing the public of the merit if a more complex system, which cannot be explained easily in one or two sentences. I raise this issue later below.
An alternative future
First we consider what might have happened if the more-proportional system of AV+ had been introduced sometime between 1997 and 2010.
In the 2010 election Tories got 36 per cent of the vote, Labour got 29 per cent and the Liberal Democrats 23 per cent. Under the existing voting system they got 306 seats, 258 seats, and 57 seats respectively. Under a more proportional system they would have got something like 255 seats, 204 seats and 162 seats respectively
Under the existing electoral system, a 2010 coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats would have had 315 seats, which is well short of an overall majority in a parliament of 650 seats. It would have been a minority coalition government, or other parties would have had to been involved. This was a significant obstacle, which played a part in scuppering any 2010 deal between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
But if a more proportional system had been in place in 2010, then a coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats would have had something like 366 seats, which would have been a clear overall majority. The Tories could have been kept out of power.
Furthermore, Labour would have been obliged to cooperate with a centrist party, giving weight and prestige to its more moderate wing. Sure enough, there would have been protest on the left, led by a Jeremy Corbyn or a John McDonnell, but they would have probably been kept away from Labour’s levers of power.
As the years followed, all sorts of alternative scenarios might have then unfolded. But a referendum on Brexit would have been unlikely, or it would have taken place under conditions more favourable to the Remain campaign.
In short, if the electoral system had been changed in this way before 2010, then we would not be in this mess that we are now. We could still be on the road to a progressive future, rather than fighting a desperate battle against intolerant bigots and nationalists, who would drive the UK economy off a cliff to satisfy an anti-immigration sentiment fed by years of economic failure.
Winning the battle for electoral reform
Electoral reform is highly unlikely under a Tory government and hence the first objective must be to remove the Conservatives from power. This will require a progressive alliance of Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens, which at present does not seem feasible. Also the Tories might remain in power for some time.
But a tiny consolation of this dismal entrapment is the time it gives us to debate the best system, which would offer something closer to proportionality, and would have a chance of convincing the electorate.
Some kind of top-up system based on 400-500 single-member constituencies, topped up with a further 100-200 MPs elected from party lists, seems the best way forward. It is a possible compromise that the parties involved can accept, and it is understandable by the public.
But I have now come to the view that the use of AV to elect the MPs for the single-member constituencies is both intrinsically flawed and difficult to explain to the electorate. A better and easier-to-explain alternative exists.
There were several reasons why the AV referendum was lost in 2011, including the fact that many prominent figures in the Labour Party openly opposed it. Another was the complexity of AV itself. As Tom Clark wrote in the Guardian:
“Leaflets from the electoral commission, which were designed to explain what the reform would mean to every household with meticulous neutrality, ended up making AV look horrendously complex. The blurb summed up first-past-the-post in just three sentences, while describing AV with an excessively complex example election, which required three diagrams and text that spilled over four pages.”
A further problem is that AV itself, even if it can be explained to the public, has serious intrinsic flaws.
Why AV is flawed
The alternative vote (AV) is widely criticised by experts on voting systems. We are concerned with systems designed to elect one person, from a list of candidates, to a single position or seat.
Consider an example of a mayoral election with three candidates Ms Left, Ms Centre and Ms Right. Both Ms Left and Ms Right are pretty extreme, and the electorate is polarised. An AV systems is employed and the candidates get the following first-preference votes: Left 33 per cent, Centre 31 per cent and Right 36 per cent. Under the AV system Ms Centre would be eliminated and her second preferences would be allocated to Left or Right. One of the more extreme candidates would win, in a run-off between Left and Right.
Nicolas de Condorcet
But imagine a local newspaper had run an extensive poll which showed that if there had been a run-off between Centre and Right, then Centre would have won. And if there had been a run-off between Centre and Left, then Centre again would have won. In other words, a majority in all cases preferred Ms Centre to any of the extremes.
Technically this is known as a Condorcet winner – a person who would win all two-candidate elections against each of the other candidates in turn.2 A serious problem with AV is that it can often eliminate a Condorcet winner. More generally, a major problem with AV is that it can often militate against strong and popular compromise candidates.
If there were (say) four candidates for a parliamentary seat, then the electors may vote (with crosses rather than numbers) for zero, one, two, three or four of the candidates. The votes for each candidate are added up, and the candidate with the highest number of votes is elected. Simple.
Of course, an elector voting for none or four of the candidates in this case would have no effect on the result, except he or she would be helping to give an overall indication of the overall level of approval (or lack of it) for each candidate.
As well as its technical superiority, a huge advantage of approval voting is that it is much easier to explain and to understand.
My proposal is for an approval voting system for single-member constituencies, plus a party-list top-up in regional units, to move closer to proportionality. I propose Approval+.
Rising above the technical details, a lot is at stake here. If a more proportional system had been introduced in 1997-2010 then we could have avoided the disastrous prospect of decades of Tory rule, elected each time on 40 per cent or less of the vote.
When asked, the UK public support a more proportional system. A 2015 poll showed that 57 per cent of the public agreed with the principle that “the number of seats a party gets should broadly reflect its proportion of the total votes cast” – compared to only 9 per cent who disagreed.
We need to think about the best and most persuasive system of electoral reform, and set about the task of building a progressive alliance to implement it.
17 April 2017
Minor edits – 18 April, 1, 13, 14 May, 6 June, 14 July, 12 August, 3 September 2017
1. I turned out to be too optimistic: the Tories were in power for 18 years. Using a statistical analysis, I developed my sceptical 1980s view of Labour’s chances while I was on the ruling council of the Labour Coordinating Committee. My assessment was unpopular among budding, ambitious Labour politicians.
2. Nicolas de Condorcet (1743-1794) was a French revolutionary, mathematician, advocate of female suffrage and friend of Thomas Paine.
3. This is a very useful but long video. To cut straight to Approval Voting, the first 36 minutes may be skipped.
Hain, Peter and Hodgson, Geoff (1982) Proportional Misrepresentation? (London and Nottingham: Tribune and Institute for Workers Control).
Hain, Peter (1986) Proportional Misrepresentation: The Case against PR in Britain (Guildford: Wildwood House).
Despite her previous opposition to Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May tells us that the UK must quit the European Union because it is “the will of the people”. Despite aligning himself in the Remain campaign during the referendum, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn says that we must pursue Brexit because it is “the will of the people”. Many Labour MPs, who are critical of Corbyn and believe that leaving the EU will be a disaster, voted to start the exit process, without any guarantees or conditions, because it is “the will of the people”.
This is now the dreadful state of our democracy. On crucial matters such as immigration and Brexit, we are governed by tabloid headlines, opinion polls and lie-infested referendums. The “will of the people” has become the catch-phrase of the cowering, lazy or unprincipled politician. No longer driven by truth or principle, many of them knowingly connive in disaster because it is regarded as the peoples’ will.
Where can following “the will of the people” lead?
Polls show that the use of torture has sometimes, even recently, received majority support from the US public. President Donald Trump was elected after expressing a desire to re-introduce torture. Torture is “the will of the American people” – as some might put it.
But the use of torture has been against the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution since 1791. The very role of a constitution is to help protect rights and freedoms, even if “the will of the people”, or of a deviant President or Prime Minister, would take them away. One of the limits to democracy is that it should not be able to overturn our human rights.
Dictators and populists are fond of referendums because they deploy “the will of the people” against constitutional safeguards. Hitler held a referendum in 1933, to garner mass support to withdraw from the League of Nations. In 1934 he held another referendum, which endorsed his bid for supreme power in Germany. Yet another referendum in 1936 ratified Hitler’s military occupation of the Rhineland and his one-party state. A fourth referendum in 1938 approved Hitler’s annexation of Austria. All propositions in these plebiscites received huge majorities.
The death penalty
In recent polls in the USA, 60 per cent of the adult population supported the death penalty for murder, despite 64 per cent also believing that it does not lower the murder rate and 59 per cent believing that innocent people had been wrongly executed in the previous five years.
Imagine that we had a referendum to re-introduce the death penalty in the UK. Thanks to some reactionary newspapers, it is possible that the proposal would gain majority support. But that does not justify its re-introduction, even if it was “the will of the people”. The morality of a law cannot be decided by popular vote.
Should homosexual acts be legal?
In some states of the USA there were laws prohibiting sodomy (between same-sex or different-sex couples) until 2003. As recently as 2004, the number of people polled in the USA who thought that homosexual acts should be illegal exceeded the number who thought they should be legal.
By these measures, according to “the will of the people” homosexual acts should not have been made legal in 2003 or 2004.
But opinions change. This is another major problem with being governed by “the will of the people”.
After 2004, support in the USA for the legality of homosexual acts rose steadily. By 2016, the number supporting legality exceeded the contrary view by 40 per cent.
in the UK, as recently as 1998, 50 per cent of respondents in a poll thought that homosexual acts were “always” or “mostly” wrong, compared with 31 per cent saying they were “rarely” or never wrong.
Since then, opinion has switched, largely because leading politicians in the Tory as well as other major parties (with the notable exception of UKIP) have countered a sizeable segment of public opinion and underlined gay rights as a matter of principle.
By 2012, only 28 per cent of respondents in the UK thought that homosexual acts were “always” or “mostly” wrong, compared with 57 per cent saying they were “rarely” or never wrong. The will of the people can change.
The “will of the people” can be wrong or immoral
Whatever the “will of the people”, homosexual acts are either morally admissible or immoral. Moral principles are not determined by referendums or opinion polls.
Instead, they must be the subject of ongoing, informed debate, guided by the need to minimise harm, alongside “an egalitarian conception of the good, focusing on equal opportunities for a worthwhile life” (as Philip Kitcher puts in his important book on The Ethical Project).
Considerations of equal rights and equality of opportunity militate against such gendered attitudes and the discrimination that they sustain. While there is much more to be done, arguments have been won, opinions have changed and progress has been made. People can be persuaded that their previous opinions were wrong.
Democratic votes cannot establish the veracity of scientific claims. Science proceeds through detailed scrutiny of claims by experts in a specialist field and a dialogue of different expert views. It thus creates an evolving consensus over what truths have been established and what research must be prioritised for further investigation.
In the case of climate change, there is a strong consensus that human activity is leading to global warming. Albeit imperfect, this is the best indication we have of scientific truth. It is not the opinion of the general public, most of whom do not understand climate science.
Another common fallacy, perpetrated by people who do not understand economics, is that we should treat the budgeting problems of a national economy in the same way that we treat our individual or household budgets. This is the “every housewife knows” economics of Margaret Thatcher and her ilk.
This mistaken view ignores the capacity of many sovereign states to issue money and sustain deficits: unlike individuals or firms, such states cannot go bankrupt. It ignores the fact that what may be true for an individual may not be true in the aggregate, as Keynesians and others have pointed out for decades.
Many economists (possibly most economists in the UK) accept this Keynesian argument. But it is difficult to get the point across to the general public, so that they elect governments that pursue austerity policies, which reduce aggregate demand and economic growth, leading to increased debt.
The role of democracy
If the behaviour of most British MPs over Brexit were taken as a guide, there would be no role for MPs at all. They blindly follow “the will of the people”, even when they know that it will lead to adverse economic and political outcomes.
If this were a valid guiding rule, then MPs would be redundant. They could be replaced by online opinion polls on every question. The public would be invited to vote over every piece of legislation and “the will of the people” could be upheld.
Before long we might be putting immigrants in sealed trains to remote or foreign destinations, and publicly flogging delinquents to teach them a lesson.
Democracy is vital not because it provides a means of implementing “the will of the people” on any specific proposal. The primary purpose of democracy is to legitimate government. It replaces unacceptable claims that rulers are legitimised by the “will of God” or by their family lineage.
At least at the national level, in any large and complex socio-economic system, democracy must involve representatives rather than delegates. Representatives must be given some autonomy to seek expert advice and make judgments on complex issues. Extensive participatory democracy in such circumstances is both unfeasible and undesirable.
Members of Parliament receive a mandate from their electorates to represent their interests. Representing interests does not mean polling opinions: that is the lazy and irresponsible option. Instead it is a matter of exercising informed judgment. It is a question of deliberation and interpretation, involving the use of expert advice. We know that MPs often get things wrong. That is why their constituents have the opportunity to remove them at the next election.
The reactionary media are not solely to blame
The reactionary media and their malign influence on public opinion are not the sole cause of the current political malaise in Britain and the USA. Among others, one can blame the intellectually-lazy part of the Left, which trots out the mantra of “democratic control” whenever it sees a policy problem.
One can also blame the majority of economists, who have abandoned all moral considerations save for utility maximisation (or mere “satisfaction”) by “rational fools” (the term used by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen).
Hence it is not just the reactionary media that are to blame. Many political activists have been intellectually lazy for too long. We need an enhanced and better-informed conversation concerning rights, morality and practical institutional design.
Armed with this knowledge, we need to hold our representatives to account, and expose the laziness and lack of principle of those who blindly follow “the will of the people”. If they see themselves as nothing more than unintelligent voting machines, then they should give up their positions to others, who would be guided by moral principles and offer greater dedication to the true interests of the people that they are supposed to serve.
21 February 2017
Minor edits – 28 February, 7 March, 4 May
This book elaborates on some of the political issues raised in this blog:
Wrong Turnings: How the Left Got Lost
Published by University of Chicago Press in January 2018
The political earthquakes of 2016 are probably the beginning of a series of major ruptures in world politics. Donald Trump was elected in the USA, Britons voted for Brexit, Turkey lurched toward dictatorship, Brazil ejected a democratically-elected president, Russia extended its global influence, and China tightened internal security while building military bases in the South China Sea.
From America to Asia, authoritarian nationalism is on the march. The future of old alliances is cast in doubt, raising a renewed spectre of global war.
These seismic changes should prompt us to reconsider our priorities. Is ‘neoliberalism’ – whatever that means – our main enemy? Or is it rising authoritarianism and nationalism instead?
We have been here before, albeit with much less dangerous military weapons. The rival imperialisms of the nineteenth century led to the First World War. Collapsing imperial dynasties triggered revolution in Central and Eastern Europe. Communists successfully seized power in Russia in 1917. Post-war political and economic turbulence led to the triumph of fascism in Italy, Germany and Spain. Imperial Japan invaded nationalist China.
I am not suggesting that history will repeat itself in the same way. But it is important to understand how the tectonic plates of political change affected the way we understand and map political positions, and the way in which we prioritise political issues.
The thirty-year squeeze (1918-1948)
Europe suffered economic depression for much of the interwar period. The financial crash of 1929 exacerbated the crisis and led to a collapse of world trade. Liberal defenders of the market economy were put on the defensive: capitalism seemed at the end of its tether.
Beatrice & Sidney Webb
Meanwhile, some intellectuals from the USA and Britain – including Labour stalwarts George Bernard Shaw and Sidney and Beatrice Webb – visited the Soviet Union brought back glowing accounts of an expanding economy and a joyful population. (The Soviet propagandists explained away disasters such as the Ukranian Famine as resulting from sabotage by rich peasants or foreign agents.)
With the crisis of capitalism, the rise of fascism and the apparent success of Soviet Russia, many British and American radicals became Communists or fellow travellers. For them, liberalism and the defence of the market economy seemed a weak or unviable option.
The choice seemed to be between two forms of authoritarian government: much better the one that proclaimed equality and opposed racism. (But in reality, the Stalin regime promoted antisemitism, genocide against several other ethnic minorities, and dramatic internal inequalities of power.)
Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill in 1941
The alliance between Russia and the West in the Second World War smothered criticism of what was really going on within Stalin’s regime. But, with the beginning of the Cold War in 1948, socialists were forced to make a choice between either supporting an antagonistic and undemocratic foreign power, or aligning with the USA and its allied democracies.
Labour under Clement Attlee aligned with the West. But rose-tinted visions of Soviet Russia or (from 1949) Mao’s China lived on among he Left.
In major European democracies, the thirty years between the end of the First World War and the start of the Cold War had seen liberalism squeezed, between socialism on the one hand, and reactionary authoritarianism on the other.
‘American imperialism’ and the rise of neoliberalism
Things were different in the USA, which polarised between forms of Republican conservatism and Democratic liberalism. But rising tensions in the Cold War, and the eruption of the Vietnam War in the 1960s, made American-style liberalism less attractive for the global Left.
Marxist-led national liberation movements in Cuba, Indochina and elsewhere kept the collectivist vision alive for the Left around the world. Liberalism was see as the fake ideology of American imperialism and the global bourgeoisie.
Some have argued that neoliberalism was reborn in the 1970s, when conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher adopted a vision of expanding markets and a contracting state. Although the Left could never agree on what ‘neoliberalism’ meant, they mostly agreed that it was the main enemy.
Much of the Left, throughout the world, had never got rid of its agoraphobia – its fear of markets. Private enterprise and market forces were always and everywhere seen as the problem. Liberals, who defended private property and markets as well as human rights, were mocked as the bourgeois enemy.
Our brave new world
But the global tectonic plates are now shifting abruptly, in an erupting national and international crisis, as big as anything since 1948.
Nationalist leaders strut around the world stage. They stock up their nuclear and conventional arsenals and jostle for geopolitical advantage.
Torture is endorsed. Journalists are threatened or imprisoned. Scientific findings on climate change are denied. Intellectuals and experts are ridiculed. Ignorance and dogma are celebrated. Truth is swamped by lies. Legislation protecting workers and the poor is undone. Minorities are attacked and made scapegoats. Racism is given licence. People suffer discrimination on the basis of their religious or other beliefs. Democratic systems are damaged. Judges and lawyers are treated as traitors. The rule of law is undermined.
In this dangerous new world, it matters less whether that railway is nationalised or whether water distribution is in public ownership. Forms of ownership are always secondary to the actual provision and distribution of vital goods and services. But when our rights and liberties can no longer be taken for granted, questions over forms of ownership move even further down the ranking of priorities.
The ubiquitous, trivialising idea that the Left is defined in terms of public provision, and Right as private provision, is historically recent and a gross reversal of their original meanings. It is also a polarisation of lesser relevance in this world of rising authoritarian nationalism.
Our fundamental rights, our liberty, and the rule of law are now increasingly threatened. Their defence becomes the great struggle of our time.
This lesson is hardest for Americans and Britons, who were spared domestically from the jackboots of twentieth-century despotism. Struggles for British and American national liberty are beyond living memory. We have grown fat and lazy on the fruits of the liberal order. We have taken for granted its institutions and underestimated their fragility. We must repair our vigilance.
The liberal opportunity
For 100 years, for the reasons given above, liberalism has been marginalised. Now is its opportunity – indeed its urgent necessity.
Unlike our grandparents in the crisis-ridden 1930s, we have seen the socialist experiments of the twentieth century and counted their cost at 90 million lives. History and social science have more to teach us. If we wish to learn, we can know more about how markets work. We can understand the informational, organisational and other impediments to comprehensive national planning. We can appreciate why countervailing politico-economic power, based on a strong private sector, are necessary to buttress democracy and resist authoritarianism. The twentieth century has taught us these lessons.
The old Marxist mantra of bourgeoisie versus proletariat is also ungrounded in reality. Instead we have a highly fragmented working class, much of it enduringly aligned with authoritarianism and nationalism. Marxism relies on a quasi-religious and nonsensical belief that the working class – whatever it actually believes or strives for – carries our human destiny.
Class struggle has mattered, but it has never been the main motor of history. What have mattered more have been struggles for power, by individuals, dynasties, nations, religions or ideological movements.
The Storming of the Bastille in 1789
Liberalism was one of those movements. Based on the imperatives of equality and liberty, it matured in the Enlightenment.
Liberalism rose up in the English Civil War of the 1640s, in the American Revolution of the 1770s, and in the French Revolution of 1789, in titanic struggles against despotism and oppression.
Now, once again, liberalism is centre stage, as the enemy of authoritarian nationalism.
The liberal rainbow
Its allies are not those who pander to authoritarianism by eroding civil liberties, or do the spadework of the nationalist Right by making immigration (rather than assimilation) a foremost problem. The prime allies of liberalism are all those who defend liberty and human rights. But therein lies a concern, which must be discussed.
From the beginning, liberalism has harboured different views on the role of the state and of the degree of state intervention required in the economy and society. On the one hand there are liberals – sometimes called libertarians – who wish to minimise the role of the state.
John Maynard Keynes – another great liberal – argued that state regulation of financial markets and counter-cyclical expenditures are necessary to stabilise the capitalist system. Keynes showed that economic austerity is a flawed doctrine. Government deficits are best reduced by growth: budget cuts can contract the entire economy and make the problem worse.
There is a spectrum of views between individualist and social-democratic liberalism, but all liberals are united in their defence of individual liberty, human rights and political democracy. The diverse colouring of this rainbow does not diminish its united opposition to the dark intolerance and division that is exacerbated by authoritarian nationalism.
The struggle for liberty and equality has always been vital. But many twentieth-century radicals were diverted by the delusions of socialism. The renewed rise of authoritarianism has shown us again that liberalism is the vital political movement of the modern age.
28 January 2017
Minor edits: 29 January, 1, 16 May 2017
This book by G. M. Hodgson elaborates on some of the political issues raised in this blog:
Wrong Turnings: How the Left Got Lost
Published by University of Chicago Press in January 2018
Allett, John (1981) New Liberalism: The Political Economy of J. A. Hobson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press).
Beveridge, William (1944) Full Employment in a Free Society (London: Constable).
Clarke, Peter (1978) Liberals and Social Democrats (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Claeys, Gregory (1989) Thomas Paine: Social and Political Thought (London and New York: Routledge).
Courtois, Stéphane, Werth, Nicolas, Panné, Jean-Louis, Packowski, Andrzej, Bartošek, and Margolin, Jean-Louis (1999) The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press).
UK politics is currently in turmoil, as a result of the vote for Brexit on 23 June 2016. Should a narrow referendum result be implemented by the government, or should Parliament alone make the final decision? The constitutional position is that Parliament is sovereign. But many insist that even a narrow result should automatically be respected. To do anything else would be ‘undemocratic’ – and therefore wrong.
Within days of the referendum, the Parliamentary Labour Party passed a decisive vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn as its leader.
Corbyn is a ‘democratic socialist’, believing in a large public sector under some form of ‘democratic control’. His speeches and writings are silent on the detail on how this would work. We find a tiny bit more in the publications of his late mentor – Tony Benn. Benn argued that the essence of socialism was democracy, not simply in parliament, but in the economy and all civic life.
This is not a new idea. Vladimir Lenin wrote in 1917 in his State and Revolution of ‘an immense expansion of democracy’ (which of course was the reverse of what actually happened after he seized power).
G. D. H. Cole was a Fabian and Labour Party socialist. His vision of ‘guild socialism’ was of an integrated, national system where ‘a single authority is responsible both for the planning of the social production as a whole and for the distribution of the incomes which will be used in buying it.’ Within this ‘single authority’ he also sought devolved worker control, where groups of individuals would make democratic decisions on how production was organised and products were distributed.
The superficial attraction of this kind of thinking is immediate. The Corbyns of today, the Benns of yesterday and the Coles of the day before, all pointed to the towering concentrations of capitalist power and wealth that overshadow the festering estates of the poor. ‘Make it all democratic’ they say, ‘let the public own, and decide upon, what is to be done with the banks, railways, enterprises, and all the rest. This is just democracy in action.’
But there are grounds to hesitate. Leaving aside the issue of public ownership, democracy is not a solution to every problem. Furthermore, there are logical, practical and even ethical arguments against an indefinite extension of democracy. There are very good reasons to be in favour of democratic government. But the limits to democracy should also be acknowledged.
Absolutism refers to a form of undemocratic and unaccountable government. Absolutism also refers to the idea that a principle or standard should be all-encompassing or supreme. In the latter sense, some people are democratic absolutists. I offer an explanation why they are wrong. If you feel uncomfortable with this ironic conjunction of meanings, then you may substitute with something like ‘ultra-democracy’ instead.
First I outline some well-known logical problems with ultra-democracy (you may skip this section if you are more interested in practicalities). I then point to some practical problems with ultra-democracy. I end up defending representative democracy.
Logical problems with democracy
It is very easy to show that the absolute democratisation of every important decision is impossible. A decision cannot be made democratically without prior rules on how the vote is to be conducted. How is the proposal tabled? Who can vote? What system of voting is used? Can the proposal be amended? And so on.
That is why states or organisations have constitutions or standing orders, which hopefully can deal with these issues. Some of these ground rules – such as the constitution itself – may have previously been put to the vote. But then too some rules were assumed, concerning the way that vote was conducted. Often the choice of those rules were crucial for the outcome. But it is logically impossible to have a vote on every prior rule that is necessary for a vote to take place. It’s an example of an infinite regress.
Nicolas de Condorcet
Another intractable logical problem is the paradox of voting, as first explained by the French revolutionary Nicolas de Condorcet (1743-1794). Condorcet showed that while individuals themselves may have consistent preferences over different outcomes, when brought together in a population the collective expressions of those preferences may be inconsistent. Jonathan Portes has illustrated this neatly in the Brexit case. Attempts to deal with this problem – such as two-stage voting, as in French Presidential elections – are both fallible and dependent on prior choices of rules.
There is also the Arrow impossibility theorem, named after the Nobel economist Kenneth Arrow. His theorem states that no rank-order voting system can be designed that always satisfies these three reasonable criteria of fairness. I do not need to go into further details here. The overall point is that all attempts to implement democracy are inevitably incomplete, involve prior assumptions that cannot be voted upon, and may violate some principles of consistency or fairness.
Practical problems with ultra-democracy
Major practical problems with ultra-democracy stem from the complexity and scale of modern society. A small club or group can run things relatively easily. But even then, special skills are required, such as being able to keep accounts or chair meetings.
Making decisions and managing human interactions in a large-scale society is immensely more complex. Personal familiarity and trust remain vital at the family and small community level, but with decisions involving thousands and millions of people, something else is required. There has to be some kind of government, of one kind or another, based on some form of authority.
Consider the ‘democratic control’ of industry, favoured by Cole, Benn and Corbyn. Worker cooperatives are a workable and meritorious alternative to capitalist corporations. But even here, only a tiny proportion of decisions can be delegated to ballots or mass meetings. The complex processes and technologies of production have to be broken up into manageable units. The advice of experts has to be relied upon.
In addition, a lot of decision-making has to be devolved. We are no longer a world where the role of an office secretary is simply to take down shorthand and type it out. A great deal of work involves processing information and making judgements, even at lower management levels. Think how many small judgements are made at work each day. It would be impossible to be ‘democratic’ and put them to the vote.
Greater industrial democracy, with worker participation in some workplace decisions, can improve productivity and make work more enjoyable. Moves in this direction are important and valuable. But it is impractical to have votes on more than a tiny fraction of the important decisions that have to take place every day in any large, complex economy.
Everyone’s participation in every major decision, even if limited to a town or region, would be a crushing burden of endless decision-making on every citizen. It would guarantee economic paralysis. Oscar Wilde was right: socialism is impossible because it would take too many meetings.
Supporters of an ultra-democratic society, where individuals make decisions throughout industry as well as the polity, fail to consider the problems of relevant knowledge and the sheer number of meetings and decisions involved. That is why, contrary to the claims of many socialist ultra-democrats, private ownership and control are necessary to a large degree, so that producers and consumers can make decisions (within legal limits) through contracts and markets, unencumbered by local or national committees and their inevitable bureaucracies.
Robert Michels (1876-1936) was a student of Max Weber. He argued persuasively that full democratic control was impossible in large-scale, complex organizations. For individuals to coordinate and act together, sizeable organizations need leaders, who then delegate administrative tasks to complex bureaucracies. Leaders and bureaucrats manage information flows between members of the organization. They develop skills, and acquire expertise and knowledge, that are peculiar to their roles. Knowledge is specialized, and the management of information has unavoidably to be selective. It is impossible for everyone to become a specialist in more than a few areas, or to take account of every piece of information in the organization. Inevitably, this leads to oligarchy, with some power shifting away from individuals at the base.
Michels underlined the oligarchic distribution of knowledge and power in large, complex organizations. Because of localized knowledge, specialisms, complexities, and massive amounts of information, a direct democracy, where everyone votes on everything, is not viable. It is impossible to involve everyone in every significant decision. Michels argued in detail that ‘the principle cause of oligarchy in the democratic parties is to be found in the technical indispensability of leadership.’
The moral limits to democracy
Many Left politicians emphasize the importance of human rights. This is no less true of Tony Benn or Jeremy Corbyn. The specification and justification of those rights are controversial. But the majestic modern statement is the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. It proclaims inalienable rights including freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from torture, and so on. It also includes the right to own private property, which may be an anathema for some socialists, but can be justified on the grounds of the right to resources for self-development and autonomy.
We may disagree on what should or should not be included on the list of universal human rights, but as long as we accept the veracity of any such list, then there is a problem for ultra-democracy. Two principles collide: the ultra-democratic maxim that if possible issues should be decided by a vote, and the idea that human rights are inalienable and may not be countered by any political power, democratic or otherwise. On this basis, some democratic votes can be immoral, such as a resolution to suspend important rights in the event of a national emergency.
As the American politician John Adams (1735-1826) pointed out, the rule of the majority can be abused to counter the rights or legitimate interests of minorities. That is one reason why universal human rights are important: their assertion protects minorities suffering illegitimate discrimination in the hands of majorities. Ultra-democracy opens the door for unwarranted discrimination and the disregard for rights. For democracy to work well, all powerful parties and interest groups must recognise its limits.
In principle, if sometimes not in practice, rights are protected by courts, including supreme courts whose role is to safeguard individual rights and the constitution. Courts are there to prevent democratic decisions countering human rights or breaking existing laws. It is even possible that the Brexit referendum was illegal, and the decision of the majority could be legally overturned.
Why democracy is essential
The most important reason for democracy is the legitimation of political power. Prior to the modern era, the authority of a tribal chief or a national monarch was legitimated by religion, myth, tradition, family descent, combat, or some combination of these. The rationalism of the Enlightenment changed all that. The English Levellers, the American Revolutionaries and the French Jacobins all sought to replace hereditary monarchies, which had been legitimised by religion. Instead there would be parliamentary system, with delegates elected from the population of adult males. The claim for legitimacy would be popular mandate, based on the male heads of households.
My forthcoming book elaborates on some of the political issues raised in this blog:
Wrong Turnings: How the Left Got Lost
To be published by University of Chicago Press in November 2017
Of course, the major deficit here was the denial of votes to women, which was not widely recognised as an important omission until the second half of the nineteenth century. (Incidentally, the Marquis de Condorcet – mentioned above – was a very early advocate of female suffrage.) Neither the Levellers nor the Jacobins thought ‘servants’ (i.e. employees) should have the right to vote. Different American states had different rules, but property qualifications for voting were widespread. In practice, Native Americans and many African Americans could not vote until 1924 and 1965 respectively.
These extensions in the franchise reflected human rights. These were the ideological and moral forces behind the extension of the franchise. Often, the existing institutions of limited democracy were insufficient to establish these rights. Change came through crisis, protest, violence or war, with movements under the banners of universal rights.
The Enlightenment gave us the principle of universal rights, and the notion of political sovereignty based on a democratic mandate from the masses. But many contemporary thinkers were aware of the problems involved. Charles-Louis Montesquieu (1689-1755) stressed the importance of checks and balances in the political system. Edmund Burke (1729-1797) argued that a polity should recognise the wisdom of tradition, as well as the carefully-applied and well-informed guidance of reason.
The great radical thinker Thomas Paine (1737-1809) also understood that in larger societies, direct and complete participatory democracy is impossible. Problems of complexity, scale and location place severe limits on democratic involvement. Given the impracticalities of large-scale direct democracy, nations should adopt systems of representative democracy, relying on professional and trained experts in government offices. Paine would have also rejected the ultra-democratic dreamings of some socialists, including Benn and Corbyn.
By contrast, Tony Benn argued that Labour Party Members of Parliament should be mandated by their constituency parties. Corbyn has gone even further in this direction, proposing that party members should dictate policy to their MPs. This undermines a central principle of parliamentary democracy. An important reason for a parliament is that it provides a forum where proposals may be debated, expert advice may be heard and details amended.
The idea that MPs should simply represent the will of their constituents, or be instructed by their local constituency parties, would make parliament redundant. Instead we could all watch television, and as in a game show, express our preferences on every issue, from capital punishment to the expulsion of immigrants. This easily could steam-roller over human rights, and through manipulation serve a dictatorship.
Within a system of representative or parliamentary democracy it is possible to make a case for or against referendums on important issues. In Switzerland referendums are common. Their origins there are in the nineteenth century, where there was a need to keep together a country highly fractured on linguistic, religious and political lines.
Opponents of referendums argue that they can weaken representative democracy. They can be used by the party in power to resolve its internal disputes, or to abdicate responsibility over a difficult decision. The idea that a referendum should be more than advisory rests on a notion of direct rather than representative democracy, and assumes that a large number of voters have the capacity to make an informed decision, untainted by (say) a biased mass media or demagogic leaders. Hence some democratic countries – notably Germany – have legal provisions to limit the use of referendums at the national level.
The current political crisis in the UK has made the nature and role of democracy key issues for discussion and clarification. My first argument here that a leftist strain of ultra-democratic thinking – from Lenin to Corbyn – is untenable. I also argue that democracy and human rights can come into conflict, and when they do the former should submit to the latter.
Ultra-democracy cannot work. Through the frustration of endless committees and meetings, and the collapse of productive activity, attempts to move in this direction would lead to crisis. Unworkable plans for ultra-democracy would both raise and disappoint expectations, leading to the impatience of all, and a likely authoritarian reaction. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
There are strong practical and moral reasons to support representative democracy, particularly as a means of legitimising government power. The key proviso is that a government should be in principle removable by the electorate – not that the electorate should be the government.
There is strong evidence that representative-democratic systems, where there is some protection of human rights, can reduce the risks of famine and war. Evidence also suggests that democracy may also help economic development, at least for those countries above relatively low levels of output per capita.
I leave it to the reader to deliberate on the pros and cons of holding referendums. The Brexit experience has been illuminating, at least in that regard.
When the Brexit outcome was announced on 24 June, Corbyn immediately declared that the government should take Britain out of the European Union. He was being consistent with his dangerous view that politicians should carry out the orders of the electorate, irrespective of the slim Brexit majority and the lies and false promises in the debate.
30 June 2016
Arrow, Kenneth J. (1951) Social Choice and Individual Values (New York: Wiley).
Benn, Tony (1979) Arguments for Socialism (London: Jonathan Cape).
Benn, Tony (1981) Arguments for Democracy (Harmondsworth: Penguin).