Sunday, 27 April 2014

Bank-Created Credit, by Bryan Gould

For those of us who have argued for a long time that orthodox monetary policy is fundamentally misconceived, a significant milestone was achieved this week.

In an important paper published in the Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin*, three Bank of England economists have acknowledged that the overwhelmingly greatest proportion of money in the economy is created by the banks out of nothing.

This finding comes as no surprise to that growing number of economists and others who have recognised, as a consequence of simple observation, that this is the case. 

But it will no doubt be hotly denied, in the face of all common sense and evidence, by those (including bankers themselves) who, for reasons of self-interest or sheer ignorance, continue to adhere to the classical view that banks are simply intermediaries between lenders and borrowers.

The great British public is itself the victim of the confusion and obfuscation that has surrounded this issue for generations.

Most people, if asked, will tell you that what the banks do is to lend out to borrowers the money that is deposited with them by savers. 

On this analysis, there is nothing particularly special about banks; they simply charge for the service they provide in bringing savers and borrowers together.

The truth, however, now conceded by the central bank, is very different.

The banks enjoy a most spectacular and surprising monopoly power.

They alone are able to create new money - vast quantities of it - by the stroke of a pen or, in modern terms, by pushing a key on a computer keyboard.

When a bank lends you money, it simply makes a book entry that credits you with an agreed sum; that sum represents nothing but the bank’s willingness to lend.

The debt you thereby owe the bank does not represent in any sense money that was actually deposited with the bank or the capital held by the bank.

Nevertheless, when it arrives in your account, and you use it to spend or invest, the overall money supply is increased by that amount.

The only attempt to regulate the volume of new money created by the banks comes through raising or lowering interest rates - a power exercised not by government but sub-contracted to - you’ve guessed it - another bank.

This means that, in practice, the only limit on bank lending is their willingness to lend to applicant borrowers at whatever the current rate of interest may be.

The size of the market which provides the huge profits enjoyed by the banks is, in other words, decided by the banks themselves and their assessment of, and willingness to accept, the degree of risk involved.  

There will, in the search for the ever higher profits to be made from lending more and more of the money which they themselves create, always be the temptation to lend more than is prudent in their own interests or desirable in the wider interest - and that is how the global financial crisis came about.

The astonishing feature of this monopoly power enjoyed by private companies seeking profits for their shareholders is that their decisions as to how much and for what purpose money should be created, made with virtually no external control or influence to restrain them, constitute by far the single greatest (and potentially distortional) influence on our economy.

The Bank of England paper has now laid all of this out for public inspection. 

The authors do not quite have the required courage of their convictions, since they attempt to downplay the significance of their conclusions by using the operations of a single bank to illustrate the process of credit creation, and thereby fail to register the immense scale, when looking at the banking system as a whole, of what they are describing.

Even so, the policy implications of what they say are immense.

Our macro-economic policy at present virtually limited to attempting to control the money supply as a means of regulating inflation.

But since the volume of money is a function of bank lending and reflects nothing more than the banks’ search for profits at whatever the current interest rate may be, it follows that the whole thrust of current policy is entirely misplaced.

The banks, in deciding for themselves how much, to whom and for what purpose they will lend, will always give priority to lending for house purchase since it requires by far the least effort, and is the most secure and profitable form of lending.

Can we be surprised that, as a result, those wishing to borrow for business investment are at the tail end of the queue while house prices - inflated by the volume of new money going into the housing market - go on rising inexorably?  

It is bank-created credit that provides the major stimulus to asset inflation in the housing market, with all of its deleterious economic and social costs, while at the same time diverting essential investment capital away from where it is really needed - in the productive sector of the economy.

If we wish to restrain inflation, why do we not target the most obvious cause, rather than burden the whole economy with deflationary interest rate hikes?

And if we want a stronger real economy, why allow the banks the exclusive power to decide that the new money should go to housing rather than productive investment?

Our current monetary policy is based, in other words, on a complete misunderstanding of the role of money and its impact on economic activity.

Our economy is awash with money, but it is neither the economically neutral phenomenon - interesting only because of its impact on inflation - that classical theory describes, nor does it provide the stimulus to new productive investment in the real economy that it could and should do.

Monetary policy need not be just a rather ineffectual tool for controlling inflation.

It has the capacity instead to be a major stimulant and facilitator of real productive investment if we understand and use it properly. 

The banks’ monopoly of the power to create money prevents us from doing just that.

*Money Creation in the Modern Economy, by Michael McLeay, Amar Radla and Ryland Thomas.

A Referendum: Refounding the Case for Europe, by Kevin Meagher

The case for Europe needs completely refounding. We can start with a referendum. 

It was a choice my 19-year-old self made without a second thought. Keep on canvassing the night before the 1994 European elections or go home and revise for a crunch exam the next day.

As an instinctive pro-European, carrying on fighting the good fight was a no-brainer.

Revisiting my decision two decades on, I think I would have prepped a bit harder for my ‘European policy and policy-making’ paper instead.

I still recognise the benefits, but I’ve grown tired of hearing the same tendentious propagandising for the EU.

Weary of hearing calls for reform that never seem to lead anywhere.

Sick of the waste, incompetence and drift and wondering why no-one ever seems to be able to change direction.

Particularly the European Parliament, which lacks the basic dynamism even to change itself, ending, once and for all, the costly shuttle backwards and forwards between Brussels and Strasbourg.

Now we are just weeks away from the dismal, quinquennial ritual of elections to the European Parliament. 

There will be no discussion about lofty geopolitics. No mention of how the EU deals with the Russia-Ukraine crisis. No remedy for the crisis of youth unemployment scarring large parts of the continent.

No mention, either, of the consumer rights, clean bathing water or urban regeneration that Europe has brought us.

Tip O’Neill’s dictum that all politics is local is never truer than when it comes to the European elections, used, as they are, as a proxy for the state of British politics.

A chance for voters to have a pop at the Tories and Lib Dems, cock a snook to Labour and flirt with UKIP, safe in the knowledge that it is all a harmless, consequence-free act.

All the power in the EU sits with the unelected Commission and the remote Council of Ministers - and that will never change.

The European Parliament is like one of those soft play areas in McDonalds, a place to keep the kids entertained while the parents talk.

MEPs are to all intents and purposes, invisible. Many would ruefully concede this.

Nobody knows who they are or what they do. Even I had to double check the current Labour group leader is.

To be fair, they are hobbled by the wretched regional list system, an utter disaster in terms of public accountability.

The voters are presented with a list of 10 people they have never heard of, can’t choose between, and know next to nothing about.

And if any MEP quits, the next, unelected person on their regional party list takes their place without a vote. It’s enough to make the appointments secretary to the Soviet Politburo blush.

We shouldn’t be surprised. The EU is, and always has been, the preserve of a rarefied elite. Centrist politicians. Business leaders. And Eddie Izzard. It couldn’t be more remote from the people if it tried.

For me, the recent Clegg-Farage debates brought it all home.

Nick Clegg, a former European Commission official, the apotheosis of the rootless Eurocrat, making the same, stale managerial arguments for the EU that so many centrist politicians before him have done over the years.

As a result of Clegg and other pro-European panjandrums’ taking British public opinion for granted, it is hardly surprising that voters see Europe as an unwanted and unhelpful appendage to their lives.

Less than a fifth of UK voters ‘tend to trust’ the EU, with two thirds actively mistrustful of its schemes, according to the latest Eurobarometer findings.

Yet calls for a referendum on Europe from the Labour side of politics are not (in many cases) to get us out of the EU.

Rather, it’s an expression of frustration, borne from the self-evident fact that Europe remains a putrifying sore at the heart of British politics.

This is why the case for Europe needs nothing less than refounding in an in/out referendum.

The onus is on fellow pro-Europeans to show why the European ideal – co-operation between nations that have found themselves homicidal enemies twice in the last century – still matters.

To move beyond Clegg-ite blandishments designed to curtail debate and to throw this hot potato into the laps of the British people to decide. 

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt and the Golden Age of Journalism, reviewed by Ian Oakley

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt and the Golden Age of Journalism, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt was a remarkable figure.

He was a cowboy, a soldier, a policeman, a historian, a naturalist, a big game hunter, an intellectual and much, much else. He is a rebuke to the bland careerist politicians that we see on both sides of the Atlantic.

This book though is not just a biography of Roosevelt, but rather a joint biography of him, William Taft - his successor as President - and a group of remarkable journalists, who helped both Roosevelt and Taft reform the United States in the first decade of the Twentieth Century.

The work is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s first book since her blockbuster work about Lincoln and his cabinet. It is a worthy successor; she is a master of her material and tells the interwoven stories with pace and telling detail.

One of the first things the book does is rescue poor William Taft from the ranks of forgotten Presidents. He achieved much for a one term President and the man of whom he most reminded me was President George Bush Senior.

They were both decent high achievers who made it to the Presidency; who were better at governing than politics, and who paid the price for it in defeat when seeking re-election. Both were overshadowed by charismatic predecessors, and both had tough, ruthless wives who aided their careers.

The other striking fact I took from the book was how much the Progressive Era in American Politics achieved, especially in light of the gridlock of modern day Washington.

It is impossible to imagine the modern Republicans advocating the attacks on trusts, the regulation of food safety, and the proposal for a federal income tax, that both Roosevelt and Taft championed. On the other side you had Democrats calling for restrictions in federal spending, not something you would see today.

The journalists that aided these reforms are another admirable and diverse group that would probably get nowhere today in the era of celebrity gossip and partisan news channels.

The most remarkable of them all was Samuel McClure, who began in grinding poverty in Ulster and followed the American Dream to found his own magazine and help transform America.

All in all this is a tremendous book.

I would recommend it to anyone interested in American History, and to anyone who isn’t but who enjoys a great story, well told.

My last thoughts on finishing the book was that I could not help but note that such was Teddy Roosevelt’s lasting fame that though the work should have been called Roosevelt and Taft, but poor President Taft got elbowed aside, probably on the basis nobody would have heard of him.

Such is the harshness of history and of the publishing industry.

Labour Should Embrace A More Sceptical Approach To The EU, by Richard Cotton

Labour has always been the driving force for constitutional reform and democratic advance, from Kier Hardie’s support of the suffragettes, to the Attlee Government’s abolition of plural voting with the removal of the property based business vote and university constituencies in 1948.

Prior to that, businessmen who were also graduates had as many as three votes.

In 1969 it was a Labour Government, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

In 1975, it was a Labour Government that, in the teeth of strong Tory opposition, granted the British people the right to determine their future in or out of Europe with the first UK wide referendum on EEC membership.

It was, of course, a Tory Government which took Britain into the EEC without a referendum.

Since then there have been nine further national and regional referendums, eight on devolution issues, three in Wales, two in Scotland and one each in Northern Ireland, the North East and Greater London, together with the UK-wide referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) in 2011.

In addition, under the Blair Government there were 37 local referendums on the constitutional arrangements for local government (elected mayors, etc).

Indeed, until now only twice has a Tory Government supported a referendum, once in 1973 on the constitution position of Northern Ireland, and the second time in 2011 on the Alternative Vote, but that was only conceded as part of the Coalition Agreement.

Historically, it was always Labour that championed the right of the British people to determine constitutional issues, just as it was Labour that was historically opposed to the EEC, which has now morphed into a neoliberal concept known as the EU.

It is difficult to understand why the party opposed the EEC on the grounds that it was a ‘capitalist club’ yet know embraces the EU, which really does enshrine neoliberalism into law: read the Single European Act.

The EU is now embarking on secret negotiations known as the Transanlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which will give all power to global corporations and destroy our cherished NHS.

The party says that the EU is not an issue that resonates on doorsteps, and that is true. But issues related to the EU often do.

For example the way in which house prices in central London have rocketed as a result of overseas buyers buying new homes and leaving them empty. Denmark negotiated an opt out on foreign ownership of homes as a result if which you have to be a Danish citizen in order to own property in Denmark.

People are also concerned about the free movement of capital and labour, not because they fear outsiders, but because they fear that free movement benefits the rich and powerful and not communities like the car workers in Hampshire whose jobs were outsourced to Turkey with the aid of an EU grant.

It is, to say the least ,odd that EU membership means that our immigration policy privileges ‘EU citizens’ over West Indians, Indians or New Zealanders. Yet it is often those who are Eurosceptic who are accused of being racist.

How can it be right that Scotland gets to vote on their constitutional relationship with the rest of the UK, yet the UK as whole is denied a referendum on our constitutional relationship with the EU? Before anyone says we had such a referendum in 1975, that was on the EEC not the EU.

Uncritical support of the EU has now become an article of faith for many Labour representatives and activists, but surely we should embrace a little more scepticism if we are to reflect public opinion?

And, at the very least, we should embrace an in/out referendum both to demonstrate our democratic credentials and to wrong foot the Tories who have set and arbitrary date for a referendum.

It’s good that Ed is promising a referendum in the event of any further transfer of power to the EU. But many remember that we were promised a referendum on the EU constitution, aka the Lisbon Treaty.

I fear that if we continue to be seen on the side of the undemocratic EU elite, then it won’t just be the Tories who lose support to UKIP.

The Problem with Identity Politics and the Left, by Luke Blaxill

A political outlook grounded in group identity is something that sits at the heart of the world-view of the left since the emergence of labour politics and trades unionism from the late-Victorian period onwards.

I am referring, of course, to class identities.

Namely, the idea that different social groups are defined by whether or not they have wealth or access to capital, the character of their work (especially if it has a physical or manual element), and also finally lifestyle- how they live, who they associate with, and the nature of the leisure activates they indulge in.

The left have sought to champion the interests of the working class against that of the middle and upper classes who, if left unsupervised, would seek to exploit and grow fat off the backs of the workers’ labour, and maintain (or widen) the class divide to benefit themselves.

Because in modern industrial societies like Britain it has always been relatively easy to identify the working class (not least through trades unions) then the existence of a party to represent that class and to advance its interests appeared as a quite natural (and some historians would argue inevitable) by-product.

Although since universal suffrage the British working class has never been monolithically Labour, it is still beyond argument that working class votes – whether cast by those who actively defined themselves as such or by those who simply fell into lower socio-economic groups – have been the bedrock of the party’s support base.

We now come to the question I want to pose in this short essay. It is: why is the modern left now so obsessed with just about every other kind of identity politics around apart from class?

Two examples are the obsession with ethnic minority and non-heterosexual identities.

How many times do the liberal commentariat, and Labour politicians talk about ‘the black community’ when talking about, for example, the lack of ethnic minorities at Oxbridge or racial discrimination in the police?

Or ‘the gay community’ when complaining about, for example, ‘bigoted’ opposition to gay marriage or anti-gay discrimination, such as practised by Putin’s Russia?

Such terminology, and the arguments it is habitually used to deploy, imply the existence of politically aware and cogent social groups which are defined primarily by skin colour or sexuality.

When class identity and ethnic or sexuality identity come into conflict, the latter wins every time.

Social conservatives who oppose gay marriage for reasons of religion, tradition, or conscience (who are very often working-class people) are told automatically that they are bigoted throwbacks to yesteryear.

When those same working class people complain that their local jobs market has been rendered untenable by a sudden influx of immigrants prepared to work in harsh conditions at or below the minimum wage – or that the character of their community has been violently transformed - the left is always the first to scream ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic’.

A still more dominating obsession has recently gripped the left with gender identities.

Progressive organs such as The Guardian, The Independent, and the Huffington Post attempt to surf the wave of the so-called fourth-wave feminism, and subject their readers, and by extension the social media sphere, to an almost daily diet of outrage by hitherto unknown bloggers and campaigners such as Laurie Penny.

Those decry the systematic repression of women by the patriarchy, whether it is through under-representation in politics, their lack of influence in big business, or the everyday ‘sexualisation’, ‘pornification’ and misogynistic mistreatment of every woman in every walk of life, as exemplified by the supposedly groundbreaking everyday sexism project which shares anonymous and unverified testimonies of women exploited by the patriarchy.

The Labour Party itself embraces all-women shortlists to artificially boost the number of females its ranks and to bolster its claim that the Tories have a ‘woman problem’

The Scandinavian left, likely to be copied soon by the British left, pushes forwards full throttle with laws such as the ‘golden skirt’, whereby a minimum of 40% of company boardrooms must be women, and passes quite extraordinarily asymmetrical legislation on prostitution which simultaneously criminalises the client but legalises the prostitute herself.

So suddenly we have a situation where the most talked-about identity groups are the immigrant community, the black community, the gay community, and those repressed by the patriarchy.

While these are all terms that I hear from progressives almost daily, I barely hear any reference to the working class at all.

While it used to be uncommon to hear a Labour politician speak for a minute without hearing the term ‘working class’, I now can’t remember a time when a Labour Shadow Cabinet member ever even mentioned the term.

The best we get is ‘people up and down the country’ (Ed Miliband), ‘ordinary people’ (Andy Burnham’s catchphrase) or ‘people in Streatham - they’re quite poor, by the way’ (Chuka Umunna).

The only occasions ‘class’ is uttered is by those still proud to call themselves Socialists.

Listen to Len McCluskey, George Galloway, Dennis Skinner, Ronnie Campbell, or the sadly-departed Bob Crow, and you will see and hear that class identities – and indeed a form of class struggle – lie at the centre of their politics.

But better still, listen to what people themselves say: according to a major British Social Attitudes survey of 2013 (encompassing 3,000 people, properly selected by a reputed pollster), 60% still define themselves as ‘working-class’.

Other surveys in the last few years have put it lower, but none less than 40%.

And anecdotally, leave the M25 corridor and head north, and ask Labour-voters in Worksop, Oldham, Liverpool, Sunderland, Bassetlaw, and Doncaster whether they still consider of themselves working-class. The answer comes ringing back in the affirmative.

Those who identify with class politics might well be traditionalists, and might well still see the world through the lens of political battles largely lost in the 1980s, but might they still have a point?

We might ask: have the inequalities which persisted when Labour were still avowedly a class party perhaps 35 years ago been removed or even mitigated? Have relations between the capitalist employers of labour and the workers become more harmonious? Do those qualified for a job have a good chance of securing one that pays a reasonable wage?

In every sense, the answer is clearly ‘no’.

Whichever way we think about it, it seems a certain mistake to assume that the collapse of heavy industry in Britain, and the parallel decline of trades unionism, have necessarily killed the basis of class politics, or the purchase of class-based identities.

What seems to have changed much more dramatically is the willingness of the Labour Party, and leading lights on the left who sit beyond parties, to avowedly champion working class people. 

I put to you that one of the reasons for this is not because the left believes that modernity has killed off identity politics, but because it wrongly believes that class politics has died, and been at least partly superseded by those of gender, race, and sexuality.

And they may even believe that those groups – women, ethnic minorities, and gay people – may be more reliable sources of Labour votes than the working classes now are.

We have a situation where the working class Labour MP is virtually extinct, but where the party obsesses over the fact that it only has 31% women MPs, and seeks to artificially boost them with affirmative action, preferring to displace a working class man with a middle class woman.

Instead of avowedly championing the working classes victimised by the greed of capitalism and corporations, Ed Miliband uses all six questions of PMQs (05/02/2014) to attack the cabinet for not having sufficient women on display on the front bench, concluding that this, like Philip Hammond’s confusion between Liz Kendall and Rachel Reeves on Question Time, exemplifies the Tories’ ‘woman problem’.

Suddenly, as if from nowhere, the cause of gay marriage is something that every progressive politician, who has hitherto been silent on the issue, professes as the culmination of a decades-long struggle against the tyranny of the hetronormative institution of marriage that reduced the gay community to second class citizens. 

Even when we look deliberately at the left’s economic analysis (insofar as it has one at present), we find no zeal for protecting the working class and forwarding their interests, but instead a preoccupation with defending for their own sakes a large state and the salaries of public sector workers, many of whom are middle-class.

In conclusion, I put to you that the great failing of the modern left is its abandonment of class politics which, it wrongly assumes, are yesterday’s political currency.

It then makes the corresponding error of being suckered into a myopic obsession with what it sees as today’s identity politics based on ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.

But class identity has stood the test of time. For while there is a divided society, there will always exist a class politics which can be politically mobilised.

However, the politics of gender, ethnicity, and sexuality are much more likely to be a passing fad, a fly-by-night storm of faux political outrage confined to an increasingly elitist, bourgeois and marginal leftist leadership of the Islington coffee terrace, and the self-appointed progressive vanguard who squawk indignation to the world in tracts of 140 characters.

It is also deeply muddle-headed and patronising.

Women voters’ opinions are seen to be determined by their gender, and they, like ethnic minorities and gay people, are held to make political decisions based not on policy, issues, or leadership, but on absence of a Y chromosome, skin colour, and who they prefer to sleep with.

Identity politics are important, but as I have argued above, it is class identities which the Labour Movement has made its fortress in the past, and it is with class where identity politics retains most relevance and resonance.

The ditching of class for the faddist politics of ethnicity, race, and sexuality is undoubtedly causing a long term corrosion at the root of Labour’s support base.

Looking at the dramatic decline in the party’s strength in heartland seats since 2001 – and the attractiveness of UKIP and even the BNP to traditional Labour voters - exemplifies this.

But both trends are continually ignored as the liberal intelligentsia increasingly forgets its roots.

If it does not recover them, then the heart of the Labour Movement, if not its body, will have stopped for good.

Votes At 16 Is A Preposterous Idea, by Teddy Corbett

Only those with a childish political outlook could champion votes for children. Here are just a few of the many reasons 'Votes at 16' is a preposterous idea that must be dropped by Labour immediately.

It is policy from thin air. 

There has been absolutely no build up nor public debate about this issue whatsoever. In short, it has been plucked from nowhere.

Whilst such a startling feat is to be applauded amongst children's magic entertainers, it is less endearing coming from would be political leaders. 

It is simply not an opinion even remotely widely held nor on the democratically selected agenda of most bodies representing meaningfully large scale numbers of people. There is patently no will for it.

Notably, the generally very well-received conference speech by Ed Miliband that included a flaky call for 'Votes at 16' did not exactly bring the house down.

Whereas many other policy intentions were warmly and rightly applauded, on this bemusing idea of votes for children, most people looked palpably perplexed as if to say, "Er, hang about a minute mate. What on earth are you talking about? Where did that come from?"

A proper Labour Government is grassroots Government by the people for the people, not a top-down imposition of cranky inventions nobody asked for nor requires.

The same point extended then, of those few who have welcomed the idea or have previously articulated (and I use the term generously) such thoughts, we see the same predictably minute liberal media class of Toynbee et al, who speak for nobody but themselves and come up with such brainwaves at tipsy dinner parties in Islington. Probably while the same 16-year-olds they wish to 'enfranchise' are out urinating on the bonnet of their overpriced cars. Well, I know I would have been.

Oh, I forget to mention, the Liberal Democrats have always endorsed such a move. I think we can safely leave that as a comment in of itself.

The fact is that the way to remove much of the rightful disillusionment of our young is not to thrust ballot papers there way, but rather improve education, job, housing and wage opportunities.

We must create a better, secure and more connected society so when they are old enough to vote they have strong decisive politicians to chose from who will represent their interests, not embarrassingly ignore them and then chuck them a voting slip and pat them on the head.

Inviting adolescents to endorse figures who show nothing but disdain for their future is frankly kicking them while they are down.

The concrete bread and butter issues, the politics of belonging and relationships and the ongoing cost of living crisis of our day need to be the focus of an incoming Labour Government, not trying to mask voter apathy by patronisingly increasing the potential electorate.

This is transparent tripe.

We need to engage with genuine disaffection by creating a bolder political vision that deals with the root causes of an alienated public, not pointlessly hurl out bad policy ideas in this shallow fashion.

Individual responsibility and societal solidarity will not be fostered by such wet liberal proposals.

One of the main arguments that is keenly circulated around is the supposedly indisputable all-powerful notion that just because 16-year-olds can legally have sexual intercourse, drive a car, get married with parental consent and join the military, that therefore they should have a greater say in the democratic process of the country at large.

Little is ever mentioned of that fact that just because something is legal or one can do something that one should, or that it is advisable by older and wiser members of said society.

If this pathetic 'argument' is genuinely the case put forward, then its opposite trajectory is equally if not more valid, that is, the age of consent and so forth should be raised in line with the voting age to 18.

Using other age defined legalities to bolster ones weak case for lowering the voting age is misleading at best.

All this spurious nonsense about everything being 'open' and 'accessible' to our young would then surely have to be (il)logically extended to suggesting that we put 16-year-olds on juries and all manner of other roles reserved for adults.

How about adult jails and sentences while we are at it? Seriously? Where do you draw the line and where is your sense of balance?

That 16-year-olds' brains are biologically underdeveloped is seldom brought up by the chattering 'radicals' who advocate all this.

Taking into account pubescents' lack of cultural capital, intellectual worldliness and work experience, is never the bother of all the LSD guzzling hippies who want them to have the vote. I wonder why?

To change the voting age would make it infinitely easier for parties to avoid giving a powerful and cogent vision for the country, something that they already evade as much as possible.

The leadership of our parties would instead predictably try even harder, and succeed even more, to manipulate the impressionable youth into cheap slogans and empty imagined wish-list policies the kind of which we have seen in Scotland.

It is no surprise Alex Salmond was such a strong advocate and initiator in lowering the referendum's voting age. He foolishly believes that by waving a few Saltires around that the teenage voters will be putty in his hands.

Let us hope he is wrong, but let us also learn from his shady example the mildly sinister nature of this kind of tactic.

False claims of 'widening the franchise' to make the electorate more 'proportional' are never the 'progressive' ticket they are billed as, but rather disguise a cynical and insulting view of young people that we should reject.

Our young are certainly not too thick to engage or be interested in politics.

Many of them in fact exceed our expectations and know even more than us. However, we are talking about making broad policy decisions and in general. Due to lack of life sophistication, a sensible age line must be drawn.

To change our current common sense and balanced approach would be potentially disastrous.

It is true that some bright and active 16-year-olds have apparently been calling for this change in the law. I applaud them for their political engagement and fiery will for change, but frankly, so what?

So much modern liberal politicking rests on the flawed notion that just because a small group wants something and kicks and screams hard enough, that they must instantly be awarded it by an all-powerful state otherwise 'discrimination,' (a word which is now only ever used in a negative light) and 'anti-equality' 'fascism' is at work.

The current conception of 'rights' now covers just about any conjured up notion one cares to name, and once it is named it must be extended to all otherwise one is accused of being a Nazi.

I actually happen to think it a good thing we discriminate from time to time, and between those who are legally as well as culturally and socially defined as children rather than adults, I see no problem with not bending over to yield to some of their impulsive and juvenile whims.

Where were you politically as a teen?

Most were thankfully not too bothered but rather having normal fun at house parties and playing sports for their school.

I was, unfortunately, one of those other types of losers, sat in a mate's shed with two others drinking Special Brew and bemoaning Anthony Blair's corruption of the Labour Party while listening to Motown records, (no, I can't remember why either).

Yes, at 16 I was a rather absurd anarchist who thought beardy bores such as Bakunin held all the answers. I believed myself to be very well-informed (aw, bless), and while it is true I was in a minority who were politically active and interested at my age, are we seriously now going to say the views of those who are not even legally allowed to leave full time education, let alone accrue much real knowledge of life are equal to say that of an experienced nurse, a middle aged teacher or a well-travelled librarian?

How about a political refugee who has fled persecution to settle here, an immigrant doctor or the local trade unionist postman or firefighter?

It is time to, as the Americans (and many of our 16-year-olds here) would say, get real, dude. This is lazy laughable liberalism that has no place in a serious Labour movement. Only those with a childish political outlook could champion votes for children.

In the words of the great Fat Mike of Nofx: "There's no point for democracy when ignorance is celebrated ... Majority rule, don't work in mental institutions. Sometimes the smallest softest voice carries the grand biggest solutions..."

I am not calling our kids mad. But it is a harsh, yet nonetheless an accurate, observation merely to point out that many people at sixteen haven't the faintest clue what they are banging on about. I was one of them. And so were you.

Let's all grow up about this and stop even entertaining such gimmicks for policies that would not even make a difference to the outcome of elections. How many of the 16-year-olds would even bother to vote, and for whom?

It is irrelevant either way, such a small portion of society spread out would not carry weight.

In any case why give something to somebody who is not yet old enough to comprehend it, let alone fully value it's worth? We are belittling the importance of the vote by throwing it into the play pen.

Think of the children. Won't somebody think of the children?

What teenager wants his annoying folks trying to manipulate what he or she does with their hypothetical vote? Most would abhor their parents and teachers pestering them to go to the polling station. For God's sake Mum! They are not your slaves!

This phoney policy would alienate 16-year-olds, and make them loathe and avoid politics even more than many of them already do. Let's just scrap it now.

Just like the extremely old in society, the exceedingly young are also a vulnerable group.

Neither are to be patronised or sidelined of course, but just watch for the party political vultures whose eyes light up at the chance to gerrymander such demographics.

Let's not give these creeps more of a chance to engineer false votes, eh?

I speak as someone who has worked in hospitals and nursing homes for years, and who has seen the perfectly reasonable aiding of the infirm but mentally coherent to fill out forms to get their voice heard, but also the occasional crossing of the line so to speak.

One shudders to think of the local PPCs turning up for School Assembly to get their claws in. What a way to put our youth off politics for life, rather than to inspire them.

It plainly reeks, just as that cringey letter one receives on one's eighteenth birthday leaves a slightly sour taste. The latter is unpalatable but understandable, the former would be dangerously abysmal in effect.

Is it not the most bizarre state of affairs whereby liberal Governments, (of modern Conservative, Coalition and New 'Labour' varieties) have for decades now been all too happy to wither away at important adult authority whether parental or teacher based, and yet now political authority it is suggested, is to be bestowed upon the most immature members of society?

In one instance, sober adults, particularly male role models, are for practical purposes infantilised and denied. In the next, thousands of children are to be transferred an equal say at General Elections that in part are deciding our fate.

This ludicrous hypocrisy undermines all of us and our age defined roles in society, creating an ever more incoherent and fragmented culture.

We are not being fair on 16-year-olds by even indulging in the prospect of this puerile postulation.

It is time to get serious about the political change we need to see in this country and not demean both adults and children by holding out political candy to babies. 

The phrase being bandied around Ed Miliband's office currently is not 'Go Young ,Go Daft,' but 'Go Big or Go Home.'

Onwards, and indeed upwards.

Nationhood and the Left, by Taym Saleh

It is in the nature of politics that there be certain disagreements that define the entire conduct of public life. Political parties are meant to represent these most important differences of opinion.

So in Britain, we have a Labour Party and a Conservative Party whose existence is the demonstration of the disagreement over the role of the state in economic affairs, which for a century has been the question with which we have had to most contend.

This is as it should be. Edmund Burke, nearly 250 years ago, prized parties as the means by which public life could be conducted according to private virtues, and by which bonds of personal and ideological affinities could resist the corrupting allure of power.

True, for 50 years the hold of the two major parties over the electorate has weakened, and this perhaps represents a variance between the great issues over which the two parties differ, and the great issues over which the electorate most differ, but the basic function remains the same: there are some profound issues which generate the distinction between parties, and all other political disagreements come to be as a result of the party-division.

But I believe that there is a particular sort of issue that is particularly ill-suited to this scheme, that is particularly important, that I fear is coming, or has already come, to be just one of many differences between left and right. If the misapprehension is not put right, we may soon find our entire political existence crippled and stunted, or scattered to the winds.

I am talking about the continued existence of nationhood.

Of course, the notion that a division between ‘internationalism’ and ‘nationalism’ is compatible with the general division between ‘left’ and ‘right’ does have some standing.

Whether one believed that the only objectively valid allegiances were those based on a common relationship with the means of production, or whether, and this is the more prevalent on the British left, one felt that ‘the world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion’, any ‘internationalist’ appeal has always had a strong pull.

Indeed, such has been the prominence of the word that from a Labour Party conference rostrum it could be used to justify more spending on international aid, a more relaxed attitude to immigration or integration of immigrants, solidarity with the Palestinians or anyone else, an ‘ethical’ foreign policy, praising NATO, invading other countries for their own good, or continued integration into the European Union.

Now, concern for the continued existence of nationhood and the integrity of our political system need not preclude all of these applications of internationalist sentiment, but it obviously puts us very strongly against the last two given, and it is these that we should examine most.

I hope that even the greatest admirers of Karl Marx and Thomas Paine can recognise the folly of letting some of our leaders use their own philanthropic instincts for the most malignant ends.

The notion that this and certain other countries are entitled to annul the sovereignty of other countries and to assume the supreme political power within them, supposedly in accordance with a system of international law but in reality entirely at the aggressors’ own discretion, is incompatible with the representative principle on which our constitution rests.

It is therefore utterly destructive, not only of the uncounted lives churned away by the ministrations of the Angel of Death, nor only of the social fabric of the countries so treated, but also, though we may not feel it immediately, of the basis for the conduct of our own public life, and so of our peace and prosperity.

This is not the occasion to fully set out the grounds for objecting to the creed of ‘liberal interventionism’, but it suffices to say now that it is an insult to our intelligence to suppose that the precedent of the disposability of the national sovereignty of weaker countries can be set without weakening the grounds of our own self-government.

It also undermines our resolve to defend our independence in a more indirect way. This pertains to an instinct among leftists to see this latter-day ‘imperialism’ as part of a tradition that besmirches nationhood itself.

It encourages those who recoil at the memory of the subordination of great swathes of mankind beneath our and other national flags to blame the flags themselves.

Though the reflex is understandable, it must be said that it is not justified to hold past Empires against present nations.

Indeed, a model for patriotism and anti-aggression combined can be found in those formerly oppressed territories, in peoples who know what it is to be spat on. It is an experience to which we ourselves must become accustomed if we wish to continue with the ‘special relationship’ and European integration.

Another consequence of this humanitarian aggression is that it perpetuates a perception of nations that encourages the confusion of political beliefs with polities.

It is common to talk of ‘Western values’, perhaps subdivided into ‘American values’, ‘British values’ and so on, as opposed to, say, ‘Russian values’ or ‘Chinese values’.

If by these labels one wishes to describe the political and social habits of mind that are particular to a society, and are the product of the geography, history and so on to which that society has been particularly subjected, then there is no objection.

But if, as seems to me to be the case, what is being described is a proposition submitted to the world for consideration and possible imitation, then there is a fault. Nations are not arguments.

They are not the product of ingenious minds, but of the continued resolve of their inhabitants to carry on under the control of each other, and through that control to accept the influence of forces echoing down onto the present from the past.

When we understand this, we begin to see the folly in treating the choice between being a member of one sovereign political body or another, and the choice between one political programme and another, alike.

To understand this fully, it is necessary to go back to the importance of party in our political life. It is of course the case that parties may represent permanent, distinct interests that directly contradictory, and so bound to be hostile, to one another.

A great deal of animosity can arise from this – indeed, too little animosity, and many would be prone to suppose that there is some fault within the representative system, or that a political elite has lost too much affinity with the general population.

Despite this, the entire course of the war between the parties flows with the understanding that one’s opponents, however bitter, are just as much a part of the state as oneself is.

No defeat, however resounding, is taken to be the expulsion of the vanquished from the battlefield. We must all know that the final outcome of all our political endeavours will be some admixture, of unforeseeable proportions, between our allies and our enemies.

I think we can say that our entire constitution can be summed up in the phrase ‘back and forth’. As for the choice between membership of a new political entity and not, how much back and forth can there be? A nation is not like a party – it is intended to be permanent.

All governments are temporary, and even the parties themselves exist only so long as they represent a great animated sentiment within the population, but the nation is the very vessel in which we are contained.

I hope that readers have by their own initiative applied the issue of the European Union to the preceding paragraph. It cannot but be the great contention of our time.

Since its first appearance, it has been used by one party or another to effect changes on our country without subjection to the normal procedures.

The Conservatives, in joining in 1973, in the Single European Act of 1986, and in the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, sought as inconspicuously as possible to create particular conditions for commerce and trade, having despaired for much of the post-war period of ever beating back socialism.

Similarly, the Labour Party, through acceding to the Social Chapter and the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, to the Treaty of Nice in 2001, and to the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009 sought for their cause shelter from an electorate judged to be too unenlightened, too lacking in progressive goodness, to have put to them candidly the terms of policies like immigration and social or commercial regulation which are so obviously good for them.

It is a cause for bitter reflection to see our country and our constitution so cheaply treated by those to whom they are entrusted.

This is especially so for the Labour Party, the party that is so completely born of the great cause of popular government, that has been the vehicle for those who in the past found government so distant and at times contemptuous.

What bauble could the European Commission possibly offer them, to compensate for the loss of their free and sovereign Parliament?

Still, if those on the Left who are guilty of this transgression do not care for the arguments so far presented here, then perhaps they will listen to warnings to do with multinational corporations and the like.

However much we may despair of the tendency of some of our countrymen to vote for the Conservatives, it is idle to suppose that this country’s government, which sits perpetually in the gaze of us all, which is ultimately exposed to us, is a worse custodian of popular interests against hidden hands agitating for secret, private causes than a government that is unknown and unknowable to the great majority of us.

Who can possibly hold faith with the European Commission, or even the European Parliament, after their surreptitious (because it was made to seem on the initiative of our government) privatisation of the Royal Mail, or after the proposed ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’ has only begun to be exposed to public knowledge after exceptional efforts by certain journalists and politicians?

There is no better terrain for lobbyists or secret deal-makers than a government carried on a mere technical enterprise, based on expertise rather than popular expression.

I fear these arguments will prove useless in their intent, for in the end it is a matter of instinct. You love the constitution and independence of your country, or you do not; the loss of such things is a cause for bitter grief and mourning, or it is not.

In the adoption of nationhood as an ordinary political issue, perhaps the most infuriating thing has been the habit of the insufferably self-satisfied to, without considering this matter at any depth, see enthusiasm for these pernicious enterprises as a mark of sophistication, as a trait that separates them from the bigoted and the parochial, above all from the unfashionable.

The most forlorn, and charitable, reproach for these people is that they know not what they do.

Less charitably, I say that these people are fools, who treat the most important affairs in a spiteful and sectarian spirit, who so forget themselves and so miss the measure of what they flippantly deal with as to endanger us all. It is no good for such people to protest that they wish to save us from our own government. I too am unhappy with this government, but it is still mine. In the end, they must answer to me and my compatriots.

The bonds created by these national institutions are not like those of a voluntary organisation, to be contracted or broken off at the discretion of any given member, but they flow unimpeded, not only through my friends, but my enemies, not only through my compatriots’ wisdom, but their folly, through knowledge and ignorance, through peace and discord.

It is these sentiments that hold us to obey laws passed by our opponents as well as by our allies, it is these that keep us British regardless of what the British government does, and it is the principle of these sentiments that are jeopardised by the surrender of self-government to unaccountable others.

I talk here not merely of democracy (that wretched word cannot possibly wield the matter), but of the entire process and set of habits by which our public life has been lived, and not only of the ballot box.

The consolation is this: that for all the stupidity and dishonesty practised upon us by both main parties, the issue has never been utterly subdued.

There is still a certain something within us that militates against the error being completed, something that keeps the controversy alive, something that gives us hope that something else will turn up.

The Lanchester Review: Setting A Tone, Not A Line

The Right is in crisis following the collapse of the neoliberal economic order and of its neoconservative geopolitics. The Left is in crisis due to the second collapse of Marxism in as many generations, namely that of Trotskyism in the form of neoconservatism.

No one seems to know how to address such questions as the global economic crisis that began in 2008, the prolonged aftermath of the events of 11th September 2001, the rise of Asia, the redefinition of the European Union and of the United Kingdom’s relationship with it, and the redefinition of the United Kingdom and of the identity of each of its constituent parts.

However, attendance to what were once the largely ignored and marginalised phenomena of environmentalism, feminism, Third World liberation movements, the influence of tendencies such as Black Power and Black Consciousness, and the use of homosexuality as a mark of individual and collective identity, has opened up the space for attendance to what are largely ignored and marginalised phenomena today.

Those include the Classical, Biblical, Medieval and Early Modern heritages that define the traditions deriving from disaffection with the events of 1688, 1776 and 1789.

Those traditions emphasise the indispensable role of the State in protecting against the market everything that conservatives seek to conserve. They offer perennial critiques of individualism, capitalism, imperialism, militarism, bourgeois triumphalism, and the fallacy of inevitable historical progress.

They uphold the full compatibility between, on the one hand, the highest view of human demographic, economic, intellectual and cultural expansion and development, and, on the other hand, the most active concern for the conservation of the natural world and of the treasures bequeathed by such expansion and development in the past.

Among the expressions of those traditions are the trade union, co-operative and mutual, Radical Liberal, Tory populist, Guild Socialist, Christian Socialist, Social Catholic and Distributist, and many other roots of the British, Irish and Commonwealth Labour Movements.

Variously, those roots have been embedded in, have been fed and watered by, and have grown into economic and wider patriotism locally and nationally, proud provincialism, worker-intellectualism, and organic working-class culture and self-organisation in town and country.

This sensibility includes a strong affinity with the recent historical reality of workers’ self-management and profit-sharing within a multinational state which included both culturally Christian and culturally Muslim places and peoples, and which enjoyed vast global influence while resolutely pursuing peace and eschewing transnational military power blocs.

Opposition to the shameful British role in destroying that (rather Anglophile) multinational state first began to bring back together the traditional British Right and the traditional British Left, each of which found itself excluded from consideration and debate.

“Identity politics”, as if there could ever be any other kind, are being appropriated, deployed, transformed and transcended by heterosexual males, by Christians, by the White British ethnic group, by those who identify specifically as English, and by people of mixed ethnic heritage.

It is now possible to listen directly to the voices of all parts of the world. The old have never been so energetic, their numbers and expectations having increased enormously. The young are as energetic as ever, and politically more so than in at least a generation, technology having made them better-organised than ever before, while other trends have greatly disadvantaged them compared with their recent predecessors.

The mass anti-war movement has also become the mass anti-cuts movement, both of which are anchored on the Left but reach deep into Tory Britain on conservative principles of foreign policy realism and the use of State action to defend organic communities against unbridled capital.

This list is very far from being exhaustive.

The United Kingdom is uniquely well-placed to host these discussions, being the bridge between Europe and the English-speaking world, being the heart of the Commonwealth, being the home of the British Council and of the BBC, and being possessed of the world city.

Our critique of Whiggery predates any Counterrevolutionary movement on the Continent, because it predates any Revolution there or in North America. Our Left is itself deeply rooted in the anti-Whig subcultures.

Predating Marx, it long predates Gramsci in meeting and transcending his aspirations. Like that of the traditions which produced it and with which it exists in constant creative tension, our Left’s very existence is a standing contradiction of economic determinism and of metaphysical materialism.

By never compromising either the theoretical or the practical, and by drawing on the fine arts and on the humanities, on the social sciences and on the natural sciences, on elite culture and on popular culture, on “religious” material and on “secular” material, engagement with these and related ontological, epistemological, ethical and aesthetic resources will help to restore the possibility of an economy and a society, of a common culture and a polity, of a Right and a Left.

David Lindsay is the Founder, Proprietor, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Lanchester Review.