Wednesday, May 31, 2017

AS Politics: Party Divisions - the Conservative Party

The problem with examining Conservative Party divisions is that we tend to still be using out of date terminology.  The party has moved on from a Thatcherite/One Nation division (if it ever really existed in one) not least because the times have changed.  No Conservative leader seriously disputes the need to maintain Thatcherism's principal legacy of a privatised economy and lower taxes (a legacy that even social democrats like Tony Blair undertook to essentially preserve).  The headline issue that split the Conservatives in the post-Thatcher years was Europe, although there was also debate around liberal versus conservative social attitudes and the extent to which public services like health and education should be submitted to the rigours of free market medicine.

The key to determining the direction of the Conservative party lies with its leaders and the best way of understanding Conservative divisions is probably via them.  Unlike its main rivals, the Conservatives are driven to an extraordinary degree by the men and women who lead it.  While Conservative grassroots members are broadly right-wing, often putting them at odds with more liberal minded leaders, they are also fundamentally loyal.  They do not have pretensions to directing the parliamentary party, even if they now expect a say in how it is led (although such a say is rare - only Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron became leaders as a result of a grassroots vote).

Party historians date the Conservative Party back to either Robert Peel or William Pitt the Younger.  Pitt embodied the free trade philosophy that has remained part of the party's policy DNA (leading to a substantial internal divide at the beginning of the twentieth century) while Peel was an early social reformer.  Peel's cabinet included William Gladstone while his backbench MPs included Benjamin Disraeli.  Gladstone took his economic liberalism to the Liberal Party after the repeal of the Corn Laws split the party, while Disraeli eventually came to articulate what he called a One Nation vision for the Conservatives.

One Nation Conservatism - a somewhat inchoate, pragmatic blend of paternalism and specific government action to benefit the working poor in the interests of national harmony - came to dominate the Conservative Party for much of the twentieth century.  However, it was encountering problems under Edward Heath and it fell to Margaret Thatcher to provide something hitherto unknown for Conservatism - an ideology.  The liberal conservative Ian Gilmour had noted that "the wise Conservative travels light" but such lightness of travel wasn't benefiting them by the 70s, so Mrs. Thatcher brought back a form of Gladstonian liberalism in economic thought - essentially a promulgation of the virtues of the free market and private ownership - and married it with traditional Tory social conservatism.

Whilst opposed by liberal, or One Nation, Conservatives such as Gilmour on account of its negative impact upon working class communities (notably miners and traditional manufacturing workers), Thatcherism became the dominant Conservative ideology in the latter part of the 20th century.  Economic liberalism, in the form of a small state, low tax vision, was not seriously questioned although social attitudes did become a battleground between liberals and conservatives.

David Cameron became leader in 2005 and sought to modernise the Conservative brand without seriously changing its policies.  He coined the term "Big Society" for his 2010 election manifesto (an updated version of One Nation Conservatism), though in practice this amounted to little specific in terms of policy.  He also sought to focus more on 'Green" issues and social liberalism to soften the Conservative image; his embrace of gay marriage was a success for social liberals but put him at odds with a still significant socially conservative membership of his party.  He pursued some further devolution of powers away from Westminster, to a proposed "Northern Powerhouse" (the hobbyhorse of his key ally and Chancellor George Osborne) and the metro mayors elected last May - a lingering legacy.  There was also a feeling that his desire for a formal coalition with the Liberal Democrats was in part motivated by a need to have a liberal firewall against his own more right-wing back-benchers.  In government, however, he and Osborne found themselves nonetheless pursuing an austerity agenda in the light of the 2008 financial crisis that wouldn't have looked out of place under Mrs. Thatcher herself.

Like all Conservative leaders since Thatcher, Cameron was faced with a Europe problem, which he resolved by promising a referendum.  He can hardly have foreseen that this referendum would spell his own precipitate political end just a year after winning an independent majority for his party in the 2015 election.

And so we come to Theresa May.  Her speech on taking office seemed to mark the outlines of a form of One Nation Conservatism, and the 2017 Conservative manifesto - which more than many of its predecessors is the work of the leader's small coterie, notably co chief-of-staff Nick Timothy - seems to have embedded this further.  Characterised by some as "Red Toryism", May's manifesto actively promotes the idea that the state can be used to further the public good.  It talks of the "good that government can do" and rejects what it calls "the cult of selfish individualism". It wants public schools to set up state academies, promises to maintain the workers' rights that are currently embedded in EU law and even rejects the idea of ideology as "dangerous".

In her determination to use the state to protect workers and provide government oversight of businesses, May echoes some of the activist agenda of Disraeli (or more accurately his Home Secretary Richard Cross).  In identifying herself as the emblem of conservatism and thus the nation, the only person trusted to negotiate our exit from the European Union,  there are echoes of Stanley Baldwin's "Safety First" agenda in the 1930s, although they lack his sense of ease at the state of the country.

In the modern age of an expansive state, however, which has often been the target of Conservative determinations to reduce it, May has also arguably carved out a new brand of Conservatism.  One which seeks to utilise the state rather than attack it, and do so in order to widen the appeal of 21st century Conservatism to those who are not people of wealth or rank.  The so-called "just about managing" that she identified in her first speech.  Shorn of the Brexit veneer, she could be seen as the most left-wing Conservative premier yet.  This is why a High Tory like historian Andrew Roberts is so worried, as he argues in this piece, suggesting that she is not really a Tory at all. 

The Conservatives are the most pragmatic and flexible of democratic political parties.  It is one reason why they are still in business after more than two centuries.  How long lasting the May changes will be are of course dependent on the level of endorsement she gets from the electorate, and a couple of weeks before the election itself that isn't looking quite so rosy.

AS-level Politics: Party Divisions - The Labour Party

Clause One of the Labour Party's constitution commits it to maintaining a strong parliamentary party:

“[The party’s] purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.”

Given that Jeremy Corbyn is opposed by 95% of his own MPs (only 15 MPs voted for him in the 2015 ballot; he wasn't required, as the incumbent leader, to check out that support again in 2016), the first obvious division within Labour would appear to be that between those who want to maintain a strong parliamentary party  (the MPs who opoosed Corbyn) and those who want to make it more a grassroots-run organisation (principally Corbyn supporting groups like Momentum and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy).  This New Statesman editorial summarises and comments on the division. 

The policy differences, of course, are severe. The leaking of Labour's election manifesto suggested serious opposition within the party to it.  It has become a fundamentally binary struggle between one-time Blairite or "centrist" Labour members (the majority of the parliamentary party) and the more left-wing, nationalising tendency (Corbyn and his grassroots supporters).

The "Economist" neatly summed it up thus:

Labour is not so much an organised political party as a blood-soaked battleground between two warring factions: the far-left faction, led by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, and including acolytes such as Dianne Abbot and Emily Thornberry, and “moderate” Labour. “Moderate” Labour consists of the bulk of their MPs, including Yvette Cooper, the moderate wing’s current leader and wife of Gordon Brown’s right-hand man, Ed Balls, Stephen Kinnock, the son of the party’s former leader, Neil Kinnock and Hillary Benn, the son of the left’s former champion, Tony Benn, as well as the majority of traditional Labour voters. The Corbynistas consist of hard-left activists, many of them former members of Marxist groupuscles, who joined the party in huge numbers in the past couple of years. The manifesto is pure Corbynism. The leak is clearly an attempt by the anti-Corbyn faction to embarrass Mr Corbyn and derail his launch.

(The whole piece - from Bagehot - is worth reading).

The moderate Labour faction draws its ideological position from the recent history of New Labour, personified by Tony Blair and given shape by Peter Mandelson (and, as it happens, Gordon Brown despite his attempts to subvert it through personal opposition to Blair). More distantly, it is comparable to most previous Labour leaders such as Wilson and Gaitskell, fundamentally social democrats who believed in working effectively through parliament to gradually change Britain's economic and social institutions towards achievement of the cause of equality.  They propounded a broadly "strong", pro-US foreign policy (supporting British possession of a nuclear deterrent) with the belief in a mixed economy.  Blair's spin on this was outlined in the so-called "Third Way", a belief that Labour's brand of social democracy had to adapt to the post-Thatcher era by embracing privatisation but coupling it to the public sector (Public Private Partnerships).  He also adopted a more clearly socially liberal attitude (notably in the field of liberalising legislation on same-sex relationships).

The left-wing Labour faction of Corbyn has a new movement supporting it (Momentum) and an old one (the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy).  Somewhat ironically the CLPD is an old Bennite movement.  Tony Benn was the leader of the left in the 1980s, the last time Labour took a severe leftward turn, and his son Hillary is now one of the leading moderates in the parliamentary Labour Party, sacked as shadow Foreign Secretary by Jeremy Corbyn.  This left grouping draws its ideological position from a more radical, even revolutionary brand of socialism that despises the democratic socialism of the moderates.  They believe in a grassroots movement and a return to a state run economy, coupled with more recent cultural issues related to diversity and opposition to "country" actions like hunting and badger culling.  They also tend to embrace immigration as a positive force.

The divisions above seem straightforward enough - a classic left v right - but are muddied by the division of ordinary Labour supporters into social activists and traditional members.  The social activists who dominate Momentum are young, active on social media and committed to a range of left social causes.  The traditional Labour members are more conservative socially, oppose immigration and also tend to favour Brexit (which Corbyn, after much hesitation, supported and continues to support).  For Labour's electoral success, much depends on where these traditional members and voters decide to cast their vote, with early polling evidence suggesting that many would not vote for Corbyn.

The moderate, or social democratic, element of the Labour Party remain in a quandary.  The Labour leadership has moved far away from them, taking with it many of their constituency memberships.  There is no guarantee that Corbyn would leave the leadership if he loses (he has said that he will stay on) and should the October conference approve a further reduction in MPs' power to select future leadership candidates, they may find it impossible to restore a moderate leadership.  Which begs the question of where they go.  They are ideologically opposed to the Liberal Democrats, but the last example of moderate Labour MPs trying to form a new parliamentary grouping and national party - the Social Democratic Party of the 1980s - was ultimately a failure.

If Corbyn wins - an unlikely scenario even given the Yougov poll projecting Tory seat losses -  then moderate Labour MPs will find themselves having to support a left-wing Labour government whose policies they fundamentally disagree with, or opposing their own party in government and signing their death warrant in the constituencies.

Win or lose, Labour's existential crisis isn't going away.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mrs. May and her flawed campaign

The Manchester atrocity hasn't actually persuaded people to forget what a very poor offering Theresa May is wanting to give them.  This is despite the serious efforts of May and her few loyalists, who have been banging on non-stop about security and doing everything they can to remind us all of Jeremy Corbyn's IRA links.  The fact is, though, that people on the doorstep are still interested in policy details that will affect them personally.

This is why the scorchingly bad social policy U-turn is still having an impact.  Tory candidates report a poor and antagonistic doorstep reaction with the U-turn itself having done little to restore any faith in Mrs. May's promises. Meanwhile the Labour party has been making more hay than expected with a range of policies that are basically saying "we know things don't work, so let's go back to a golden age of government intervention".  That works because the first part of the message resonates today and ever faulty memories allow the second part of it to gain traction.  There has been nothing particularly attractive in the offerings made by the May team, which is unfortunate because their manifesto begins with one of the best and most pronounced efforts to pitch conservatism towards the centre that has probably ever been seen in an election document.

More than part of the reason for the Tory shambles is the nature of both Mrs. May and her top team.  The lady herself is a solid but unimaginative and inflexible political performer with little depth.  She spent her Home Secretary years powering out some robust and occasionally draconian measures, toilingly defended some big mistakes and sat herself distantly from the Cameron/Osborne claque then ruling the party.  She was uninspiring but worthy; her public speeches and interviews were mundane and ultra-safe efforts, hard work to wade through and unilluminating. Fortunately for her, the more sparkling members of the political firmament all decided to implode and she was left sitting atop of the heap.  It's not the first time a worthy plodder has emerged on top and it is not necessarily a bad thing either.  However, it is not the basis for a personality campaign either.  Not in a democracy where you have to communicate outside the tribe at any rate.

Add to this the tight nature of her top team.  Just two people, her co-chiefs of staff Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, hold any sort of power or offer any sort of advice - of the type that will actually be listened to.  This is never a good set-up, and when it is compounded by an insular defensiveness from all three of them the situation becomes worse.  And while Mr. Timothy appears by all accounts to have tried to use his position to do some genuinely blue sky thinking about Toryism, his colleague Ms. Hill seems to have spent much of her time throwing her weight around and making sure everyone knows she is in charge.  A woman who has no public accountability and has never operated in the public sphere now sends bullying or demeaning texts to elected representatives, many of whom have a deal more political experience than she does.  More fool them for taking this sort of nonsense but the overall image has been of a paranoid and narrow clique desperately preserving their power and viewing everyone outside their trio as potential enemies.

This then is the set-up that gave the Tories the cataclysmic communications failure over the social care policy (a failure for which Ms. Hill, who acquired for herself the role of communications chief once she ousted any competitors, needs to take the blame).  It gets worse though.  Calling a quick election the Conservatives resorted once again to Lynton Crosby, a man whose stock in trade is to run highly personalised and dog-whistling campaigns that seriously endanger the long-term integrity of the brand he is working for.  The abysmal Zac Goldsmith London Mayoral campaign is the stand-out example, but go back a bit further and you can unearth the Michael Howard campaign of 2005 which left many voters with a nasty aftertaste.  This time the brand isn't even Conservative.  It is firmly focused on Theresa May herself, as if a party with over two hundred years of tradition and evolving ideology has really nothing to offer.  May's halting and repetitive speech-making has made us yearn for more articulate Tory spokesmen, and reached its apogee in her car crash interview with Andrew Neill.

The Tories - and Theresa May - are still the odds-on favourites to win this election.  They may, however, be counting the cost of their victory for some years to come, especially if the centre-left ever acquire a leadership that is even marginally more competent than the Corbyn mob of hucksters.  It takes many years to build up a credible and popular political brand.  It is a brave person who can say with confidence that Conervatism will survive Brexit Mayism.

Does Diane Abbot deserve the hate?

Having just watched shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot being interviewed by Andrew Marr, I definitely haven't come away with the feeling that she is a sharp, canny and effective political operator.  She tends to be rambling, anecdotal and cornered by her past comments and attitudes.  At best, she gave a mediocre performance.  What did cause pause for thought however was the rapid vitriol she attracted on twitter.  If you ever think the print media isn't weighted against Labour - and left-wingers like Abbot in particular - then just consider this.

Abbot was asked by Marr to defend herself against the charge that she would be a dangerous Home Secretary.  Beginning a list of several personal factors that she felt were good - or "helpful" - characteristics in a home secretary, she noted that she had worked in the Home Office as a graduate trainee so had knowledge of it from the inside.  She went on to note some others, including working amongst diverse communities.  It took mere minutes for several denizens of the print media to seize on her trainee graduate statement however, and pin it as her main justification for being home secretary.

Later, trying - somewhat inarticulately - to explain that she had changed her views on the IRA, she tried to draw an analogy with her hairstyle having changed over the years.  Not a great gambit, but it was obvious that she was attempting to show that people change over time and that her views had thus changed as she grew older.  Here is an example of what it became on twitter:

And those examples are the kinder ones. 

I think Diane Abbot is a pretty useless media performer, who after years in politics is still unable to articulate with conviction and sense her more radical positions.  This is a shame, and it is arguably a seering indictment of Corbyn's party that she now holds a position shadowing one of the great offices of state.  Mind you, we are in an age when stupidity and unfitness are the leading characteristics of the president of the United States, so go figure.  Nevertheless, Abbot does attract undue rage and the willingness to caricature her every poorly chosen phrase on twitter is neither elevating to politics generally nor fair to her.  Unlike the journalists and twitterati who leap to condemn her with such alacrity she has at least sought to dedicate her life to public service.  That deserves some respect surely?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What do voters want?

The Nottingham University professor, Steven Fielding, has published two posts on the excellent university politics blog, Ballots and Bullets, dealing with the issue of what voters want - and therefore vote for - in their political leaders.

His first post was written after Theresa May appeared on the One Show.  In explaining why she would take part in a light entertainment magazine show, he noted that not only was she after its audience - some 5 million probably not very political viewers - but also needed to use the show to develop her empathy with voters.  Reasoned argument does not penetrate particularly far in a modern election, and some might dispute that two or three repeated mantras amounts to reasonable argument in any case. What voters are looking for is someone they can both admire as leaders and support as individuals who understand their own circumstances.  Fielding notes Aristotle's argument on "ethos, pathos and logos" in developing his point.

In his subsequent post, Fielding looks at the desire for voters to have a "strong and stable" leader.  Again, one might dispute whether the facts of May's leadership thus far really merit those words (weakness in the face of popular press campaigning and U-turning on budget promises within days don't constitute either strength or stability) but the reality is that she and her campaign managers have been successful in instilling that as a feature of her leadership.  Fielding references the arguments on "strong man [or person]" leadership from Plato, via Carlyle to Archie Brown (who disliked it but acknowledged the public's desire for it).

Fielding's two posts are engaging and accessible for A-level students, and help to consider what the features are for a successful leader in elections (both American and British).  They also illuminate the ongoing problem for anyone who thinks electoral politics is about an engagement of rational ideas, competing for the available political space.  It isn't and probably never has been.  It is about an engagement with the gut instinct of voters, the vast majority of whom are not interested in the minutiae of ideas.  Most voters, indeed, are not particularly exercised by the idea of democracy itself (the number of non-voters certainly indicates this, while even those who do vote contain a large number of agnostics who wouldn't miss the process if it were abolished).  What exercises them is the need for food, shelter, jobs and the chance of leisure - all exercised without obvious government presence.  If they do want to acknowledge a leader, they want that leader to look as if he or she knows what they're doing, makes occasional obeisance to the people's condition, and harasses their enemies with the minimum of actual conflict.  Currently, May understands that better than Corbyn.  Much better.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How voters think....or don't

There was a fascinating piece on the "Today" programme this morning (scroll to 1:20:35).  Listen to these voters try and identify party policies (they mostly fail), and then explain why it doesn't matter anyway.  They may or may not be a representative sample, but these ordinary voters are classic examples of the principle of voting with the gut rather than the mind.  They are happy that they don't really understand any policies, it doesn't matter what detail parties promise as "they all promise the same and never deliver".  The personality of the leader is the most important thing.

Parties spend a lot of time developing their manifestos.  Voters spend a lot of time ignoring them and then claiming the promises don't amount to a hill of beans anyway.  Win the battle of perception and you've pretty well clinched the election.  That's Lynton Crosby's key understanding, and Theresa May - neither particularly strong or particularly stable as it happens - is his most obedient pupil.  Of course she's winning.  Policies have nothing to do with it.

One friend who has been canvassing for the Lib Dems reported a voter telling him that it was important to vote for Theresa May as she needed all our support to negotiate for Brexit.  That's nonsense and it doesn't actually mean anything.  But it is the simple mantra put out regularly by May and co, and a voter who doesn't spend much time thinking about politics has swallowed it whole.

Want to be depressed about human nature?  Want to understand Thomas Hobbes a bit more?  Follow an election!

The failure of Republican leadership

It is truly stunning that the President of the United States has almost certainly given classified information to the Russians because he loves bragging and has no control over his tongue.  He has himself pretty well admitted this in his latest tweets (here and here).

It is worth taking a moment to think about how extraordinary this is.  The president of the United States gives intelligence to the Russians!  This was the stuff of jokes not very long ago, or far fetched political thrillers.  Now, it's real.

Now consider the reaction of the Republican leaders on the Hill, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.  They hounded Hillary Clinton over her emails (though no significant information was ever discovered to have leaked) and set up numerous committees to investigate the Benghazi Embassy attack.  They portray themselves as American patriots.  With the exception of a half-hearted mention by Ryan, they have had nothing to say on this issue.  No comment on the fact that the president has given classified information to a hostile power, endangering the intelligence relationship with an ally in so doing.

Ryan and McConnell have spent a long time demeaning themselves and placing party interests before country, but so far this is their nadir.  It's ok to put intelligence lives at risk and betray your country's secrets if it means keeping a Republican in the White House.  McConnell has already shown how little he regards America's once revered constitution with his party games over the Supreme Court.  Ryan's whole mission in his political life has been to cut funding to any form of welfare programmes. Not exactly a couple of inspiring political heroes even before the Trump juggernaut exposed their self-serving, vindictive and malicious political dealing.

Donald Trump is a braggart and a moron who has little idea of the implications of his actions.  His only defence is that no-one expected any better of him; his whole political adventure has been to extend the brand of Trump and give his barely thought through political beliefs a megaphone to the world.  But Ryan and McConnell have come through political life.  They have brains of a higher working order.  Unlike Trump, they do know exactly what they are doing.  And it is one of the most depressing political spectacles ever witnessed.  Not since the days of Franz von Papen have we seen such naked political self-interest and cowardly retreat from morality give service to such an unspeakable populist power.

 When the history of the decline and fall of the American Republic is written, Ryan and McConnell will have prominent roles.  But why would they care?  What is the future of the republic compared to their political careers?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Firing Comey won't hurt Trump

President Trump's sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey, just after a former fired Justice Dept official, Sally Yates, had been giving damning evidence to Congress, is an extraordinary event.  But not unprecedented in style.

Trump has fired Comey while Comey is overseeing an investigation into Trump's links with Russia.  Back in 1973, Republican president Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox while Cox was investigating Nixon's links to the Watergate break-in.  Reports have not been slow to raise the links, and Democrats on the Hill have quickly referred to the Comey firing as "Nixonian".

Nixon's actions led to his eventual impeachment.   But enemies of Mr. Trump shouldn't be too keen to expect significant retaliatory action against him.  Here's why.

1.  Nixon's actions came after a slow-burning revelation of the internal paranoia of his presidency through initially unregarded reports in the Washington Post.  By the time Cox was fired, the Nixon White House was already in a state of siege.

2.  Nixon faced a Democrat controlled House and Senate ready to use their significant constitutional power to investigate him.

3.  Trump faces a House and Senate controlled by virtually supine Republican leaders utterly in thrall to his presidency.  Ryan, McConnell, Nunes, Grassley and others have all shown their willingness to roll over in front of Trump if it furthers their judicial or economic agenda.

4.  Trump still retains a strong support from his voting core.  This won't budge.  He has already faced down public protest over a range of other unorthodox or unethical moves in his frist 100 days; this is simply one more.

5.  The presidency was still regarded as having to work by understood ethical and political standards under Nixon.  He breached those, and thus began his downfall.

6.  There has never been an understanding that Trump will use the presidency in a dignified or ethical way.  Media and political opposition have failed to shift this narrative, due to Trump's continuing hard-line support from his activists and an extraordinary abdication by Republicans of any thought that they will offer independent scrutiny of the president.

7.  Popular pressure is all, but it has to be seen to be large and widespread.  After Nixon's firing telegrams and messages poured into Congress and the White House from concerned citizens.  It suggested a general shift in the public mood away from the president.  Trump can remain secure in the knowledge that the base which put him into office still would so again.  Millions of opponents in Calfifornia or New York will have no impact on him.

8.  The Democrats have colluded in undermining Comey, notably Hillary Clinton herself.  She has consistently blamed him for her own election defeat and been supported in this view by supporters such as Chuck Schumer.  This makes any opposition they now express to Comey's firing extremely suspect.  They should have kept quiet and understood the need to coalesce around an independnet minded Director who was, after all, appointed by a Democratic president.

No-one can tell how this latest abuse of presidential power will run.  Trump is still at the beginning of his presidency, he enjoys support where it matters, and neither the media nor Democrats have yet found a way of seriously challenging him.  They may still not have managed to do so in four years' time.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

US Politics - A-level round-up


Democrats in the House

While Republicans have effectively divided into two warring parties over the Obamacare repeal, Democrats have retained a strong congressional unity, says the Washington Post’s Daily 202.

Key points:

1-      Democrats have voted with consistent unanimity in rejecting repeal proposals, even those up for re-election in Trump states and districts
2-      The House Democratic caucus has changed since Obamacare’s passage in 2010.  “Blue Dogs” have been wiped out and the party’s base has moved left; of 34 Democrats who opposed Obamacare in 2010, only 3 are still sitting in 2017 and they are all opposed to GOP repeal attempts.
3-      The Democrats are reacting to the so-called Resistance movement’s pressure from outside the House; similar to Republicans and the tea party at the beginning of Obama’s presidency
4-      House Democrat Leader Nancy Pelosi acknowledges it is easier to mobilise votes against something than for something and imposes strict discipline on her caucus
5-      In a Washington Post interview, also promoted in the Daily 202, Pelosi noted the importance of keeping the Democrat tent a wide one, incorporating pro-lifers as well as abortion rights activists.

Democrat Problems

“Commentary’s” Noah Rothman says the Democrats have been learning the wrong lessons from their 2016 defeats:

1-      Blaming Hillary Clinton and other external party factors for their defeat, the Democrats have concluded that re-energising their base is the way forward
2-      The problem is that the Democrat base was already energised in 2016 – but for Donald Trump
3-      The so-called “Obama Coalition” seemed to show that Democrats no longer needed their white working-class voters; 2016 showed that Clinton could not keep the “Obama Coalition” in place – perhaps no other Democrat can
4-      Democrats are thus allowing a new and radicalised base to drive them, whilst ignoring the original white working-class base which used to win them elections

Hillary Clinton on defeat

Hillary Clinton has been speaking about her reaction to her defeat in an interview with CNN’s Christine Amanpour.  Whilst accepting “personal responsibility” for the defeat, she also cited other factors as being decisive – notably James Comey’s re-opening her email case, the Wikileaks hack of John Podesta’s emails, and misogyny in politics.   Clinton’s campaign has also been the subject of a “tell-all” book – “Shattered” – which is hostile to the former Secretary of State’s failed candidacy against Donald Trump, suggesting she was insular, secretive and isolated from disenchanted Democrat voters. 

Race and Parties

Trump and the resurgence of race issues

President Donald Trump has reiterated his admiration for President Andrew Jackson (the first real “Democrat” president), claiming that had Jackson been president later the Civil War would not have happened, in an interview with the Washington Examiner.

Salon writer Chauncey Devega sees this as further evidence of Trump and the Republicans’ neo-Confederate racist leanings.  His key take-aways:

1-      Trump’s inner circle hold white ethno-nationalist, supremacist beliefs
2-      They came to power in part by promoting a false idea of white victimhood
3-      Andrew Jackson, who carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the American west against Native Americans, is an appropriate symbol for this movement
4-      Neo-confederates promote a historical fiction that the Civil War was not about slavery but states’ rights
5-      It is no surprise that the KKK endorsed Donald Trump
6-      Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act gave birth to the modern, white supremacist Republican Party.  It “transformed the party of Abraham Lincoln into the party of Jefferson Davis”.
7-      The Trump Administration’s treatment of undocumented Latino immigrants is redolent of the hunting of fugitive slaves before the civil war.
8-      Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to be dogged by allegations of a racist past.

Historical note: The Washington Post noted that Democrat House Leader Nancy Pelosi sat beneath a portrait of the first Republican president Abraham Lincoln, while Trump espouses the virtues of the first Democratic president Andrew Jackson.