Monthly Archives: May 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The problem with examining Conservative Party divisions is that we tend to still be using out of date terminology.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.

El Salvador: the process of truth, justice and reparations has been fulfilled

The Jesuits in El Salvador have asked the government to commute the sentence of former Colonel Guillermo Benavides. Benavides and another individual were convicted of the 1989 UCA murders. Given the international outrage at the Jesuits' murders, the Salvadoran government hoped convictions of medium-level participants would help them overcome the crisis.

Benavides was released shortly after beginning his prison term as a result of the 1993 amnesty. However, he returned to jail last year after the country's Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional.

Fr. Andreu Oliva said "We make this petition on the basis that, from our perspective, the process of truth, justice and reparations has been fulfilled." According to Father Jose Maria Tojeira,
"We are aware of his regret and his admission of the error," Tojeira said, adding that the 74-year-old ex-soldier "no longer represents a danger to the Salvadoran people."
Tojeira also said the Jesuits believe Benavides is a "scapegoat" for those who ordered the massacre and were never punished. The Jesuits consider the case against the killers closed but continue to seek clarity on the intellectual authors of the crime.
I'm not sure how this decision works in favor of "clarity on the intellectual authors of the crime." The overturning of the amnesty law was not supposed to help Benavides go free.

In Guatemala, transitional justice against the intellectual authors of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity was built by first going after foot soldiers. They convicted soldiers who participated in massacres, such as the one at Dos Erres. Once they demonstrated that the military had been responsible for carrying out large scale massacres, it was easier to move on to Rios Montt and other intellectual authors.

Australian Politics 2017-05-31 15:49:00


Big coal mine opposed by Greenies gets a go-ahead from a Leftist State government

Royalties are a tax and seeking a taxbreak while an enterprise gets going is normal and may even be offered by a government

The $16 billion Adani coal mining project is back on track after the Indian resources giant agreed to a royalties deal with the Queensland government.

It comes a week after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk reportedly backflipped on a deal because of divisions inside her government, which lead to a snap cabinet meeting on Friday.
Ministers unanimously agreed the company would not be given a royalties holiday on its proposed operation, and on Tuesday evening Adani announced it had agreed to the deal.

A week of warring among Labor factions was sparked when details of Ms Palaszczuk's original agreement with the company surfaced.
Under that deal, Adani would have had pay only $2 million a year over the first seven years of the mine's operation, which could have cost Queensland taxpayers up to $320 million.

No details of the new deal were available due to commercial reasons, an Adani spokesman told AAP on Tuesday evening. "The royalties arrangement means the project is back on track to generate 10,000 direct and indirect jobs in regional Queensland," the company said in a statement. "This shows a strong commitment by the state government to the project and is a benchmark decision to take this project forward."

The board of Adani's parent company will consider the deal at its next meeting, the statement said.

On Saturday, Ms Palaszczuk said her government had worked "night and day" to finalise the new framework, but denied she had backflipped on a previous deal she had struck with the firm.


Deported: Sex creep taxi driver to be kicked out of Australia

SEX creep taxi driver Jagdeep Singh is finally being kicked out of Australia.  Several Australian Border Force officers grabbed him at his Lalor home and put him in detention prior to his deportation back to India.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal foiled Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s first attempt to get rid of Singh after he pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting a female passenger in December 2015.

Singh appealed against the visa cancellation decision made by a delegate for Mr Dutton.  AAT senior member Miriam Holmes then overturned the delegate’s deportation decision in November last year and reinstated Singh’s visa.

She did so despite making a formal finding that Singh committed “a significant sexual offence involving a vulnerable member of the public while the applicant was engaged as a taxi driver”.

Mr Dutton last night exercised his power to overrule the AAT and ordered that Singh be detained by Australian Border Force officers and deported. A spokesman for Mr Dutton confirmed to the Herald Sun that Singh’s visa had been cancelled again.

Ms Holmes gave Singh, 34, his visa back in November last year, despite finding “it was apparent to the Tribunal that the applicant showed no remorse in relation to the criminal offence”.

In her written decision outlining why she overturned the deportation decision of Mr Dutton’s delegate, Ms Holmes said the cancellation of the visa had adversely affected Singh’s ability to manage his psychological condition with his treating psychologist.

She also said Singh’s wife had demonstrated depressive symptoms require anti-depression medication and would suffer emotional hardship if her husband’s visa was cancelled.

The decision noted that if Singh’s visa were cancelled he would become an “unlawful noncitizen” and might be liable for detention and possible removal from Australia.

Singh arrived in Australia from India in 2008 on a student visa as a dependent of his wife and started work as a taxi driver in Melbourne in 2011.

Singh’s victim hailed his cab outside Crown casino and asked Singh to driver her home to Clayton. She asked him to start the cab meter, but Singh replied for her not to worry and that something could be worked out later.

While Singh was driving he used his left hand to reach behind him to grab her leg and touch her hand. She repeatedly said “no” to Singh before eventually succeeding in pushing his hand away.

When Singh drove into the driveway of her home she put money on the centre console and got out of the taxi.

Singh jumped out of the cab and put his arms around the woman and hugged her close to his body. He told her he didn’t want her money and said “please, let’s work something out”.

She told him “no” and that he should take the money, at which point he kissed her on the neck.

The woman twisted her body to get away from Singh, but as she got to the gate he grabbed her from behind and pressed himself up against her.

She managed to get away for him again, told him to get back in the cab and leave her alone.

As she opened her front door he pushed her inside against a staircase and tried to kiss her neck and face.

Singh ran off after her screams alerted her housemate to the sexual attack.

He was caught and pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting the woman and was given an 18-month community corrections order in December 2015 requiring him to do 150 hours of unpaid community service.


Australia plans to deny passports to convicted paedophiles

Convicted paedophiles would be denied passports in Australia under a "world-first" plan proposed by the government.

The proposal, to be introduced to parliament, would prohibit registered sex offenders from travelling overseas.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said it would affect about 20,000 offenders who had completed punishments but remained under monitoring by authorities. Sex offenders would be able to apply for passports if they were no longer on the register, the government said.

"No country has ever taken such decisive and strong action to stop its citizens from going overseas, often to vulnerable countries, to abuse kids," Mr Keenan said.

About 800 registered sex offenders travelled overseas from Australia in 2016, according to the government. The government said about 3,200 sex offenders would never be eligible for passports because they were being monitored for life.

Mr Keenan described child sex tourism as an "absolutely abhorrent crime".

The proposal was reached with independent Senator Derryn Hinch, long time campaigner for tougher laws to deal with sex offenders. Mr Hinch said the proposal would protect children.

"You go to Bali, you go to Phnom Penh, you go to Siem Reap, and you see these middle-aged Australian men there, Caucasian men, with a young local kid - they are not there to get a suntan," he told reporters on Tuesday.

Last year, Australian man Robert Andrew Fiddes Ellis was convicted of sexually abusing 11 girls in Indonesia and jailed for 15 years.


Apple-picking robot targets labour-hungry fruit sector in Australia

Goodbye to immigrant workers?

Many fruit growers across Australia were left scrambling to find pickers this season and were forced to leave fruit on the trees to rot. Would harvest be less stressful if they had a robot to do the work instead?

A team of engineers from California are close to commercialising a machine that strips a canopy of apples using a vacuum arm.

For the past five years they have been working on the prototype in orchards in Washington State and, more recently, at Warragul in south-east Victoria.

Abundant Robotics chief executive Dan Steere said the invention may just be the solution to a global labour problem. "The industry struggles to attract a large enough labour force, even when they're paying pretty high wages," he said. "This has been a growing problem for several decades in the US as well as Australia and other places.

"I think automation offers the promise of being able to relax that constraint from an industry that without it, would struggle to remain viable."

The robot the company has developed can drive itself down an orchard row of apples and look for fruit on a trellis up to 3 metres tall.

It is programmed to select fruit for colour, then using its arm, sucks in a piece of fruit off a branch.

Mr Steere said the goal was to have the robot matching the quality of fruit picked by people. "When people are picking apples today, there's a certain amount of damage that happens as you pick them or empty them from the bag into the bin," he said.

"In Victoria this past year, we were comparing the rate of damage which we saw with our machine. "It was actually measured by the packing house at 1.8 per cent to the human crews' picking.

"So that level is actually a little bit less than the amount of damage that they normally see from people picking fruit."

Tasmanian orchardist Scott Price thought he would never see an apple-picking robot in his lifetime. He reckons it will not be long before they will be driving up and down orchards on the Apple Isle. "A lot of new orchards would lend themselves very well to picking," Mr Price said.

"The biggest fear we have in the orchard game is people injuring themselves. "If the machine injures itself we'll just take it back to the workshop and try to fix it, so that would be a bonus."

Mr Price said not every farm would have the robots in the next five to 10 years, but bigger properties may. "And there may be a machine shared amongst growers," he said. "Technology will change very rapidly, I'm sure."

Abundant Robotics' commercial release of its robotic apple picker is planned for next year.



Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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.

Soup and Recession

There's a strong connection in American history between soup and recessions. That connection can be largely attributed to the imagery recorded during the Great Depression of the 1930s, where Americans in large cities would queue up into long lines for free bowls of soup.

Since we have assembled the most complete nominal price history for Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup as advertised at discounted sale prices by U.S. grocers since the product was first introduced to the market in 1898, we thought it might be interesting to overlay the National Bureau of Economic Research's official periods of recession on our charts showing the typical sale price of Campbell's tomato soup as we updated the chart through May 2017.

Unit Price per Can of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup at Discounted Sale Pricing, January 1898 to May 2017

Next, here's the same data, but now shown on a logarithmic scale:

Unit Price per Can of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup at Discounted Sale Pricing, January 1898 to May 2017, Logarithmic Scale

In case you're wondering why the price of a single can of Campbell's Tomato Soup began to increase sharply after April 1974 after having been so relatively stable for so much of its history, it has a great deal to do with the expiration of the price controls that President Richard M. Nixon first imposed upon food items and wages in 1971 (and later extended in 1973), which coincided with his official severing of the convertibility between the U.S. dollar and gold on 15 August 1971.

Let's switch back to nominal scale, and focus in on the recent price history for Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup for the period since January 2000.

Unit Price per Can of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup at Discounted Sale Pricing, January 2000 to May 2017

The period since January 2000 is interesting in and of itself because the typical sale price of a can of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup has more than doubled, from $0.34 per can to $0.86 per can in May 2017, which means that its price has escalated an an average annualized compound rate of nearly 5.5% a year, which is much faster than the rate of 2.1% that the official Consumer Price Index averaged from 2000 through 2016.

That's just one reason why we can say that the typical price of a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup has never been higher than it today!

But more than that, you can look at the changes in the price of a single can of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup during this period as being the result of other disruptive forces acting upon the U.S. economy, which is an idea that we'll explore in future posts.

Image Credit: National Archives.

Chicago 1931: Soup Line funded by Al Capone