Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Delusions on the UK left

Syriza has won the Greek election, which is the result I hoped for. For some this heralds the death of neoliberalism. To celebrate, George Monbiot - whose journalism consistently tells me more than most other journalists - says that here in the UK we should no longer vote tactically, but instead vote for what we want. What dangerous nonsense!

At least he is honest in what such an approach implies. Anyone who votes Green in any seat where Labour has a chance to win, aside from maybe a few seats where the Greens have a chance (more realistically one or two), is voting for a Conservative government. They will be in small part responsible for what happens under that government. (Not voting in a seat Labour has a chance to win is almost as bad.) This is going to be a tight election, so it matters. [1]

Monbiot says “If Labour wins in May, it is likely to destroy itself faster and more surely than if it loses, through the continued implementation of austerity.” His normal high standards of journalism based on solid research go out of the window. I have, along with the IFS and Resolution Foundation and many others, repeatedly pointed out that there is a huge difference between Labour and Conservative fiscal plans beyond 2015. It is quite possible that we will see very little additional fiscal tightening under Labour, and a lot more public investment.

But with Monbiot in this mood, all this means nothing. The additional hardship that those that depend on the state will undoubtedly suffer if Labour do not win: collateral damage for the eventual triumph of the left. The disintegration of the NHS starved of funds: it will happen anyway  - but the last Labour government raised taxes to increase NHS spending! This is not a strategy based on any kind of analysis, but wishful thinking because he finds it distasteful to vote tactically. (The British people had a chance to change their electoral system, and they chose not to.)

In looking at Labour, he sees only their departures from his own vision, and ignores their virtues and the realities of gaining power in today’s environment. He thinks Labour is currently silent on the evils of austerity because they believe in its virtues, whereas in reality they have been forced into this position by mediamacro’s obsession with the deficit. That is why they do not publicise their very different fiscal plans, but good journalism should see through that. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a prime minister who was prepared to stand up to the Murdoch press - oh wait. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a prime minister who said: “This country is too unequal. And we need to change it." - oh wait again (see postscript).

To say that Monbiot’s analysis represents a profound misreading of history seems trivially obvious, but not for left utopianism. Monbiot says “Fearful voting shifts the whole polity to the right.” Where is the evidence for that? Neoliberalism did not triumph because the left decided to compromise. Yes Greece voted for Syriza, but only when half of its young people were stuck in unemployment. Is that the future that he hopes for by abandoning tactical voting?

Parts of the radical left has always suffered from this misty eyed idealism, where through blurred vision everyone else looks the same. I remember being told by otherwise very intelligent people on the left that there was no real difference between George Bush and Al Gore. Monbiot described voting No in the Scottish referendum as “an astonishing act of self-harm”: no matter that the SNP tried to deceive the electorate that they would at all times be better off independent; a sorry claim given what has subsequently happened to the oil price. No doubt some said in 2010 that a future Labour government would be much the same as a Conservative government. Please, just look at the evidence.  

So, to repeat, anyone voting Green (or failing to vote) in a seat that Labour can win but the Greens cannot will in part be responsible for the consequences of a future Conservative government.

Postscript (19/2/15): Here is a link to those seats where this might apply. 

[1] An interesting question, from an academic point of view, is whether this argument is symmetrical, applying to UKIP and the Conservatives. Perhaps not in one sense. If Labour loses because of votes lost to the Greens, the reaction within the party will simply be to look for a more telegenic leader. If the Conservatives lose because of votes lost to UKIP, perhaps there is a chance that the Conservative Party will merge with UKIP, and adopt leaving the EU as policy.

65 comments:

  1. Yep, George's Michael Moore moment. Remember when Moore told the the prodigious readership of his newsletter that they should vote Nader because there was no difference between Bush and Gore?

    I don't like the system, but that's how FPTP works. George will no doubt be wringing his hands when Pickles and Co all but abolish what's left of local political power, but hey political stupidity on the left is not the unique preserve of the British!

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    1. Yes, Mr. Monbiot ignores the difference between FPTP and proportional representation. His advice only makes sense if the green wave suddenly gets strong enough to push Labour completely aside.

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  2. Labour are planning to abolish benefits for under 25s, freeze the minimum wage in real terms, strangle public sector workers' salaries, make life more difficult for immigrants, and tax everyone who gets a degree at a higher rate than someone who doesn't. I am not voting for my own execution.

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    1. Well no actually.

      The proposed benefits shift for under-25s hasn't been decided yet, but is in the context of a guaranteed job after a period of unemployment.

      The pledge to raise the minimum wage to more than £8 an hour during the next parliament is a good one, and open ended. Unless you believe inflation is going to run away a 25% increase is not a freeze.

      No evidence that the public sector pay freeze would continue.

      No evidence life would be more difficult for immigrants already here, though it might be less possible for newer ones to come here from outside the EU.

      A graduate tax is effectively what we have now, just the very rich don't have to pay it.

      The mental contortions necessary to make your list say more about you than Labour.

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    2. The benefits policy is totally ridiculous. I am 25. I lost my job a few months ago and spent a couple of months on housing benefit and JSA in London finding a new one.

      Under Labour's plans I wouldn't have been able to claim housing benefit, I would have had to move back to parents' house on the other side of the country where there are no jobs in my industry, or I'd be forced to do some pointless training scheme.

      A guaranteed minimum wage job in six months' time? Oh, I can't wait.

      If we take inflation over the previous parliament, the pledged rise in the minimum wage would be something like 40p - utterly insulting. It's not enough to live on, and Labour doesn't care.

      Labour has repeatedly said it "can't" end the public sector pay freeze and Balls has explicitly said he won't be allocating any more money in the next financial year.
      http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jan/05/ed-balls-labour-refuses-commit-ending-squeeze-public-sector-pay
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16558820

      On migration, Labour is going to harass migrants to learn English
      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/9744501/Ed-Miliband-tells-immigrants-to-learn-English-as-he-admits-Labour-failed-to-stop-segregation.html

      and ban them from social assistance when they lose their jobs for two years.

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11376427/Ed-Miliband-has-sold-Labours-soul-for-3.5p.html

      You're living on another planet if you think that won't make life harder.

      If your best defence of a terrible Labour policy is "it's basically what we have now" then the party really is facing PASOKification. Good riddance to them.

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    3. «The proposed benefits shift for under-25s hasn't been decided yet, but is in the context of a guaranteed job after a period of unemployment.»

      My summary (in another blog) of Labour vs. Conservative party politics is that both are pandering to the desire of swing voters in marginal seats to go back to Jane Austen's "neoliberal" world, and the main difference between the two is that Labour want to go back to the Speenhamland Poor Laws and the Conservatives want to go back to the 1834 Poor Laws and the workhouses.

      Unfortunately the 1834 Poor Laws and the workhouses are popular with swing voters in margin seats, so just as the Conservatives tried to use Tescos as workhouses by requiring unemployed people to work there for benefits lower than the minimum wages, in effect using Tesco as workhouses, so does in effect Labour want to bring back something that can be sold as being akin to the workhouses for under 25s.

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    4. The taking benefits away from the under 25s thing seems to have developed a life of it's own I've had a few arguments with people on twitter about it. It's certainly not actual Labour policy (it's been emphatically denies by Rachel Reeves) but it could have been spun that way by Labour spinners or by the Telegraph who printed the original story.

      This kind of story worries me as it will no doubt be dutifully repeated by the Greens and Labour's other opponents on the left and will feeds a "they're all the same" narrative that seems to be depriving Labour of votes.

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  3. A clarion call to vote Labour.

    Is that a reason to read this blog? I think rather not.

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    1. it seems to me that this is a huge misrepresentation of that SImonWL has said.

      He has invited people who would not want to vote Tory *anyhow* to vote for a better macroeconomic programme that has a chance to be enacted.

      It just happens that the better macroeconomic programme is Labour's, and that Labour has a chance of being elected.

      He is not at all advocating voting Labour as such: simply for the best chance to have a better macroeconomic programme:

      «pointed out that there is a huge difference between Labour and Conservative fiscal plans beyond 2015. It is quite possible that we will see very little additional fiscal tightening under Labour, and a lot more public investment»

      That is a judgement by an economist (who follows a theoretical approach that I find silly BTW :->) that one macroeconomic programme is much better than another, and that is what matters, because it is «the consequences of a future Conservative government» that may matter to those that may want to be «voting Green (or failing to vote) in a seat that Labour can win but the Greens cannot».

      These are people who have already rejecting what SimonWL regards as a bad macroeconomic programme.

      I don't see anywhere a call for voting for one party or another regardless of the merit of their macroeconomic programme. If perchance it were the Tories that had come up with what SimonWL regarded a better programme I have little doubt that he would recommend to UKIP voters to vote Tory in Tory-winnable seats.

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    2. Blissex:

      You do not seem to be aware that political or moral preferences influence what one believes in macroeconomics. SWL is a clear example.

      You find SW'Ls approach silly, There may be something to that, and one could leave it at that. Of course, he believes what he says. My explanation is that he someteimes lets his moral and political preferences run away with him and that he is less critical than he should be.

      Can we agree on that?

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  4. It is hard job trying to explain to people why in a deep recession your immediate problem is not government deficits. Here Koo tries very hard (and quite well I think - much better than Ed Balls has been) to explain this to Rogoff. These are the analogies Labour should be using. As he said they had this debate in Japan back in the 1990s - it was in Japanese though so it was not understood abroad. But it has given him a lot of practice.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bczer-1QwNU

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    1. Koo does a very good job there but who - other than someone like Rogoff - wouldn't understand such simple explanations of such simple ideas? (Rogoff isn't swallowing it but surely that's not because he's struggling to understand it but because he's rejecting it?) Labour's had several years to explain this stuff to Joe Public and make austerity look as foolish to Joe as that infamous Reinhardt and Rogoff paper looks to someone like me (who knows little about economics but enough about causal attribution and the ecological fallacy to have been shocked by it, and its use as a justification for austerity, irrespective of its other flaws). The “mediamacro” excuse seems feeble to me - although I do agree that the closer we get to the election, the stronger it becomes - and I worry not only that Labour risks losing to the Conservatives for the ironic reason I half-joked about below but about what will happen next time we are faced with a recession of the kind that austerity would exacerbate.

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    2. This link is excellent, a shame it ended before Koo had finished answering questions. Koo really is the one talking sense there, Rogoff seems transfixed by his reading of his spreadsheet; you know, the one where he didn't spot the errors? A Balance Sheet recession is a pretty easy term to understand.

      As for why Labour (and the LibDems, and Mediamacro) allows Cameron to dictate the agenda is a good question. Perhaps they have the wrong leader(s)?

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    3. This election should be a walkover for Labour. They just need someone like Koo up there to debate Osborne at the debates to say the obvious to people how about ridiculous austerity is.

      The other thing though is Milliband needs to be clear he has no association with New Labour as people know they were largely the ones (along with bankers) who created the mess in the first place. But I think people already know that.

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    4. As for why Labour (and the LibDems, and Mediamacro) allows Cameron to dictate the agenda is a good question. Perhaps they have the wrong leader(s)?

      You've nailed it. Especially Klegg, Balls, Cable - useless at attacking the Tory/City establishment. If anything it looks like they want to get in bed with them. SWL blames the media. I think it has more to do with leadership.

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    5. Paul,

      You ask, “Rogoff isn't swallowing it but surely that's not because he's struggling to understand it but because he's rejecting it?” Nope. I’ve read plenty of the material written by Rogoff and Reinhart and I regard them as seriously ignorant. I.e. it really is a case of “he’s struggling to understand it”.

      His famous spreadsheet error is neither here nor there. His other mistakes are much more serous.

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    6. Ralph,

      “His famous spreadsheet error is neither here nor there. His other mistakes are much more serous.”

      Yes I know. That's why, as I said, I was shocked by that paper. In fact I would find what you say about Rogoff and Reinhart extremely implausible if I hadn't read it and seen those errors for myself!

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    7. "New Labour as people know they were largely the ones (along with bankers) who created the mess in the first place"

      As SWL showed, "mess" and all, the economy performed well under New Labour. No fan of New Labour for its approach to public service provision, but it wasn't an economic disaster.

      "Mess" is a Tory meme.

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  5. I came across John Stevenson and Chris Cook's 1977 book 'The Slump: Society and politics during the Depression', which billed itself as a major reassessment of the Great Depression. Mainly it focused on the regional differences in unemployment and growth in the UK during the 1930s.

    I also have Martin Pugh's 2008 'We Danced all Night', another relatively upbeat history of the interwar years.

    And thirdly I have Richard Overy's 'The Morbid Age' published in 2009, also on the interwar years and very much less optimistic.

    I wonder how much the voting patterns of 2015 will be similar to those areas that did and did not undergo mass unemployment in the 1930s?

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  6. "If Labour loses because of votes lost to the Greens, the reaction within the party will simply be to look for a more telegenic leader."

    I don't know why you're so confident about this. At least in Labour's narrative of the 1980s and 1990s, they lost from 1983-1992 because of voters switching to the SDP and Liberals, and the result was that Labour under Blair became more SDP than the SDP.

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    1. More likely the corrupt zombie Blairites will rise from the undead and renew their attempt to take over the party (viz the intervention by Milburn and Hutton this week, and the Observer/Guardian political pages almost any day). They should be buried with stakes through their hearts.

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    2. I also worry about the return of the Blairites. David Milliband is the most obvious case. I think a lot of the reasons we got the policies we did during the Blair era was the strength of the orthodoxy. That goes from economic theory right through to the policy making process - and it was pretty much world wide and particularly strong during the 1990s. There were very few people who were advising the government that really understood the history of this country, the implications of financial deregulation and the growth of the financial sector and so on. If you questioned the approach and that free markets with a social safety net and a reliance on expanding formal, especially tertiary education, was not necessarily going to create the society you wanted and that you may need more active capital and labour market intervention, you really were considered eccentric.

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  7. “That is why they do not publicise their very different fiscal plans, but good journalism should see through that.”

    I'm sure “mediamacro” will delight in exposing their dishonest and irresponsible economic plans. I expect they'll consider it their journalistic duty to point out not only that those awful ideologues would be risking undoing Osborne's recovery in pursuit of their big state goals, but also that their deceitful ways imply an appalling contempt for the voter (and for democratic principles). ;-)

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  8. Left utopianism, misty eyed idealism:. There was a post somewhere on the web called the snorting of old socialists. The point, if I recall correctly, was that whenever something like a Greek event occurs, then they think that now has come the time at long last for that purer revolution always just missed by the fingertips in the past. The misty eyed are probably snorting a lot at the moment but it will pass soon enough.

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  9. Reminds me of my Stalinist step-father-in-law who voted for Maggie every time on the premise that the workers would never take to the streets while Labour was making their lives easier.

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  10. Monbiot's piece is typical of the wooly-headed, comfortable middle-class Left that prefers to indulge its own conscience rather than dirty it's hands in the real world.

    A friend of mine is a Prof at a Russell Group university. In 2010, he voted LD to "teach Labour a lesson". The LD candidate beat Labour in his constituency.

    Has he suffered from the GDP flatlining, the bedroom tax the reduction in social care spending, the loss of public libraries and dozens of other regressive policies that the LDs have meekly supported? Of course not. He's insulated from the point of the skewer and can indulge himself in "teaching lessons" to politicians.

    Out in the real world, we make hard, unpleasant, messy compromises between what we want the world to be and what is the least-bad world we can practically attain. It's time for people to think very calmly and clearly about which side they are really on.

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  11. A few weeks ago I had a scan through of Monbiot's articles over the last few years. He is a walking stereotype. Self loathing, English hating, supports any change for the sake of change no matter the consequence, beliefs change from day to day on the basis of the last academic he last chatted to in a hallway. Give me strength.

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  12. There is good reason to believe that low public debt to GDP breeds instability, though arguments for it get a bit complex.

    It was Hyman Minsky who said that economic growth is based on leveraging safe asset given by the state - the public debt. (see here for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRE-IDYfi8Y )

    It stands to reason that leverage ratio between public debt and private debt built on top of that cannot grow to infinity. Minsky explained the process where private sector goes trough stages in attitudes toward debt and leverage. As private debt expands you would expect to see drop in public debt to GDP and indeed, when I look at financial crises that is the pattern, falling public debt just before the crisis.

    If, as seems to me, economic growth is based on leveraging public debt and that ratio cannot grow to infinity, policy that tries to to just that is sure recipy for future financial crises and large, persistent output gaps.

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  13. Not sure why I read this. A bit like looking into the front window of a fractious family on Xmas day. Very pleased to see all the armies of Green supporters taking issue with the advice, though.

    It's ironic to recall all the "hidden motives" attacks on Osborne when the politics of this blog are yet again so nakedly revealed in all their partisan splendour. No wonder S W-L is often so angry, keeping up a pretence of objectivity must make one feel guilty now and again. I wonder how many Conservative-voting economists have ever been appointed under his watch at Merton, or any other job where he's had an influence. (Note: Happy change my mind and be pleasantly surprised.)

    Good to see he respects the opinions of the "British people" in rejecting FPTP. Let's see what happens if they vote in the Tories. Dupes and fools, then, I expect.

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    1. Er... so SWL is very sure that less cuts makes for good macroeconomics. The main parties set out their plans for the next parliament, and Labour want to cut a lot less than the Tories. SWL encourages people to vote Labour. James in London sees naked partisanship.....

      If they do vote in the Tories and SWL says dupes and fools, that would be entirely consistent with his analysis - that austerity and Tory economic competence is being sold to voters based on lies and half truths. Of course he won't say that, as he's been pretty clear who he feels is at fault - the media and politicians.

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    2. If the public is so stupid the they really don't deserve the vote. The orignal landed aristocracy Tories understood this well, as do most modern socialist and facist dictatorships. They have much in common, all these paternalistic brothers in arms.

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  14. Whip the right flank of your party, not the left. A vote for the Greens is a -1 for Labour, but a vote for the Tories is a -2. A similar level of outrage and scorn directed at the softies in the centre would be much more profitable, and would maybe even strengthen Labour's base instead of weaken it.

    Hippy-punching is fun, I'm sure, but the growing number of people who are dissatisfied with the political status quo probably won't hang around to keep on getting punched. And for those people, lesser-evilism is not a great sales pitch anyway.

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    1. I really do not understand this. It is about how you use your vote - that is all.

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  15. Monbiot may not be the best advocate, but he is at least channeling a growing and real trend. Paul Mason is a better reporter, and always worth listening to. You don't need to look at Syriza. Just compare the interest generated by the Scottish referendum with the mogadon politics offered by all three "main" parties. Exhortations to "realism" and "the situation we have to live in" are fairly meaningless in this context. Eventually things become untenable, even in Stoic England.

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  16. Simon, the fact that you argue with a straw man rather than engage Monbiot's point is disappointing. What of the voteforpolicies results? Realism has nothing to do with it... The UK is not served well either by its media, or its main political parties.

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    1. What part of my argument do you think is wrong?

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    2. The point that Professor Wren-Lewis is missing is that with only 2 major parties, the political centre moves to the right. As explained in this article for the US - the Republicans do not budge on their positions or move right. The Democrats negotiate with them and so accept a rightward shift.
      http://bigstory.ap.org/article/republican-losses-obscure-us-drift-right
      The Lib Dems in the UK accepted a rightward shift to obtain power. Labour policies are "sensible" centrist/business friendly rather than being true to their origins.

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    3. So Labour didn't shift the Tories massively on Education and NHS spending?

      Tories had to lie to get elected.

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  17. The British people were lied to and bullied into rejecting the least preferable form of Proportional Representation; they did not "choose not to change their electoral system; they chose not to accept AV" in a referendum in which the Electoral Commission was banned by Cameron from maintaining the normal standards of fairness and accuracy expected by the British people. I imagine you set exam papers; isn't the essence of the thing always in the way the question is phrased? And isn't the answer dependent on what they are told beforehand? The AV referendum wasn't a choice, it was a PR scam.

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    1. The scaremongering about the proportional representation debate reminded me of that during the Scottish Referendum. Anything that increases the voice of the people gets hit from above with a tonne of bricks. What a great chance squandered.

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  18. I would like to see evidence from the pro-Austerity group that this policy has contributed to structural change that are in the long term health of this country. Has it led to a deepening of the manufacturing base or provided the basis for long term productivity improvements? I doubt it.

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  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  20. Simon, I think you're overstating how often a vote for the Greens could assist the Tories.

    A vote for the Greens is only a vote for the tories in seats where the Tories (or someone that may go into coalition with them) have a realistic but not certain chance of getting in. So, not in the following -

    Lab v SNP seats in Scotland,
    safe Labour seats,
    safe Tory seats,
    Tory v UKIP seats

    Now, in some of these seats you might be making it more difficult for Labour to get a majority. But that's not the same as helping the Tories get in. Although, if that's a coalition with the SNP, you might be helping the Tories get in next time round.

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    1. I was very careful to state what type of seats I was talking about, so there seems to be no disagreement here.

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    2. I don't think it's accurate to say anyone voting green in an SNP v Lab seat is voting for a Tory government.

      The same goes for Lib Lab actually. You increase the risk of a Tory lib coalition but also increase the chance of a Lib Lab coalition v a Lab majority. Which you might prefer.

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  21. It is conceivable, although rather unlikely, that Professor Wren-Lewis's advice on how to vote reaches sufficient registered voters that it might make a difference in one or two, or even a few, marginal constituencies, such that he has an incentive to provide such advice. However, I hope no one, including the author of this blog, is under the illusion that their vote would make any difference at all under the present system or, for that matter, any other electoral system.

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  22. "So, to repeat, anyone voting Green (or failing to vote) in a seat that Labour can win but the Greens cannot will in part be responsible for the consequences of a future Conservative government."

    This is a fallacy. Strategic/tactical voting under the caveman voting system First-Past-the-Post does not work.

    For one, it's impossible to know who to strategically vote for. The vote moves around during an election campaign. (Which is why parties campaign.)

    Second, the Conservative party needs about 39% of the RIGHT-WING vote to win a fake majority. So centrist and left-leaning voters are not going to help their numbers unless they vote Con.

    Third, the fake liberal party (Labour in the UK, Liberal in Canada) uses scare tactics to try and weasel THEIR OWN fake 39% majority. FPTP vote splitting helps them as much as the Con party. (In my province, Ontario, the Liberal party recently used fear-mongering to win a "majority" on 38.7% of the vote.)

    So even though the UK and Canada are not democracies (democracies represent an actual majority of voters in government,) during an election the best you can do is pretend and vote according to your principles.

    If the fake liberal party wants your support, the onus is on them to make your country a democracy (with either Proportional Representation or Ranked Ballot Voting.) Then they can form a coalition government with the party you voted for to EARN your support. That is how democracy works in the developed world.

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  23. You can make a good argument that the outlook for progressives in the US would be much better today had McCain and Palin won in 2008. By 2012 Americans of all stripes would have seen the wreckage that a Republican President , combined with a large contingent of Blue Dog Dems in Congress , could inflict on a weak economy. And they would have been horrified at the prospect of Palin remaining a heartbeat away from the Presidency , even those who were too dumb to feel that way in 2008.

    2012 would then have presented us a chance for an FDR-type candidate. The Democratic Party would have drafted challengers for the Blue Dogs , knowing their days were numbered. And the right would have tacked left , as a survival tactic.

    Go ahead - pick the least worst - and in a few years you'll look back and wonder " What if.... ? "

    Democracy ain't coming to the old UK.

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    1. Good point. Obomba butchered the bank bailout, giving corrupt bankers who caused the meltdown sweetheart deals. This started the right-wing Tea Party movement that soon neutered Obama when they took over the House of Representatives in 2010. (In 2014, they took over the Senate as well.)

      If the Republicans had won in 2008, the bank bailout would've been exactly the same, but they would've taken all the blame.

      I'd hate the live in the US where the only option is to tear up the ballot in disgust.

      Of course it also sucks to live in aristocratic countries like the UK and Canada that look down on democracy.

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    2. I don't know about that. We had eight years of Bush and all we got was Obama. You're saying we needed twelve years of Republican misrule? We had twelve years under Reagan-Bush and all we got was Clinton.

      You seem awfully cavalier about the lives ruined under your scheme. Plus Bush was able to install Judge Roberts on a majority Republican Supreme Court and we got Citizens United. Obama criticized it to the faces of those Republican Supreme Court members during his SOTU and Alito mouthed off to him never to attend another SOTU. And this year we have the Koch brothers and their friends vowing to spend $890 million on the 2016 campaign to make Anonymous's plans come true. It may be too late for American democracy.

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    3. "Obomba butchered the bank bailout, giving corrupt bankers who caused the meltdown sweetheart deals. This started the right-wing Tea Party movement"

      Ha ha, really?

      Wasn't that a load of people didn't like a black non-Republican president, and a load of rich people provided cash and media backing.

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    4. " I don't know about that. We had eight years of Bush and all we got was Obama. You're saying we needed twelve years of Republican misrule? We had twelve years under Reagan-Bush and all we got was Clinton."

      You've made my point. By 2008 , we'd had 28 years of Reaganomics , no matter which party held the presidency. My counterfactual is based on the premise that this is a trend that must change , with a return to a more social democratic economy such as the one that existed post-WWII , under which the economy and most citizens thrived , relatively speaking.

      The reason 2008 was the best election to lose in order to set up a regime change election in 2012 was that the crisis took away the option of using additional debt to paper over the fundamental flaws in the economic system. Debt was what made Reaganomics work , to the limited extent it did work.

      Imagine if Nader had received 15-20% of the vote in 2008 , coming mostly from Dems and Independents , and maybe even some Repubs , it would have swung the election to McCain , but by 2012 , with the economy in the tank , both parties would have recognized the need for a major shift to the left in order to win the election. The Dems would not have been able to nominate another Bush/Clinton clone in Obama , because to do so would guarantee either a loss or a single-term president. Thus 2012 would have been our chance for a transformational candidate , a la Tsipras in Greece , or FDR.

      What transpired , of course , is that Dems who believed in Nader's message voted for Obama , reasoning ( wrongly , just like SWL ) that one should vote strategically , rather than according to one's deeply-held beliefs. Your vote is an expression of your desires , and signals your intentions in future elections. The system gave us exactly what we asked for every time over the last 3 decades - " More Reagonomics , please."

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  24. BTW, 31 of 34 developed countries modernized their voting systems, most a century ago.

    In Canada and the UK, there have been botched attempts: namely, five two-option electoral-reform referendums.

    The reason First-Past-the-Post won every time is because voters who were left out of the referendum process — by not having their preferred voting system on the ballot — tended to opt for the status quo.

    Therefore it takes democracy to get democracy.

    One way to hold a democratic referendum is to put the three main options on the ballot and hold a runoff vote (with the top two options decided by the first referendum.) These options are: FPTP, Proportional Representation and Ranked Ballot Voting (aka Alternative Vote.)

    This ensures voters choose one system with a majority of votes.

    New Zealand succeeded to adopt electoral reform in 1992/93 because they had a proper referendum process (dual referendums.)

    First-Past-the-Post is a barbarous relic. Here's a comparison of voting systems in the developed world: Voting in the free world.

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  25. Be positive. Vote for who you think should win. Don't vote on the basis of not wanting someone else to win.

    We missed the chance for proportional representation. But hopefully we will get Lord's reform. That way a government without an honest majority would have trouble getting policy without a true democratic mandate through.

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  26. When it comes to the broad trend of ever greater inequality there really is no meaningful difference between the main parties. Let's try a thought experiment; Labour wins a massive majority at the general election. 5 years hence the following will be true...


    1. The rich will be richer

    2. Britain will still be a low wage economy enjoined in an insane race to the bottom

    3. We'll still have an economy massively reliant on the buying and selling of grossly overpriced housing stock.

    4. We'll still be as far away as ever from implementing the kind of radical policies necessitated by broken dynamic between labour and capital.


    A Labour government may serve up some smaller victories in battles over specific spending and taxation priorities, but the greater war is still going to be lost. Whilst the neoliberal consensus prevails there can be no significantly meaningful change,.

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    1. "We'll still be as far away as ever from implementing the kind of radical policies necessitated by broken dynamic between labour and capital."

      How about compared to where we will be if they don't win?

      You skate over that.

      Delete
    2. «When it comes to the broad trend of ever greater inequality there really is no meaningful difference between the main parties. [ ... ] A Labour government may serve up some smaller victories in battles over specific spending and taxation priorities, but the greater war is still going to be lost.»

      But that is still pretty a pretty big thing. SimonWL's argument is anyhow quite narrow: that the labour macroeconomic programme is *better*, not that Labour is a better party or that its macroeconomic programme is the best.

      And his suggestion to would-be Green voters in Labour marginals seems to me to be "something is better than nothing". That nihilism and maximalism can be very expensive luxuries.

      «If your best defence of a terrible Labour policy is "it's basically what we have now" then the party really is facing PASOKification.»

      Labour has been PASOKified decades ago. Because like in Greece the voters have become PASOKified. I'll mention again Blair's "Sierra man" revelation and Radice's earlier and subsequent "Southern discomfort" pamphlets.

      «Whilst the neoliberal consensus prevails there can be no significantly meaningful change»

      The neoliberal consensus has prevailed because both Labour and Consevatives are fighting over the same swing voters in the same marginals, and these voters are middle aged and older property speculator rentiers, that is "tories" with a small "t", who vote tactically for whichever party promises them the biggest tax-free capital gains. Same as in the USA, Australia, Canada (largely) and New Zealand.

      UK politics are in effect the dictatorship of the middle aged or retired landladies.

      Delete
  27. Labour is utterly rotten IMO. Just look at what Blair has done since he left office to explain what he did when in office. They are nowadays simply the party of financialization with bureaucracy as against the Tories who are the party of financialization without so much bureaucracy.

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  28. "anyone voting Green (or failing to vote) in a seat that Labour can win but the Greens cannot will in part be responsible for the consequences of a future Conservative government"

    A rather silly argument if you ask me. You could equally say that anyone voting Green in a seat that the Conservatives can win but the Greens cannot will in part be responsible for the consequences of a future Labour government.

    I'm not sure either of those is true. The people who are responsible for the consequences of a future Labour or Conservative government are the ones who vote for it or who fail to vote altogether. I really don't see any moral obligation to vote tactically for a party whose policies you fundamentally disagree with.

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  29. Those who vote Green in such seats may become "responsible" for a Tory government if they may have otherwise voted for Labour (although in itself this is, far from being a normative claim, little more than an impartial description of the facts). Equally, if a person chooses to vote tactically, they are presumably also responsible if this act makes a small contribution to the subsequent development a cynical personality that serves them very poorly in their life's endeavours.

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  30. This is why we need range voting Simon:
    http://rangevoting.org/

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  31. Currently seems the election will be decided in Scotland not England. Early twentieth century shows how swiftly a party can fail. Will this be Labour's fate in Scotland first?

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  32. Nice guilt trip and shifting of blame.
    Actually if I don't vote, it means your vote is worth more. Actually if you vote for Labour and they try to achieve a budget surplus with trade deficit and it crashes the economy it is your fault Simon.
    Until we have range voting the system will still be flawed.

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    1. Ah, I have seen Labour have a different definition of "deficit" now that excludes investment spending.
      More supply side problems caused by crony Keynesian corporate welfare spending then and no job guarantee. Yay, higher house prices.

      Delete
  33. "Neoliberalism did not triumph because the left decided to compromise."

    What a bunch of nonsense. Only Nixon could go to China, only centre-leftists like Clinton and Blair could give legitimacy to the neoliberal revolutions in the eighties. So whether you like it or not, the betrayal of the centre-left is one of the key reasons of the success of neoliberalism.

    Gee, I am German and over here it was a social democratic government which implemented delayed neoliberal reforms during the naughties while the previous conservative government did nothing of the kind. You really gotta have gigantic centrist blinders on if you think that Labour will seriously question the austerity dogma.

    About strategical voting, it assumes that all other people will vote strategically as well. If everybody just voted for the best platform and ignored other people leftists parties would be far more successful. Of course you are right that in an election system without proportional representation small parties have a harder time so it makes more sense to vote strategically.

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