Archive for the ‘Terrible Tories’ Category

How Labour should deal with Cameron’s sham EU renegotiation promise

December 19, 2013 1 comment

Paul Goodman at the Conservative Home website provides a reasonably astute analysis of the fix Cameron finds himself in over his promise to ‘renegotiate’ the UK’s relationship with the European Union:

The explanation [for the lack of an actual plan] isn’t the lack of focus and last-minuteism that Ministers and backbenchers alike unanimously complain about – almost without exception, in my experience……. Rather, it is a terror at the top of the Government of opening up the question of what and how much any renegotiation will aim to achieve.  This isn’t simply because the two parts of the Coalition don’t agree about it.  Cameron and George Osborne worry that setting out a repatriation of power plan will open up not so much a can as a lorry-load of worms.

This is correct, but what Paul doesn’t really nail down is what kid of worms might slither from the lorry.  This is tied to a failure to define what ‘renegotiation’ actually is, and a conflation of that with demands for ‘repatriation of power’.  Negotiation is not the same as making demands.

In fact, Cameron and his team probably do understand the difference between making demands, which can’t be delivered on, and seeking renegotiation, which potentially could.  They understand that negotiation is about give and take.

As I’ve set out before, a negotiated deal on the biggie – freedom of movement for the forrins – is perfectly feasible as, whatever the popular assumption, it doesn’t require treaty change.  If Cameron doesn’t get that, then he’s even worse at the detail than I thought.  But the point about negotiating such a deal is that the UK, and other Northern European countries wanting a piece of this, would have to offer something in return.  Most likely, this would be the (neat) corollary of a suspension to absolute freedom of the movement of capital – again perfectly feasible without treaty change though harder to implement – though it might be other things like a different weighting of cohesion funds towards Eastern and Southern Europe, or a review of the draconian requirements of the six-pack.  Whatever it was, it would be geared towards the long-term convergence of those countries, and thus to the lowering of the ‘threat’ of economic migration.

So why won’t Cameron go there?  Why won’t he get down and dirty with the detail?   Well to be honest I don’t care that much – I don’t care whether it’s the result of incompetence of a leader who’s surrounded himself with the wrong political advisers at the expense of civil servants who know the policy detail, or whether he knows that opening up these issues would start to shed light, just for example, on the government’s refusal to accept food poverty money from the EU; his instinct is, I suspect, to keep things simple.

Labour’s instinct should be different. It has already got as far as saying that the institutions of Europe are far from perfect.  Now, in the absence of any coherent follow-up by Cameron on his rash promises, Labour can set out realistic proposals for negotiation, and start to warm up the governments that it will be doing business with from 2015.

That’s not to say, I hasten to add, that I support any change to the current freedom of movement. It’s simply that I’m confident that the public, when presented with a party actually willing to see where actual negotiations take the country, will soon enough discover that the deal (which could include a presumptions against British citizens’ freedom of movement, as well as more direct economic disadvantages) is just not worth it.


Daniel Hannan and the convenient myth of fascism’s socialist roots

February 19, 2013 4 comments

As sure as night follows day, there’s another article along from a right-winger telling us that the “Left’s cultural ascendancy” has led to the incorrect and unfair allocation of fascism to the right-hand side of the political spectrum. This time it’s Daniel Hannan MEP‘s turn:

One of the most stunning achievements of the modern Left is to have created a cultural climate where simply to recite these facts is jarring. History is reinterpreted, and it is taken as axiomatic that fascism must have been Right-wing, the logic seemingly being that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists were nasty. You expect this level of analysis from Twitter mobs; you shouldn’t expect it from mainstream commentators.

Hannan doesn’t actually indicate who these “mainstream commentators” may be, but he seems sure enough of his assertion, so let’s go with the flow.

A key part of this regular leftie-baiting ritual is to say that fascists are really just socialists, and that socialists trying to tar right-wingers with the fascism brush is all part of the clever plan to get away with.  Cue Hannan:

‘I am a Socialist,’ Hitler told Otto Strasser in 1930, ‘and a very different kind of Socialist from your rich friend, Count Reventlow’.

No one at the time would have regarded it as a controversial statement. The Nazis could hardly have been more open in their socialism, describing themselves with the same terminology as our own SWP: National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

Almost everyone in those days accepted that fascism had emerged from the revolutionary Left. Its militants marched on May Day under red flags. Its leaders stood for collectivism, state control of industry, high tariffs, workers’ councils. Around Europe, fascists were convinced that, as Hitler told an enthusiastic Mussolini in 1934, ‘capitalism has run its course’.

It always strikes me as odd in these circumstances that Adolf Hitler, who in general doesn’t have a tremendously good reputation for rigorous self-analysis and intellectual honesty, should be seen as such a trustworthy guide to his own ideological leanings.  It is, after all, just possible that the Nazis used socialism as their key descriptor in an attempt to win votes from the Social Democratic Party, much as the BNP now seek to gain votes from Labour by claiming, as Hannan indeed notes, that they represent Labour values of old*.  (Possibly the best contemporary representation of this dynamic is to be found in Hans Fellada’s semi-autobiographical A Small Circus, published in 1931 before the final rise to power of the Nazis.)

Further, the idea that being opposed to capitalism, and claiming that it has had its time, automatically makes you a socialist is really quite bizarre – it’s as though other forms of social structure had never existed. Hannan’s inability/unwillingness to see beyond a simplistic historical bipolarity – if the Nazis weren’t capitalist, they must have been socialist – is precisely the error he now claims “lefties” are making when he talks about the ‘far-right’ epithet applied to the BNP (for the record, I don’t think the BNP have any particularly fascist features).

In fact, almost any basic reading about Nazi ideology will tell you that it was primarily rooted in a weird anti-modernist, anti-materialist mysticism, a jumble of 19th century Romantic yearning for a return to nature with a bit of Sun worship thrown in. As GL Mosse set out right back in 1961, the so-called ‘socialist’ elements around centralised planning, and even the growth of the military industrial complex, were a later addition, given the dawning realisation that for a glorious Aryanism, based on quasi-feudal social relations, to win out, ideal needed to be translated into action.

In his first book, H. F. K. Gunther, later to become the chief racial expert of the Third Reich, sketched such a social ideal. Human rights have today pre-empted the place of human duties. These duties, formerly expressed in the loyalty of the knightly gentleman to his king and generalized throughout society in the web of reciprocal loyalties between landlord and peasant, must once again become the cement of social organization. To Gunther, ” the community, the public good, demands that every profession fulfill the work which is its due.”

Manifestly, such a social ideal found in all these men, continued the impetus of romanticism. It was reminiscent of that Bavarian deputy who earlier in the XIXth century believed that ” Love ” would cure the tensions between laborer and employer. In an immediate sense it was a part of the ideal of an organic society which reflected organic man. Langbehn was explicit in his insistence that true individualism could only be realized in such a social order. He considered liberal individualism a part of materialism, dissolving society into incompatible units rather than knitting it together. Paul de Lagarde summarized this in one of those phrases which made him so popular: ” That man is not free who can do as he likes, but he is free who does what he should do. Free is he who is able to follow his creative principle of life; free is that man who recognizes and makes effective the innate principles which God put within him.” Such freedom led to an organic view of man and the state. Not only was liberalism mistaken, but socialism as well. Social democracy, Diederichs claimed, was mechanistic; a true people’s state was viable only if it reorganized society in a more meaningful manner, according to the aristocratic principle, the only environment in which men could unfold their real inner selves.” Langbehn concluded that this corporate structure not only fulfilled the aristocratic principle but was also in tune with the Germanic past.

Significantly, this ideal urged these men to advocate only one concrete social reform: each worker should be given his own plot of land. Again, the reform’s justification was sought not in terms of material welfare within the framework of the movement’s general ideology –  factory work removed man from the all-important contact with nature. Yet these men desired the transformation of their ideology into deeds. It is of great significance that while Diederichs used the word ” theosophy ” in the first prospectus of his publishing house, he came to be critical of that movement-not because it was spiritualist, but because it was too purely speculative in nature. The feeling about infinity must lead to deeds, and to his important journal, he gave the name Die Tat, ” The Deed.” Paul de Lagarde had already made it plain that while something was accomplished through the understanding of true ideology, it was even more important to transform such ideals into serious practical action. It was an ” idealism of deeds” which such men desired, deeds which helped to create a nation resting upon this idealistic foundation. Through such a concept, ideas of force came to play an important role in this ideology. For Langbehn, art and war went hand in hand. His proof was by a method representative of his whole work. Shakespeare’s name meant, after all, shaking a spear, and this for him was proof of the connection between art and war. Moreover, in German spear (Speer) and army (Wehr) are words which rhyme. Thus in the Germanic past, true individual development had gone hand in hand with war.

The fact that Nazism as it was played out was a cocktail of bizarre belief and latterly borrowed practice may be hard for us to get our heads round at this remove, but it doesn’t make it any less real as a phase of history. For Hannan now to claim that Nazism was simply an extreme form of socialism, simply because the Nazi party bought in some centralised (though chaotic) planning and Mefo bill spend-and-lie economics to make its weird vision a reality, is quite simply wrong.

Similarly, the idea that simply because Mussolini and other Italian fascists had bought into some revolutionary socialist activity before the first world war doesn’t mean that the Italian fascism that emerged post-war was simply a continuation of that trajectory. We know that Mussolini, for example, was influenced by the turn of the century, Nietszche-influenced ‘counter-culture’, a reaction to the modernity of ‘reason’ and ‘progress’ i.e. the antithesis of Marxist thought. Further, as Philip Morgan sets out, Mussolini and his fascist colleagues (like Hitler) were heavily influenced by their experience of the trenches:

In the sublimation of the war experience was rooted one of the most powerful myths of the war, that of ‘combatantism’….[The] idealised relationship between junior officers and their men. comradely yet elitist, was the basis of the hierarchical organisation they wanted to impose on their own societies. The point was that the hierarchy was new. Based on performance, the merit earned by self-sacrificing service to the nation, it replaced the conservative hierarchy of birth and wealth (p.25).

Again, Hannan’s claim that fascism emerged as a linear consequence of socialist doctrine and pre-war practice, with no other material or ideational influence, is simply wrong.

Having got history quite wrong Hannan makes his call for reconciliation:

Whenever anyone points to the socialist roots of fascism, there are howls of outrage. Yet the people howling the loudest are often the first to claim some ideological link between fascism and conservatism. Perhaps both sides should give it a rest.

At least we can agree on this, though a call for us all to calm down a bit coming at the end of a piece dedicated to doing just the opposite does jar a little, I have to say.

When I wrote my somewhat controversial piece on the potential for the rise of a 21st century version of fascism within Hannan’s own Conservative party, I did so explicitly on the basis that fascism and Conservatism have no core ideological linkage, though there may be some operational method crossover.  While Anthony Painter of the Extremis project and I disagree on many things, we both see a real danger of a nasty extremism emerging within the Conservative party post-2015 – an extremism alien to Hannan’s own liberal/free market tradition (I’d argue there’s a tendency to the exclusionary within liberalism, but that’s another blog).

Whether or not any such emerging extremism might come to be defined as fascistic – that will depend on the precise form in which it emerges, and I am not implying that Anthony agrees with me on this – any danger of its emergence, under the leadership of the Tory party’s darker forces suggests that Hannan might be better employed at home, not engaging in attacks on the Left which are both historically ignorant and hypocritically framed as calls for peace.

* I am reminded by @sohopolitico that Hitler also said in 1930: “Our adopted term ‘Socialist’ has nothing to do with Marxian Socialism. Marxism is anti-property; true Socialism is not. As noted, Hitler may not be a very reliable source on Hitler.

Fisking the fisker

January 31, 2013 Leave a comment

I’m not blogging much at the moment, but I still abide by my golden rule of blogging:  if I happen to come across some twat misusing PISA results in defence of Gove, then I will always make a point of calling her/him out, if I can be arsed.

So there’s a total twat, Toby Young by name, misusing PISA results in defence of Gove, and I can be arsed.

Young says, in a piece ‘fisking’ the apparently “hysterical” Suzanne Moore*:

Ah. Here we go. Her [Moore's] views are “evidence-based”, Gove’s are “ideological”. Odd line of argument for a former employee of Marxism Today to pursue, but there it is. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence to support Gove’s policies. Here’s evidence that standards fell during Labour’s 13 years in office. Here’s evidence that free schools have raised standards in Sweden. Here’s evidence that increasing school choice has raised standards in England. Here’s evidence that the academies programme is raising standards in England.

The first link is to the wikipedia entry on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

And this is what the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority had to say about the blatant misuse of PISA data by Ofsted and the DfE:

While I understand that some users of these data would like to make comparisons between the first PISA study in 2000 and the most recent in 2009, the weaknesses relating to the response-rate standard in earlier studies should not be ignored. The validity of comparisons of national rankings as a result of an increase in the number of countries covered by the PISA study, and the degrees of uncertainty in country scores attributed to sampling and measurement error are also important in this regard.

That is, Young is totally and utterly wrong**.  More on why he’s wrong here***, here, here and, just for completeness sake, the National Foundation for Educational Research review of the PISA 2009 study:

England’s performance in 2009 does not differ greatly from that in the last Pisa survey in 2006.

*  Readers may wish to note James Delingpole’s delightful metaphor on twitter for Young’s attempted fisking of the “hysterical” Moore.   I can’t remember where I put it though.  Anyway, it’s bound to cause a twitterstorm so you may see it before I see it again.

**  Of course, it’s not just that he’s deliberately misusing the PISA data.  His logic is also utterly at sea.  Even valid evidence that England may have fallen down the international ranking wouldn’t be proof that standards have fallen.  It might be as easily explained by other countries getting better (oh, and the huge increase in the number of countries in the rankings).

***  , I note that I asked, in this post about the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority’s October ’12 letter:

Will they continue to peddle the same untruths, secure in the knowledge that the “plummeting down the international league tables” is now well entrenched as a result of lies to date, and much more likely to gain press coverage than a letter from the UK Statistics Authority?

I think we now know the answer.

The quiet high-speed lie

January 28, 2013 2 comments

Alex Massie at the Spectator thinks the government may be gilding the high speed lily:

I suspect the economic case for the proposals is weaker than its proponents allow.

He’s right.

The governnment ‘s Economic Case for HS2: Updated appraisal of transport user benefits and wider economic benefits, published to justify the London-Birmingham stretch says )para 3.5.4)

There may also be significant local effects; for instance, a new station can act as a magnet for economic activity and drive regeneration in deprived areas.


You’d have thought that for a £32bn scheme there might be a bit more than a ‘may’, and some actual research into its possible and likely consequences for the areas concerned.

Not so.

After a few paragraphs of vague wish lists about what ‘wider economic impacts’ (WEIs) the scheme might bring in the form of business clustering and labour markets, we get this at 3.5.8 of the same report:

The WEIs guidance is carefully designed to measure national impacts. However, at a regional and local level the effects of HS2 on the distribution of activity could also be very significant.

Is “could” better than “may”?

Then, finally, we get to the nub (para 3.5.9-10):

[A]lthough there are many examples where growth and regeneration has been delivered around a high speed rail station, there may be balancing effects across the wider area. However, the circumstances in which, and extent to which, this happens is not clear….

These local impacts are considered more fully in the Review of HS2 London to West Midlands Appraisal of Sustainability report.

But if you’re anal enough to go to the Review of HS2 London to West Midlands Appraisal of Sustainability report, it runs out that no such consideration has been given (para 1.3.1):

In undertaking this assessment account has been taken of the socio-economic impact of transport schemes including other high speed rail schemes. It is commonly accepted that the main impact on land use, of new stations or improved services, is located within a 10-15 minutes walking distance of the station, which equates to a catchment area of 1km.

Thus, the report is not by, any stretch of the imagination, an assessment of wider impacts.  That’s not what 1km from a station is.  That’s a local impact assessment. Indeed the report acknowledges this when at para .1.3.5):

The next steps in developing the socio-economic appraisal may be to……investigate the wider regional impacts of high speed rail, for example, how the Black Country region would be affected by the introduction of High Speed Rail to Birmingham (para 1.3.5.).

In summary, then the wider regional impact investigation recommended in the previous report has not been undertaken, but the final report published by the government pretends that it has.

Call me old-fashhioned, but I think that’s lying.

And this is not simply an esoteric point about what is and isn’t in what DfT document.

This is about the spending of  £33bn on a scheme which has the real capacity to wreak havoc on people in towns and cities – most likely some distance from the new stations but close enough to see economic activity “sucked away”.

As I set out here, such concerns are summed up in a 2009 paper ‘High Speed Rail: Lessons for Policy Makers from Experiences Abroad’, in which the authors study the actual post-construction impact of schemes in Japan, France, Spain and Italy:

[F]or regions and cities whose economic conditions compare unfavorably with those of their neighbors, a connection to the HST line may even result in economic activities being drained away and an overall negative impact……Medium size cities may well be the ones to suffer most from the economic attraction of the more dynamic, bigger cities. Indeed, Haynes (1997) points out that growth is sometimes at the expense of other centers of concentration.

Time will tell whether my concerns are justified, but what we can already be certain of is that £32bn of public money is to be spent on a scheme which has not been properly research, and the justification for which is underpinned by quiet, but important, lie in the small print.

Meanwhile, the £60m it would cost (about 1/500th of what’s needed for HSR) to build a rail link to Skelmersdale’s 40,000 residents to any railway at all is still not forthcoming.

Cameron’s euro rabbit

January 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Cameron will be giving his big European speech this Friday, then.

In anticipation, Kev Peel at Labourlist has set out the five questions he’ll have to answer.  It’s quite good.  Kev’s one of the relatively small bunch of Labour insiders who’s bothered to get to grips with the detail on Europe, and it shows.

However, in assessing Cameron’s likely answer to “Exactly which powers does he wish to repatriate?”, he’s missed the possible rabbit out of the hat.  Mind you, so has everyone else.  Media memories are so short…….

Go back to Spring 2012, and this was aTelegraph story:

The Government is drawing up plans for emergency immigration controls to curb an influx of Greeks and other European Union residents if the euro collapses, the Home Secretary discloses today.

As I set out at the time, the mainstream response to this – that it isn’t possible to do this under European law – was plain wrong.   Article 45 of the Lisbon Treaty said then, and continues to say, that there can be exceptions: to freedom of movement:

1. Freedom of movement for workers shall be secured within the Union.

2. Such freedom of movement shall entail the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the Member States as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment.

3. It shall entail the right, subject to limitations justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health:

(a) to accept offers of employment actually made;

(b) to move freely within the territory of Member States for this purpose;

(c) to stay in a Member State for the purpose of employment in accordance with the provisions governing the employment of nationals of that State laid down by law, regulation or administrative action;

(d) to remain in the territory of a Member State after having been employed in that State, subject to conditions which shall be embodied in regulations to be drawn up by the Commission.

Cameron’s team has had months now to think through the logistics on this one, and while I doubt there’ll be an announcement on its immediate of this get-out clause in the Treaty, I would n’t be at all surprised if Cameron makes an announcement about a big step forward towards its use, under the guise of repatriating powers.

Unless of course this blogpost is read by Labour policy types, and they get in ahead of the speech.  Here’s hoping.


Categories: Law, Terrible Tories

Gove’s intervention

November 24, 2012 2 comments

Clearly I’m not going to comment on the Rotherham fostering case as I don’t know the what, the when, the how, the why of it.

Clearly Mr Gove knows all these things. He is already sure that what happened is “indefensible”, and he’s going to found out exactly what went on:

“It is entirely wrong for this couple to have been treated in this way. That’s why I believe we need a full explanation from the local authority as to why this decision was allowed to be taken.

What strikes me as odd is that, when major concerns were raised over GCSE grading this summer, Mr Gove felt he had no business intervening, and that to do so would be deeply irresponsible:

Ofqual is an independent regulator, accountable to Parliament. If Ministers were to interfere in Ofqual’s decisions, they would be meddling where they should not interfere. It is deeply irresponsible, cynical and opportunistic for the hon. Gentleman [Twigg] to make the case that he is making.

Categories: Terrible Tories

Will Michael Gove become Britain’s first fascist Prime Minister?

September 26, 2012 31 comments

In a new essay for the IPPR’s Juncture, Professor Tim Bale bemoans the demise of the Tory left.  That loss, he says, may make the Conservative party unelectable for a long period, given the electorate’s centrist inclinations:

The Conservative party may have dumped Thatcher in 1990 but it did not dump Thatcherism. Indeed, by 1992 it was well on the way to being the almost fully Thatcherite entity it is today……..

Despite the efforts of a few outspoken (and well-resourced) realists like Lord Ashcroft to provide polling evidence for staying on (or at least near) the centre ground, this cannot and will not happen unless there are enough people within the party itself who are willing to make a positive argument for a different kind of Conservatism to that which currently rules the roost. Ideologically, the Tory left would be ideally placed to fulfil that role. Sadly – and possibly fatally for the party’s chances at the next election and beyond – it is nowhere near strong enough to do so.

I think this analysis is profoundly wrong, based as it is on the entirely invalid assumption that the British electorate will always tend to seek the middle ground.  It’s as though Professor Bale was unaware of that electorate’s huge swing to the right in the late 1970s, when it came under the influence of a powerful narrative which combined an appeal to personal freedom with a populist authoritarian streak (Stuart Hall’s 1979 The Great Moving Right Show remains the best analysis of this discursive framing).

This time around, though, it could be much worse.  I say this particularly because, waiting in the wings for the right opportunity, is Michael Gove, and he is a dangerous, dangerous man.  To be blunt, Michael Gove has the hallmarks of a genuine, emergent fascist – the term used in the historical sense rather than the looser pejorative sense used since the second world war.

Whatever we may think of Margaret Thatcher, she was no fascist.  Certainly, she had a strong Tory authoritarian/traditionalist streak, and was no stranger to the abuse of state power in furtherance of her aims (e.g. the miners), but she knew there were limits to this; she bowed to pressure, for example, when the New Left took her on over Council budgets, only to make good on her intentions through legislative means in the form of the Local Government Finance Act 1988.  Intellectually speaking – though she was no intellectual – her heroes Hayek and Friedman were of the libertarian right, where debate about power and the state tends to be uninformed by real world experience, rather than concerned with how such power is most effectively wielded on behalf of an all-encompassing state.

Michael Gove, on the other hand,  looks to be an entirely different beast altogether – one not just operating in far more politically volatile environment than Thatcher, but one who seems more intellectually driven by the radical tenets of fascism than by the traditions of conservatism.

Of course fascism is a contested term, with no single, generally agreed definition.  Nevertheless, it has a number of interwoven operational features which help distinguish it both from authoritarian Toryism and from Thatcherism:

  • The development of a full-blown ‘decadence’ narrative about modern society, the only remedy for which is strong central control of societal behaviour, and the creation of a mythical golden age, in which people led purer, more selfless lives;
  • An overt willingness to use the power of the state to enforce, through misinformation if necessary, a particular view of how people should be required to conduct ‘non-decadent’ lives;
  • The development of a nationalistic corporatism in which all groups in society are expected to play their centrally ordained parts in the delivery of national objectives.
  • An aversion to the uncertainties created by the market, and a willingness to control the economy ‘in the national interest’
  • A disdain for liberal democratic norms and conventions, which are seen as a sign of a state’s weakness rather than strength and confidence in itself.

Looking at Gove’s record, even over recent months, it is not hard to detect these tendencies in both policy substance and ministerial style.

First, and most obviously, there is his announcement (column 654) that there will be a single examining board for each GCSE/EBacc subject:

In each subject area, only one exam board will offer the new exams. The independent exams regulator will assess all the exams put forward by awarding bodies. The winner will be the board that offers the most ambitious course, benchmarked to the world’s best, informed by academic expertise and capable of both recognising exceptional performance and allowing the overwhelming majority of students to have their work recognised and graded fairly.

Stephen Twigg’s somewhat limp reply focused on Gove’s disregard for parliamentary procedure by ‘pre-announcing’ the plans to the media  – a contempt for democratic convention certainly, but hardly the main point even in these same terms, given that the Education Select Committee have recently warned explicitly against a move to a single exam boards system, on the basis that “the costs, heightened risk and disruption likely to be generated by moving to a single board outweigh the potential benefits”(para. 55).  The much bigger issue, though, is that by moving to single exam boards Gove (or his successor when that time comes) will wield much greater state power over what is and is not examined, and therefore taught; the businesses that run the exam boards will have little choice but to comply with, or willingly second-guess, the requirements of the Secretary of State, or risk losing their contract.

Such a process of co-option of business by the state is, as I’ve suggested, the very essence of fascist national corporatism.  It’s also worth noting that it’s not just the opposite of what the more traditional Tories on the Education Select Committee recommend, but also runs counter to Hayekian doctrine on how open competition reduces the innately malign power of the state.

Hayek’s seminal ‘Denationalisation of Money’ (free pdf) argues that true economic efficiency will come when the power to issue currency is no longer the preserve of the state, and private organisations compete with each other to be offer the most trusted medium of exchange.  Take the word ‘currency’ out of this text, and insert the ‘examination’, and you get precisely the argument that was used by the Select Committee for the continuation of exam board plurality.   Gove, however, is having none of this competition stuff in his domain – he has grander priorities than freedom of trade.

As noted, it’s not just the policy, but the style that gives Gove’s true inclination away.  Take, for example the new guidance to parents on the content of the revamped Key Stage 2 (end of primary school) literacy assessment. I happen to have seen this because my 10-year-old, a fine creative writer for his age, is unlucky enough to be the guinea pig for it, and risks therefore having his creativity deliberately stunted this year as the emphasis shifts from excellence in writing and comprehension to circling adverbs and putting inverted commas in the right place.

In a show of utterly pointless strength, the department has indicated that the standard of handwriting will form part of the assessment alongside grammar and punctuation.  No details have yet been given of precisely what is expected, although the tests will take place just after Easter, but in an an increasingly digital age the idea that it is useful to spend educational resources on ensuring children have a uniform approach to how they write and join up letters can have no reasonable justification.   It is being imposed – clearly with difficulty by the department’s experts – as part of Gove’s grand appeal to a halcyon past.  It is a small part of the emerging aesthetic of this new fascism – order at the expense of creativity, pseudo-tradition at the expense of societal modernity and freedom of expression.

Then, of course, there are the very deliberate lies.

I have covered in detail, both at Though Cowards Flinch and in the Financial Times, the lengths Gove, and the Department of Education at his behest (along with his willing stooge at Ofsted), have knowingly told lies about standards of educational attainment in England.  The important point for our purposes here is not so much the lying – after all, he is not the only minister to have been caught out – but the fact that those lies are, strictly in terms of policy objective, unnecessary.

If Gove simply wanted to improve educational standards, he could seek to do so simply on that the basis that this is, of itself, a good thing to do.  If this were not felt sufficient, he could do so on the basis that standards in England have not risen as fast as in some other countries (although the nature of the PISA data he would use does make this debatable).

But Gove wants more than this.  He and his acolytes are desperate to paint a picture of a once proud nation in terminal decline – a nation which can only be saved from further humiliation at the hands of foreigners through strong leadership of the type that only he can afford us.  In fact, as Chris Cook at the FT has clearly evidenced, exam results have most likely got better because teaching and schools began to get much better around a decade ago (though Cook’s insistence that this was due to Academy status is odd).

But this reality is at odds with the Gove narrative of decline, and inconvenient reality is not going to stand in his way.  That is not the way of the fascist.

Gove has all the makings, then, of a genuine full-blown fascist leader.  And he’s good at it.  In parliament, he plays the demagogue well, and  – in stark comparison to Stephen Twigg but also to Cameron and Osborne. His total disdain for the opposition is effected with a solemnity to which Cameron can only aspire. He comes across as a man amongst (over-priveleged) boys; the public recognise and approve of that.  It may be painful reading, but the approving comments he garners below the line on the many internet comment pieces about him do reflect a genuine admiration for his strength of vision, and his determination to carry it through, to the extent that the setbacks he does suffer such as the Building Schools Future debacle, come to be seen as obstacles ably overcome – mere details for this man of vision.

What makes Gove so dangerous, though, is the particular confluence of this raw populist talent and the political circumstances in which his star is now rising so fast.

First and foremost, there is the increasing likelihood that the Conservative party led by Cameron will be defeated in the 2015 general election  If it is defeated it will be for two main reasons: the failure of austerity economics, a policy cul-de-sac in which it has become inextricably trapped, alongside the increasingly pervasive sense of governmental incompetence, itself stoked by the elitist ‘out of touch’ characteristics of its leading politicians (Gove excluded).

Just as importantly for our analysis, though, is the reason s it will not lose the 2015 election.  It will not lose because of its social illiberal policies, or its increasingly hardened approach to the welfare state.   These policies are, and will remain, relatively popular – hence Labour’s (short-termist) aping of many of them.

But if the Conservatives lose, they will be immediately leaderless, and immediately directionless.  The possibility of a move towards a form of Red Toryism in a bid to outflank Labour’s ‘responsible capitalism’  from the left is no longer realistic, if it ever was, but a continuation of straightforward Thatcherite economic policy will also be impossible, given the abject failure to return the UK to growth.   The Conservatives will enter a period of identity crisis greater than that of 1997, and comparable with that of the Edwardian period when, as EHH Green put its in his magisterial study of the period, the party stumbled into tariff reform as its key (electorally disastrous) policy because “it seemed like a good idea at the time”.

Enter Michael Gove: reluctant leader, saviour of the party, prospective saviour of the nation.  I don’t expect to see Gove striding down Whitehall in jackboots soon, but the danger that he will – at least metaphorically – is real enough.

As noted, the socially illiberal policies Gove instinctively favours as an emergent fascist will still be popular, but he will look and feel like a man better able to implement them than Ed Miliband, however tough Ed plays it.  

Moreover, Gove will be unsullied by association with disastrous economic policy – it is no surprise that he wouldn’t be moved from the education brief – and therefore in a position to develop fascistic state economic intervention as a key policy aim;  effectively this may be the development of a quasi- (let us hope) war economy in which, by default, the importance of the national deficit is set to one side in the pursuit of the wider goal of national salvation – we may even see some form of Modern Monetary Theory brought to bear, though it is unlikely to be termed such.

Within the ranks Conservative party itself, Gove will find plenty of willing acolytes to support him in in his reluctant crusade.  The intellectually impoverished members of the Free Enterprise Group, for example, have already shown what good fascists they might make, using their Britannia Unchained publication to go beyond the bog-standard Thatcherite supply side solutions to economic stagnation (making it easy to hire and fire etc.), for an initial taste of the coming war against the decadence of the British workers.  And the leading light amongst these young fascist wannabees, Liz Truss, has not only been snapped us by Gove for his department, perhaps because she already displays – as her recent  ‘research’ on childcare affordability shows – a notable ability to tell bare-faced lies for the greater cause.  This group, and others within the 2010, will become willing and easy converts to the Gove cause, in the absence of continued Thatcherite leadership within the party.

In such circumstances, it is easy to conceive of a Labour party, which has as yet failed to come up with a genuinely socialist alternative to capitalist crisis management and remains stuck in the (by then) long decade of stagnation, relinquishing power to a suddenly vibrant – but very different – Conservative party led by Gove, in loose alliance with a number of European states experiencing the same trend.  Just as the US Republican party in crisis now seeks salvation in ‘tea party’ politics, in its desperation to fall back on the original dream of American frontiership and self-sufficiency, so may European right-wing parties be tempted to fall back on the old certainties of fascistic government; the old saying that, under Mussolini, at least the trains ran on time, still holds some sway in the popular imagination.

The Labour hierarchy and its opinion formers, at least as yet, see nothing of this.  Those who care about the rise of extremist politics in Britain seem entirely focused on parties and groupings beyond the current mainstream, unable or unwilling to recognise that effective extremism is much more likely to emanate from within the mainstream, given the current political conditions

They forget too easily, perhaps, that 1930s British fascism emanated, at least in part, from within a directionless Labour party. Labour would do well to heed the warnings of its own history, and set about creating a set of policies and institutions which, come what I hope is victory in 2015, will be enough to keep a new, very different, very dangerous Conservative party at bay.  A call for the watering down of capitalism, alongside a Tory-lite attack on our ‘something-for-nothing’ benefits system, is unlikely to be sufficient; Gove can do all that with a lot more panache.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 122 other followers