They don’t even need ideas

I thought this said something important about the risk to old fashioned democracy that the internet is posing:

By contrast, in an age of limitless bandwidth and ubiquitous data capture, the challenge for politicians (or anyone else) is to get noticed and exert influence. This calls for a very different set of political and personal talents: confrontation, wit, defiance, spontaneity and rule-breaking. The politician who wants to target the swing voter via television tries to seem as normal as possible. The politician who seeks to mobilise support online will do precisely the opposite. While it’s true that Farage has made mileage out of his ‘ordinary’ cultural habits (‘a fag and a pint’), a Trumpian refusal to play by the rules is his more potent quality.

The internet is an anti-hegemonic technology. It grants far more power to the consensus-breaker than to the consensus-maker. As the data analytics industry understands, it is a brilliant machine for mapping unusual clusters of feeling and behaviour, but far less suited to establishing averages and generalities. The internet fragments the ‘middle ground’ as a space of political argument, and grants a disproportionately loud voice to the niche and the crank. There are illusions galore here, but no sanctuary for the crucial synecdochal one on which representative democracy depends. Notions of ‘common sense’ and ‘the average voter’ lose their sway.

It’s from an excellent and – given the wretched Johnson’s current race for leadership of the Tory party – timely piece in the London Review of Books by William Davies:

They don’t even need ideas

Lemon yellow

I’ve been decorating. Really.

Our little toilet downstairs toilet is now a fabulous lemon yellow. The photograph doesn’t do it justice – hence the colour – much closer to the way the wall really look now.


While grouting and grovelling I had the chance to distract the fidgety parts of my brain with some podcasts.

Reliable old Radio 4 of course but I also came across an absorbing series called Talking Politics.

It’s a discussion and an exploration. David Runciman, Professor of Politics at Cambridge, chairs (loosely) whatever is going on that week. There’s often an expert or an enthusiastic amateur to give a focus and a few colleagues from Cambridge to chip in. Professor Helen Thompson is especially good value for her insights and shrewd questions.

Every episode I’ve listened to has left me feeling intrigued, informed and better able to ask my own questions. There are a few I’ve listened to more than once – to make sure I hadn’t missed anything in the discussion.

It’s wide-ranging too. They’ve talked about Germany, India and Italy, about Power in the Digital Age (the most recent podcast – a doozy – full of thinking about the world of data and automation that is overtaking us), Security as well as the obvious topics of Brexit, trump and the Labour Party.

I was particularly engaged by the episode with the American economist, Dani Rodrick. This is how it is billed:

“Who are the real winners and losers from the integration of the global economy? What chance has Trump got of making good on his economic promises? How much are economists to blame for the mess we’re in? Dani talks with David, Helen Thompson and Finbarr Livesey about the dangers of circling the wagons and the tough choices we all have to face.”

It was an absorbing conversation, chiefly because it introduced me to Rodrik’s ‘Trilemma’

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Where he argues that:

“we cannot simultaneously pursue democracy, national determination, and economic globalization. If we want to push globalization further, we have to give up the nation-state or democratic politics. If we want to maintain and deepen democracy, we have to choose between the nation-state and international economic integration.”

Fascinating. In the context of populist movements in general and Brexit and America in particular, enlightening.

Lemon yellow

Child Poverty

In advance of the budget the concerted attack on poor people that is coming and IDS’ plan to change the definition of child poverty, I thought this was useful to bear in mind:

….obstinately high child poverty has its roots in developments in the labour market. Whether it be because of mass unemployment**, deindustialization, the offshoring of low-skilled work, technical change or whatever, the fact is that things have gotten tougher for what used to be called the respectable poor in the last 40-odd years.

It is this fact that Duncan Smith seems to want to gloss over. From the point of view of the ruling class, it is better to question the character of the poor than the health of capitalism. And, sadly, I fear he might succeed in this aim: the egocentric bias means many voters like to think well of themselves and hence less well of others. There will therefore be an audience for slanders against the poor.

A good piece on the Stumbling and Mumbling blog:

http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2015/07/poverty-ideology.html

Child Poverty