Beware of complacency

When Les Républicains held the first round of their primary to select a candidate for the French presidency, I was happy enough with the result. The last thing I wanted was to see Sarkozy make a comeback.

A week later, and I'm much less happy. The choice between Juppé and Fillon was a choice between a relatively centrist, inclusive candidate and a candidate who, both in economic and social terms, has shown himself to be as rabidly right wing as Sarkozy.

With the left in France in disarray, I tend to go along with the consensus view of most political commentators: namely that the two candidates who will now make it through to the second, deciding round in May next year will be Fillon and Le Pen. However, where I disagree with that consensus is that it will not be, as so many have described it, a contest between the "right" and the "far right".

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The landmark political events this year, particularly the votes for Brexit and Trump, are not easy to understand. Our accepted ways of thinking have been turned on their head. But I would say this: that although UKIP, the prime movers behind Brexit, and Trump both advocate unmistakably right-wing policies, they have pitched their appeal at the disillusioned working class (the Americans use the term "middle class" to refer to the same group) who normally think of themselves as being on the left, and both won because a large percentage of this traditional left believed that narrative.

The essence of their appeal, in both cases, was to identify who/what to blame for their current predicament. Immigration and globalization were close to the top of the list with sub-text that both the UK and the US, if left to their own devices, would do better on their own than by interacting and being integrated with the wider world.

It is not hard to see how, with even a modicum of savoir faire, Marine Le Pen and the Front National will not pitch the same sort of appeal to the same group in France. And I believe that, if she does so, she will win in the same way as the Brexiteers and Trump have won. Make no mistake, Fillon is very right wing and has just won this primary precisely because he is so right wing. Getting rid of half a million public sector jobs and doing away with the 35 hour week and the workplace protections that make it extraordinarily difficult to get rid of employees is dismantling the very things that make France one of the most civilized countries in Europe. In my opinion, he has made a fundamental mistake by positioning himself more and more to the right in order to match Le Pen. Le Pen is as unscrupulous and inconsistent as Trump, and she will now respond by switching her appeal to traditionally left-leaning voters instead, leaving him flat-footed.

So, on the one hand, there will be a candidate who says: France is in trouble, and we can only solve our problems by making radical economic reforms which will hurt, but will make France more competitive in the long term. But on the other hand there will be a candidate who says: France is in trouble, but we don't have to give up the things which make France a civilized and humane place to live and work, we can achieve the same thing by stemming the immigration which drives down your wage levels and makes it harder for you to find work ... and instead of having to open ourselves up to unfair competition from poorer parts of Europe and the world, we can, if we leave the EU and the trade arrangements with the rest of the world that the EU forces us to accept, take steps to protect our jobs and industry. Of course I don't believe that either of those arguments holds any water, but the appeal won't be pitched at people like me.

The conundrum is that—by any objective measure—UKIP, Trump and Le Pen espouse right-wing policies. But two of them have now won what they wanted by getting those who traditionally saw the left as best representing their interests to switch sides, and I'm afraid that we are going to see it happen three times in a row.

We who comment on politics find it hard to appreciate the raw appeal of unscrupulous politicians who direct their appeal to gut feeling rather than reasoned argument ... but we can get a taste of how well it works by reading the comments section of the Mail or Express. I'm quite sure that the intellectual left in France will hold their noses and vote for Fillon rather than Le Pen in the final round next May, but they would be mistaken to think that the angry, marginalized and disillusioned working class left will do the same. In their complacency, they just won't see it coming. A simplistic, but superficially convincing, narrative aimed squarely at the gut rather than the head is likely to result in Le Pen becoming the next French president.

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Bella Gwalia

Thanks to a newsletter from Yes Cymru, I've just found out about a website called Bella Gwalia which I like the look of, and would like to recommend to others.

As a starter, I quite liked this from the meme section:

     

Of course, when you see quotes like this, it's always a good idea to check out whether they're accurate. This one is. It's a quote from 1925 ... some twenty years before India became an independent nation.

It is impossible for one to be internationalist without being a nationalist. Internationalism is possible only when nationalism becomes a fact, i.e. when peoples belonging to different countries have organized themselves and are able to act as one man. It is not nationalism that is evil, it is the narrowness, selfishness, exclusiveness which is the bane of modern nations which is evil. Each wants to profit at the expense of, and rise on the ruin of, the other.

Indian nationalism has struck a different path. It wants to organize itself or to find full self-expression for the benefit and service of humanity at large … God having cast my lot in the midst of the people of India, I should be untrue to my Maker if I failed to serve them. If I do not know how to serve them I shall never know how to serve humanity. And I cannot possibly go wrong so long as I do not harm other nations in the act of serving my country.

Young India, 18 June 1925, p211

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Offering us precisely nothing

It was interesting to read this story on the BBC website that the Tory government in Westminster is now prepared to offer the devolution of teachers' pay and conditions to our National Assembly, but surprising that the Welsh Government considered this to be an "encouraging development".

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As I see it, teachers' pay and conditions are already devolved to Wales. Of course this was never intended by Westminster; it came about as a result of the Supreme Court ruling that the Assembly had power to determine pay and conditions for agricultural workers in Wales. As I mentioned in this post, by choosing to test out the Assembly's competence to retain an Agricultural Wages Board for Wales, Westminster was in fact asking the Supreme Court to rule on the general principle of whether something had to be specifically mentioned as being within the Assembly's competence, or whether it could reasonably be implied to be within the Assembly's competence because the overall subject area—in that case agriculture—is devolved.

That first post was written before the verdict had been delivered, but after it had been delivered I wrote this post, which showed beyond any doubt that politicians in Westminster fully realized that the principle could be applied to other devolved areas ... and that in this regard the Welsh Assembly has greater powers than even the Scottish Parliament. Because education is devolved, applying the same principle means that, for example, teachers' pay and conditions are devolved, as well as those of anyone else who works in education. The same would also apply to all the other devolved areas.

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As others beside myself have noted, one of the Conservative Government's purposes behind the new Wales Bill is an attempt to roll back these, and other, devolved powers under the guise of a reserved powers model. Yes, the new Bill promises a few additional powers—and for me any additional powers will always be welcome—but these come at the cost of the repatriation of powers we already have back to Westminster. It's too high a price to pay. I think we must reject the repatriation of any powers back to Westminster on principle.

In other words, although this new "concession" proposed by the Tories is meant to look like a step forward for devolution, it is very far from being the "encouraging development" that the Welsh Government believes it to be. They are in fact offering us nothing that we don't already have.

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The future for roofs

I have to say that I am quite impressed with the lastest product offering from Tesla/Solar City. So I thought I'd show the full video of yesterday evening's launch:

     

These pictures from the article at Electrek:

     

The question Elon Musk has asked is exactly right. If a solar roof of this sort is cheaper and better than adding separate solar panels to a roof made just to keep out the rain, why wouldn't you do it? This is a game changer.

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Fifty Years

     

     Terence Spencer/Marvin Lichtner – 21 Oct 1966

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The Wall

It is 2019 and babies in Northern Ireland are raised up so that they can look over the Brexit Wall into the opulent, Marmite-rich land of Ireland.

     

With thanks to Alan.

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Freedom of Movement

On the subject of freedom of movement, one of the mantras of those campaigning to leave the EU was to "take back control". The question they were not asked was: "Take back control from whom?" And because that question was not asked, people were left with the impression that bureaucrats in Brussels were in control.

In fact neither bureaucrats in Brussels nor politicians in any member state of the EU are in control. We as EU citizens, at least for now, are the ones in control of our own choices about where we live and work. We can work in Berlin, retire to Spain, or bum around in Greece as we want, and no government anywhere in the EU can deny us that freedom.

If the UK leaves the EU without signing up to the four freedoms of movement (with a similar status to countries like Norway) control will be taken away from us as individuals and handed to governments instead.

We can decide for ourselves whether this is a good or bad thing. However I find it odd that those on the right of the political spectrum, who in all other circumstances think that government control over citizens is a bad thing, are the ones who think that taking this freedom from us as individuals and putting politicians in control is a now good thing.

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