Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Yes Side has won: Now it needs to define Victory

Battles and wars are not won by soldiers who can't fight, commanders who can't command or with equipment that doesn't work. However, the political leaders whose strategic objectives bring wars into being are subject to no such minimum standards. This is why so many wars have been fought without any overarching vision for what objectives a victory is to achieve. At best, this leads to pointless bloodshed. At worst, the vacuum left by the lack of a coherently defined concept of victory is filled by one defined by haphazard, accidental evolution. This is where one ends up with a World War I-type phenomenon - a war nobody wanted, fought in a way nobody envisioned to a conclusion nobody imagined and where the prize for the victors was another world war. Clausewitz described war as the continuation of politics by other means - politics, in other words, is a proto-military discipline, providing an organised institutional outlet for the settlement of human conflict. War is one such outlet. A referendum is another. The latter is more civilised than the former but the principles are the same. It's very difficult to win at the ballot box without having a sound tactical plan. However, it's disturbingly easy to fight all the way to victory without having any coherent idea of what one wants to achieve.

The Yes side in Friday's gay marriage referendum has done the logistically difficult but philosophically straightforward bit - winning the vote. What they did not do was the logistically easy but philosophically complicated bit - defining in coherent terms what they wanted from a victory. In the febrile atmosphere generated by the referendum, the Yes campaign's message became sloganised into a single two word phrase: "Yes Equality". The benefit of this slogan was that with the battle still raging and the enemy as yet unvanquished, the expression could mean whatever a putative yes voter wanted it to mean. The disadvantage only arises later on when the issue is removed from the artificial contextual isolation of the referendum campaign and begins to define its place within the hierarchy of public concerns. On Friday morning, Fine Gael posters could say that "[t]his referendum is about love and equality and nothing else." On Monday morning, the intrinsic ambiguities of reality will have re-asserted themselves. Once that happens, the party is over.

The technical question has, of course, been answered. This time next year, any adult will be able to enter a civil marriage with a person of the same sex. However, this is the only meaningful question that a yes vote answers. Many more remain open. Will the new world of marriage equality permit dissent or will it roll over everything in its path? Will the LGBT creed be liberal or absolutist? Will freedom of association survive? Will freedom of conscience be respected? Will freedom of religion be preserved? Will the new order find an accommodation with freedom of expression and the press? Will new de facto classes of citizenship emerge, with laws and policies defining an "untouchable" caste whose exercises of conscience, preference and choice are defined as oblique forms of violence and aggression and a sacralised "Brahmin" caste whose freedoms and aspirations are backed by an aggressive and intrusive state? 

Will we see decisions akin to that taken against Asher's Bakery in Northern Ireland, with the conscientious objections of private actors being subordinated to the exigencies of social engineering? As the memory of traditionalism dims, will more and more dissenting opinion be defined as incitement to hatred and thus prohibited? Will the legitimate objective of ensuring safety in schools result in anti-bullying and harassment campaigns crossing the line into publicly subsidised political advocacy? Will those whose views (be they religious or political) leave them out of step with the prevailing structure of taboos be denied the right to adopt and will their biological children be taken into care? In short, will the SSM referendum become an authoritarian inflection point in history, with triumphalistic attacks on the vanquished minority being the order of the day?

The answers to the above questions depend upon a number of things. First, No campaigners who feared that the passing of Friday's amendment would lead to an illiberal and intolerant atmosphere of soft authoritarianism must be determined to prove themselves wrong - the very generous concession messages by David Quinn and Ronan Mullen struck precisely the right note in this regard. Second, Yes campaign supporters who do not support egalitarian absolutism but believed that civil liberties concerns of No campaigners were paranoid must be equally determined to prove themselves right by picking the difficult fights with their own side in order to prevent its exuberance from developing a tyrannical momentum. Thirdly, the LGBT lobby should remember the wise words of HL Mencken in relation to the perils of idealism:

"The worst government is often the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression."

Whether they do so depends substantially upon whether or not they can be convinced that it is in their long term self-interest. History teaches us the unfortunate lesson that newly triumphant victors do not like to be counselled to caution and restraint. In this regard, it is vital that those with a stake in the broader societal outcomes that the Yes vote could bring make two crucial arguments. The first is that it is not in the long term interests of any movement to deprive itself of external challenges, in the absence of which its thinking becomes lazy, woolly and asinine. The other is that preserving the norms of an open and tolerant society provides today's victors with their only possible long-term defence against future victors in future culture wars. That may be a very far away thought in the flush of this weekend's triumph. However, immigration has changed and is changing the demography of western countries. This means that the changing attitudes of indigenous populations must be viewed alongside the influx of a very different world view from much more traditionalist societies.  

One of the few civic leaders in Ireland who happily spoke out against a Yes vote was Dr. Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh. This is significant, inasmuch as he represents perhaps the largest traditionalist demographic whose numbers are in the ascendant and whose future political strength could severely challenge the proposition that the egalitarian vision of progress is somehow inevitable. In decades to come, perhaps today's victors will want to have strong legal protections against majority intrusions. If so, then the time to put these in place is now, precisely when they are in the ascendant and, alas, at precisely the point in time when the temptation to do otherwise will be greatest.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Carlow Kilkenny: A Little Bit of Bad News for Everyone

Given the euphoria of what appears to be a certain double-digit victory for the Yes campaign in the same sex marriage referendum, the by-election to fill Phil Hogan's seat in Carlow Kilkenny is understandably getting less coverage than it otherwise might. However, momentous as the Yes vote is, its political impact will be limited, every political party with Dail representation having pre-empted first mover advantage by having advocated the (now victorious) Yes position. The same cannot be said of the by-election, where, a world away from the glamour of the referendum campaign, the mundane sausage making of politics as usual continues without interruption. As at the writing hereof, the tallies put Fianna Fail on 28%, Fine Gael on 21%, Sinn Fein on 16%, Renua Ireland on 9.4%, Labour on 6.5% and the Greens on 5.3%, with Bobby Aylward set to regain the seat he lost in the 2011 bloodbath. This is likely to be the last by-election to be held this side of next year's general election, so it represents the last set of real data between now and then - from hereon in, all we have is polls.

For Fianna Fail, victory will be sweet - especially given the fears which developed in the last few weeks that they might be pipped by Fine Gael. However, the first preference vote is far from good. At 28%, Fianna Fail's vote is almost identical to its 2011 showing and in a by-election. A performance like this for an opposition party is not going to cut it. Remember that between 1997 and 2002, Fine Gael put in strong by-election performances, significantly out-polling its 1997 numbers in Cork South Central and Tipperary South. They still got hammered in the 2002 election. Realistically, Fianna Fail would have wanted to be on at least 35% in Carlow Kilkenny to be seen to be making real progress. Michael Martin should be nervous.

For Fine Gael, the news is also not good. Having talked up David Fitzgerald's chances of holding Hogan's seat in the last few days of the campaign, it will be embarrassing that he came seven points behind Aylward. Enda Kenny should also be alarmed at the performance of Renua, who have confounded their dreadful national polling figures to take nearly a tenth of the vote. The Carlow Kilkenny result confirms that Fine Gael has virtually no chance of holding three seats in the constituency. It also suggests that Renua candidates with greater name recognition than Patrick McKee may well threaten Fine Gel seats in Dublin and Wicklow. The result also goes some way to confirming my own suspicion that the opinion polls are structurally overstating Fine Gael support, meaning that the party's recent recovery in the polls may be something of a mirage.

For Renua and its leader Lucinda Creighton, the result will be a major morale boost, providing evidence that its 1% showing in the recent TNS-MRBI poll is understating the party's support. However, at 9.4%, Cllr McKee's vote would be unlikely to yield a seat - even in a five-seater like Carlow Kilkenny. What remains to be seen is whether Renua can concentrate its small national vote into a half dozen or so constituencies and thus win seats, or whether, its vote delivers dozens of UKIP-like near victories with no seats to show for the effort. In that regard, the evidence of Carlow Kilkenny is ambiguous.

Sinn Fein will probably be the happiest of the main parties. Its vote is up significantly on its 10% showing in 2011. Kathleen Funchion also outperformed the party's local election totals from last year (9.9% in Kilkenny and 12.5% in Carlow). However, at 16%, they will worry that the polls are overstating their support. At the last general election, Sinn Fein's vote in Carlow Kilkenny was just over 1% below its national showing of 11%. With Sinn Fein on 16% today, that would suggest to me that their support is higher than the 15% they got in the locals but below 20%. This could add up to a disappointing showing for Sinn Fein next year - and remember that the party has had more than its share of false dawns.

For Labour, the result is catastrophic, with support falling from 17% to 6.5% since 2011. The Labour incumbent Ann Phelan would appear to have almost no chance of holding Seamus Pattison's former seat. In 2002, Jim Towsend and Michael O'Brien polled 13% of the vote for Labour in Carlow Kilkenny, while in 2007, under pressure from Mary White of the Greens, their vote fell to 9.4%. With 6.5% in Carlow Kilkenny, Labour would come nowhere near taking the 21 seats it won in 2002 and the 20 it won in 2007. These numbers indicate that Labour will be wiped out in South Leinster and Munster, with the likely loss of seats in South Tipperary, North Kerry, Waterford, Wicklow, Wexford, Cork South West and both of the party's Cork City seats. Bottom line: Labour may be elated at the SSM result but they are getting precious little electoral credit for it.

For the Greens, 5.3% is a poor haul of votes in a constituency where the party once had a seat. Remember also that Malcolm Noonan is one of the Greens' best campaigners - having been one of just two Green councillors to hold his seat in 2009. There seems to be no immediate prospect of the Greens returning to the Dail any time soon. 

Apart from the above, perhaps the most interesting take-out from this by-election is twofold. First, independent support is below 15%, with the top six individual votes being taken by candidates for registered parties. The second is that the aggregate support of "anti-austerity" parties is tepid, with only Sinn Fein exceeding 10% of the vote and languishing in third place behind Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. With the combined support of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Renua and Labour at roughly 65%, the thirty second Dail might be far less radical than many suppose.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

FG-Labour's Covert War on the Young

The General Election of 2011 seems as if it took place far longer ago than a mere four and a half years. For those few weeks, it seemed that while the economy was replaying all of the most brutal episodes of the grotesque melodrama that was the 1980s recession (economic shrinkage, rising public debt, mass unemployment) and adding some unwelcome new ones (crushing household debt, insolvent banks, negative equity), the political system was about to be transformed into a new and exciting architecture a world away from that depressing decade's. Fianna Fail, the party that forged the now discredited social partnership consensus which had brought Ireland to her knees, was heading inexorably into history's unforgiving dustbin. Interesting new independent candidates for the Dail like Paul Sommerville in Dublin South East offered the thinking voter an alternative to politics as usual. Best of all, the traditional alliance of suffocating consensus between Fine Gael and Labour had broken down, it seemed irreparably. 

The (then seemingly imminent) FG-Labour divorce had its Genesis in Eamon Gilmore's hubristic and horribly misjudged conclusion that he could ride the post-Lehman wave to the Taoiseach's office instead of having to play second fiddle to the Fine Gael leader as his predecessors Spring, O'Leary, Corish and Norton had done before. A rattled Fine Gael, having spent the previous thirteen years flinging woo at a fickle and contemptuous Labour finally realised that unless they left their comfort zone, they would achieve the political equivalent of driving the ball a metre wide in front of an open goal mouth. For once, crisis brought resolution instead of panic to Fine Gael. Realising that there was no political leverage to be gained from attempting to kill an already dead Fianna Fail, an angry and liberated Fine Gael trained its guns on its former partner in crime, the Labour Party. 

The resulting onslaught was one of the most forensically brutal in living memory, with Leo Varadkar deriding his constituency rival Joan Burton's fiscal irresponsibility and accusing Labour, Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail of representing a "consensus for tax hikes", Michael Noonan denouncing Labour as a "seriously high tax party", Enda Kenny dismissing Labour's bank nationalisation policies as "Five Anglos" and Fine Gael canvass teams being instructed to refer to Labour's leader as "Eamon Taxmore" on the doorsteps. Fine Gael's momentum in the final weeks led to talk of an overall majority, but then... Alas, Enda Kenny turned in a bad performance in the third and final leaders' debate, Mr. Noonan found himself at the centre of an unnecessary and self-inflicted imbroglio over the tax rate on a bottle of wine and Labour embarked on a desperate rearguard action to convince skittish public sector voters that it could deliver fiscal prudence without as many cuts as Fine Gael proposed. The outcome was that Fine Gael fell short of the majority that would have ruptured the 1980s consensus and the upshot, a mirror image of the 1980s, with the same old purple coalition, dominated by 1980s retreads like Enda Kenny (elected, 1975), Michael Noonan (elected, 1981) and Ruairi Quinn (elected, 1977), all of whom had seen ministerial action under Garrett FitzGerald.

Sadly, the traditional 1980s combination has led to a traditional 1980s result - the triumph of gerontocracy. Instead of deregulating the labour market in the interests of those starting out their careers, regulatory policy has focused on preserving the existing terms and conditions of that market's older incumbents. Instead of looking at means testing benefits like state pensions and travel passes for wealthy and middle class seniors, the government launched a raid on the pension funds of those still working (a measure disproportionately affecting younger workers). Instead of challenging the job security of incumbent public sector workers like teachers and civil servants, the government introduced recruitment freezes which locked young graduates out altogether - not to mention cutting the pay of those lucky enough to get in the door. Newly appointed consultant doctors got spartan new contracts while existing ones kept their gold-plated ones. In the 1980s, the political establishment quietly colluded to ensure that the old and the middle aged fared comparatively well while the young were consigned, as the Saw Doctors famously put it, to the N17. A glance at the departures lounges of Irish airports over the last seven years evidences a repetition of the 1980s emigration experience avant la lettre

To make matters worse, every element of the government's housing policy, from NAMA to the lack of repossessions on delinquent residential and buy-to-let mortgages to the disastrous bedsit ban have been designed to benefit incumbent homeowners and landlords whilst denying realistic home prices and affordable rents to the struggling young. Most under-35s and all under-25s have been shafted, with diminished job prospects, rising tax burdens and unreasonable costs of living. Put less politely, the old have mugged the young and the government has held them down till the pockets were nicely picked. In return for this historic fraud, Young Ireland has received a derisory shadow of Garrett FitzGerald's constitutional crusade in the form of referenda on same sex marriage and the lowering of the presidential age and precious little else. To channel that of Marie Antoinette, the spirit of our age can be summed up thus: "Let them eat marriage equality!"

And yet in truth, if we under-35s are looking for someone to blame, we need only look in the mirror. We can muster howls of protest when we are asked to pay for our domestic waste or our water, but nary a whisper emerges from Young Ireland at the most wanton acts of inter-generational burglary ever seen in our times, and to the extent that we rebel, it is only to empower demagogues in Sinn Fein and on the hard left who combine all of the worst attributes of the gerontocracy with a disregard for basic maths - and hence our only defence against total oblivion comes from the very people who have compromised our futures. The irony would be hilarious, if it weren't so tragic.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

No Mr. Nash: No Pay is not the Solution to Low Pay

Of all of the illusory articles of faith of the political left, perhaps none is more infuriating than its belief that the government can, by legislative or executive fiat, invent a new supply-demand curve with a shallower gradient more in keeping with the desires of politicians. Ed Miliband's recent manifesto pledges to cap energy prices and control rents are both good examples of this statist fantasy - thankfully, both policies have been rejected at the ballot box. Minimum wage laws are another example - and, unfortunately, they have not. It has been crammed down the memory hole that Ireland survived (on the whole, reasonably well) between 1922 and 2000 without a statutory minimum wage. Then, at the height of surplus fuelled Bertie-nomics, the national minimum wage was introduced as part of the social partnership porkfest that ended abruptly in 2008. 

When it was introduced, the insanely leveraged pressure cooker that was the bubble fuelled Irish economy simply absorbed the price manipulation, with the same forces that were driving everything from a trophy home to a moccha latte to insane prices having the same effect on wages and salaries. What little impact the (rapidly increasing) minimum wage had on marginal employment during this period could easily be absorbed by a social welfare budget flush with revenues from a buoyant exchequer. However, when the party ended in 2008, the inflationary forces driving costs into the stratosphere precipitously transformed themselves into an excruciating deflationary inflection and the tax revenues that picked up the slack disappeared in a veritable puff of smoke. Suddenly, with unemployment bobbing around the 14% mark, the true affordability of a minimum wage of €8.65 an hour revealed itself. And yet...   

Of all of the promises in Labour's (asinine) and Fine Gael's (comparatively sensible) 2011 manifestos, none reveal the disconnect between economic realities and political posturing better than the promise (in both manifestos) to reverse the previous government's (immeasurably modest) reduction of the said wage to €7.65 an hour. Labour, with its head firmly planted in the public sector union centric-sand that constitutes its intellectual foundation, could perhaps not have been expected to do any better - its entire manifesto representing denial of economic reality. However, Fine Gael, with its lofty professions to understand the hard headed realities of business and wealth creation acted in a mystifyingly obtuse manner in going along with this cheap economic three-cards-trick.

Outside the echo chambers of Keynesian economics faculties and raucous union halls, the grim reality of minimum wage policies could not differ more violently from their pompously sanctimonious intellectual veneer. In the real world, labour utilised by employers needs to be deployed to the ultimate purpose of making an end product that somebody, somewhere wants and for a price for which that someone is willing to pay for it. Stated differently, in order to justify creating a job, an employer needs to know that the wage he pays will allow him to make a profit. In a world in which creating employment is not compulsory but paying €8.65 an hour is, any job that is incapable of washing its face at this rate will not be created - simple as. As a simple and straightforward corollary of the foregoing, the sociological effects of minimum wage laws are 180 degrees opposite to the ostensible objectives.

Put simply, minimum wage laws are stealth taxes and they are levied against workers who (for whatever reason) do not have the skill-sets appropriate to wages that employers are legally mandated to pay. Since these workers have no money to pay these pernicious taxes, they must do so in kind by foregoing jobs, experience and wages and being consigned to the dole queues - in other words, instead of low pay, they get no pay. That such a patently nonsensical and (perversely) regressive policy could have been implemented in the boom was bad enough. That the political establishment could double down on it during a (continuing) crisis of mass unemployment is nothing short of unfathomable. What's more dumbfounding still is that Minister for State in the Department of Enterprise, Ged Nash (Labour, Louth) thinks that the solution to our continuing economic problems is for the minimum wage to be increased

The theory behind this idea borders on science fiction. Somehow, so it goes, any loss of jobs actuated by the policy will be offset by the "aggregate demand" brought about by wage increases at the bottom of the labour force, as workers spend their pay packets and generate more jobs through their consumption. Nash bases his hypothesis on a crude theory which was refuted by Frederic Bastiat as far back as the 1840s, repackaged by Keynes in the 1920s and thoroughly discredited by a lost decade of stagflation in the 1970s - for Labour, like the Bourbons, neither forgets nor learns anything. Thankfully, in recent months, he has been resisted by his boss Richard Bruton, who has held the Fine Gael line, thus far conceding only to the establishment of a "Low Pay Commission". 

Today's Irish Times reports that the Fine Gael-run Department of Finance has made submissions to the Commission opposing increases and arguing that not only was it necessary to avoid the loss of our "competitiveness buffer" to an increase in the minimum wage, but also hinting (in a sort of literary sotto voce) that perhaps it should be reduced (or at least made easier to reduce in times of economic difficulty). The Department has also made the eminently sensible suggestion of a regional weighting of the minimum wage, reducing it in parts of the country in which costs of living and  median/average wages are lower - where unemployment often tends to be higher. The injection of some degree of common sense into the low pay debate by the Department of Finance is welcome. However, for the purposes of the present Dail, soon to dissolve, it may be a case of too little too late. As in war, so too in elections is the truth the first casualty, and with an opposition headed by an unprincipled Fianna Fail and an unrealistic Sinn Fein, this may well prove to be a flicker of wisdom quenched by a torrent of folly.    

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Five Myths about the UK General Election Result

There can be no doubt this Sunday that our neighbours across the Irish Sea have delivered us political high drama in the finest tradition of the term. The Tory majority was genuinely surprising (though it should have surprised us rather less than it did) and the abject failure of the Labour Party and its pathetic leader to gain even five percentage points out of the Lib Dem implosion was positively shocking. The SNP sweep wasn't surprising but would have been six months ago, so a certain shock in its actual occurrence is justifiable. So far, so right for the conventional wisdom. However, in typical establishmentarian fashion, once the low hanging fruit was picked, the political commentariat reverted straight back to its mean - namely, reading the political tealeaves arse about face. The following are the five most egregious myths about the result. 

1. The Polls got it horribly wrong: 

No. They didn't. The poll of polls put the Tories and Labour on 34% each and they got the overall numbers for UKIP and the Lib Dems right. They also captured the SNP surge. The degree of error in the Con:Lab sample is well within the territory that the polls consistently deliver at elections. In 1997, for example, Labour defeated the Tories by 44% to 31%. Some of the opinion polls then put the Tories on as little as 27% and Labour on as much as 50%. The polls were similar in 2001, when Labour beat the Tories by 42% to 32%. By contrast, in this election, the polls underestimated the Tories by 2.9% (36.9% to 34%) and overestimated Labour by 3.6% (30.4% compared to 34%). This was a smaller error than in 1997 and 2001. However, in those years, the inaccuracies didn't matter since Labour was too far ahead for the difference to materially affect the outcome. This time (like in 1992), the polls were tight - hence a smaller inaccuracy delivered a materially different outcome. However, it really was margin of error stuff. 

The real story is that the polls structurally underestimate the Tories because of a fairly consistent "Shy Tory" factor, which is not the antiseptic consequence of intrinsic human behaviour but the result of the left wing and egalitarian penchant for morally delegitimising their opponents. As American Conservatives like to say: "We think they're wrong. They think we're evil." While people are less likely to lie to pollsters than to their colleagues at the work Christmas party, enough often do to skew polls. Middle class voters seem to be the most likely to lie. For example, the more working class UKIP voters seemed blithely (and admirably) unconcerned by what the nice man from Yougov thought of their voting preferences. 

The real culprits here were the opposition themselves and the commentators, who believed the numbers. Miliband and his team should have realised that they needed to be about 6 points clear of the Tories to score neck-and-neck with them. If they wanted to be able to trust polling data, then they'd have to stop demonising their opponents - and there are too many perceived advantages for them to do that. We in Ireland may have something to think about in this regard on the evening of May 23rd.

2. The Lib Dem Meltdown was surprising:  

No. It wasn't. The polls had them falling from 23% to 8%. This is precisely what happened. Their hopes of holding the 25 to 30 seats that they and the commentators expected rested on a nonsense prediction that their remaining vote would concentrate itself into the three dozen or so constituencies where their vote was large enough to withstand the loss of a fifth or so of their vote. As I had predicted, even with the most fortuitous distribution of votes, they would be down to single digits. This happened. However, the innate groupthink of political professionals led them to hedge their bets and ignore the evidence staring them in the face.

The more interesting question is why? My suspicion is threefold: (i) Political journos are accustomed to working with parties that have existed throughout their careers and fear the uncertainties associated with their disappearance; (ii) Political journos are often not too handy with numbers and don't like to analyse numerical data too deeply; and (iii) as middle class technocratic types, political journos disproportionately support the Lib Dems themselves and couldn't bear to predict such an implosion as happened.

3. The Media was hostile to Ed Miliband:

Er, only if you gauge away the Guardian, the London Independent, the Daily Mirror and the BBC. The Telegraph, the Mail, the Sun and the Times supported the Tories, but this largely consisted of editorialising against UKIP - their attacks on Miliband being, if anything, less vitriolic than those of the left wing papers against Cameron - who the Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell has spent the last five years portraying as an anthropomorphic condom (how respectful). The Financial Times endorsed the Lib Dems. The Express was hostile to Labour but tended more towards UKIP than the Tories.

Part of the modus operandi of the left wing power structure in the media, entertainment and educational systems - together with whole swathes of the professions - has been the adoption of a persecution complex. Whilst left wing Twitter warriors scour the internet looking for careers to ruin, the Guardian and Independent (together with noxious outlets like Jezebel and Buzzfeed) portray a fantasy world in which feminist bloggers are hiding under tables from tidal waves of abuse in the Twittersphere. When one American news network leans right, it's a crisis for democracy. When Ed Miliband is pictured eating a bacon sandwich, there's clearly a vast right wing conspiracy.

No. The party which got the worst shake from the media was UKIP and it didn't stop them from making huge inroads into Labour's working class vote. The Lib Dems, by contrast, enjoyed far friendlier coverage than the polling numbers merited. They still got walloped. The reality: Labour's media friends failed to influence the election in their favour and now they're having a tantrum. 

4. Coalition destroys small parties:

Only when it exposes pre-election errors. The Liberal Democrats did not lose 49 seats because they were the smaller party but because they were built on foundations of sand. Under the leaderships of Grimond, Thorpe and Steele, the Liberals (as they then were) set themselves up as a slightly snooty and (somewhat) pseudo-intellectual party of protest, loosely placing themselves to the right of Labour and to the left of the Tories. The alliance (and eventual merger) with the Social Democrats copper fastened that position. However, when Tony Blair came to power, he effectively sowed the seeds of Lib Dem doom by moving his own wing of the Labour Party to the right of the Lib Dems. 

In hindsight, what Paddy Ashdown should have done was seek to merge with Labour. This would have been welcomed by Blair, who would have happily allowed this to precipitate a left wing walk out on the part of awkward squad members of his own party like Ken Livingston and Tony Benn. The result would have been a merged Labour/Lib Dem Party with circa 50% of the vote, an unelectable left wing bloc with no more than a half dozen seats in Wales and the North East, and a Tory Party on 30% or so. 

Instead, Ashdown decided to keep the Lib Dems where they were and let Labour become the effective "Centre" party. His successor Charles Kennedy made the historic bet that the Tories would be washed away by the tides of history, leaving Labour as the party of the right and the Lib Dems as the party of the left. However, the Tories refused to die and Labour never ceased to be a socialist party. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Labour moved back to the left of the Lib Dems, leaving the party (now led by Nick Clegg) back in its traditional "centre" position. However, by now, the Liberals had a completely unstable voting base, consisting of non-ideological protest voters (who were bound to desert them once they got into government), leftists who had abandoned Labour during the Blair years (who would abandon them if they coalesced with the Tories) and socially liberal Tory leaners (who liked Clegg but loathed Labour). Quite simply, any coalition deal would have resulted in two of those three groups bolting. Hence, Clegg's decision to go into coalition sealed his party's fate.

By contrast, the world is full of small parties who have survived the experience of coalition. What those parties had going for them was a degree of solid ideological affinity with: (a) their senior partners; and; (b) their own voters. Of course, lying to the electorate before the election doesn't help either (remember Labour's way or Frankfurt's way anyone?).

5. David Miliband would have won:

Maybe but I doubt it. One of the worst things about this result is the re-emergence of the smug Blairites from their exile. The narrative emerging on Labour's right is that Blair's centrist approach would have won Labour the election. This might have been true if Labour had lost votes to the Tories or the Lib Dems. However, this clearly didn't happen. The Tory vote rose by all of 0.9% and the Lib Dem vote imploded by 15%. These are the parties that would have capitalised on a Blairite surge. They didn't.

By contrast, the far left SNP saw their vote rise by 3%, destroying Labour in Scotland. How would David Miliband have stopped this from happening? Likewise, Labour's English vote was cannibalised by the conservative nationalist UKIP - with only the traffic of ex-Lib Dems moving leftward allowing Labour to modestly increase its overall vote share. In the left wing regions of London, Northern England and Northern Wales, Labour's performance was relatively good. Meanwhile, in the more right wing Midlands and South, the Tory vote held up, the Lib Dems were annihilated and the only demonstrable vote shift consisted of Lib Dem voters moving right to the Tories and Tory and Labour voters moving even further right to UKIP.

Why is this? Centrism is a failed philosophy, its econometric, technocratic certainties having collapsed with Lehman Brothers in 2008. Leftism is, of course, a failed philosophy as well - but it failed back in the 1970s. That's long enough ago that some (but thankfully not all) voters have forgotten its true character. This amnesia, curiously enough, seems to afflict the most educated and least educated voters - hence the biggest leftward swings occurred in London, Scotland and the North.

Hence my long term prognosis for British (and for that matter Irish) Labour is poor. They can follow the rising tide of rage to the left and watch the majority of voters abandon them, they can stay where they are and stagnate or they can move right and watch their angry base fall off the back of the lorry into the entertaining but sterile hands of the far left. Not an enviable choice...


Myths underlie every great event and every system that grows out of those great events. However, sometimes those myths prove so misguiding to those in potential positions of influence that they distort their thinking. Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg believed in their own set of myths and now what they believe doesn't matter anymore. Others don't have that luxury, so beware...