Bagehot's notebook

British politics

  • British politics

    Labour is no longer the party of the traditional working-class

    by BAGEHOT

    ON JULY 3RD Jeremy Corbyn told Unite, Britain’s biggest trade union, that “Labour is back as the political voice of the working class”. This would be nice if it were true: the Labour Party was after all founded to represent the working class, and the working class has been severely battered, in recent years, by the casualisation of labour and the stagnation of much of the economy. Alas, it’s nonsense. The Labour Party’s links with the working class have been weakening for the past 30 years—and continue to weaken under Mr Corbyn. 

    The divorce between the Labour Party and the workers has played out in two phases. The first was under Tony Blair.

  • Liberalism

    Some thoughts on the crisis of liberalism—and how to fix it

    by BAGEHOT

    BREXIT is such an all-consuming process for the British—at once a drama, a muddle and a mess—that it is easy to forget that it is part of something bigger: a crisis of liberalism in the west. A growing number of countries have had their own equivalents of Brexit: Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election; the election of a populist government in Italy; the Catalan revolt in Spain; the rise of populist authoritarians in Russia, Hungary, Poland and, to some extent, India; the simmering rage against what Viktor Orban calls “liberal blah blah” in the intellectual dark-web. The list will be a lot longer by the time Brexit has been completed.

  • The Corbyn problem

    Sounding the death knell for Corbynmania

    by BAGEHOT

    THIS was a bad night for Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s hard-left leader. It would be too much to say that the wheels have come off the Jeremy bus or that the Jeremy Express has hit the buffers. But the shine has definitely come off Mr Corbyn’s halo.

    The Conservative Party has been in power either in its own right or as the dominant party in a coalition for eight years of low growth and public-spending restraint. Having foisted a referendum on the country to solve an internal party battle, the Conservatives are now making a hash of taking Britain out of the European Union.

  • Amber alert

    Amber Rudd’s resignation throws Theresa May’s government into crisis

    by BAGEHOT

    IN THIS week’s Bagehot column I ventured that Amber Rudd, Britain’s home secretary, was probably not fatally wounded by recent events, “unless there is another scandal festering in the Home Office’s basement”. It turned out that there was a lot of festering going on. Just before 10pm on April 29th Ms Rudd tendered her resignation, pitching Theresa May’s ill-starred government into yet another crisis.

    This is the fifth resignation of a cabinet minister in this ten-month-old parliament: just over 20% of Mrs May’s second cabinet have quit their jobs since June 2017. Even by the standards of today’s just-in-time economy that is quite a turnover.

  • Visiting Russia

    Coming face to neck with Vladimir Putin

    by BAGEHOT

    T.H. MARSHALL, one of the founders of modern economics, and one of the most brilliant analysts of the economics of place, argued that “there was something in the air” in the English city of Sheffield that made it good at making steel. I think it is equally true that there is “something in the air” in Russia, that makes it good at spreading anxiety and grobulation. Bagehot has visited Russia on several occasions over the years—under Communism and Putinism—but has never had a normal day there. Everything that happens is tinged with a sort of sinister strangeness. 

    My first visit was in 1981, when it was still under Soviet rule, on a college trip led by Derek Parfit.

  • Globalisation

    Some thoughts on the open v closed divide

    by BAGEHOT

    ONE of the most popular interpretations of modern politics is that it is increasingly defined by the difference between open and closed rather than left and right. Openness means support for both economic openness (immigration and free trade) and cultural openness (gays and other minorities). Closedness means hostility to these things. 

    The Economist explored this argument in a cover article on July 30th 2016. The case for this way of differentiating has been reinforced by a new think tank that is called, appropriately enough, Global Future.

  • An underwhelming reshuffle

    Theresa May wastes an opportunity to regalvanise her party

    by BAGEHOT

    TODAY’S Cabinet reshuffle was billed as a golden opportunity for Theresa May to achieve two things: stamp her authority on the Conservative Party after the debacle of the general election and regalvanise her party in order to meet the rising threat from Jeremy Corbyn. She failed spectacularly to achieve either goal. 

    The biggest change of the day is that David Lidington, a little-known figure from the Major administration, will replace Damian Green as secretary of state for the Cabinet Office, giving him the chairmanship of about twenty Cabinet Committees and the responsibility for co-ordinating policy.

  • The pursuit of the millennium

    A strange disease has taken hold of British politics


    BRITAIN is suffering from a very un-British affliction at the moment: millenarianism. A country that has always prided itself on its support for common sense and gradual change is being hijacked by people who believe that the end is nigh and the kingdom of God is upon us.  

    I was reminded of the Labour Party’s millenarian streak when, on arriving in Manchester for the Conservative Party conference, I got into a debate with a bearded gentleman selling Socialist Worker, a leftie newspaper. The bearded gentleman informed me that “the Russian Revolution was the greatest event in the history of the world”. I asked him if he had ever been to Russia.

  • Party conferences

    The Tory conference reflects the dismal state of the party


    IF I had to sum up the Labour Party conference in Brighton last week in a single word, it would be “frightening”. A major British political party has been captured by a hard-left clique that has little respect for the basic principles of a liberal society. If I had to sum up the Conservative Party conference in a single word, it would be “dismal”.

    The first thing I saw on arriving was a large army of angry demonstrators controlled by a smaller army of police, some with horses, a few with machine guns. One demonstrator greeted me with the refrain “fuck off Tory scum”. When I explained that I was a journalist he modified his greeting to “fuck off Tory media scum”.

  • The Labour conference

    How the Corbynites want to reverse the 1980s


    PAUL MASON, a journalist turned Labour Party activist, was very much in evidence at the Labour conference in Brighton this week, competing with the Guardian’s Owen Jones for the title of Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite talking head. Mr Mason got a lot of grief for one of his tweets: “I really advise my colleagues in the press corps to listen to the conference. It’s a breath of fresh air and reminds me of 1980”. His colleagues in the press corps quickly reminded Mr Mason that 1980 marked the beginning of 17 years in the electoral wilderness for Labour. The breath of fresh air was a very cold wind indeed. 

  • Bagehot’s notebook

    An evening with Momentum at the Labour Party conference


    I VENTURED into Momentum’s “A World Transformed” jamboree—a sort of parallel conference running alongside the main Labour Party conference—with some nervousness. Momentum has a reputation for playing hardball: they were responsible for making sure that Brexit wasn’t really discussed at the conference, for example. The meeting has seen a lot of journalist-bashing: Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor, is accompanied by a bodyguard and any mention of the press elicits jeers.

  • Bagehot’s notebook

    The Labour Party is in jubilant mood as it meets for its annual conference

    by Bagehot

    ABOUT half-way through “Jaws”, Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster, Sheriff Brody (Roy Schneider) finally catches sight of the giant shark that has been wreaking havoc in the high seas off the New England coast. Horrified and awe-struck, but still holding onto his cigarette, he rushes into his boat’s cabin and tells his ship mate (Robert Shaw) that “you’re going to need a bigger boat”. You only had to spend a few hours at the Labour Party’s annual conference in Brighton to realise that the Tories are going to need a bigger boat if they are to escape from being gobbled up by Jeremy Corbyn’s resurgent Labour Party.

  • Coming to terms

    Whatever she may say, Theresa May won’t fight the next election

    ASKED in Japan whether she intends to stand down as leader of the Conservative Party in 2019 Theresa May replied that, on the contrary, she plans to lead her party into the next election, which, according to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, will occur in 2022. Her answer sent gales of despair through the Conservative Party, gusts of joy through Labour, and blasts of amazement through the commentariat. But what does it actually mean? 

    Not much, is the short answer. She probably answered as she did for the sake of convenience. Two of her predecessors, Tony Blair and David Cameron, created rods for their own backs by setting dates for their departure.

  • Bagehot’s notebook

    The politics of a tragedy

    by Bagehot

    WE USE the phrase “death-trap” all too lightly. But a death-trap is exactly what the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in West London became when it caught fire in the early hours of June 14th. The fire, thought to have started when a fridge exploded in a fourth-floor flat, spread quickly as the building’s cladding caught fire. Dozens of residents were unable to reach the internal staircase. There was no external fire-escape to take them to safety, no sprinkler system to dampen the advancing flames, no smoke alarms to wake people. For some, the only way to escape was to jump and hope for the best: seventeen bodies of jumpers have been found on the ground.

About Bagehot's notebook

Analysis of British life and politics, in the tradition of Walter Bagehot, editor of The Economist from 1861-77



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