Bagehot's notebook

British politics

  • 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.

  • The road to disaster

    The lesson from tonight’s astonishing results: campaigns matter

    by BAGEHOT

    POLITICAL scientists are often sniffy about campaigns. They think that campaigns have at best a minimal impact on election results and sometimes have none whatsoever. Alan Abramowitz, an American political scientist, expressed his discipline’s received wisdom with reference to his country’s elections in an article in the Washington Post

    When you’re in the middle of a campaign there’s a tendency for people, especially in the media, to overestimate the importance of certain events. These include high-profile gaffes, vice-presidential selections, controversial ads and other moments that capture so much attention…Those things have no measurable impact.

  • The die is narrowcast

    Unpicking the Corbynist manifesto

    by BAGEHOT

    BRITISH election campaigns are usually carefully choreographed affairs. They are short and sharp: just a few weeks of formal campaigning compared with America’s year or so. And they are divided into two parts: before and after the publication of the party manifestos. Before the publication politicians fend off pesky interviewers by saying, “You’ll have to wait until we publish the manifestos.” After the publication they fend off pesky interviewers by saying, “It’s all spelt out in detail in the manifesto.” 

    The campaign this year has certainly conformed to the first part of the dance.

  • One nation under May

    A brief history of one-nation Conservatism

    by BAGEHOT

    I HEREBY predict that one of the great themes of British politics in the next few years will be “one-nation conservatism”. The Conservatives are currently running a presidential-style election campaign built around Theresa May and designed to hammer home the message that voters are not just voting for their local MPs on June 8th, but also deciding whether to put Mrs May or Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street.

  • New mayors

    On the ground with Andy Street in Birmingham

    by BAGEHOT

    TO BIRMINGHAM to look at the state of the race to become mayor of the West Midlands (to be decided on May 4th)—and to take the temperature of the most important swing region in the general election on June 8th. When I asked for a return ticket to Birmingham the ticket seller replied grimly that “nobody ever asks for a one-way ticket”. The city is recovering haltingly after decades of poor management and industrial decline: New Street Train Station is a buzzing shopping complex. A new tram service links the town centre to the Black Country. The Jaguar Land Rover car plant is working overtime, providing China with four-wheel-drive status symbols.

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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