Thursday, June 18, 2015

What is Labour for?

Once upon a time, the answer to this question was pretty obvious: Labour was the party of the working class - 'labour'. It was the political arm of the trade union movement. But somewhere along the line this original rationale disappeared, to be replaced by a party that had to pitch its appeal beyond the manual working class to the emerging middle classes. So far so good, this is all well understood and reflected in the history of the party from Harold Wilson to Tony Blair. But since Tony Blair something has changed, if the tone of the current leadership debate is anything to go by. Even Tony Blair, for all the abuse hurled at him by people on the left, did have a broad plan of how he wanted society to look. And of course Ed Miliband was groping towards one too. But the current leadership contenders do not have any kind of vision at all. Indeed, to listen to Liz Kendall you get the impression that she is making a pitch to manage a village hall. There is no sense of social transformation - instead politics is about efficient management of the existing system, ironing out the most obvious and visible problems with obvious and inoffensive solutions.

Yet there was never a greater need for vision. Inequality is eating away at the fabric of our society, as the appalling tone of the debate about our already measly welfare budget shows. And the main reason for this is that the broad set of arrangements we currently live under allow holders of capital to do pretty much whatever they like with minimal responsibility to society as a whole. As a result, people feel uncertain and vulnerable, because they are. Yet Labour's answer is to deal with some of the symptoms of this malaise in ways which for the most part will make no difference.

It is easy to understand the current vogue for managerialism because it is the safest and least costly way of trying to make a political pitch these days. Yesterday I attended an interesting meeting of Policy Network about participatory democracy as a response to growing populism. The whole tone of the discussion was localist and focused on specific, discrete problems - managing council estates, giving local people the chance to offer feedback on health services, and so on. All very laudable and valuable. But none of this comes close to addressing the fundamental problems in people's lives: job insecurity, low incomes for many, unaffordable housing, expensive and polluting transport arrangements. These problems - as indeed with immigration, if you think that is a problem (I don't) - actually require Labour to take on the vested interests of a relatively small number of very rich people. But because taking on rich and powerful people is really hard and politically fraught with risk, we don't even try. Instead we leave things much as they are and tinker around the edges with 'citizens assemblies' which may be a good idea but will do almost nothing to address the basic inequalities of power and economic opportunity that wreck people's lives.

In short, Labour is now a cut-price, low quality, political party. An Argos party. It's cheap, and you will probably have to throw it out not long after you bought it. Can we really not do better than this?

PS. Sorry for the plaintive, depressing tone, but if you're on the left, how can you sound upbeat right now?

Monday, May 18, 2015

It Was the Welfare Wot Won it: Age and Aspiration in the 2015 General Election

One of the most interesting - and barely commented upon - aspects of the recent election is that a strong relationship has emerged between party choice and age. Ipsos-Mori released some interesting data estimating the social characteristics associated with voting for different parties. The age dimension of voter choice is summarized in the graph below:




c/o Ipsos-Mori: https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3575/How-Britain-voted-in-2015.aspx?view=wide

We can see clearly that younger voters are more likely to vote Labour or Green, and older voters Conservative or UKIP. The effects are particularly striking in the 65+ category, which is of course the largest voting group, both because of the sheer size of the older population, and because of their high turnout rate (the UK has the biggest turnout differential between young and old in Europe).

Alongside the clear trend towards richer voters supporting the Conservative more than poor voters, this data suggests that the key to the Tory success was to look after a group of older and better off citizens. How did they do this? And in particular, how come they actually grew their vote amongst this group by 3%?

The answer is two-fold in my view. The first is that older voters are the biggest beneficiaries of the UK's house price boom: a typical homeowner in the 65+ category will have bought their home in the 1970s, when a typical home cost around 2.5 times the average salary. In London this same ratio is now 9:1. This cohort not only enjoyed mortgage interest tax relief, they were also big winners in the inflation of the 1970s, which wiped out the value of their home loans (whilst also wiping out the savings of the cohort born in the early 1900s - a generation as unlucky is the current 65+ cohort is lucky). The Conservatives have always done well with property holders, and the Ipsos-Mori data confirms that housing tenure has a strong relationship to the vote:



c/o Ipsos-Mori: https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3575/How-Britain-voted-in-2015.aspx?view=wide

Labour's appeal to social and private renters, and their threat of a 'mansion tax' on multi-million pound properties, is reflected in their much weaker performance amongst owner occupiers. In an economy where many families, and especially most older voters, have won big by buying property, the Conservative appeal had a ready market.

The second, less intuitive feature of this age skew is that the Conservative emphasis on austerity, living within our means, and reducing public spending did not extend to the retired population, the biggest recipient by some distance of welfare spending. It is well established that the coalition government's programme of cuts was directed almost entirely at the working age population and children, whilst pensioners were protected, indeed, guaranteed, by the 'triple lock' which updated pensions by whichever index happens to be higher. This strategy proved less than effective at reducing the deficit, but was very effective at securing the pensioner vote.

British politics is starting to look like the US, where support for the Republicans grows with age. The irony is that right-wing parties with clear political agendas to cut redistributive public spending find their strongest support amongst the parts of the electorate who receive the most spending. This paradox has baleful consequences, since the need to make cuts to government budgets whilst sparing the least productive part of the population from these cuts is almost guaranteed to have negative effects. Cuts to productive public investment, such as infrastructure and education and training, have to be made in order to pay for a dependent aging population. The resulting frustration amongst working age voters, as they pay higher taxes whilst suffering stagnation in their incomes, can be expressed in a variety of ways, from voting for extremist parties to not voting at all.

It is the Labour party's job to mobilise the losers in this particular trade and encourage them to support a more equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of economic change. Ed Miliband had a sense of the need to do this, as reflected in his impressive first speech as ex-leader this week, but was lacking in the ability to define such a project, much less win support for it. But the task remains the same, and the data we have so far shows that success of the Conservative party has very little to due with its appeal to aspirational voters, and more to do with doling out public money to a group of voters which has already done very well out of the financialization of the British economy over the past quarter century. There are more losers than winners, and what is more the winners will not be around for ever. It is Labour's job to show that growing the economy and helping those who have less are part of the same challenge.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Fear and Loathing Update: It Worked!

The failure of the polling before yesterday's election has left many commentators with egg on their faces, and what I wrote the other day looks totally wide of the mark. But here's what I make of the results, benefiting from the fact that we now know what they are.

Scotland, as expected, has kicked Labour out and the Scottish Nationalists have swept the board, failing to take only three of 59 seats. This is a pretty clear mandate for further devolution, and potentially even another independence referendum, in Scotland. As it turned out, the supposed legitimacy of an SNP-backed government in Westminster will not be tested, for now at least. But unless something changes dramatically the UK political system now contains two territories - Northern Ireland being the other - where the main governing parties are to all intents and purposes not represented. The legitimacy question will, obviously enough, not be raised by the London-based media, but it is worth pointing out that the new government's 331-seat majority consists of 319 English seats, 11 in Wales and just one in Scotland. Labour's Scottish meltdown means there is no longer a party with significant representation throughout Great Britain. Scotland's days in the Union look numbered unless some significant constitutional change happens.

Whether or not Scotland can remain inside depends on the degree to which the Conservatives prioritise preserving the Union over short-term political gains, and the way in which Scotland's place in the UK interacts with our difficult relationship with the European Union. The temptation must be for the Conservatives to allow Scotland's relationship with England to break down, hastening independence, because this would consolidate the dominance of England, and of its most successful party, over the government of the UK. Certainly, Labour's losses in Scotland mitigate this a little, suggesting the Tories can continue winning even though they have few Scottish votes. But Scotland's predictable hostility to the idea of leaving the EU changes the calculations somewhat. Hardline Euroskeptic backbenchers could see the loss of Scotland as a price worth paying to achieve their main goal of Brexit. Cameron's aim would appear to be to keep the Union and remain inside the EU, but it is not clear whether he has the authority in his party, with its slim majority, to hold off the Euroskeptic challenge.

Although we have returned, just, to the customary single-party majority, British politics is still a long way from the two-party alternation that characterised it for so long. The Greens and UKIP between them took over five million votes, close to a sixth of the total vote, confirming, in case there were any doubt, that Britain no longer has a two-party system. Yet these five million votes produced just two parliamentary seats. Electoral reform would appear irresistible given such gross disproportionality, yet the British electorate, even those who supported the under-represented parties, show little enthusiasm for reform. Indeed, the referendum on adopting the Alternative Vote for Westminster elections, held in 2011 as part of the coalition agreement between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, delivered an unambiguous rejection of change. But there is little doubt that voter fragmentation makes the UK's traditional First-Past-the Post arrangement dysfunctional, as the election of a government on not much that more than a third of the vote demonstrates.

Finally, the election has huge implications for the British political economy. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition chose to adopt a strict and demanding timetable for deficit reduction, with major cuts in important areas of the welfare state in a bid to bring the UK's public debt under control as quickly as possible. In fact, as many predicted, this effort failed, with the deficit remaining stubbornly high even though the economy began to grow again by the second half of the parliament. Yet despite this failure and the total lack of productivity growth over the past five years, the Conservatives campaigned, and won, on a message of economic competence. Labour, in contrast, with its clear albeit timid critique of austerity and rising poverty, suffered a major defeat, gaining little compared with its historically weak performance of 2010. This suggests that austerity, for all its obvious limitations as an economic strategy, is not necessarily an impediment to ruling parties retaining power. However the growth in the vote for parties which in one way or another set themselves up as alternatives to mainstream parties - the Greens, UKIP and the SNP most notably - enjoyed major success. So we can conclude that austerity may be more sustainable politically than suspected, but it does not comes without costs in political stability. The effects of the financial crisis of the late 2000s continue to be felt, and politics seems to have entered a new and quite different era.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fear and Loathing: Thoughts on the UK Elections

I've spent a lot of time this year teaching and writing about the veto power of capital in democracy. Wealth-holders can exercise disproportionate power in democracies in two main ways. First, they can individually use their money to buy policy influence by lobbying and funding the political campaigns of friendly candidates (or owning newspapers). Second, they can, as a group, go on 'capital strike' if the 'wrong' government gets elected, sinking the economy and making everyone worse off. Put together, these two channels of political power allow a small number of wealthy people to counteract the numerical advantage in democracy of the poor and middle income majority.

The UK election we're about to hold has brought these mechanisms together in quite spectacular fashion. We are told by newspapers owned by wealthy magnates that a vote for Labour will result in economic meltdown, due to Labour's 'incompetence'. This is nonsense. There is no reason to suppose that Ed Balls, a PPE graduate, Financial Times leader writer, former Chief Secretary of the Treasury and so on, is less qualified to actually run the economy than, say George Osborne. Yes, there is the small matter of the global financial crisis that Labour presided over in 2007-8, but despite the propaganda, nobody was warning of that at the time, and Brown's government actually did a pretty good job of dealing with the crisis once it had happened. Nor is there any evidence the economy systematically performs better under the Conservatives: growth rates under Labour and Tory governments are indistinguishable averaging around the trend rate.



(Andrew Sentence: pic.twitter.com/IzBhJs7ncN)

So Labour's supposed incompetence compared to the Conservatives, is a fiction.

What is not a fiction is the blackmail power enjoyed by capital, but it is probably a bluff. If growth rates are historically roughly the same under Labour and the Conservatives, then it can't be the case that capitalists really do withdraw their money when Labour get elected. But despite the facts, the threat of Labour 'incompetence' and capital flight appears to be believed by a significant number of voters. British Election Studies have shown time and time again that a majority of British voters favour the broad principles of redistribution from rich to poor, are more concerned about unemployment than inflation, value public services and trust Labour more to run the health service and the education system. Despite the supposed popularity of the coalition's austerity policies, the number of British voters that actually prefer a smaller state is vanishingly small:




Courtesy of @flipchartrick: https://flipchartfairytales.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/key_findings_figure_0-3_499x317-jpg.png

So Labour's dilemma is that although voters are mostly more sympathetic to their broad social aims than those of the Conservatives (and not surprisingly, since most voters benefit from redistribution and public provision), the fear that progressive politics will come at an economic cost is a powerful constraint on voting behaviour. It's Labour's misfortune that the global financial crisis, for which the party was no more to blame than any other, has added a recent brutal experience of economic crisis on its watch. Wealthy right-wingers use the print media to stoke fears that a vote for Labour will wreck the timid recovery, although what they are really worried about is the Mansion Tax and Labour's plans to abolish Non-Dom status.

The more positive news about this election is that whatever the outcome the Conservatives, the party of reference for the wealthy, is likely to poll way below its historical average. Even optimistic forecasts put the party on 35% of the vote, which could be enough to make it the largest party, but is a good 10% or so below the levels achieved by Margaret Thatcher and John Major. All of the rest of the electorate, with the exception of a portion of the Liberal Democrats (expected to get below 10% of the vote), is likely to support parties that in one way or another reject the Conservative message. Even UKIP, despite its neoliberal leanings, is not a truly plutocratic party, and its curbs on immigration and resentment of Europe's common market are in conflict with the interests of most of the UK capitalist class.

Given the workings of the electoral system, a progressive majority around Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens (and maybe some progressive Liberal Democrats?) appears possible. The end of the two-party system in Britain is a big threat to the blackmail power of the wealthy: PR systems in continental Europe don't generally produce the kind of hysterical propaganda and stark choices between order and chaos that we see here. A reform of our antiquated electoral system could open up a different kind of politics (although not without risks: UKIP would win a substantial number of seats). PR and federalism make sense for a diverse and politically fragmented state like ours, and would undermine the narrative of 'vote for me or it will be chaos'.

Conservative political strategy appears to be implacably hostile to these kinds of changes, even though the Alternative Vote electoral reform they opposed in 2011 would, it seems, have placed them in a much better position in this election, as the second choice of many UKIP voters. Moreover, federalism would likely reduce the influence of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where the Conservatives have few seats, over policy in England, where the Tories usually dominate. Yet the Conservatives struggle to cope with the idea of power-sharing, preferring to run the risk of opposition for the chance to govern unencumbered. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, as well as the Nationalists, are far more amenable to reform and the likely experience of a minority government could well force constitutional change back on to the agenda. But the loud voice of big money can be counted on to oppose it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Be careful what you wish for: or how Germany's blame game has backfired

The election of a Syriza-led government in Greece and its subsequent stand-off with Greece's creditors has disrupted Europe's preferred approach of kicking the can down the road. My colleague David Woodruff is not optimistic about Greece's bargaining position. Germany clearly has every incentive not to cave in to Greece's requests, not only because they prefer not to admit that Greece is insolvent, but also for fear of the ramifications a Greek win could have elsewhere.

Spain will vote in 2015, and current opinion polls gave Podemos, a party just past its first birthday, the lead over Spain's traditional governing parties, the Partito Popular and the Socialists, who together barely muster half of voter preferences in a recent poll. The failure of austerity has created a fertile terrain for alternative political forces, especially in the Southern periphery.

The Grasshopper and the Ants.png
"The Grasshopper and the Ants" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

But there is a further reason for the success of new political forces such as Syriza, Podemos and Italy's Five Stars Movement. The dominant narrative of the Euro crisis is that of the Ant and the Grasshopper: unlike the virtuous North, who saved for the winter by running balanced budgets and reforming their economies to make themselves more competitive, the South overspent, overborrowed and failed to reform, leaving their economies vulnerable to downturns. Their politicians wasted money on pointless airports (although, see also Berlin's new hub), protected rent-seeking groups and often lined their own pockets. In a more sophisticated version of this story, Jesús Fernández-Villaverde and colleagues argue that credit booms have an effect analogous to expansionary monetary policy, masking political incompetence in the eyes of voters and allowing corrupt politicians to claim credit for illusory economic growth.

Southern European politicians probably are exceptionally venal: Transparency International certainly thinks so. But blaming poor governance in the debtor nations handily shifts the focus away from the structural flaws in European Monetary Union that made such a crisis likely however well Southern European countries had been governed. German surpluses, in a monetary union, had to roll up somewhere, and they rolled up in the Eurozone's weakest economies, because that is where opportunities for investment appeared greatest.

The 'blame the victim' narrative has been effective up to now in distracting attention from the structural failure of EMU. So effective in fact, that it is widely believed in Southern Europe too: support for established political elites, the (mostly) men responsible for presiding over the disaster, has collapsed. Now that the credit taps have been turned off, Southern European voters have, albeit a little late in the day, reacted to the corruption and incompetence shown by the likes of Papandreou, Samaras and Berlusconi by turfing the rascals out. So now they will see sense and elect politicians that embody the austere virtues of Angela Merkel. Right?

Wrong. The elites that governed the South in the first decade of the euro may have been corrupt and incompetent, but they were committed to euro membership and (formally anyway) its rules. When the Troika came knocking, its recommendations - despite there being good reasons for thinking they would make matters worse - were accepted and largely implemented. Just as they escaped the blame for their own errors in the pre-crisis period, they are now crucified by their voters for policies decided elsewhere. And rather than turning to incorruptible experts to implement the austerity regime, Southern European voters now turn to politicians who would rather ditch that regime altogether. As Silvio Berlusconi's star waned, Italy voted not for the sober, Davos-attending former Eurocrat Mario Monti, but for rabble-rousing anti-euro comedian Beppe Grillo. And the Papandreou dynasty has been replaced by the tie-less Tsipras and Varoufakis.

The ant and the grasshopper indeed. Perhaps another fable is more appropriate here: the Tortoise and the Eagle. Or be careful what you wish for: you might get it.



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The West Yorkshire Question

Despite my years of frothing outrage at the cynicism and cruelty of the UK Conservative Party, even I was genuinely shocked at David Cameron's reaction to the Scottish referendum result. No sooner had the dust settled on the PM's desperate bid to keep the UK together he was there again, putting the boot in on his political opponents. Labour had wheeled out the big guns to save his Premiership, and his instinctive response was to promise a constitutional reform that could conceivably prevent Labour ever governing the UK with a majority again. Of course, Labour had no choice but to do all it could to win the vote for No, for obvious reasons of parliamentary arithmetic. But now they find themselves skewered on the so-called West Lothian question as the Tories promise 'English votes for English laws'.

There is a superficial appeal to the WLQ just as there is often an instinctive rejection of 'postcode lotteries' in healthcare. Britons are quite relaxed about inequality of incomes and opportunities, but the formal equality of process is something they are quite attached to. Why should Scots get to vote on English health and education when the English can't vote on theirs? It's not fair. Of course, the reason we are in this situation to begin with is that for years - specifically between 1979-1997, and on 'reserved matters' from 2010 to now - the English were deciding for Scotland despite having no real mandate from Scotland to do so. But the English are the English. We didn't get where we are today by sharing power around.

The problem with 'English votes for English laws' is that it is so transparently a power-grab by the Conservative party. Aware that without Scotland, they would have every chance of a majority in the next parliament, the Tories are seizing the moment, with the cover of resolving the Scottish mess. They could manage to keep the Union together, but cement the dominance of England, and their own - victory from the jaws of defeat. The problem is, the logic of EVEL is actually an insidious one from their point of view. Why stop at England? Why not extend the logic of the West Lothian question to Northern Ireland, whose unionist majority in Westminster has regularly delivered parliamentary support to the Conservatives? Still better, why not consider all the representative iniquities of the UK constitution, such as the unaccountable institutions of the City of London, or the voting rights of the Church of England hierarchy in the House of Lords?

In fact what the West Lothian question does is turn the spotlight on the UK's wildly undemocratic constitution. Until now, English voters in the North of England or in major cities have not tended to see their plight in terms of territorial difference. But if with EVEL non-Tory areas felt that they were effectively condemned to permanent opposition this would be unlikely to hold. After 1979, Conservative support collapsed in Scotland, but also became increasingly territorially differentiated in England, both between North and South, and between cities and the suburbs and countryside. Will working class voters in Northern England accept a centralised state with a locked-in Tory majority? The hope of an eventual Labour victory kept England together through the 1980s and 1990s, but do we really think Liverpool, Bradford and Sheffield, or even inner London for that matter, will allow themselves to be ruled by the Tory shires forever?

The WLQ reminds us that we have an improvised, cobbled-together constitution. Devolution creates imbalances, largely because we lack any state-wide decentralised institutions of the kind that have allowed France, Spain and Italy to recognise territorial distinctiveness whilst maintaining a functioning central state. Resolving the WLQ does nothing but highlight how our constitution entrenches power amongst a metropolitan, Oxbridge-trained elite backed by the Southern English middle class. The rest of England - galvanised perhaps by the sight of an even more ridiculous old Etonian in Number 10? - could start to ask the West Yorkshire question: why should a region that has always voted Labour always get a Tory government?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Don't Leave Me This Way: Thoughts on the Scottish Referendum

All of a sudden, the Scottish referendum looks like it could cause an earthquake in the British political system, and indeed in Europe as a whole. At the very least, it is shaking the foundations of the UK establishment in a way we haven't seen at least since the MPs expenses scandal in 2009. The sight of the English leaders of the three main British-wide parties hurrying up to Scotland to appeal for a No vote reveals a lot about how this country works.

First, it shows the remarkable complacency that characterised the 'No' 'campaign' until last week - no real attempt was made to cast the Union in a positive and forward-looking light - if anything the message was: we know the UK is lousy, but independence would be even worse. Don't get ideas above your station.

Second, if they seriously think that these three products of the English elite class can convince wavering Scots to stay in the Union, they surely are making a big mistake. Clegg, Cameron and Miliband in their different ways are as out of touch as they could be with the British population in general, never mind Scotland.

Third, we can see how rarely our politicians actually ever make the attempt to understand what people want and why. Most of the time political campaigning here is about negative messages about opponents, threats of the terrible things that might happen if some popular policies were ever enacted, and manoeuvring to get the largely foreign press barons to offer their support (which thankfully is less and less important is newspaper circulation declines). The UK is held together by fear and apathy and it takes a moment like this - produced by David Cameron's unique mix of short-term opportunism and total detachment from popular sentiment - to show that most of us really don't like the way the country is governed.

The referendum has given the Scots the chance to do what many of us in the rest of the Union would love to do: defect from this elitist, unrepresentative and often incompetent political system. Fortunately for the Scots, a distinct national identity and a separate territory make this possible. For the English, anti-Europeanism seems to do the same job - after all, apart from immigration, there is no real policy issue determined at the European level that registers in the popular consciousness. When politics falls short, national identity can provide a focus for discontent and desire for change.

Very often though, nationalism offers largely delusional answers to our problems. In the case of the UK and Europe, Brexit would effectively mean that we would get roughly the same EU policies we get now, but not be allowed to vote on them (a 'fax democracy', as the Norwegian Prime Minister once put it). For Scotland, independence would have similar consequences. Scotland is so obviously interdependent with the rest of the UK that exit is a fantasy: as an independent state, Scotland would have the pound, the Queen, an open border with England and probably still a large UK military presence as part of its NATO contribution. Whatever independence it would gain would be pretty similar to what it already has: the right to spend its allocation of UK government spending as it wants and legislate over most areas of domestic social and economic policy (within the framework of EU law).

The big difference would probably be fiscal, in that rather than cashing in the Barnett Formula bonus in Westminster's allocation of public funds, Scotland would take oil revenues in directly. Whether or not Scotland would be better off under this arrangement is very hard to tell: it depends on very uncertain estimates of future UK public spending and future oil production and prices. Whichever way it plays out, managing what would become in many ways an oil-producing economy (especially since banking, Scotland's other big productive sector, would be pretty likely to move South) is a complicated business when you lack your own currency. The advantages of the oil money being recycled through Westminster is that it smoothes out the very volatile behaviour of oil revenues. Provided a beneficial settlement with the rest of the UK could be reached, Scotland would probably be better off in a fiscal and monetary union with the rest of the existing state.

Rationally, a very narrow No vote could end up being best for Scotland. It would suddenly have significantly increased bargaining power, and could use it to secure a more substantial form of fiscal independence which could involve some kind of guarantee that it gains most of the benefits of North Sea oil whilst maintaining complete control over how the money is spent. A Yes vote would present Scotland with the tricky business of creating a new state with, almost certainly, a rather less benign attitude from the rUK, which essentially holds all of the chips. It could very quickly get quite nasty and the financial turbulence we're starting to see would be an awful lot worse. With a strong but not victorious Yes vote, UK politics suddenly has to sit up and take notice, and this has already happened, with Cameron and Miliband eschewing the pointless debating society antics of PMQ in order to actually leave the Westminster bubble and make the case for belonging to this country.

There is a broader message in all this for the rest of us. Sitting moaning on our sofas about how much we hate our politicians will make no difference at all. Threatening major political upheaval will. UK politics as become a kind of elite game which can only survive with current levels of disengagement and apathy. Unfortunately it seems to be easier to mobilise around divisive and visceral national identities, than around concepts like social justice, environmental protection and democratic participation. But in a democracy, organised political action will always make a difference, and the powerful expression of popular demands can't be ignored.