Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Massachusetts Senate Election

The immediate political indications of the Democrats losing what had been the Kennedy family seat for over half a century are obvious and have almost certainly been covered in-depth in other places, so I won't bother with that. Instead, I think attention ought to be drawn to certain interesting details from the results - and by 'interesting details', I of course mean Coakley's extremely poor showing in the old industrial towns* and in certain working class Boston suburbs.

First, and most dramatic of all, Coakley actually lost Lowell, one of New England's most iconic industrial cities, by about five points - an extraordinary result by any measure. While this result, perhaps the most shocking of a shocking (if not surprising) night, was not entirely typical, the pattern was. In Worcester, New Bedford, Fall River, Lynn and Holyoke, Coakley's margins were shockingly low. Coakley even lost Bristol County (one of the most working class in the entire eastern seaboard and usually a Democratic stronghold) by almost 10pts. One town in Bristol that voted for the Democrats hapless Gubernatorial candidate in 2002 with 60% of the vote actually voted for Brown.

The same pattern held in and around Boston; Coakley's margins in some working class suburbs (such as Everett) were embarrassingly low, while she was beaten in places like Revere and Quincy. She also appears to have done extremely poorly in South Boston, although I don't have any figures at the moment.

Although this was a by-election and although Coakley was a laughably bad candidate, these patterns should worry the Democratic Party.

*Mostly mill towns and so on. Massachusetts used to have a big textile industry and can be compared in certain respects (though not others) with Lancashire.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

RIP David Taylor

Some sad news; David Taylor, the Labour M.P for N.W. Leicestershire, has died. Of course, the moral stature of M.P's has taken a massive fall this year (due to the corruption of a handful and the propensity for petty venality of the sort most people are vulnerable to of the rest), to the extent that a tribute to one of them from someone who isn't a political hack might seem a little strange, but Taylor was one of the good guys - a decent man, a man of principle, a good Socialist, a good Christian and, as far as I know, a very good local M.P. He also developed the wonderful habit of exploiting loopholes in parliamentary procedure so that he could rebel and not vote against the Government at the same time - sheer class and within the best of the Labourist mentality. The political process was set to lose him next year anyway (he was retiring), but this is still a tragic, and at 63 an early, death. RIP.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

'twas the night before Christmas, et cetera, et cetera

With Christmas less than half an hour away, I thought a short post on a theme related to religion might be a good idea. So, two points relating to the role of religion in society that I've given a bit of thought to recently:

1. The link between Secularism and the historical process usually known as Secularisation is insignificant. Secularisation has seen (as we all know) massive falls in Church attendance and an apparently massive shift away from orthodox beliefs*. This has not, however, been matched by Secularist influence over the political process or even by much of an increase in genuinely atheistic views on religion (especially when you consider the great expansion in the number of people likely to be subject to atheistic and Secularist influences). Indeed, anticlericalism as a political movement (once an incredibly powerful force in the politics of many European countries, especially, but not only, France) is effectively dead. It is certainly interesting to note that most of the high profile atheist propagandists in recent years have been as aggressive-defensive in the arguments they deploy as religious propagandists have tended to be for the past fourty years or so. Individualist apathy has turned out to be dreadful news for both sides.

2. There's a stronger chronological link between the process of Secularisation and the decline of other collective cultural traditions and movements - such as mass membership political parties, Trade Unions, a whole host of clubs and societies, and, of course, the institution of the pub. The Pub appears to be in as much of crisis as The Church has been in recent decades and I would argue that the causes are in some way related.

With that out the way, Happy Christmas to all three occasional readers of this blog no matter what your faith or religious identity.

*The interesting, and unanswerable question, is whether this merely reflects changing social pressures and conventions - it is certainly possible that orthodoxy (small "o") never commanded a majority in any large Western country and that the religious beliefs (such as they are) of ordinary people have changed less than is often thought.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Barack Obama's Ambulance Wagon

In an attempt to defend the limited scope of the National Insurance scheme that he was closely associated with, David Lloyd George famously compared to the programme to an ambulance wagon - in other words on the one hand an emergency measure, offering services that, while limited, were life saving, and on the other as an implied promise for something grander and more comprehensive in the future*.

I mention this because the general situation seems oddly close to the highly limited healthcare reforms that, at the time I write this, appear likely to be passed in the United States. So instead of 'Lloyd George's Ambulance Wagon', make that 'Barack Obama's Ambulance Wagon'. Or perhaps not. Because, and this is both astonishing and sickening, the healthcare reform that looks set to become law in America is actually even more limited than the National Insurance system designed by Lloyd George in 1911. I'm not going to embark on a detailed, point-by-point comparative analysis of the two (in part because radically different societies make for radically different political discourse and social policy details, in part because the healthcare bill is so long), and I acknowledge that in some respects the reverse is true (NI only covered the working population, for example). But one of the main themes in the history of social policy is precedent (whether intentional or not), and as such one reason to look on NI as a positive development is that, although administered by private insurance companies, it represented a massive increase in the role of the state in some of the most critical areas of social policy. Yes, it was a conservative measure, but also a far sighted one (even if most of its supporters in the Liberal Party did not see so far ahead and would presumably not have supported it had they done so). Alas, the same cannot be said of legislation that (essentially) forces people to buy private sector insurance**. I think that the Ambulance Wagon imagery is still useful, but only if a little detail is added. An axel is broken and the horses are tired.

*Those that have seen in this evidence of plans by the wider Liberal Party to create a comprehensive welfare state are sadly mistaken. While Lloyd George's advocacy of social reform was genuine enough, the same can't really be said of the rest of his party. Serving the needs of capitalism and the 'British race' was one thing... a comprehensive welfare state would have been, well, Socialism.

**Just stripping it down to the essentials. It is, of course, far more complicated than that.