...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Day 3812: Exam board asks unanswerable question: 'What is the Archbishop of Canterbury for?'


Oh, if there's one thing guaranteed to get me to blow an upper head gasket it's the sound of hot air escaping from the Beardy Weirdy of Canterbury.

This week, apparently, he is guest editor of the New Statesthebleedinobvious Magazine, and has used his bully pulpit to "launch a remarkable attack on the coalition government".

"Remarkable", I'd have thought, that anyone is remotely surprised that this ageing hypocritical hippy is castigating the government while contributing nothing himself. I'm sorry, I mean "calling for the left to come up with ideas" (not at all code for "I've got none myself"!).

Mr Paul, who is often wise, suggests waiting to read the Beardy Weirdy's actual article, but I'm going to take a leap of faith and assume that the passages from his piece FOR the New Statesthebleedinobvious quoted BY the New Statesthebleedinobvious are accurate. Yes, it's a gamble.

"With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted," he writes. "At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context."

Well, if VOTING for things is SO IMPORTANT to him, I'm surprised that I don't remember His Weirdiness leading the charge for reform of the unelected House of Lords, where he occasionally places his bottom on a seat, nor fronting up for the AV referendum demanding more power to the voter.

I don't actually mind an informed criticism of the Government's policies. What I DO mind is this frankly ANTI-DEMOCRATIC rhetoric that asserts that a government's policy can only be "legitimate" if it was (a) in their manifesto and (b) they won a majority.

(a) Most of the Coalition's policies WERE in one or other (or both!) of the two Parties' manifestos.

(b) Between them, the two Coalition Parties received support from nearly 60% of the electorate. To say "no one voted for that" when the previous government of "the left" (as he, weirdly, describes them) had the support of 35%, absolute power on their own, and broke all their promises, is outrageous verging on the BEARING FALSE WITNESS. And – who'd have thought it – never a question of THEIR legitimacy from the Beardy Weirdy.

Oh and for the record, the Conservatories got a HIGHER share of the vote in 2010 than Hard Labour did in 2005. For that matter they actually got more than a million ACTUAL votes more than Hard Labour got in 2005.

It really can only be PREJUDICE against Coalitions to say that this is a government "no one voted for".

That is ACTUALLY saying that "legitimate" government is and can only be domination of the majority by the largest minority.

Presumably 60% is too populist; 35% is half-way there; but his idea of true legitimacy is LITERALLY NO-ONE VOTING FOR YOU AT ALL.

I can't say I'm SURPRISED that that's the opinion of a man whose power comes from his minority religion having enshrined established absolute power, but that doesn't stop me calling him a BLINKERED HYPOCRITE over it.

Given that he IS a member of the legislature, though, with the power to effect laws over the rest of us, it would be nice if he would READ THE CONSTITUTION. It's a quick read, seeing as it's UNWRITTEN.

Janet and John version: we have a REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY. We choose the PEOPLE who will decide the laws, NOT THE LAWS that they will make.

You get to vote for ONE MP. Not the government and certainly not which BILLS they will put to Parliament. On that basis, no one voted for ANY government policy EVER.

So to say "no one voted for these policies" (or even, as commentators often put it, "no one voted for this government") is both BLEEDIN' OBVIOUS and BLINDINGLY STUPID.

Yes, I realise that with the increase of the franchise and the decrease in intelligent meeja coverage, a great many people choose to vote for PARTIES rather than PERSONS. Linked to that, and also through the development of Parliamentary etiquette such as the Salisbury Convention, the specific policy content of MANIFESTOS has gained a greater importance.

But manifestos are not SUPPOSED to be a promise of policies that will be effected; they are supposed to be a guide to the CHARACTER of the person you are voting for, the sort of values that they sign up for.

(Yes, again, I realise that we Liberal Democrats have got ourselves into trouble by making a very specific promise about a very specific policy, i.e. pledging to vote against any increase in university tuition fees. But keeping pledges is about CHARACTER too, and we're going to get punished and carry on getting punished for that failure of character.)

The fundamental point is this: no government has EVER been limited to legislating JUST on the things in its manifesto.

But let's just LOOK at this assertion: "no one voted for these policies". What IS the case is that a large majority of the people who voted last May, DID vote for one or other of the Coalition Parties: 36.1% voted Conservatory and 23.0% voted Liberal Democrat, a total of 59.1%.

Did they vote in COMPLETE IGNORANCE of those Parties' health or education policies?

This is what the CONSERVATORY manifesto last May had to say about NHS reform (on page 46, under "Trust Healthcare Professionals"):

"Doctors and nurses need to be able to usetheir professional judgement about what is right for patients, instead of being forced to follow bureaucratic processes that often put lives at risk. That is why we will scrap the politically-motivated targets that have no clinical justification. We will set NHS providers free to innovate by ensuring that they becomeautonomous Foundation Trusts."

and they add:

"NHS staff will be properly accountable to patients for their performance, removing the need for expensive layers of bureaucracy to oversee the NHS. As a result, we will be able to cut the cost of NHS administration by a third and transfer resources to support doctors and nurses on the front line."

Meanwhile, the LIBERAL DEMOCRAT manifesto says (on page 40, under "protecting our NHS":

"[O]ur first priority is to increase spending in some parts of the NHS by cutting waste in others. We have identified specific savings that can be made in management costs, bureaucracy and quangos, and we will reinvest that money back into the health care you need."

We go on specifically to say we will:

"Cut the size of the Department of Health by half, abolish unnecessary quangos such as Connecting for Health and cut the budgets of therest, scrap Strategic Health Authorities and seek to limit the pay and bonuses of top NHS managers so that none are paid more than the Prime Minister."


"Empower local communities to improve health services through elected Local Health Boards, which will take over the role of Primary Care Trust boards in commissioning care for local people, working in co-operation with local councils."

(my emphasis)

You can see the KERNEL of Mr Andrew Landslide's reforms are RIGHT THERE; you can also see why Liberal Democrats would initially sign up to his scheme that seemed to promise pretty much the same as our plan. The devil, of course, was in the detail and handing power to BUSINESSES rather than PEOPLE has been a STUMBLING BLOCK (to say the least).

But replacing PCTs and SHAs actually WAS in our election manifesto.

If you are "baffled" and "indignant", Mr Archbishop, perhaps it's because you didn't bother to read it?

In reference to Michael Gove's education reforms, the Archbishop writes: "[T]he comprehensive reworking of the Education Act 1944 that is now going forward might well be regarded as a proper matter for open probing in the context of election debates."

So he's blaming the Conservatories for not answering a question that HE COULDN'T BE BOTHERED TO ASK AT THE TIME – even when they answered it anyway! As proof…

The CONSERVATORY General Election manifesto has THIS to say on Education:

"Drawing on the experience of the Swedish school reforms and the charter school movement in the United States, we will breakdown barriers to entry so that any good education provider can set up a new Academy school."


"We want every child to benefit from our reforms. So all existing schools will have the chance to achieve Academy status…"

Well, blow me down! That's Mr Michael Borogove's "Free School Revolution" right there! If only someone had TOLD us this during the General Election so it could have been PROBED in DEBATE. Oh wait, they did!

The FRONT COVER of the Liberal Democrat manifesto promised "A Fair Deal for Every Child". We spell that out: smaller class sizes; a pupil premium for the most disadvantaged; more freedom for schools.

You had the opportunity to raise this IN the General Election, your Beardiness. Your failure, the meeja's failure, the "left's" failure properly to do so does not mean it was sneaked past you in the night.

Is it a problem that the General Election debate got bogged down in the state of the ECONOMY and borderline-racist questions about IMMIGRATION? Possibly, yes. But we don't elect the Secretary of State for Education and the Secretary of State for Health separately from the Chancellor or Prime Monster.

(It might be fun if we did – but I'M a political junkie; you can bet that turnout would be EVEN LOWER than under the current system!)

Fact is, 59.1% of people voted for Parties that SAID they would enact polices SOMETHING LIKE THIS.

What about his specific criticisms?

The Archbishop also questions David Cameron's "big society" agenda, a phrase which he describes as "painfully stale". He writes that the policy is viewed with "widespread suspicion" as an "opportunistic" cover for spending cuts…

Don't you think that you FEED those suspicions by airing them? Wouldn't it have been more STARTLING, and more BRAVE to embrace, even RECLAIM the "Big Society" idea?

Seems to me that "the Big Society" is a rather rubbish PR name for "Love Thy Neighbour". Now, if the Beardy Weirdy of Canterbury thinks that THAT is "painfully stale" then he is SERIOUSLY in the WRONG JOB.

It's so easy to MOCK, but there IS something vaguely WORTHY about Mr Balloon trying to resurrect "One Nation Conservatoryism" in the teeth of the Church of Thatchianity who occupy his rightward benches.

Yes, it's viewed with "widespread suspicion". That's because it is a badly explained catch-all title for a group of policies about restoring the local spirit and sense of possibility and creativity in a country that's become too used to being spoon fed by Hard Labour's Nanny-State apparatus.

I've said before that this was the WRONG TIME to try and bring in a kinder gentler Conservatory philosophy. It was ALWAYS going to get confused with the harshness of the austerity programme. Mr Balloon should have WAITED for the NEXT election, to say: "we have guided you through the dessert of the Labour recession, and now we will show you the path to the sunny uplands."

But I admire the effort to come up with a POSITIVE reason to vote Conservatory, rather than all the horrid, old NEGATIVE ones they usually come out with.

At least the Conservatories are MAKING the EFFORT, rather than just taking the SAD and EASY route of rubbishing an idea 'cos it sounds a bit silly. Talk about taking pot-shots at the easy targets!

And speaking of LAZY THINKING:

In an implicit criticism of the Chancellor, George Osborne, Williams writes:"It isn't enough to respond with what sounds like a mixture of, "This is the last government's legacy," and, "We'd like to do more, but just wait until the economy recovers a bit."

Oh you're RIGHT, your Canterburyship, this economic climate is TERRIBLY inconvenient, isn't it. I tell you what, let's just say we should ignore it. Oh wait. We can't.

If your house burns down – or, if you're the Beardy Weirdy of Canterbury, if your GILDED PALACE burns down – how would you feel if your hippy neighbour came round and complained that dinner isn't ready and that it's not good enough to say that it's a legacy of the house burning down?

Well, in economic terms, the house DID burn down.

There are many and complicated reasons for that and a great many people are to blame: the bankers, yes for their gambling; but also the Labour government not just for not regulating the banks (though they should have) but also for the example they set, borrowing at the height of a boom and spending like a gushing pipe of money; and also a whole load of ordinary folks who ramped up their mortgages to buy holidays and tellies and stuff.

But it doesn't actually matter WHOSE fault it was; we have to DEAL with the fact that THE HOUSE IS BURNT DOWN.

(Of course the Government will keep reminding people that Labour were in charge when the House BURNT DOWN. And it's a bit RICH for Labour to make political hay out of all the PAIN that the cuts ARE causing and then DENY they had anything to do with BURNING THE HOUSE DOWN.)

Where does the money come from, your worship? Divine intervention?

We CANNOT just behave like the last Labour Government as though the money will never run out, because it did. We cannot pretend that the economy is magically all better now, because it's not. The reason for the cuts is because there is no money left.

I'm so sorry that left-wingers are BORED of hearing this, but that doesn't stop it being TRUE: the government is getting SUBSTANTIALLY LESS cash. And will CONTINUE to get SUBSTANTIALLY LESS cash.

The gap between what we spend and what we get in is HUGE.

We are BORROWING a LOT this year to cover that gap. And a LOT next year.And hopefully not so much in the years after that.

The PLAN, if you've been paying ANY ATTENTION AT ALL, is to reduce government spending and therefore government borrowing AS THE ECONOMY RECOVERS. We are NOT slashing spending in the recession; we're not ACTUALLY cutting spending AT ALL, we're just spending not-as-much-more. We are SLOWING DOWN the increases in spending. We are slowing A LITTLE in the first year, and more in the second and then more still.

This is the painful truth: we're a rich country and we can afford almost anything we want, but people don't want to pay the tax to pay for it.

At the height of the longest boom in post-war history (leading to the inevitable deepest crash in post war history, not that Mr Frown would listen when warned) the Labour Government were spending more than they raised in tax and had to borrow to cover the difference.


(And yes, Mr Balloon was BONKERS when (pre-crash) he said he would match it.)

If people won't live with higher levels of tax, by which I mean won't VOTE for higher levels of tax, then the governments that they elect have to live within their means.

Did the Beardy Weirdy say after the 2001 election, or the 2005 election, that "nobody voted for borrowing instead of taxes"? Did he say that those policies weren't debated? They weren't debated because Lord Blairimort refused to hold an election debate AT ALL!

I'm pretty certain that "nobody voted for" a borrowing fuelled boom and binge that ends in a massive bust.

Oh, sorry, it's "not enough" to keep mentioning the legacy of the last government. Translation: "Move along, move along. Nothing to see here. No flaming debris or wreckage of the good ship UK Economy. No evidence of the "government of the left" found at the scene. Move along please; nothing to see."

In the end, that's the bigger debate than just education or just health: will you spend the money or keep the taxes down?

THAT is why "the economy" dominated the debates and nothing was heard of health policies or schools policies.

Hey, here's an idea: let's let the Archpillock put his money where his mouth is. Sell off his state-owned palace, and remove charitable status from the C of E!

Finally, the poor, who apparently are always with us.

He also launches a sustained attack on the government's welfare reforms, complaining of a "quiet resurgence of the seductive language of "deserving" and "undeserving" poor". In comments directed at the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, the Archbishop criticises "the steady pressure" to increase "punitive responses to alleged abuses of the system".

Was he ASLEEP during the whole of New Labour?

It seems to me that His Wierdiness is responding to the increasingly hysterical poison from the right wing meeja – the Daily Heil and the Tell-lies-o-graph seem to run daily stories about this immigrant or that abusing the welfare or human rights laws – and mistaking it for government policy.

Actually, the reason for this "the steady pressure" to increase "punitive responses" is precisely because the right wing are STYMIED in their desire to give the poor a kicking.

Far from "deserving" and "undeserving" poor", it seems very much that Mr Drunken-Swerve's reforms are designed to treat people more EQUALLY, to protect the vulnerable while breaking down the barriers that keep people who want to work in the poverty trap.

I've spoken before about how I quite like the idea of just giving EVERYONE a citizen's income, something between £50 and £100 a week, and no means-tested benefits at all.You'd probably want extra for old-age and incapacity. Everyone gets a bit to get by on and there's no poverty trap.But this breaks down with housing benefit because the disproportionately high cost of housing, especially for larger families, would leave some families unable to afford to live anywhere.

Am I a big fan of the way that disability and sickness benefits are being targeted in particular? I am not!

I hate that the most vulnerable are going to have to prove they are incapacitated. I hate that it seems to be being done on the cheap by some uncaring box-ticking test. I hate the whole Victorian attitude with which the Tories approach the issue.

But that Victorian "work is the cure of all ills" attitude is NOT limited to the Conservatory benches; it was very much the Protestant-Work-Ethic mantra of Mr Frown too, and all that talk of "hardworking families": yes, your eminence, THAT'S code for "deserving" and "undeserving" too.

For years Hard Labour and the Conservatories before them HID the unemployed by moving them onto incapacity benefit. Now, Mr Drunken-Swerve, however cackhandedly, is trying to move the not-actually-incapacitated back to the unemployment or, ideally, EMployment lists.

Personally, I'd be a whole lot more RELAXED about so-called "abuses", but then I'm not a Conservatory!

Conservatories don't believe in giving money to the poor. But SOCIALISM (remember that?) expects people who CAN work TO work, as well: that whole "from each according to his abilities…" part.

It's only LIBERALISM thatsays if you can live without working then it's not a problem for us. Who introduced the first pension so people could "retire" rather than working till they dropped? It was a Liberal. It's only LIBERALISM that lets people make their own choices.

And I bet the Beardy Weirdy of Canterbury doesn't come out and say THAT!


Paul Walter said...

Well done for all that manifesto research! Superb!

Richard Gadsden said...

I've had a revelation.

A government only has a mandate if a majority of the population (not the electorate, the population) voted for a single party or a group of parties presenting a single manifesto before the election.

No Government in British history has had a mandate (not even the National Government of 1931 - population 39.9 million in England and Wales alone; votes for the Government about 14 million).

Therefore, no Government has the right to do anything (after all, you need a mandate to do anything), so Britain is rightfully an anarchy.

Bernard said...

What you set out in your manifesto and how you deliver it are two different things.

If the Tories announced that they were going to reduce the deficit by killing lots of kittens, I think the public would have a right to object, regardless of the outcome of the original election.

The passage, when not indulging in ad hominem attacks on a respected scholar, can be summed up as:

1) You voted for the Coalition, so will get what you deserve

2) It is Labour's fault anyway

Millennium Dome said...

Dear Mr Bernard,

Calling the Archbishop a "Beardy Weirdy" is not "ad hominem". It's just insulting.

An ad hominem fallacy is to assert that person A's claim is false because of some unconnected fact about person A.

At no point do I suggest that his argument is false because he is a Beardy Wierdy; quite the reverse, his false arguments show why he is an ignorant numbskull.

I do criticise him for inconsistency – he opposes having his unelected seat in the Lords taken away, but criticises the democratic legitimacy of an elected government. But that isn't the basis of my critique of his argument. It's just pointing out his hypocrisy in passing.

And "respect" has to be deserved. Mr Williams already lost any respect he may have gained through his appointed title when he tried to spin his way out of his silly suggestions about adopting Sharia Law. Oh yes he did; see diaries passim, as Private Eye would say.

Millennium Dome said...

"1) You voted for the Coalition, so will get what you deserve"

Where do I say anything remotely like that?

The main bulk of my thesis here is that we don't vote for governments AT ALL. We vote for a particular representative. In that way no one voted for the Coalition only as much as no one ever voted for any government ever.

Therefore the prelate's attack that "no one voted for this" is both constitutionally ignorant and a genuine "ad hominem" fallacy, attacking the policy not for its content but for its alleged lack of "mandate". The policy can be good or bad regardless of whether anyone voted for it; the archbishop's argument is therefore an appeal to prejudice, rather than a fair case.

I then go one to say that even if we look at the "there is no mandate" argument, that too is false, since the origins of the policies on health and education can both be seen in both Parties' manifestos.

"What you set out in your manifesto and how you deliver it are two different things"

Yes – and see the argument over NHS reform for how getting from manifesto to implementation is not easy – but what's your point?

If the case put is "no one voted for this" then it is simply wrong.

"We voted for this but not in this way" or "we voted for this but never thought what it might mean" might both be sustainable cases, but that's not what his holiness said, is it.

His main point is that people are distressed and confused. But the root of that is in the measures to address the gap between what we can afford to spend and what we are spending. It is impossible to argue that people did not know that curbs on spending were coming, and that the 2010 election was a choice between faster or slower. And more people voted for faster.

To mitigate the effect of those spending curbs on health and education, both Liberal Democrats and Tories had plans for reforms to move spending from bureaucracy to the frontline. And these were spelt out at the time of the election.

These are not rabbits out of the hat; they are joined up thinking to address a serious economic imbalance.

Anyone at all could and should have looked at the election campaigns and asked:

"You want to cut the deficit, what does this mean for health or education?"

To which the reply would have been (and was, when asked):

"We have plans to move spending from quangos to schools and doctors. That will need some work from the people on the front lines but we want them to be the ones taking charge and we think that they will be better than a committee in Whitehall when it comes to spending taxpayers' money in ways that deliver."

Millennium Dome said...

"2) It is Labour's fault anyway"

That is the exact opposite of what say.

And, in fact, is the same fallacy that I am upbraiding his reverence for.

I did, and almost always do, go to a lot of trouble to spell out that the economic situation is much more complicated than just being a result of the Labour Government, but that that does not absolve the Labour Party from responsibility for something that happened on their watch and to which their policy choices contributed substantially.

I did not say it reduced to "it's all Labour's fault" but it's hardly unfair to respond to "it NOT Labour's fault" with "actually, some of it is".

So your reply can be summed up as "you've just assumed what I've written rather than actually read it, and then attacked me for things that just aren't there."

(That's a "strawman fallacy", by the way, rather than an ad hominem.)

Perhaps you could try READING my article before you post your comments?

Millennium Dome said...

Dear Mr Paul,

I should have listened to you. You WERE wise and I jumped in with four fluffy feet before Dr Williams published his proper article. (Well, I DID say it was a gamble!)

The full article is more measured and considered. But still makes the central error of saying "no one voted for this".

Some of the other parts quoted are different in context, and not so combative. It would seem that the New Statesthebleeninobvious has made both me and the archbishop look a bit silly.

Millennium Dome said...

Dear Mr Richard,

I for one welcome our new no overlords!