Nick Clegg’s Shiny New Leadership and the European Question

This is a big topic which I could not fit into my lost blog entry on
Nick Cleg, as an anonymous reader has asked for that to be covered,
that’s what I’m doing here.

One reason I did not try to fit the Europe issue in is that Clegg’s
early days leadership on this issue has been dominated by a mess left
over from the brief leadership of his predecessor Menzies Campbell.
Campbell himself had been left with an awkward situation with regard to
the collapse of the Lisbon Constitution. Rjection of this proposed
‘Constitution’ for the EU was rejected by referendum in France and the
Netherlands. The Liberal Democrats, like all UK parties had supported
a referendum on agreeing to the constitution. The idea of a
constitution was a premature and a mess, but I cannot go into that here.

The result of the referendum defeats was agreement to replace the
Lisbon Constitution with the Lisbon Treaty, which adds to previous
treaties instead of rolling all previous ones up with new proposals in
a supposed foundational document for the EU (again premature and a
mess). The Treaty leaves out some symbolic proposals such as an EU
flag and anthem. Despite the very negative reaction from Eurosceptics,
the Lisbon provisions strengthen the role of the Council of Minsters
which is the part of the EU structure which gives a direct role ot
national governments. There are also proposals for more involvement by
national parliaments in scrutinising legislation. As more areas come
under majority voting, instead of unanimity, the Eurosceptic
objections refer to something real, but these changes are coming in a
manner that is as adapted to recognition to national governments and
parliaments as is possible.

Campbell’s reaction to the move from Constitution to Treaty was to propose a referendum on membership of the EU. The Labour government declared that a referendum was now unnecessary, the Conservative party proposed a referendum on the Treaty.

Campbell’s policy appears to have merged to splits in the Liberal Democrats between: the most Brussels orientated tendency which wishes to avoid referenda which might interrupt the integration process; and a relatively Eurosceptic tendency with its strongest roots in agricultural and fishing constituencies where EU management of fishing and agriculture is unpopular EU management of agriculture is extremely unpopular with everyone in Britain, but in some areas it is a dominant. The compromise between Brussels is always right and the EU needs reigning in tendencies was dealt with by a vote on membership, which might be considered more winnable This also represents a compromise between different views on the role of referenda in the British political system. In all the debate about referenda on the EU, no one has brought up the issue of a proper method of deciding when a referendum should be used. Those demanding a referendum on Lisbon have not demanded the same for major recent changes to the British system, such as major changes in the composition of the House of Lords.

Liberal Democrat MPs were split three ways on the issue when it came to a vote in Parliament: abstain, vote for a referendum on Lisbon, vote for a referendum on membership. Clegg imposed a three line whip (a definite instruction to vote) on the issue, which meant abstaining as the Speaker did not accept the party’s amendment to government legislation. Some voted against which led to three ‘shadow ministers’ being sacked.

Clegg tried to make the best of the situation by criticising the parliamentary procedures which prevented a vote on his amendement and led a walk out of MPs.

What next? That depends first on whether the Lisbon Treaty will get past further barriers, I believe that there will be a referendum in Ireland but probably not in Denmark, both countries where constitutioanl chnages can trigger referenda but in different ways. ıf Ireland votes against, the Treaty will still probably survive with Irish opt outs (as wehn Danes voted against the Maastricht Treaty). I would not like to predict what will come in the way of proposals for EU integration, but they will be coming. It will be a few years before a new treaty comes up, so Clegg can and should concentrate on the issue of deregulated markets within Europe and free trade for Europe, which is an agenda being pursued by the President of the Commission, sort of the head of government for the EU. We need to see how the new changes work: a longer term President of the Council and an EU ‘Foreign Minister’. These aspects could jus tbe another failure to find politcal structure for the long term. The EU needs clear structures and clear lines of accountability, there is some way to go. We also need to see if parliamentary scrutiny means much in practice. For now, the EU needs to focus its exiting strucutres and institutions on deregulation, free trade and climate change. Progress in these fields is maybe the necessary conditition for strengthening the political credibilit yof the Eu in Europe. I bleive Clegg will probably follow tha tline. I also beleive tha the will avoid the damging confrontations at party conference between MEPs and the party leadership over the EU budget, such a thing ahppened under Kennedy’s leadership because he was untalented and downright lazy with regard to handling party divisions. Campbell and Cleghg have shown that the anti-conformist party conference can be managed it the right ways are found of defusing confrontation. Political proposals on the future of the EU have to wait and I’m sure Clegg recognises that.

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Nietzsche and Burckhardt

I’ve finished reading Burckhardt’s The Greeks and Greek Civilization. It’s a great work on politics, culture, religion and many things in Ancient Greece. It really tells a story about the road to Golden Age Athens, and a decline in Athens, followed by the destruction of the Ancient Greek world as it was taken over by the Macedonian monarchy and absorbed into the Hellenistic world resulting from Alexander’s conquests. Today I’ll highlight a few things which seem particularly relevant to reading Nietzsche, who was Burkhardt’s friend and colleague at the University of Basle.

Burckhardt strong emphasises the role of competition in the Ancient Greek world. The Greek states were united in the Olympic games, and there were many other forms of competition. The great Athenian tragedies were written for competitions. There were all kinds of contests in gymnastics, poetry, and music throughout the Greek world. Communities took enormous pride in the achievements of locals in the Olympic games and other contests. The pride in winning and the efforts made to win were extreme. This can be seen in the wounds suffered by wrestling and the great interest of tyrants in backing winning teams. This should remind us of two early essays by Nietzsche on ‘The Greek State’ and ‘Homer on Competition’. It also provides a perspective for understanding ‘master morality’ in Nietzsche.

Burckhardt regards the interest in competition as part of the Aristocratic culture. It also existed in democratic Athens, and was the source of its great achievements. The attitude of the great democratic leader Pericles to Athens power in Greece itself shows this. However, the democratic world undermined competition. Excellence and the competition for excellence became the kind of jealousy and urge to denunciation, which led to the trial and death of Socrates. Athens after the Peloponnesian War weakened under the influence of this kind of spirit in which demogogary, perjury, and parasitic law cases became dominant. Here we see why Plato preferred Crete and Sparta. However, Sparata itself lost its old civic virtues at this, according to Burckhardt, becasue its very somination of Greece made it weaken under the influence of the other parts of Greece.

For Burckhardt, democracy means an individualism based on the cult of excellence and the growth of resentment. The decline of the aristocracy which vreated the values used by democracy allows great culture to flourish, but only for a limited period. These aspects of Burckhardt are close to Nietzzsche’s thoughts on politics and culture throughout his life, and should be taken into account.

To the Liberal Democrats a New Leader. Assessing Nick Clegg

I rejoined the Liberal Democrats (British political party) so I could vote for Nick Clegg as leader. He won, though by less than 1% of votes cast after a campaign so aid back it looked like an attempt to apply Zen meditation to politics. There were perhaps good reasons for that, the main rival Huhne was evidently dying to turn it into a social (left) liberal versus Thatcherite contest. Sinc ehis vitory Clegg has returned to his good work in promoting a vision of liberalism rooted in a limited state, open markets, individual choice, localism, and voluntary action. He’s opened up the possibility of cutting the overall tax burden.

He has marginalised attempts to commit to dumping British nuclear weapons, I don’t love them but the negative impact on the international order would be more than any benefit gained. While the British place as a permanent member of the UN Security Council is an anachronism, the international community is not remotely ready to work out how to restructure the Security Council. Since the other 4 permanent members have nuclear weapons the issues are linked, and let’s forget about negotiating way British nuclear weapons until a clear program emerges for a new UN and international order, or attempt at order the worlds nations. This order, such at is, needs Britain’s continuing commitment to UN military operations. It’s hard to see how Britain’s enormous role could be politically sustainable if the place of the Security Council went, I wish things were different but this is the real context . The Liberal Democrats (including the old Liberal Party back to Gladstone’s time) have been the most internationalist force in British politics. Opting out of the nuclear club is not the way to continue that tradition.

Clegg has recently committed to substantially reducing the number of MPs in the British parliament. This is very important as we cannot reasonably argue for regional government within England and radically strengthened local government, and not offer a way of saving money and complexity with regard to the UK parliament.

The party’s recent party conference has voted for a proposal for more private involvement in the National Health Service. There are very powerful reasons for this which come both from: strengthening private economic activity in Britain; and the more efficient delivery of basic public services to all, with the minimum burden of taxation.

These are early days for Clegg’s leadership, but he has already taken big steps towards ending Liberal Democrat tendencies towards automatically taxing and spending more than the Conservatives and ‘New’ Labour (which has substantially increased tax and spending, and public borrowing). He has manoeuvred the party away from assuming that social welfare means keeping the private sector out of public services, and has successfully led it towards a very positive attitude to the sovereignty of consumer choice over producer interests.

What comes next? I would like to see Lib Dem acceptance of tuition charges for higher education under the current UK system where the government provides low interest loans. I think this is coming. The same applies to a general broadening of choice and competition in the provision of public services.

What is more remote is the use of private insurance funds in public health provision and more charges in the provision of public health services. This will be greeted by many as social cruelty on a level with throwing orphans in the snow. The reality is that the world2s top rated health service, in France, uses private funds and charges (often recoverable through insurance or waived for those on low incomes). It’s very clear in Britain that free visits to local doctors means they are spending their time on trivial or non-existence complaints. Efficient allocation of resources needs some element of market forces, even if the overall pattern is one of guaranteeing health care for all who need it. Using private insurance funds as well as general taxation to fund public health services will realise more money overall flowing into public health services which will benefit everyone. A hospital which can invest using private funds will be able to make the results available for everyone, and şf we go so far as to put everyone in competing insurance funds with the poorest insured by the state, then everyone can clearly benefits from competition and market disciplines.

What are the current problems? The biggest issues for me are: a new form of soak the rich posturing; a default position for many party representatives of promising more public spending. The soak the rich issue has arisen in relation to ‘non-doms’, that is non-domiciled foreigners, though another group, British citizens who are only in the country for a maximum of 90 days in a year has been included in that debate. Resentment exists that foreigners, including billionaires, do no pay any tax on overseas earnings and investments. The issue for British citizens is that if they are not in the country for more than 90 days is that they have similar rights. Public resentment overlooks the fact that the non-taxed income and wealth is outside the UK. Taxing non-doms overseas income and wealth will not on the whole mean more money for the British state. It will mean very mobile people leaving who pay very large amounts of tax in Britain through indirect taxes when they spend money and direct taxes on money they make in Britain. These people are mobile and if they disappear than the British tax payer will be faced with a bigger burden. Britsh citizens who work a maximum of 90 days tend to be engaged in very highly skilled professional work, many in the financial sector. Great harm would be suffered by the financial sector including the Stock Market, and associated enterprises, if these people are frightened off. Again there would be a big loss for the British tax payer. Issues arise her eof tax havens which should be separated from non-dom status. I find bizarre Medieval left overs like Monaco and Lichtenstein, which make money from charging hardly any direct tax on wealthy foreign residents, artificial and absurd. The answer is a mixture of law enforcement with regard to assets hidden in these ‘countries’ and lowering of corporation taxes and taxes on wealth. The goal should be to increase the volume of tax revenue, not to impose high marginal rates of tax on the rich because it serves feelings of resentment and envy while deterring enterprise and creating huge incentives for shifting corporate registration and private wealth off shore.

Firefox 3 Beta 4, download it. And why I want to go AppleMac

I’ve previously recommended downloading Firefox 3 which is in a beta stage and is not widely distributed. The beta 2 I recommended was superseded by beta 3 and very recently by beta 4. Beta 3 was unstable on the main computer I use, but not so much on another work one, both running Windows XP.

Sadly I’m still purely a Windows user but I’m planning my escape to Macintosh Leopard (Mac OS 10.5) on a current model MacBook (AppleMac laptop/notebook) in the next few months. I will be free. Check out this very independent, objective and detailed comparison of Linux, Mac Leopard, Windows XP, and Windows Vista in PC World to see why I want to make the shift. In fact just do a search for wesbites which discuss Macintosh and see a great many reasons from many sources, and talk to anyone who made the switch.

Back to Firefox. Beta 3 kept freezing and crashing on my computer at home, Beta 4 is great. As it’s beta there’s a limited choice of themes and extensions but the MicroFox theme is available which is a beautiful one, and the most important application for me, the nitro pdf download, is working. British English dictionary, ScribeFire and FireFlag are working. Beta 4 is very stable and very quick. Downloads are much faster than before. Beautifully minimised graphics create very spacious and ergonomic feel. Bookmarking is very rapid, straight from browser bar, and it’s very very easy now to get to previously visited website by entering word from site title in window. The best aesthetics aspects of Safari (Apple) browser are now marched through a very integrated feel unfiying elements and a sense of curvature in three dimensions. Internet Explorer does not begin to compare.

Come on people, Internet Explorer is not a good browser, try Firefox and you’ll know what I mean. Go on try it. If you want to play very safe, download Firefox 2 from the button on my side bar. If you’re feeling just a little adventerous download 3 beta 4. Whichever you download, you won’t disable Explorer. You can download easily and quickly, You don’t even have to restart the computer to get it working after download. No risk, no trouble. Go on, do it.

Blogging Again. My course notes on: Tragedy, Ethics, Politics; Ancient and Modern Liberty; 20th Centıry Political Theory

I’m back blogging. For the last few weeks I have been completely concentrating on writing class notes which I’ve been posting on my university website. I decided to do all the notes for a semester (14 teaching weeks) in a bloc so that I could concentrate on other projects after getting that out of the way, and so that keener students can get detailed guidance on all course material and topics. Here’s a report on what I’ve been doing. If you want to see the notes click on this link, and if my report interests you at all please do. Go to my website and click on Teaching and scroll down. Responses are very welcome via the log. The notes are to help BA and MA students get a handle on texts and issues; I’ve ended up putting a bit of myself into the notes and they’ve helped me direct my own thoughts.

BA Classes

Introduction to Politics
Ancient and Modern Liberty
More Modern than Ancient Liberty, though I covered a lot of Antique thought in the next class. I wanted to go from Plato to Mill and spend 3 weeks looking at On Liberty properly because it is such a dominant text in discussing liberalism/libertarianism/free speech/individualism/tolerance and so on I also wanted to get a full range of Early Modern, Enlightenment, and 19th Century texts to give a really full background to Mill (though not earlier Utilitarianism which is a shame maybe). I had to include Tocqueville and Humboldt, since Mill invokes them and they are great writers. I had to include Constant to really deal with Humboldt and Tocqueville, in some respects Constant provides a bridge between them. Shame I couldn’t include the very relevant de Stael (or shame on me for not making the effort). Marx had to come in and so did Hegel because he is one of the main people to deal with the Ancient/Modern distinction and relate it to different conceptions of liberty. Montesquieu, Rousseau and Hobbes had to be in there for Ancient and Modern discussion, and so did Machivelli (The Discourses) for his revival of, and commentary on, Roman Republicanism. Antique Liberty has been squeezed into two weeks: one for Plato (Apology of Socrates) and one for Aristotle (The Politics, Book III). No Cicero but plenty of discussion of the Ancient world in the later authors.

Art, Culture, Society
Tragedy, Ethics, Politics
The course alternated between aq week on a tragedy and a relevant text on political/ethical theory. Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Marlowe, Machiavelli, Corneille, Racine and Pascal covered. Sad lack of readiy available Corneille translations, even online, which is why I used Le Cid instead of Horace. Euripides, Seneca and Racine linked by comparing their treatment of Hyppolitus/Phaedra story. Seneca studied as dramatist and ethical thinker in separate weeks. Aristotle studied in separate weeks as ethical and politcal theorist. Machiavelli considered through The Prince (study of monarchical states) and The Discourses (study of republican states) in spearate weeks. Lots of ideas came up while reading, preparing notes and teaching (less than half way through) on how tragedies deal with ethical and political issues. Must do some serious work of my own on this.

MA CLASS
CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL THEORY
TWENTIETH CENTURY POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

Schmitt, Rawls, Nozick, Sandel, Pettit, Derrida, Habermas, Foucault

A mixture of the European and Analytic. Not so easy to bridge them, though Habermas may help when I get there. Derrida text is largely commentary on Schmitt (relevant chapters from Politics of Friendship). I’ve included all of Society Must be Defended for Foucault. Not much direct reference to Schmitt, but emphasis on politics as war connects very nicely. Nozick text is largely a discussion of Rawls, Sandel text is largely a discussion of Rawls and Nozick, Pettit text is particularly concerned with Rawls. The course has two beginnings: Schmitt and Rawls. Habermas text has some reactions to Schmitt and there are obvious parallels with Rawls, and a dialogue with Rawls about Political Liberalism. The reaction to Schmitt tends towards quarantine, but a way maybe ıf unifying topics of sovereignty, friendship, war with rights, contract, entitlement.