Tesco is due to announce the result of its investigation into its accounting scandal along with its half-yearly results on Thursday, and the Telegraph got first wind of Tesco’s report into its accounting “irregularities” a few days ahead of publication. The ever-diligent Ian Fraser was quick off the mark on Twitter:
And when I retweeted this, Jamie Saunders, who runs futuresedge in his spare time (“this isn’t my job, it’s a hobby”, as Clara said recently on Dr. Who), sent me an interesting question as to whether this was actually about an absence of checks and balances. But actually, it’s worse than that.
Whatever happened to the Conservative party? Not this week, but over the last twenty years? Geoffrey Wheatcroft asked this question in the Guardian this week, and it is a good one. Actually, he asked it a bit more forcefully than that:
Has what was the most successful political party in modern European history succumbed to some strange death wish, determined to tear itself to pieces and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?
By “successful,” he means that between 1886 and 1997 – 111 years – the Conservatives were in power in the UK for 79 of them, either alone or occasionally in coalition. Now, though, said Wheatcroft, it looked “like a fractious rabble”.
American sports commentators have a saying, that “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” It’s a Wagnerian opera reference, apparently, but the meaning is obvious: this game is going right to the end. On the day after the Referendum in Scotland it was easy to think it was over – especially for disconsolate ‘Yes’ voters, and flag-waving (and Nazi-saluting) Scottish ‘loyalists.’ But there are good reasons to think that the Referendum itself is only half-time in this particular game. I know that it’s probably not a good idea to mix metaphors about sport and politics, but this particular game has a long way to go. Here’s seven quick notes on why.
#1. David Cameron learns nothing from experience.
Having insisted on a Yes/No ballot paper, without the Federalist “devo max” option, for partisan, opportunist reasons because he thought (wrongly) that it would stuff the Scots Nats, he stood in front of the cameras at 7 a.m. on the morning after the referendum looking like he’d just heard a bullet with his name on it embed itself in a tree just behind him. And then he announced a set of partisan opportunist measures on constitutional “reform”.
It’s worth recalling that in 2007 Mervyn King, while Governor of the Bank of England, told the US Ambassador that Cameron and Osborne “had a tendency to think about issues only in terms of politics, and how they might affect Tory electorability” (we know this from Wikileaks, and I suspect this may be their political epitaph.
But it’s also striking how easily political commentators are seduced by tactical plays. The gap in the quality and perceptiveness of the different discussions on Newsnight on Friday evening (first, the political correspondents, and later a group of academics) was a wide one. While I’m sure a political correspondent might protest that it’s their job to look at tactics, they would be doing their job better if (a) they climbed out of the bubble for a bit, and (b) they sometimes thought about how things might look in even a month’s time. Or a year.
#2. “The issue of Scottish independence is dead for a generation.”
That’s probably about right, but it depends on what you mean by a generation. Scottish nationalism has progressed in a series of 15-to-20-ish something year jumps, from its by-election success in 1967, to the unsuccessful devolution referendum in 1979, to the successful one in 1997, to the unsuccessful independence referendum in 2014. You do the maths. And demographics is on the indy side – ‘Yes’ voters were much more likely to be young than old.
#3. Independence votes fail when they’re not ahead at the beginning.
At least according to this tweet by the RSA’s Adam Lent.
At NESTA’s blog, Geoff Mulgan went further. Maybe they never succeed.
Twenty years ago, I bet that there would never be a secession from a mature democracy … [M]y logic for judging secessions unlikely was that in a mature democracy, as soon as any region or nation looked close to seceding, the larger nation would make just enough concessions to keep it in, partly because the elites would judge it worth doing so to retain their prestige and power in the world, and partly because democratic negotiation and compromise would play their part. Quebec and Catalonia have repeatedly confirmed the point. Scotland in the last two weeks has been an even clearer example.
#4. The ‘Yes’ campaign lost the vote but won the campaign.
This has become a truism already, but it’s worth pointing out one more time that only one national political party (The Greens) supported the ‘Yes’ campaign along with only one mainstream Scottish newspaper. The ‘Yes’ campaign had to bypass this with a political campaign which combined old-fashioned village meetings with up-to-the-minute digital activism (well described by Paul Mason).
At the Sunday Herald Ian Macwhirter wrote about how this campaigning structure insulated the ‘Yes’ campaign from some of the ‘Project Fear‘ run by Better Together and the Westminster parties in the final fortnight:
Why have so many Scots refused to heed the warnings of press, politicians and banks? This has been a truly bottom-up movement, that rose from obscurity in drafty halls and internet chatrooms; ignored by the establishment and ridiculed by the press; dismissed by polling gurus like Nate Silver who said a Yes was “almost inconceivable”.
It has been mediated through new-fangled social media and old-fashioned word of mouth. The internet has given anyone with a computer the ability to correlate, often in real time, what they are being told is going on with what is really going on. This may be the first election in which the mainstream media ceased to be the mainstream.
One of the consequences is that there’s now a lot of well-connected activists out there who may or may not have somewhere to go. In a different post, Mason suggests we’ll see more issue-based activism and possibly even a new radical group in Scotland similar to Syriza or Podemos.
#5. People vote when they care about the outcome.
The turnout, at 84.5%, was the highest in any vote since universal suffrage was introduced in the UK in 1928. So it’s not politics they’re disenchanted with – it’s political parties.
#6. The ‘Yes’ campaign became a test of Westminster and our ‘political class‘.
Charlie Stross put it this way at his ‘Antipope’ blog:
One thing is sure: even a “no” victory won’t kill the core issue of the delegitimization of the political elite. (It has become not simply a referendum on independence, but a vote of confidence on the way the UK is governed; anything short of a huge “no” victory amounts to a stinging rebuke to the ruling parties of the beige dictatorship.
And support for ‘Yes’ accelerated once it became a vote on whether one wanted more years of Osborne’s austerity economics (or Ed Balls’ ‘austerity-lite’.)
On referendum day, there was a tweet from stand-up Janey Godley that I thought caught this well:
And this resonated well in England as well. I could easily write a whole post on this, but here’s Oliver Huitson at Open Democracy’s Our Kingdom:
Britain is a dying imperial project, steeped in hundreds of years of anti-democratic expertise … if it is one part bulldog it is nine parts snake, unseen and untouchable. Its governing institutions are instinctively hostile to democracy and transparency. I hope it’s a Yes because I would like Scotland to be free not of the English or Welsh, but of Westminster and its unelected policy board: the City and multinational business. I would like England to be free of them too.
And at the Financial Times, which has become increasingly radical since the financial crisis, Philip Stephens picked up on the same theme:
There are people who will mark their papers with a Yes not because they hate the English, but because they want to shape a society more modelled on Scandinavia than winner-takes-all Anglo-American capitalism. …Anyone sensible who has been watching events in Scotland will draw unnerving conclusions. If today’s elites do not provide more closely accountable government they will be swept aside by the politics of exclusion. A globalisation that enriches the richest and impoverishes the rest is not sustainable.
#7. This all has quite a long way to go yet.
The SNP leader Alex Salmond did the honourable thing by resigning after losing the Referendum (he could have said, “I promised a referendum and I delivered it”) but he’s also been the only politician in Britain for the last quarter of a century with a strategic approach to politics. I suspect his resignation was also a strategic move – to stop opponents personalising issues around the aftermath of the referendum.
As Peter Lynch wrote at The Conversation:
[H]e’s chosen the timing of his departure. … It’s actually a clever bit of media management in my opinion. He’s moved on the agenda from people being depressed about the No vote and from the media endlessly repeating it over the weekend to focusing on him and the SNP instead.
And it’s not clear that David Cameron, or even the Conservative Party, will survive the demands for change provoked in the rest of the UK by the IndyRef. Perhaps Alex Salmond will have the last laugh after all.
The image at the top, of the Independence Referendum ballot paper, is from Shauna Reid’s blog, and is used with thanks
PFI, outsourcing, and privatisation have all been strategies to shift money from the public sector and the taxpayer to the financial sector. But they are now running up againsy political limits.
I think we’ve got to the point where we have to name British politics for what it has become: a wholesale looting of the state and the public, with the complicity of the political class, to reward the financial sector. I’ve tried all of the other explanations, and none of them work better. It is the only explanation that fits the facts. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but what finally triggered me to write was a relatively minor tweet from the Cabinet Office:
While it’s sensible to make sure that public assets aren’t standing idle, the Property Finder is related to the Government’s “Right to Contest”, explained this way in a story in The Guardian:
Under a right to contest introduced in January, anyone can force the government to explain why a building or plot is not being used fully. If the department that owns it cannot justify its current use, it will be forced to release it for sale.
Hashtag GovSavings. It will be forced to release it for sale. And in turn this made me wonder if I could identify a single decision made by George Osborne or the Coalition that didn’t benefit the financial classes – and the 1% – rather than the rest of us. I came up with one, the raising of the minimum wage, where the Chancellor was outmanouevred by Ed Miliband. (In case you’re wondering about the raising of the income tax threshold to £10,000, just no.)
It is the week of clearing, when silly-season news is briefly full of stories of would-be university students who didn’t get the grades they needed for their offered places scrambling to get a place somewhere else. Looking at it close-up, the only credible conclusion, now that university education is so expensive, is that the system is designed to benefit the universities far more than the students.
In turn, this represents a whole privileging of the universities and their trade associations, that also promotes the wholesale financialisation of the higher education system. Which is odd, because the previous non-financialised system delivered world-class outcomes at less than world-class costs, and there’s little guarantee that that the financialised system will do the same. Indeed, the evidence so far is that giving universities too much financial autonomy turns them into rogue institutions, if the record of London University is anything to go by, here, here, and here.
Over at The Futures Company blog I have a short post on Tesco’s problems, prompted by the abrupt dismissal of its Chief Executive Philip Clarke in the face of the continuing pressure on the company’s market share and profitability.
For non-British readers,Tesco is (still) Britain’s largest supermarket, but having been utterly dominant in the 1990s, has been struggling for much of the past decade.
The first thing I said in the post was that the food market had become more complex since the financial crisis, and Tesco hadn’t been able to follow. This normally translates into a story about being “assailed by discounters”, but the discount proposition isn’t just about price. People who advise Tesco to turn its attention to fighting with discounters on price show they don’t really understand how the market has changed.
The start of the Tour de France seems a good moment to write a post on management technique from one of the influential moments in last year’s Tour. It’s been in my mind since I read David Walsh’s book Inside Team Sky. The moment is during the rest day, after the Sky team had disintegrated on the Stage 9 to Bagneres de Bigorre. The passage in the book, about the Team Sky manager David Brailsford, says a lot about his management style. (more…)
“The most annoying thing about most of the commentary on the European elections is that it is dominated (as usual) by people who are only interested in elections, and entirely uninterested in what is actually going on”, John Naughton observed in an excellent post this week. Actually, that splits into two, reinforcing problems. Politicians are too interested in people who vote, and not those who don’t, and the media is too interested in events, and not sufficiently interested in causes. As a result, you get lots of heat and precious little light.
And it’s pretty clear that what we saw last week was one of the continuing shock waves rolling out from the financial crisis, a crisis that almost certainly has another decade or so to go.
Regular readers of the next wave will know that I am a fan of the work of the economic and technology historian Carlota Perez, who developed a model that explains the processes by which new technology platforms first emerge, then become dominant, and then become superseded. There have been five of these “technology surges” since 1771; the present ICT surge is the fifth.
Her model is a historical one. This isn’t a complaint: she is a historian, and she did the analysis of the historical data to propose the pattern she describes in her book. But when I was asked to contribute to an Association of Professional Futurists workshop that used the Three Horizons method to explore candidates for the Sixth surge, I wondered if it was possible to identify future-facing characteristics in her model.
There’s a moment in this interview with Paul Krugman about Thomas Piketty’s book Capital In The 21st Century where Bill Moyers asks Krugman this question:
Moyers: Do you agree with [Piketty] that we’re drifting towards oligarchy?
And Krugman gives him this reply:
Krugman: Oh yes. There’s no question of that.
And watching it I realised that the next political phase of the campaign started by Occupy is now starting to emerge.