12 June 2017

How Is the Anglosphere Voting?

Both big Anglosphere countries, the United States and the United Kingdom, have held a national election within less than twelve months. The United Kingdom also conducted a national referndum within this time frame, which may have a significant bearing on the future direction of the Anglosphere. I thought it would be of interest to take stock of what these and other recent national elections might tell us about where the Anglosphere is going.

First, let's construct a simple working definition of the Anglosphere, for this purpose. I am going to define it as follows:

'An Anglosphere country a) speaks English as an official (or dominant administrative) language; b) uses a legal system rooted in English common law; and c) either contains significant settlement from the British (or Western) Isles, or has Queen Elizabeth and her heirs and successors as head of state.'

Also, for the purposes of this post, I am excluding all countries with a population under a million, and Papua New Guinea, the latter because I don't know much about its politics. (I am already stretching my knowledge far beyond what I normally would do in these posts.) Another qualification for inclusion here is that the election must have occurred since 7 September 2013, when an Australian Federal Election removed the last surviving pre-Global Financial Crisis government in the Anglosphere, when the Australian Labor Party lost power.

That gives us, going chronologically, the following elections:

New Zealand    20 September 2014 right-of-centre incumbent won
United Kingdom  7 May 2015 right-of-centre incumbent won
Canada         19 October 2015, centrist opposition won
Jamaica        25 February 2016, right-of-centre oppostion won
United Kingdom 23 June 2016 populist nationalist victory in referendum
Australia       2 July 2016 right-of-centre incumbent won
United States   9 November 2016 populist nationalist opposition won
United Kingdom  8 June 2017 right-of-centre incumbent lost

New Zealand is due an election in September, but otherwise the pattern for Anglosphere governance is set for the next couple of years. The cycle will probably resume again with either an Australian or a Canadian election in 2019, depending on who goes first. The overall trend is fairly clear. After Barack Obama did nothing to the bankers, there has been little appetite for left-of-centre solutions to the fallout from the global financial crisis.

However, the elections since the Canadian election in October 2015 have suggested that voters are fed-up with budget cuts and jobless recoveries. In Canada, Justin Trudeau won by promising more economic growth. In Jamaica, Andrew Holness proposed unleashing the power of the market in place of IMF mandated austerity. The hair-shirt economics of Malcolm Turnbull's government was rebuffed in Australia, although the governing Liberal-National coalition still clung (by one seat) to a majority in the House of Representatives. Trump followed Holness in proposing that a government of American business leaders could transform the country and restore jobs that went missing after 2008.

Last Thursday's UK general election has continued this trend. It's fairly clear that the promise of more money for social welfare struck a chord with enough of the voters to dispell convincingly the prediction that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn was a runaway train back to 1970s-style stagflation.

Reading analyses of the voting, like Robert Ford's piece in The Guardian, suggests that Labour mobilised two distinct and apparently irreconcilable groups -- (a) social-democratic Leave voters and (b) Remainers seeking to block Theresa May's 'hard Brexit, if we must, but Brexit at all costs' approach. The latter may have reason to be happier than the former, and it is hard to regard this coalition as a stable one.

It does appear that hard-line Leavers, of any social class, have turned to the Conservative party. The Conservatives are shameless enough to shake the magic money tree in order to rob Labour of the social-democratic Leavers, at the same time as they are alienated by Remainers trying hard to push Labour in a 'stop Brexit' direction.

Having noted that, the one thing to be sure about is that events will render everything I have written here out-of-date sooner or later. There are too many variables in play -- the global growth picture is not good, the attitude of the EU27 is going to play an important role in shaping public opinion in the United Kingdom, radical Islamic terrorist attacks could change the popular mood.

However, all the Anglosphere polities should note that at present if you want to get elected the time has come to set aside expressions like 'magic money tree' and talk about how your election is going to secure jobs and a social safety net people can believe in. The mass of people have reached the limit of reducing expectations to deal with the Global Financial Crisis.

02 June 2017

Revisiting an Old Film Friend

1956 was a bad year for the Anglosphere. The Suez Crisis brought to a head a number of troubling trends that had been going on since before the Second World War. However, on 26 November 1956, a few weeks after the Suez Debacle, one of the greatest cultural artefacts of the twentieth-century Anglosphere began production. That's the starting date the Internet Movie Data Base gives for The Bridge on the River Kwai, which starred Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars), Max Schumacher (Network) and Quintus Arrius (Ben-Hur). The director was David Lean. The film was released in 1957, and went some way towards mending the disruptions of 1956, at least culturally.

The film was produced by Sam Spiegel, an unlikely denizen of the Anglosphere. He was born in Galicia, in Austria-Hungary, and wound up in Hollywood after the Nazis came to power in 1933, although he had been there before in the 1920s. Spiegel, however, loved London, and starting in 1951 used his production company based there, Horizon Films, to produce three very important films (Kwai, The African Queen and Lawrence of Arabia), and several others that are at least interesting (Suddenly, Last Summer, The Swimmer, Nicholas and Alexandra). The screenplay was credited to two writers who had been blacklisted for connections to the Communist Party. While Michael Wilson found refuge in France, Carl Foreman lived in England for some two decades before returning to the United States. (Foreman was one of a number of blacklisted media workers who found refuge in Britain, a topic that seems under-researched from the Anglospherical perpsective.)

A happy coincidence of events led to me discovering that my wife had never seen the film, despite having been with me some twenty years, and so we sat down with the DVD. I have seen this film repeatedly over the years, but probably no more than once during our time together. I've got to a point where I'm counting down the years, and re-watching films I know well is something I do with some resentment, but this seemed a good excuse to reacquaint myself with an old friend.

For me it is probably the best film of all time. If you asked me to rank all films on technical accomplishment, I have seen none better. This is not to say it is my favourite, but the best. But I was reading reviews of it on criticker.com and I am disturbed by some of the criticisms of it. They fall into three broad categories:

a) The film is too long/too slow. Anyone who asserts this just doesn’t understand what cinema is about. The film’s story demands all that time. Better to claim it is too short than too long, too fast than too slow.

b) The film is disjointed, with the POW drama and the action commando mission. Anyone who asserts this doesn’t understand what the film is about, and has overlooked the fact that Jack Hawkins got second billing in the opening credits, ahead of Alec Guinness. There are four masculine prides at work -- Colonel Saito’s vs Colonel Nicholson’s, and Commander/Major Shears’ vs Major Warden’s (that surname is telling). Each character's pride must be balanced against the other three, and the commando mission is necessary to add more depth to the conflict between Saito’s ‘bushido’ and Nicholson’s ‘Geneva Convention’ and Shears’ life-saving opportunism. Warden's own warrior code, a blithe disregard of the moral content of his actions, contravenes in respective ways the direction Saito, Nicholson and Shears give their lives.

c) Various cultural criticisms. The most valid one is about the treatment of women. But this is a film about masculinity, and in fact female characters were only added at the producer’s insistence. (For such a patriarchal country, America's cultural industries have paid a lot of attention to attracting women into the audience, or at the very least a male-constructed version of women.) Given that Sir David Lean was required to work with them, he didn’t do so badly in presenting how the purely masculine world perceives women, at least in the 1950s. The complaints about the Japanese getting short shrift is, I think, understandable in the circumstances. The war had ended a mere twelve years earlier. The Japanese did not yet have their fearsome reputation for industrial prowess (one that has been harder to sustain since the 1990s), and were still very much remembered most for their cruel way of waging war, and their role as an 'aggressor state' during the 1930s. The well-publicised Rape of Nanking had only happened two decades earlier. It shouldn't stretch our thinking so much to believe that the supposed incompetence on display here is a consequence of Saito in particular, and not Japanese engineering in general.

Finally, it's worth noting that the film, in its context, can be interpreted as more than just an anti-war film, but in fact an anti-atomic-war film. I don't think any of the criticker.com reviewers spotted this. I certainly didn't for many years and viewings.

The film, with its American, British and Canadian characters, is very much a distillation of the Anglosphere in its own time. For various reasons, we should re-read texts like this with an eye to this dimension. It will help explain so many of the active currents which will affect not just Anglosphere futures, but the future of the planet.

30 May 2017

Andrew Scheer's Social Conservatives

Looking at an article about the recent leadership election election for the Conservative Party of Canada, it's interesting to see that a significant number of the votes for the 'social conservative' candidates came from the Greater Toronto Area, specifically the separate city of Mississauga (where the airport is) and the visible minority bastion of Scarborough, a suburban district on the opposite side of Toronto from Mississauga. (Mississauga also has a visible minority majority.)

The Canadian obsession with America's navel is a problem, I think, in understanding what is going on. In their haste to identify Canada's Trump (Kellie Leitch! Kevin O'Leary!), they overlooked that while there might be Trump voters in Canada, there isn't an actual Trump, so the coalition Trump assembled is more diffuse and, at its root different, because Canada is a different country

While all the focus has been on rural voters in the United States coming out in bigger numbers, and urban voters in smaller ones (the exchange that cost Hillary Clinton the election), the real battleground remains the suburbs. The Clinton campaign was geared to detaching Republican women voters from the Trump candidacy. It failed. The Andrew Scheer campaign was geared to the election-winning formula deployed by Stephen Harper, of not doing too much for any faction that would be costly in terms of potential voters. It succeeded. In both cases the suburban voter was the target.

Suburban interests have carried the greatest weight in politics in the Anglosphere for many decades now, at least since the late 1960s. Despite the 'revival' of urban living in the last couple of decades, there is no indication that in national elections the political calculus has changed. However, it is possible that governing has. But that's another topic.

04 April 2017

'Fake News', 1780s Quaker Style

'With respect to abolitionism, then, British newspapers and periodicals published from the summer of 1783 to the spring of 1787 need to be read with caution. Historians will never know how many of the antislavery statements that appear in the British press in this period resulted from Slave Association sponsorship. What sometimes looks like an upsurge of antislavery argument and commentary in the press occasionally represented little more than the initiative of  a clever Quaker propagandist. Friends not only attempted to generate antislavery opinion. They tried to create the emergence of an emerging public consensus on behalf of abolition more than two years before that support materialised in full.' 
From, Christopher Leslie Brown, Moral Capital: foundations of British abolitionism, (UNC Press, Chapel Hill, NC: 2006), pp 430-1.

29 March 2017

Article 50 Day: Bursting a Balloon

'Prince: I know my duty; you are all undutiful:/Lascivious Edward,--and thou, perjur'd George,--/And thou, misshapen Dick,--I tell ye all/I am your better, traitors as ye are:--/And thou usurp'st my father's right and mine.
King Edward: Take that, the likeness of this railer here [Stabs him]
Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III): Sprawl'st thou? take that, to end thy agony. [Stabs him]
Duke of Clarence: And there's for twitting me with perjury. [Stabs him]
-- King Henry VI, Part 3, Act V, Scene 5

- * - * - * -

Probably for some today's Shakespeare quote will be the one on the eve of Agincourt in Henry V, but I prefer to think of #Brexit as a civil war like the Wars of the Roses. This episodic affair arose out of the ending of a cross-Channel empire in France, and concluded with the victory of Henry Tudor, helped by France, over Richard III. Shakespeare here refers to the death of Henry VI's heir, Prince Edward, Watching the murder in this scene is Henry VI's wife Margaret, daughter of a French king. Edward can stand in today for the young people of Britain, who favoured a European future. I have sympathy for them, but for old codgers like me the cultural links with the Anglosphere were being loosened too much under the reign of the mad kings of Brussels. Kith and kin lay abroad across the oceans, not the Channel, for most of us until relatively recently.

Which brings me to a continent I visit too infrequently in this blog, Australasia. Some time ago, I set aside an alarmist article by a former Australian foreign minister, intending to comment on it. I was reminded of it by the recent appearance of a blog post by Ben Wellings of Monash University on the same theme. Now is a good time to deal with this 'Anglosphere Illusion'.

Let me start with former foreign minister Gareth Evans, who writes:
The basic problem for Anglosphere advocates is that none of the candidates for membership of this new club are likely to have the slightest interest – geostrategic, economic or political – in joining it.... the truth of the matter is that the UK has brought nothing of [geostrategic] significance to the region’s defense since the fall of Singapore in 1942....Anglosphere connections mattered a lot for Australians and others in the days before the UK joined the European Common Market. The severance of those ties was painful for our dairy and other industries, but for Britain hard-headed self-interest understandably prevailed....Probably the hardest truth that Britain’s Anglosphere dreamers must confront is that there is just no mood politically, in any of the candidate countries of which I’m aware, to build some new global association of the linguistically and culturally righteous.
 These are three very valid points: (1) Britain is a geostrategic Lilliput; (2) old economic links are gone, (3) Australians have moved away intellectually (and possibly spiritually) from the Mother Country. Now for a look at an earlier blog post on The Conversation:
The British Commonwealth of Nations achieved some economic coordination, but it was not a free-trade area. Members offered each other tariff “preferences” in which they lowered duties....Without central institutions it was hard to promote uniformity and resolve disputes. Between 1932 and 1936 Britain’s empire and Commonwealth trade did rise from 33% to 37% of imports and from 41% to 47% of exports...[After the war] Dollar shortages and exchange controls in the “Sterling Area” channelled trade towards Commonwealth members. In 1953, they accounted for  49% of UK imports and exports.... By 1972...Britain’s EEC trade had overtaken its Commonwealth trade despite the French president Charles De Gaulle twice vetoing UK applications to join the community....The experience of the 1930s illustrates that there are limits to supranational economic cooperation without some pooling of sovereignty.
 Again, the key points are (1) the Commonwealth does not have an economic role, (2) the broader economic situation trumps any 'cultural' unity. We can interpret these as variants of Mr Evans second point. Finally, we come to the post that was my springboard for writing this blog post of my own:
The disappointing UK trade mission to India, where Indian officials showed scant interest in a free-trade agreement and instead wanted fewer restrictions on the movement of Indians to the UK, showed the hard road ahead....The main risk for Australia is that Brexit comes at a moment when – after many years – Australia will soon start FTA negotiations with the EUFor Australia, Brexit is the diplomatic equivalent of moving into a shared house with a divorcing couple. In signalling with alacrity that “Australia will be there” when it comes to an FTA with the UK, Australia must not seem too keen – lest we become embroiled in a messy divorce between the UK and the EU.
 So here the key point is 'Britain can expect no favours' based on past connections, a variant of Mr Evans' third point. The question is, do all these objections leave any grounds for optimism? The answer seems to me to be a qualified 'yes'. I would focus on two aspects from the quotes I have provided here. Andrew Dilley of the University of Aberdeen, in the second citation, illustrates the problems with the Commonwealth as an economic institution. I would suggest that the first step is simply for a 'coalition of the willing' to start envisioning future arrangements that could solve disputes without imperilling sovereignty in the way the EU did. After all, we have the existing example of the EU, for one thing, to show what works and what doesn't.

Furthermore, though the 'Golden Age' of UK-Commonwealth trade grew out of some specific conditions, so did the British 'pivot to Europe' during 1957-72. To some extent, it was a reversion to a natural pattern. In 1913, UK trade with Continental Western Europe amounted to 38.5 per cent of its imports and 29.6 per cent of its exports. Canada, Australasia, Southern Africa and South Asia amounted to 22.6 per cent of imports and 31.6 per cent of exports. More importantly, in 2015 UK exports to Continental Western Europe excluding Switzerland amounted to 30.6 per cent of the total; imports from the same countries amounted to 41.4 per cent. Going by this historical pattern, leaving the EU may well have little impact on British exports, and something like 3 per cent of imports might shift to Commonwealth sources, or elsewhere. (BTW, this is roughly what those opposed to EU entry in the 1960s said, roughly -- our Commonwealth partners would lose a market for their exports.) Far from being of, as Mr Evans put it, 'the slightest interest', that's a lot of money. Surely the EU's difficulty is indeed Australia's (and the rest of the Commonwealth's) opportunity.  The lesson of China stands out here. Imports from Mainland China in 1913 amounted to a minuscule 0.3 per cent and in 1959 stood at 0.5 per cent. In 2015 they stood at 10.4 per cent. Who saw that coming in 1959, let alone 1913? (My 1913 statistics come from a draft UN report you can access here.)

 The second point is the Indian desire for 'fewer restrictions on the movement of Indians'. Leaving the EU will free the British government's hands somewhat on this, and also with regard to the 'white Commonwealth' countries that include many descendants of emigrants from Britain and Ireland. For India and South Asia more broadly, as well as the Forgotten Anglosphere in the West Indies, we have the reverse -- Britain has received people, and the family ties shared by all these countries potentially could help Britain with the immigration it will continue to need. Another 'coalition of the willing' could start thinking about how people could circulate around these countries, which might help with trade. This would strengthen previously existing links between families and other institutions that do share a common heritage. Mr Evans' sense that the ties will continue to weaken is a self-fulfilling prophecy unless people work to keep them up. The same is true of any family.

 This is not to say that some kind of future arrangement will 'replace' the EU on any level. Thinking that is even more 'pie in the sky' than anything I have written above. Britain has learned some hard lessons about 'the free movement of people' in an era of austerity, as any conversation with a teacher or social worker employed in one of the affected areas might highlight. And the economic dislocation is going to be severe, a self-inflicted recession on par with 1991-2, possibly. Welcome to the Brave Old World of post-war Conservative economic policy.

Nonetheless, the idea of an 'Anglosphere Illusion' is... overblown just as much as its proponents assert that some kind of Commonwealth Free Trade Area would be. The reality is going to lie somewhere between the two positions, and probably to the advantage of the Commonwealth countries.

28 March 2017

The Anglosphere on Television: Miami Vice

[A television channel available here in South Florida shows the classic 1980s television show Miami Vice in syndication every weeknight. I have been writing some commentary about the episodes I see for another audience, and I thought to provide some of those posts here, with a slightly different emphasis.]
Miami Vice was relatively popular in Britain when it ran there on the BBC. I know several of my friends in London at the time watched it, although I haven't been able to track down actual ratings yet. As I recall, the violence was at first somewhat controversial, and there was even discussion about how the BBC was editing out some footage of shootings. (One bullet would do where Americans got three.) 
Despite the obvious links between Latin American drug traders and the main thread of the show, the Anglosphere was a constant presence from the start. Tubbs, played by Philip Michael Thomas, frequently acted as a West Indian when undercover. And then, starting in Season 3, the relationship appeared to deepen. The first episode shown (although not the one planned) even featured an IRA-based plot and a young Liam Neeson. But I prefer to look start looking at these connections further into the season.  
Season 3, ‘Theresa’
The preceding episode, 'Duty and Honor,' featured a youthful Helena Bonham Carter in a cameo role as Crockett's girlfriend. 'Duty and Honor' itself focused on Lt Castillo's Southeast Asian past, and therefore the American experience in Vietnam. (The Vietnam Vet is another constant underlying presence in the show.) Bonham Carter, however, was given greatly expanded duty in 'Theresa', the title itself being the name of her character. Watching again after all these years, it is clear she was too young for the role. Contrast her efforts here with her much more self-assured performance a decade later in Fight Club, and you can see what I mean. That said, a baseball simile comes to mind: like a young pitcher’s sequencing, her work seemed callow in the earlier one, and she lacked the command that the veteran brought to bear in the later stint. But he talent was undeniable.
Nonetheless, the fact of her Britishness is entirely irrelevant to the role. There is brief mention of it, but the script could easily be re-written to make her character Canadian, Bajan or even a non-Anglosphere country like Argentina. But this is how the Anglosphere works in culture -- the subliminal impact is that we are somehow related in a way an Argentinian is not. This was perhaps more true in 1987 than it is today. It is somewhat ironic that if it is less true, Miami Vice the show probably contributed to that happening. Miami Beach went from the home of a chubby white comedian, to a multi-cultural, open-air, crime-infested gallery of the Art Deco

12 October 2016

Fun with Gellner... and TRUMP

At the outset, I have to say I wouldn't urge anyone to take this post too seriously. It's just a bit of scholarly fun that further research might confirm offers some insight -- or mean nothing at all.

In his 1964 book Thought and Change, Ernest Gellner talks about how some nationalism emerges when a linguistic-cultural (or ethnic) minority contained within a larger state that is dominated by a different linguistic-cultural group. What happens is that the minority elite, which participates in the regime, recognises it could do better being big fishes in a small pond, as opposed to swimming around the big pond competing with other big fishes at a disadvantage. They form an intelligentsia which tells the great mass of the ethnic minority the reality of their situation, and motivates them to demand independence.

Some twenty years later, in Nations and Nationalism, Gellner developed one of those sociological typologies that irritate scholars of history, because the categories depicted can result in exceptions that must be hand-waved away somehow but which are meat and drink to historians. I found a useful table of these typologies in an academic article by Brendan O'Leary, 'On the Nature of Nationalism', published in the British Journal of Political Science in 1997.

So how does this apply to the amazing presidential trajectory of Donald Trump? As is well known, college-educated people (the elite) are, with the exception of Republican party regulars, not really on his side. The power-holders class is also somewhat split and those most heavily invested in globalisation appear to be sceptical about Trump. Meanwhile, he does better among the less well-educated. Gellner's typologies have six factors -- power-holders vs powerless, educated vs uneducated and shared culture vs culture not shared. These typologies intersect to produce various outcomes related to what state will emerge when confronted by fundamental economic change.

Your typical educated urban elitist probably watches HBO series, is interested in tennis and drinks craft beer. Meanwhile, smaller-city service worker watches Two Broke Girls, is interested in NASCAR and drinks mass-produced lager. Not much of a shared culture there.

Plug those into Gellner's typologies, and you confront a Type 4 outcome 'Ethnic nationalism'.

Now, actually, based on Gellner's criteria, both groups would count as Educated. I cheated a little bit there. But if the degree of education required to function in what the Marxisants call 'late capitalism' has gone beyond the simple 3 'R's of Type 6 'Classical liberal Western Nationalism' -- well, then, I might be on to something here!