Riots and earthquakes are good for business

What would Bastiat say about that?

Several thoughts pirouetted across my mind as I watched the coverage of Saturday’s protest and riots.

I wondered why anti-capitalists were wearing clothing with prominent labels (don’t they know their Naomi Klein?); I wondered why defenders of the public sector were attacking publicly owned banks; I wondered how one protester could say, when interviewed, “Of course, we all know there need to be cuts” while a sea of people drifted past her waving signs saying ‘No cuts’; I wondered why Ed Miliband, a bloke without an alternative, was addressing the March for an Alternative.

But most of all I was struck by what a boon this all was for the economy, or so some would tell you. The standard Keynesian narrative of the Depression of the 1930’s, for example, holds that it was all about a collapse in aggregate demand which was only solved by, first, New Deal spending, and then war spending. As Paul Krugman once put it

Faced with the Depression, institutional economics turned out to have very little to offer, except to say that it was a complex phenomenon with deep historical roots, and surely there was no easy answer. Meanwhile, model-oriented economists turned quickly to Keynes — who was very much a builder of little models. And what they said was, “This is a failure of effective demand. You can cure it by pushing this button.” The fiscal expansion of World War II, although not intended as a Keynesian policy, proved them right

The fact that large swathes of the planet’s human and physical capital was blown to atoms represented simply an ‘opportunity for growth’.

So surely all the random destruction in the West End should be a good thing? Perhaps not. Back in 1850, Frédéric Bastiat asked “Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James B., when his careless son happened to break a square of glass?” In his classic, Economics In One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt took up the story

A young hoodlum, say, heaves a brick through the window of a baker’s shop. The shopkeeper runs out furious, but the boy is gone. A crowd gathers, and begins to stare with quiet satisfaction at the gaping hole in the window and the shattered glass over the bread and pies. After a while the crowd feels the need for philosophic reflection. And several of its members are almost certain to remind each other or the baker that, after all, the misfortune has its bright side. It will make business for some glazier. As they begin to think of this they elaborate upon it. How much does a new plate glass window cost? Fifty dollars? That will be quite a sum. After all, if windows were never broken, what would happen to the glass business? Then, of course, the thing is endless. The glazier will have $50 more to spend with other merchants, and these in turn will have $50 more to spend with still other merchants, and so ad infinitum. The smashed window will go on providing money and employment in ever-widening circles. The logical conclusion from all this would be, if the crowd drew it, that the little hoodlum who threw the brick, far from being a public menace, was a public benefactor.

Now let us take another look. The crowd is at least right in its first conclusion. This little act of vandalism will in the first instance mean more business for some glazier. The glazier will be no more unhappy to learn of the incident than an undertaker to learn of a death. But the shopkeeper will be out $50 that he was planning to spend for a new suit. Because he has had to replace a window, he will have to go without the suit (or some equivalent need or luxury). Instead of having a window and $50 he now has merely a window. Or, as he was planning to buy the suit that very afternoon, instead of having both a window and a suit he must be content with the window and no suit. If we think of him as a part of the community, the community has lost a new suit that might otherwise have come into being, and is just that much poorer.

The glazier’s gain of business, in short, is merely the tailor’s loss of business. No new “employment” has been added. The people in the crowd were thinking only of two parties to the transaction, the baker and the glazier. They had forgotten the potential third party involved, the tailor. They forgot him precisely because he will not now enter the scene. They will see the new window in the next day or two. They will never see the extra suit, precisely because it will never be made. They see only what is immediately visible to the eye.

The resilience of palpable nonsense is staggering. If, as Bastiat and Hazlitt demonstrate, the idea that the trashing of businesses is good for business, then consider what Clinton-era Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said about the Japanese earthquake recently

It may lead to some temporary increments ironically to GDP as a process of rebuilding takes place. In the wake of the earlier Kobe earthquake Japan actually gained some economic strength

This is crass rubbish. Lots of new building activity may take place in Japan but they will simply be restocking on, say, housing. Rebuilding the house you have just watched destroyed does not make you better off.

Yet this drivel has the imprimatur of The Master himself who wrote in The General Theory

Pyramid-building, earthquakes, even wars may serve to increase wealth

That will no doubt come as a great comfort to West End workers and homeless Japanese.

This article originally appeared at The Cobden Centre

Ed Miliband’s waiting game

Turning up at the March for the Alternative without an alternative

In 217BC the Roman army was wiped out by Hannibal’s Carthaginians at Lake Trasimene. The Roman general appointed in the aftermath, Quintus Fabius Maximus, reckoned, quite reasonably, that his army would be destroyed in a similar fashion if he fought Hannibal so he settled on a different strategy; he did nothing. He would wait the Carthaginian out. The strategy worked and was named in his honour, the Fabian strategy.

Fabianism, such a vital part of the history of the Labour party, takes its name from the Roman general; the Fabian Society, founded in 1884, eschewed violent revolution in favour of the gradual democratic evolution of socialism, hence its name.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband has been taking this ‘do nothing’ strategy too far. He seemed oddly proud to announce that, when it came to ideas, the Labour party is currently “a blank sheet of paper”. Nowhere is this lack of ideas, direction and leadership more apparent than on the matter dominating British politics; the economy and how to deal with Britain’s horrendous budget deficit.

Back in September 2010 Miliband said “I won’t oppose every coalition cut”. Since then he has opposed every coalition cut. Even a cut as ‘progressive’ as ending Child Benefit for top rate tax payers has been opposed by Miliband.

And Miliband and Labour refuse to tell anyone what they would be doing instead. Rather, when asked if he would reverse any of the measures he opposes Miliband said “I can make no commitment to do anything differently”. He is not alone. His Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, said “Ed Miliband and I are clear on this; no commitments to reverse these changes, they would be irresponsible”.

Labour used to have a plan. Alistair Darling, Chancellor under Gordon Brown, proposed to halve the deficit in four years. This involved £14 billion in savings for the year commencing in April, just £2 billion less than the coalition. Both Ed’s signed up to this plan yet have steadfastly refused to outline what they would cut.

The Fabian Strategy here is obvious. The UK is in a dreadful fiscal situation, borrowing £450 million per day £120 million of which is spent on paying the interest on the existing debt – more than on schools, hospitals and the Police. Sorting this out will require the kind of fiscal tightening Britain hasn’t seen in 30 years – since the last time a Conservative government was elected to clean up the mess left by a Labour one. There really is no way to avoid or postpone this. And Miliband, unless he is an utter fool, knows it. But he can, he hopes, keep his head down, stay away from anything smacking of controversy, and ride a wave of discontent back to power in four years when he will, he hopes, arrive in Number 10 with the dirty work done.

Will it work? Already there are rumblings from his own party. Hazel Blears, a member of the Brown cabinet, said “The public expect us to at least give a broad direction of travel. They are pretty reasonable – they don’t expect you to dot every i and cross every t about your policy – but I think they are worried that we haven’t been as clear as we ought to be”

And voters seem unimpressed. Labour have enjoyed narrow opinion poll leads over the coalition parties but on the issue of the key issue of the economy voters consistently prefer the coalition to Labour. At the last count ComRes found that Cameron and George Osborne had approval ratings of 37% and 25% on the economy compared to just 18% and 14% for Miliband and Balls. Even Nick Clegg scored 24%.

The Fabian Strategy didn’t do much for Fabius, the Romans got fed up with waiting for a victory and sacked him. So far Labour’s headline opinion poll figures have insulated Miliband from such a fate. But he has staked everything on the failure of the coalition’s economic program and, if the program works, Miliband, with nothing of his own to fall back on, will be in trouble. Surrounded by deputies who all want his job, he may well end up, not like Fabius Maximus, but Julius Caesar.

This article originally appeared at Global Politics

Ed Balls is the Fernando Torres of economics

Still warming up

A little while ago I wrote that Ed Balls was the Peter Ridsdale of economics thanks to his free spending ‘living the dream’ ways. Now I’m reconsidering

When Ed Miliband was forced to settle for his third choice as Shadow Chancellor (after Alan Johnson and, apparently, his brother) and appoint Ed Balls back in January Labourites were cock a hoop. The denizens of Labourlist cooed “We have some one who both understands and has a command of economic policy AND who has a far more Keynesian approach…an alternative to the Tories”, “Ed Balls, whilst more divisive and an easier target for the Tories, is the right choice because he is a big hitter who knows what’s talking about” (sic) and “Ed Balls will really take the fight to Gideon”. This was, after all, the man who had, er, designed the regulatory structure for banks and advised, um, Gordon Brown.

Never mind. The chronically moronic Sally Bercow tweeted “Osborne is toast!” and predicted “Ed Balls will be *fantastic* Shad Chancellor :))))”, perhaps indicating just what a daunting job Balls successor at education will have.

Sadly it’s not worked out like that. The lack of absolutely anything emerging from the Labour party which could usefully be called an economic policy has reduced Balls to the role of some sort of reverse cheerleader for coalition policy, popping up like the old Harry Enfield character to say “You don’t wanna do that!”

And when he does do something it is rubbish. Or worse, not even legal. He was at it again on BBC Breakfast this morning having a go at George Osborne for not cutting VAT on petrol in yesterday’s budget. But Osborne can’t do this, and neither could Balls because its illegal under EU law!

Indeed, a recent poll poll by Ipsos MORI, reported by Total Politics, found that

“Finally, on the head-to-heads, Osborne is equal with shadow chancellor Ed Balls when the public are asked who would make the most capable Chancellor. Considering the spending cuts that are starting to bite, and the poll makes it clear that the public believe recovery will be a long haul, Osborne could be happy with this”

A big name signing, welcomed excitedly at the time, but who has flopped – Ed Balls is the Fernando Torres of economics.

So Long Simple Kid

Ain’t nothin’ average about me man

Every now and then in the flotsam and jetsam of the internet you happen across a defunct webpage. It could belong to a vanished football club or, as in one case I know, it could be the MySpace page of someone who has passed away. Frozen, like a digital Pompeii, is the last moment someone logged on, whether they were preparing for a league match or a night out. Tethered to a server some God knows where these moments are out there waiting in the ether to offer a welcome to their rare visitors, waiting in vain for a continuation of existence.

So it will be for anyone who now visits They will be greeted by “Simple Kid RIP” and informed






That may still be up there 100 years from now. My great grandchildren may come across it one day, one page among trillions, and wonder who this Simple Kid was.

Simple Kid was a musician. I came across him in early 2006 when I went to see Erasure at Shepherd’s Bush. I don’t usually pay much attention to support acts but I was in my seat early when a thin guy shambled out on stage in a cap with tousled hair poking out from under. He had a guitar slung over his shoulder and a harmonica clamped in a rack round his neck which he fiddled with incessantly. A cheap Bob Dylan, I thought.

Then he started playing. His first song was Truck On, a lovely, wistful number, driven by a gorgeous harmonica figure into a swelling chorus. I was hooked. He played alone, his musical accompaniment coming from a digital box. For himself he switched to banjo and a kids toy keyboard, each of his songs distinct and memorable. I saw him in the bar in the interval and drunkenly approached him to offer my appreciation which he took quite graciously.

Until then I’d thought music ended with OK Computer but here was something new. I got googling and found out he was an Irishman named Ciaran McFeely. He had released an album, SK1, back in 2003 which I quickly got hold of and fell in love with.

The lyrical portraits of The Average Man and the faded Camden trendies of Supertramps and Superstars had the sharpness of Ray Davies. For all the folksiness Simp wasn’t afraid of a beat, the opening track, Hello, drove along. Love’s an Enigma had some of the dreaminess of Screamadelica and Drugs borrowed the grand urban horn line of the soundtrack to a Dirty Harry movie. He was a musical magpie who everyone, unavoidably perhaps, compared to Beck.

And everyone who had heard SK1 appeared to have loved it. The Guardian gave it four stars out five. The Independent wondered if Simp was “this year’s (2003) Badly Drawn Boy”. Yet no one had heard of him. I felt like my dad must have, being one of 500 Brits to buy one of the first pressing of Bob Dylan’s debut album.

The next chance I had to see him was at the Royal Festival Hall in June 2006. He was supporting Joseph Arthur, a tedious American singer songwriter who was dating Juliette Lewis who sat not far from me. Described as the ‘indie Rolf Harris’, Arthur’s show culminated in 20 minutes of him playing white noise on an old tape recorder while he painted something which would have embarrassed a paint stained 4 year old.

I was there for Simp. He played more stuff from his forthcoming second album opening the set with Lil’ King Kong which neatly combined swagger and self-deprecation. The sublime Old Domestic Cat, played on that kid’s keyboard, was a hymn of love to the simple things in life; staying home reading, watching The Bill and pottering about with his feline friend for company. The show ended with possibly his finest song, the awesome Serotonin, which had acoustic guitar and lush strings working over a deep shuffle beat culminating in a wail of synthesizers which was on a loop in my head for about two weeks afterwards. Once again I saw him in the bar, once again I approached him drunkenly to offer my appreciation, and once again he took it graciously.

In October 2006 his second album, SK2, finally came out and I was invited to the album launch gig upstairs at the Sheepwalk pub in Leytonstone, home to the excellent ‘What’s Cookin’’ nights. I was disappointed that the album version of Old Domestic Cat was played on guitar not that endearing keyboard. That was compensated by the other songs including the punky Mommy n Daddy which mixed a bit of We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place with Found That Soul all recorded, as ever, on an old 8 track cassette recorder.

Again the album was liked by everyone who heard it. He got four out of five from The Guardian again which gushed “This is a wonderful album: musically, it’s ingenious, a bustling congregation of styles – glam, folk, crackling electronica – that continually take the listener by surprise. And lyrically, for all its downbeat malaise, it has a sincerity and candour that can’t fail to charm”. But again, it didn’t sell.

The last time I saw Simp was at the Hoxton Bar & Kitchen shortly after. The big room at the back was packed with other Simp fans, maybe all of them, singing along, empathizing more than they wanted to with the lyrics of The TwentySomething. He finished with a song from SK1, The Average Man, set to Paranoid by Black Sabbath.

And then he went quiet. I checked the site regularly but nothing. As time went on my visits became less frequent and more forlorn until, two weeks ago, I saw it was all over.

So, future generations, that’s the story behind, like all those dead webpages, echoing like a beacon in space. But it echoes with the sound of some wonderful music.

This article originally appeared at Middlebrow Magazine

Clare Solomon – A political obituary

“All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure” – Enoch Powell

I have probably written as much about Clare Solomon as I have about anyone else over the last couple of years. She was just another leftie student talking rubbish when I first noticed her. Within a few months she had been elected President of the University of London Union, a role which, when student discontent with the proposals of the Browne Review boiled over into violence, saw her emerge as some sort of spokesperson for the loonier fringe of the movement.

This was when hubris met nemesis; a spokesperson has to be articulate and Ms Solomon could barely string a sentence together. She put in an embarrassingly weird performance on Newsnight the evening of the Millbank riot and was at it again when interviewed by the Guardian this weekend

“I …” she says, thinking hard, “I want a world where… people have a say in the everyday running of their lives. To do that, we need to fundamentally change the way the world is organised, so that things are produced according to what we need, not the needs of the market. The world…we know how so many wasteful, disgraceful and unnecessary…products…. products” – she whispers to herself, testing the word out, knowing she’s going awry “…that’s not quite the right way of putting it. There are so many things that are so unnecessary! I can’t explain it, but you know… everything’…done…for profit, regardless of who it hurts and who’s affected by it”

Her cack handedness made her enemies. When she stated on her Facebook page that “The view that Jews have been persecuted all throughout history is one that has been fabricated in the last 100 or so years to justify the persecution of Palestinians. To paint the picture that all Jews have always had to flee persecution is just plainly inaccurate” Jewish students across campus gasped. Ms Solomon was forced to mumble some half apology, saying the “badly worded comment was something that I wrote in haste on Facebook”. Perhaps Ms Solomon is not an anti Semite, but the incident was just another example of the fact that her brain and her mouth were only passing acquaintances.

It was fun while it lasted but the students have spoken and last week Ms Solomon was voted out of office, defeated by a guy who’s manifesto promised “I will be the voice for all students, not just the already vocal minority”, a clear rebuke for Ms Solomon’s antics. Elected with just 750 votes from an electorate of 120,000 last year she received 1,004 this time but her opponent got 1,182. Ms Solomon was indeed, as her supporters said, inspirational. She inspired a massive swing against herself.

This came as a shock to her supporters and to Ms Solomon herself who blamed her defeat on “a right-wing alliance against her”. This alliance seemed to involve people who disagreed with her voting for another candidate. That this isn’t some underhand conspiracy but exactly how elections are supposed to work seems to have gone right over her head.

But Clare Solomon was emblematic, just not in the way that her supporters thought. In that brief period of exhilarating notoriety last year Ms Solomon was the subject of profiles from national newspapers like the Telegraph and Daily Mail as well as more sympathetic outlets such as Counterfire. From these it emerged that Ms Solomon, in the course of a colourful life, had been involved with an organization called the Kings Cross Community Development Trust, a tax payer funded body which went bust owing thousands; I know, I worked at one of the companies it owed. She took another slice of taxpayers cash to open a café which also went bust. She receives a large amount of taxpayer support every month in the form of a council flat in the OXO Tower on London’s south bank, one of the most desirable locations in London with its view over the Thames. And her opposition to any cut in public spending whatsoever shows that she wants this taxpayer largesse to continue indefinitely.

So yes, Ms Solomon is an icon. She is an icon for people who believe that they should get everything they want whenever they want, that others should be forced to pay for it and that there should be no limit whatsoever to the amount of other people’s money they should be entitled to under the cover of ‘social justice’.

Thinking like this has to change now that the country is broke. Ms Solomon and her kind have yet to realize that there will be no more visits from the money fairy depositing wedges of taxpayers cash under their pillows. The students of ULU have woken up to this reality which is why they voted her out. “This is not the end” she has said since her defeat. Indeed, she will remain relevant. I will write no more about her but as long as she continues to subsist on taxpayers money and to loudly defend her right to your wallet she will remain an iconic symbol of entitlement Britain.

The slum your taxes pay for Ms Solomon to live in, the very taxes she wants to raise

We need an anti communism officer

Not useful, just idiots

When my uncle was a young boy in Hungary in the late 1940’s his dad went to work one day and came home two years later. He had been scooped off the street and sent to a Soviet labour camp. He was just one of the millions to have their lives blighted by communism.

This miserable ideology has slaughtered millions and immiserated millions more. It is an ideology of conflict as laid out in the first line of the first chapter of its founding manifesto. It strips people of their individuality and brands them as members of a class. From this it views people as incapable of individual human action but only of acting as their class nature dictates, any that don’t are summarily diagnosed with “false consciousness”. This allows communism to build a supposedly scientific theory of history which usefully predicts, with “historical inevitability”, communism’s eventual victory. When this is shown to be the rubbish it clearly is communism becomes an ideology of violence. It aims to build a ‘new man’ free from the egoism engendered by capitalism. When it becomes apparent that egoism is inherent in human nature rather than being a peculiar property of capitalism, communism tries to force it out of them in the gulag or the killing field.

This perverse communist thinking led to the deaths, at one estimate, of 94 million human beings in the twentieth century. And yet, while student representatives claim to be alive to fascism on campus, they do nothing to combat campus communism.

And we ought to be combating it. Mark Bergfeld, a decent shout to be next NUS president, is a member of the Marxist Socialist Workers Party, a small group which even in coalition with other parties managed just 12,275 votes at the last general election. Clare Solomon, gaffe prone ULU president, was a member of the SWP but was expelled for ‘factionalism’, the sort of obscurity that could only be a crime on the far left.

But we need to be wary of our administrators too. The grand old man of communist history and president of Birkbeck College, Eric Hobsbawm, recently released a book on the history of Marxism. He writes that “the most difficult part of Marx’s legacy for his successors [is that] all actual attempts to realise socialism along Marxian lines so far have found themselves strengthening an independent state apparatus”. “Strengthening an independent state apparatus” might seem a weirdly anodyne way of describing a system which killed over 90 million people but then, when it was once put to Hobsbawm that “What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?”, Hobsbawm unhesitatingly replied “Yes”

The standard riposte is that ‘Marx is no more responsible for the crimes committed in his name than Jesus was responsible for the crimes committed in his’, indeed, Ms Solomon said something similar on her blog until recently. This is dishonest. The division, conflict and pseudo scientific history come from Marx, the violence comes from Lenin and the murderous New Man theory comes from Trotsky, all heroes to communists and the SWP.

One of the posts currently up for election at Professor Hobsbawm’s college is Anti Racism and Anti fascism. Rightly, we wouldn’t let apologists and supporters of fascism to go unchallenged on campus and we must challenge the apologists and supporters of communism also. Surely it’s time for an Anti communism officer on campus?

London Student, 14/03/2011

The failure of Fianna Fáil

So long Soldiers of Destiny

Fourteen months ago Fianna Fáil were in a coalition government with the Progressive Democrats. The PD’s no longer exist and on 25th February Fianna Fáil was wiped out at the ballot box.

The defeat was seismic. Going into the election Fianna Fáil had 70 seats out of 166 in the Dáil Éireann ruling in coalition with 6 Green Party members. Afterwards the Party was reduced to 20 seats having lost 24% of their vote, the worst result in the party’s history. The Green Party lost all its seats.

The defeat was also historic. Fianna Fáil were founded in 1926 by Eamonn De Valera who had fought in the Easter Rising of 1916 and been a leader of the Anti-Treaty forces in the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923. The winners of that war, the Free State government established by the treaty with Britain, formed a party named Cumann na nGaedheal, later Fine Gael, which dominated Irish politics in the first decade after independence.

Formed to rid Ireland of what it saw as lingering British influence Fianna Fáil became one of the most successful political parties in the western world. In the 79 years since the election of its first government in 1932 Fianna Fáil has been in power for 61 of them.

Beyond its commitment to Irish Republicanism Fianna Fáil never had much in the way of a coherent ideology. Its perennial opponents, Fine Gael, were generally described as ‘centre right’ but whereas they often worked in coalition with Labour in their rare spells in government it was Fianna Fáil which allied with the free market PD’s in the 1980’s and 1990’s to enact a raft of reforms which reinvigorated Ireland’s moribund economy.

If a party has no clear ideology what sort of person does it attract? Sadly for Fianna Fáil and Ireland the answer was all too often crooks and chiselers on the make. The business dealings of the notoriously corrupt Charles Haughey, Taoiseach on and off between 1979 and 1992, prompted two separate public inquiries. His successor but one, Bertie Ahern, was embroiled in yet another corruption tribunal.

It was this ceaseless quest to line its own pockets that did for Fianna Fáil. They schmoozed with Ireland’s bankers who were getting rich thanks to the low rates they could borrow at following euro membership. And when the banks got into trouble in 2008 Fianna Fáil agreed, late at night, behind closed doors and with almost no consultation, that the Irish taxpayer would cover their losses. The party of De Valera’s ‘frugal comfort’ lashed themselves and their prospects to the fortunes of the banks and as the banks losses spiraled Fianna Fáil’s electoral prospects withered.

The prospects for Fianna Fáil are not good. The rump left in the Dáil are mostly the party’s old hands, linked with the government that bankrupted the country. A party which has relied on patronage (also known as kickbacks) will find this power deserts it in distant opposition. A party founded on Republicanism has been crowded out by Sinn Féin. They have no flag left to rally round.

The prospects for other parties appear better. With 37 seats Labour had their best election result ever and look set to join Fine Gael in government. But that could just be the start of their troubles. They are closely linked to Ireland’s trade unions which are unlikely to suffer the implementation of EU dictated austerity in silence. Unless there is significant give in the conditions of Ireland’s bailout from Brussels Labour could end up skewered like the Liberal Democrats across the Irish Sea.

Fine Gael has not been in such a commanding position since the late 1920’s but they too could find a warning in Britain. There a coalition elected to clean up the fiscal mess of a previous government is struggling in the polls against the party which left it. People have short memories and the more unpleasant the medicine the more they are inclined to discount the illness that necessitated it.

For Labour and Fine Gael triumph might be short lived but Fianna Fáil, once the natural party of Irish government, will struggle to capitalize. A sad impasse for the Soldiers of Destiny, but an utterly deserved one.

This article originally appeared at Global Politics

Reflections on the ‘revolution’ in Barnsley Central

A message yes, but a “strong” one?

There’s an old saying back up north; you could pin a red rosette on a pig and people would vote for it. At last years general election the voters of Barnsley Central proved this to be almost literally true when they re-elected Eric Illsley, already mired in controversy over his expenses, now jailed over them.

If the judgment of the voters of Barnsley Central is suspect so is that of their new MP Dan Jarvis, elected last night. His acceptance speech, uncertainly delivered, was a carbon copy of that given by Debbie Abrahams when she was elected to another safe Labour seat, Oldham East and Saddleworth, in January. He declared that “The people of Barnsley Central are sending the strongest possible message to David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Your reckless policies, your broken promises and your unfair cuts are letting our country down”

But it’s difficult to see how Jarivs can come out with this rubbish. This ‘strong message’ took the form of nearly 3,000 fewer people voting for the photogenic ex Para than voted for the decidedly non-photogenic ex NUM employee and fraudster back in May last year.

What appears to have happened is that the Labour vote held up as you’d expect it to in any other year while Lib Dem voters stayed home and Conservatives voted for UKIP. Obviously this is not ideal for the coalition but no one ever thanks the doctor for perfoming neccessary surgery while he is fiddling about in their intestines. Given how doubtful it is that these voters will carry this apathy and protest into a general election where the stakes are higher, the coalition can be fairly happy to have generated nothing more than a bit of grumpiness among its own supporters.

Labour, on the other hand, for all their rhetoric of strong messages from angry voters about unfair cuts have seen their vote flatline in two seats they already held. But then how can a party who’s leader describes its beliefs as “a blank sheet of paper” expect to inspire anything but indifference?

Apathy is perpetuated by those who prey on it

Nobody is listening

When Clare Solomon was elected ULU President in March 2010 the website proclaimed it a “Mandate for resistance” and told us that Ms Solomon planned “to use her victory as a springboard for a mass anti-cuts campaign”

However the figures told a different story to one of ‘mandates’ and ‘mass’. The University of London Union represents over 120,000 students and fewer than 750 of them voted for Ms Solomon. That’s less than 0.6% of those eligible to vote.

This pitiful result wasn’t a one off. In its celebratory missive counterfire identified four other recently elected members of a left wing “awkward squad”; Michael Chessum at UCL (540 votes out of about 20,000 UCLU members, or 3% of eligible voters), Louis Hartnoll at UAL (396 votes out of about 28,000 students, or 1%), Ashok Kumar at LSE (805 votes out of 9,900, or a relatively respectable 8% of eligible voters) and James Haywood at Goldsmiths (figures not available despite requests). These are the people who have the gall to question the democratic mandate of the coalition government (17.5 million votes from an electorate of 46 million, or 38%).

The consequence of student apathy towards these elections is that their representatives, elected by a bare handful of them, do not actually represent their views. A London Student poll, for example, found that two thirds of students opposed violent protest but the ‘awkward squad’ simply ignored this view. Chessum and Kumar signed a declaration supporting the Millbank rioters. Solomon refused to condemn them. Haywood, arrested at the scene, said “The occupation of Tory HQ was completely justified” Should we be surprised that people elected by a minority of students reflect a minority opinion?

But why is it that only left wing extremists seek to skip into the void left by apathy? They devote a disproportionate amount of time and effort to these campaigns as they are the only elections they have any chance of ever winning. At the last general election parties to the left of Labour got less than 70,000 votes, not enough to fill Wembley Stadium. The British electorate is not interested in anything as left wing as what the ‘awkward squad’ and their like have to offer. Neither are students.

Sadly the presence of the ‘awkward squad’ encourages student apathy. Lots of students get motivated about an issue like tuition fees that directly effects them but they start to turn off when the ‘awkward squad’ types start prattling on about overthrowing capitalism. As the left wing journalist Nick Cohen wrote recently, “The pattern of British protest is set. Good causes draw hundreds of thousands of people into left-wing politics. After a brief period of exhilaration, they find themselves harangued by pinched-faced, spit-flecked demagogues who insist they must embrace violence and hate. They realise that the far-left is not interested in the issue at hand but only wants to entice new blood into its various cults so it can exploit their energies and empty their bank accounts. Disgusted and demoralised, they drift away”

So we end up in a downward spiral; minority interest, ‘awkward squad’ leaders furthering their own agendas put people off participating which makes it easier for them to get elected and push their agendas. It’s a disappointing prospect, but most students wont care.

London Student, 28/02/2011