Quote of the Day: The stupid leading the fearful

[T]he most powerful movement of organised stupidity in recent British history

Nick Cohen on UKIP.

19 thoughts on “Quote of the Day: The stupid leading the fearful

  1. Good quote and interesting article.

    We have a sort of rightwing populist party here, too. Sverigedemokraterna (SD, “The Sweden Democrats”). Not as flashy and urban as the UKIP, and talking more about immigration that EU politics. They have been in parliament for almost four years. They have taken votes from all colors of the
    political spectrum.

    Our (“tory type”) government is a minority one, and are often relying on the SD for votes, although they have no formal collaboration.

    The opposition, including a lot of media, tend to, imho, make themselves high and noble by repeatedly attacking SD, calling them fascist etc. I find that SD often work as distraction. The govt display openly their disregard for unemployed and ill people. Their main political meme is “the work
    line”. Anyone not fitting that is in their own words, “outside”. For many that is some kind of wellmeaning paternalism, but it is just discrimination and hatred as far as I am concerned. As for me, the govt may be less racist than SD, but they are not less fascist.

    SD can certainly, and should be, criticisised for a lot of things, but they do serve the govt well as a sort of distraction.
    Interestingly, when the govt want to make laws questionable from a democratic standpoint, such as surveillance, their good friends are at least sometimes the Social Democrats (labour).

    Not that I am disagreeing with the article you linked. Ignoring parties just out of misguided tactics is deplorable. But if Labour would too much lash on UKIP, then Tories will have a more comfortable ride, imho. Unless they associate UKIP and Tories as much as they can. But Labour parties tend to
    less and less care for those in need, arrogantly assuming that those will vote anyway for them, just give votes away to populists. Farage might not care a bit a working class and poor people, but he will get frustration votes there too.

    Maybe making a comment a lot longer than the post is maybe bad netiquette. 😉


  2. It sounds like the SD are more worrying than UKIP – or should be, at least. The thing about UKIP is that they are a populist minority party that has managed to position themselves as the anti-establishment party. What would normally happen with a party such as this is that they will do well in local and European elections and then be wiped out when the General (national) election comes around.

    The party is such a disaster that they are going into this year’s European elections without actually having any policies. The problem is not UKIP so much as the way in which the mainstream parties are reacting to them.

    There are a number of Tory MPs who are panicking (unnecessarily) about UKIP and another (possibly overlapping) group of Tories who see UKIP as an opportunity to push Cameron further towards their own anti-EU, anti-immigrant, little-Englander agenda. And Labour don’t seem to be doing much better – they are echoing UKIP’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, thus allowing the debate to ratchet further and further to the right.

    In a sane world, UKIP would be ignored and irrelevant, but sanity seems to be in short supply at the moments, and the nutters are starting to take over the asylum.

    Your mention of the SD, however, did remind me that there the populist right is springing up all over Europe and having (in my view) a disproportionate effect on far too many parliaments. In Belgium there is Vlaams Belang (which, thankfully, received quite a kicking in the last local elections), the Dutch have Geert Wilders and his inaccurately named Freedom Party to deal with (and they managed an agreement with the last government similar to the one you describe for SD). The French National Front are doing worryingly well, and the list goes on.

    Historically, I think, there has always been about a fifth of any national population willing to listen to the populist right and, historically, these people have been ignored along with the populists that attempt to whip up their fears. These peoples’ concerns should be addressed and the populists need to be challenged and shown for the inane fear-mongers they are.

    The problem is that mainstream politicians appear too keen to pander to the fears whipped up by populists, thus affording them far more credibility than they deserve.

    And finally. Never worry about the length of your comments. This post, as with many of my very short posts, was a case of me wanting to respond to Nick Cohen’s article but not having the time to order my own thoughts. In this case, it’s the comments that help me clarify my own views 🙂


  3. This is a really hard subject.

    I think the populists are a very varied sort. I would argue that Tory-type (the established parliamentary right wing) is populistic in that they are run by the well to do, and then try flirt with at maximum 2/3 of the population. They couldnt care less about the rest. They always try to paint out the poor as the problem. Their reasoning is fearmongering and discrimination. Traditionally they were nationalist and racist. Not so anymore for the most part. At least not overtly. Because the elites nowadays do not have use for nationalism or overt racism. It is not the old colonialist economy anymore. They gladly rub their elbows with their friends from all countries, including those from some of the worst regimes in the world.

    I think that the rightwing populists have a rather mixed voter collective. There are real racists, of course, but I think they are in all parties, if more polished. If we look at SD, some people tell me they think of voting for them. Not because they are racists but because of the hipocrisy of the regular politicians. If people say they do not like certain religions, or they do not recognise their neighbourhood anymore, the elites yell “racists!” When a fundamentalist Christian pastor engages in homophobic speech the debates goes on forever, when imams say worse things it is a very short scandal and then silence. I am not sure the elites have so little confidence in the population, that they dont want them to say anything. Sweden has a very long history of extreme centralisation, political and religious. And mental. Immigrants that witness that some asylumseekers are fake are castigated for being racist. One leading politician said Swedes are jealous of immigrants because they have culture and identity, and we apparently do not. Several political parties have tried their hand in ethnic clientism, which is anti-thetical to a working democracy. The astonishing thing is that there are immigrants who openly say they support the SD. I do not support them. I dont like them.

    The hypocricy of many yelling “racism!” They themselves wouldn’t dream of living in the suburbs where most Swedes have left. Their dislike for poor people is probably bigger than for different people. Or maybe not. I often get the feeling they are trying to cleanse themselves of their own racism by claiming that many Swedes are. And it is usually Swedes in villages and small towns that seem to be the problem. They are not more racist than the elites. I also find the incessant accusations of “racism”, e.g. when there is critique of religion, as an obfuscation of real racism. One funny thing is that they question what a Swede is, or if they even exist, and then use that label for painting a gloomy picture of culture.

    Some voting for the SD and similar parties just vote because they see the main parties as just colluding. Which they often are. Protest voting. The Labour Parties seem nowadays to be quite comfy with vast scale privatization and regressive taxes. The established parties change a lot of fundamental politics without asking the population, i.e. the voters. Things such as military, security, democracy. The secret trade negotiations are an icing on the cake. They are arrogant and do not seem to really care what the inhabitants think, neither nationally or on the EU-level. Result: populism, some of which is very nasty. But it is not their own fake moral high ground that is the solution, it is better democracy.


  4. When I refer to populists, I am thinking specifically of the sort of politician or political hopeful who sees an issue about which many people are concerned and comes up with an approach that is simple, simplistic, easy to understand and hopelessly wrong. In the case of UKIP, every issue comes down to blame the EU and pretend that all will be magically made right again if the UK leaves.

    Not all populists are racist – by intent – but, obviously, finding a scapegoat is the easiest (if untrue) answer anyone can come up with for any issue. And as soon as someone starts scapegoating an ethnic or cultural group, they are into racist territory regardless of whether they wanted to be or not.

    On a side note, I don’t think that the traditional (pre-Thatcher) Tory MP was a populist breed. Patrician and out of touch, almost certainly, but not a populist. Much of the problem with the modern Conservative party is that there are very few actual conservatives among its members. These days, the party is increasingly dominated by radical libertarians and Cameron is simply too weak to exert any control over them.

    There are real issues that people are genuinely and reasonably concerned about. What I would like to see would be politicians arguing over the data, genuinely addressing people’s concerns and honestly trying to resolve the issues. Instead, they are increasingly adopting populist rhetoric and competing with each other over who can be hardest on this weeks’ scapegoat.

    Part of this does seem to reflect a very real confusion on the part of the left as to what they actually stand for. The point you make about people being excessively sensitive to the feelings of the most abusive, small-minded reactionaries, just because they happen to be Muslims has been brought into sharp relief in the UK recently after Maajid Nawaz suggested that his god might be bigger than some cartoon. The media has effectively sided with the violent reactionaries by refusing to show the (rather innocuous) image under discussion.

    If you don’t know what I am referring to, you can find the whole sorry story here (scroll down: the stories beneath the main one have more background).

    It is true that some people do use ‘Muslim’ as a racist euphemism. It is also true, however, that Islam – like any other religion – is a collection of opinions and that those opinions are no more deserving of respect than any other. It is possible, and necessary, to talk about a set of beliefs without attacking the people who hold those beliefs but this is made much harder than it should be by those on the left that insist on seeing Muslims as an infantile, homogenous whole that throws a tantrum whenever they don’t get their own way.

    The vast majority of Muslims are not like that and, to treat them in this way is racist. It’s the racism of low expectations and the people who pander to these stereotypes are doing no favours for anyone.

    If we are going to have a functioning democracy, we need to first have a society in which any opinion can be expressed, challenged and argued over. Because, as soon as we accept that some opinions are out of bounds, we are putting our society into the hands of totalitarians.


  5. I suppose I used populist in a wider sense, maybe too wide. But there is scapegoating from the more traditional right, tho that is of course the poor, the unemployed, indolent etc I also notice that liberal these days mostly mean market liberal. “Social liberal” seem a dead species. I suppose my reading and listening habits are a bit skewed, but Osborne seems to be a very disliked politician, to put it mildly.

    “This week’s scapegoats” sounds familiar, though I think the debate climate in UK is a lot harder and maybe rhetoric than in Sweden. Our parliament debates are mostly sleeping pills.

    Maajid Nawaz story I hadn’t heard about but I think we have similar cases here. Some people bully, and some are let themselves be intimidated by extremists. Mostly just verbally. But sometimes with threats. Members of minorities are those that get most of such threats, I guess. From their “own kind” (not really). And racism and sexism is equally bad, regardless of color and creed.

    Paternalism often hides a sort of racism or other denigration.


  6. Hey, who are you calling a dead species?!? 😉

    More accurately, I would describe myself as a liberal in the traditional sense of the word – someone who sees individual liberty as an essential and then looks for a way of maximising liberties for all. As such, my outlook is a mix of varying degrees of social, cultural, political and economic liberalism. The main problem I have with such an outlook is that I don’t have any easy slogans to latch on to – or maybe that’s a good thing 😉

    That said, there are far too many people who seem to think that liberalism begins and ends with free markets. These people, also known as libertarians, are idiots. I do think that George Osborne falls into this group, as do many Conservative MPs, but it isn’t a popular position (or, at least I hope it isn’t) and the fact that the bonkers wing of the Tory party is doing so well is primarily an indication of just how flawed the UK electoral system is.

    The Maajid Nawaz story isn’t the first one of it’s kind that I’ve seen, it’s just the most recent. The pattern is the same every time, though. Someone expresses an opinion, extremists start threatening them and the media starts siding with the extremists in the name of ‘cultural sensitivities.’

    We need to recognise that the shoutiest parts of a community do no represent the community as a whole, and we need to start recognising these communities for what they are – diverse groups of inndividuals with a range of beliefs, opinions and goals.

    Whenever a politician – or the media – allows a self-appointed ‘community leader’ to speak for others, they are guilty of paternalistic racism. We should call these people out when they do it.


  7. “I’m the true liberal. Get off my lawn!” 😉

    The bonkers wing of tories. Sounds like monocles, guffaws and old boys galore! I say!

    The British ‘community politics’ is analyzed in a book I have. I am planning to reread it soon.


  8. Eee… When I were a lad, we had proper liberalism. 😉

    The bonkers wing of the Tories – to me , at least – are the free market fundamentalists who seem to think they have a one-size-fits-all solution to everything. The more traditional, old boys, type were a much more pragmatic breed that was willing to look at whatever worked. These were the ones – the conservatives – that Thatcher managed to relabel as wets and effectively drive out of the Tory party.

    You will have to let me know the title of the book you have. If there’s an English translation, I would be quite interested in reading it.


  9. The free market fundamentalists are very reductionist and simple. Childish. That said, I think there need to be big chnages as to what is going to be the public sector, and what is the private. Now we have this horrible hydra. For example, we now have private for-profit schools payed with tax money. That is just sick imo. In the US, and probably other places, the oil industry recieves tax exemptions/reductions. The universities are starting to think in production/industry terms Copyright and patent politics etc etc. Some libertarians calls this “socialism”, but it is not, it is state capitalism. I am all for a good public sector. I am dependent on it in my current situation. It helps me get by, not more. It’s just this unclear mixing that I think many, both left and right are sick of. It also breeds corruption. It is the result of politicians scramble for “the middle” I think.

    I think conservative is a rather ambigious term. In Europe it used to me “the king, the military and the church”, in the US it seams to mean more “the republic and the constitution”. In some sense the right is more conservative here at least, trying to take some of the space previously occupied by social democrats. But their policis are unfair, and the mix of public and private is worse than ever imho, huge privatizations not withstanding.

    But if conservative means that we should really think what is good what is bad, what is right and wrong, what should be public what should be private and increased individual then I suppose I am for it 🙂


  10. Thanks for the book recommendation. I looked it up on Amazon and Kenan Malik going over the Rushdie affair has to be worth a read.

    The traditional definition of a conservative – as I underrstand it – is someone who doesn’t like change. So, in a monarchy conservatives will tend to be monarchists whereas in a republic, conservatives will tend to be republicans. This, in itself, is no bad thing and in any debate there is value in having people who are cautious about the rate of change and who will resist change for its own sake.

    The reason I say that most Conservative MPs aren’t conservatives is that the vast majority of them are in favour of rushing headling into radical (libertarian) changes, which is about as far from conservative thinking as you can get.

    I do think that changes are needed and I don’t think that either extreme (left or right) has anything useful to say. Markets have their place but they are neither perfect nor a panacea. As a society, we need to recognise these limitations and talk seriously about when, where and how the state should step in.

    Otherwise we end up where we are now. with the poorest parts of society subsidising the wealthiest.


  11. I only read the book, I had no idea who Kenan Malik is. But he seems to be a regular on BBC and blogging frequently. Two new books this year, too. Gonna reread the first before getting the others, I think. Is he well-known?

    As for extreme politics, Sweden is leaving a lot of the public sector behind. While we have very few private schools etc, they have multiplied. Daycare co-ops and a few schools run by foundations. But many run for-profit. Just going from one extreme to another. I have many times read that Sweden has had one of the fastest privatizations of the West. Not beating former Communist countries, but still. Quite many of these new schools are either part of a corporated chain, or religious. Payed with tax money of course :/

    It’s funny how the rich complains about the poor not working enough. I mean they cannot possibly have ammassed all that wealth by working only. 😉


  12. I used to subscribe to Index on Censorship, and I still follow the website. Kenan Malik is associated with the magazine, which is where I know him from. I haven’t read any of his books – yet – but the articles and online writing I’ve seen from him generally talk a great deal of sense.

    It’s interesting that you mention privatising education in Sweden. If my memory serves me correctly, the UK Conservatives big education initiative – Free Schools – is inspired by the Swecish system. As far as I can tell, that’s Free as in free from any sort of educational standard and it does look very much like the Tories are basically hoping that private companies will step in and take over the education system for them.

    I probably shouldn’t lay the blame for this entirely at the feet of the Tories, though. I believe that much of what they are doing is building on top of the Acadamy Schools that were introduced under Tony Blair.

    I think the very rich think that the poor are at fault for not being born to wealthy enough parents 😉


  13. The privatization has been pushed by social democrats, too. Just different degrees in hell, as we say here. I read about one private school here that was run as a non-profit foundation. It had better results than the for-profit ones. There have been cases of for-profit ones going bankrupt mid-schoolyear, leaving students in the void. I guess the local city had to help the students. The public usually have to mop up after these “market” endavours. Schools, banks etc. Chosing school is not like chosing a shirt or food in a store. It is a very long term decision. For a young person three years is a long time. The politics is for many a huge fail, but few politicians admit that. I do not know if I get older, or the quality just gets worse, but for every year I just get less and less impressed by politicians. Very few of them have anything interesting to say at all. An then I have not said anything about their ethics. 😉

    Speaking of wealthy parents… Those that always say the poor are lazy and its their own fault. They should consequently argue for 100% inheritance tax. And massive help to those that are born into lesser fortunate families.


  14. “Choosing a school is not like choosing a shirt”

    … You have perfectly expressed the point I was trying to make a couple of comments back. 🙂

    I have seen it claimed in various places that private schools perform better than state schools, but I would really like to see a like-for-like comparison between the two. I strongly suspect that if you factor in the fact that private school pupils all have parents that are wealthy and motivated enough to pay for their children’s education, the advantages of private schools would look a lot less impressive. This is not to attack private schools but merely to note that their advantages are primarily financial and not due to some magical property of free markets.

    Unfortunately, there are far too many people in power that seem to believe that markets do have some magical ability to make everything wonderful.

    This is a problem with both the left and the right. In the UK, Labour has been just as guilty as the Tories of creating artificial “internal markets” and pushing an agenda of choice without acknowledging that choice can only work if there is wastage.

    The result is an environment that is rigged to favour the suppliers of services to the detriment of those that need them. The most recent case of this is the Al-Madinah free school in Derby which has been failing, very publicly, for a year.

    If we are ever going to progress as a society, we need to recognise that chasing panaceas is a fool’s errand and start talking seriously about what does and doesn’t work and which solutions should be applied where.

    Unfortunately. Politicians.

    I’ve observed the same as you among the political classes. None of them are motivated by big ideas and none of them want to challenge any consensus. Instead, they all sign up to the same broad orthodoxy and spend all their time arguing about whichever bit of trivia will make the next headline. I won’t go as far as to say there are no good politicians any more, but the current political generation is notable only for its mediocrity.


  15. I agree there are several factors as to why schools are good and bad. The burden of proof that “the market” is best lies with privatization nutters. As if there is a market. As you say, internal artificial markets are created under the banner of “choice”. The tax spending for public services run by private for-profit corps also helps the creation classes of wealthy politicial clients (in my cynical view).
    That these fake markets are allowed to be involved in running of schools is to fail children and young people.

    It is also popular here by both govt and cities to create publically ownded companies for all sorts of services. They rely on tax money but with less control from the public. And less transparency. That is the purpose of it. It also allows politicians and bureaucrats to fulfill their dream of running a company.

    One question, I don’t think I understand the concept of wastage.


  16. What I mean by wastage is that, if you are going to have any sort of meaningful choice when you buy a product then the supplier of that product has to produce more than they can sell. So, for example, a clothing shop has three shirts on stock and sells three shirts, then the third person to buy a shirt had no choice (other than the option of not buying anything).

    Applying the same principle to schools, if choice is going to mean anything for the parents and/or pupils then the state has to start funding school places that it knows will not be filled. Otherwise, the whole thing backfires and we end up with schools choosing pupils rather than the other way around.

    And because no government will deliberately pay for something that won’t be used (even though they do it accidentally all the time 😉 ) the “choice” that internal markets are supposed to provide is – at best – an illusion.

    And I completely agree that this approach can do nothing but fail the pupils they are supposed to be providing for.

    Privatising companies that depend on subsidies is another bugbear of mine. In the UK, the government has privatised both the rail and the busses, and all they have managed to do is turn public monopolies into private monopolies… that actually cost the taxpayer more.

    It comes back to the same thing: There are some services for which the social value outweighs the economic cost. These services should be supplied by the state, paid for from taxes, for the benefit of all.

    And the sooner those in power stop looking for magic workarounds, the better.


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