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April 13, 2006

The Euston Manifesto

Norm, Nick, Pooter, Harry’s. No doubt many other places.

I’m agin’ it of course.

With this document we hope to publicly assert our progressive, democratic, egalitarian, internationalist principles in the face of recent attacks upon them from the Right and, to our dismay, the Left.

I’m actually deeply offended, seriously so. How dare some portion of "the left" claim that those on "the right" do not share the same desires? I am clearly of the right and:

1) Progressive? Of course I am. I do quite honestly believe that we can make this a better world not just for ourselves but for all. That we can indeed through government action progress to a better place.

The difference might be that I am certain that the government action should be less government action but I still believe in, insist upon even, a progression from the current state.

2) Democratic? It’s people like me who argue for power to be taken out of the hands of the vote-stealers and placed in the one truly democratic place possible, those of the people themselves. Each and every individual voting for themselves in every action they take.

3) Egalitarian? Of course I am. Equality of opportunity clearly, and I’ll even go with a certain amount of equalizing of outcomes provided those proposing them can accept Kenneth Arrow’s point: all efficient outcomes can be achieved using a competetive market, by adjusting the starting position. Markets are the solution, not the problem.

4) Internationalist principles? It is exactly people like myself, those grim faced right wingers who are internationalist. We are the people who argue for free trade, for the abolition of national borders as far as the allocation of resources is concerned.

The arrogance with which all of those virtues are claimed for "the left". The pure bloody pomposity of it, that a disagreement about how to achieve them is taken as a sign that the goals themselves are not desired.

That bugs me intensely. That plus the regrettable absence of any mention of Motherhood and Apple Pie. Can’t call it a political manifesto without those.

Update: One signatory emails me with the missing clause:

14 We renounce Tim Worstall, the Worstallites and Worstallism.

Apparently this was voted down.

April 13, 2006 in Politics | Permalink


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Thanks for the link, Tim.

If you read it you will see that the manifesto is explicitly non-exclusive. The opening itself reads:

"Many of us belong to the Left, but the principles that we set out are not exclusive. We reach out, rather, beyond the socialist Left towards egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment. Indeed, the reconfiguration of progressive opinion that we aim for involves drawing a line between the forces of the Left that remain true to its authentic values, and currents that have lately shown themselves rather too flexible about these values. It involves making common cause with genuine democrats, whether socialist or not."

More than that, the document is openly agnostic about economics:

"We leave open, as something on which there are differences of viewpoint amongst us, the question of the best economic forms of this broader equality"

You might imagine this kind of statement would provoke "enthusiastic" debate when presented to a room containing numerous (ex-)Trots. You might, but I couldn't possibly comment.

Tim adds: Being "openly agnostic" about economics when economics is the study of who gets everything and why, well, that might be slightly ignoring the elephant, don’t you think?

Posted by: PooterGeek | Apr 13, 2006 12:06:05 PM

"Many of us belong to the Left" probably just amounts, for some at least of them, to their having once been lefties, having given up Left positions for the pernicious nonsenses that they always were, but being reluctant to admit it to themselves and others. Now, should we rub their noses in it, or spare their blushes by saying 'Of course you are, dear' and pretending that they are still lefties? Well, moderation in all things - so a bit of both, I suppose. To start the ball rolling, let me remind them that "Everyone's a Tory on subjects he knows about", but admit that "Tory" is capable of a latitudinarian interpretation. See, even a posh word for the ex-lefties who still wish to be mistaken for intellectuals.

Posted by: dearieme | Apr 13, 2006 12:43:34 PM

[The pure bloody pomposity of it, that a disagreement about how to achieve them is taken as a sign that the goals themselves are not desired. ]

"Pure bloody pomposity" *is* the goal in a number of cases up there. Be very aware, by the way that "internationalist" in this context has the meaning of wanting their internationalist views to be promulgated worldwide through the biggest and least efficient government programme of them all; war.

btw, you've got Arrow's Theorem right but I think it's a bit much to call it "Kenneth Arrow's point"; he has never pretended that the assumptions underlying Arrow-Debreu general equilibrium are relevant to real-world cases and I don't think it describes his actual views on redistribution very well at all.

Posted by: dsquared | Apr 13, 2006 12:50:38 PM

"Everyone's a Tory on subjects he knows about"

The second* defining quality of Toryism being abject ignorance, I have to assume that's irony.

(* - The first defining quality of Toryism is, of course, hypocrisy. It was Peter Hitchens' proud explanation of this, on 'Newsnight' in the mid-90s, that finally convinced me to reject absolutely my Conservative Party heritage.)

Posted by: Gregg | Apr 13, 2006 1:05:09 PM

My principle objection is that this is a document from a group of leftists moving over to the right. The next stop for the neoconverts is neoconservatism.

Once socialists stop basing their politics on such basic marxist ideas as the self-emancipation of the working class, they invariably end up a long, long way away from where they started.

Full opinions on my blog ...

Posted by: David Osler | Apr 13, 2006 1:19:46 PM

Tim, you've made the same mistake as the commenter shouting at me on my blog for the last couple of days: You've confused "recent attacks upon them from the Right" with "recent attacks upon every single one of them from every single person on the Right".

Posted by: Squander Two | Apr 13, 2006 1:45:15 PM

I wonder why sometimes people fall into different political parties and yet see the same way forward:


Posted by: Jock Coats | Apr 13, 2006 1:52:19 PM

Tim adds: Being "openly agnostic" about economics when economics is the study of who gets everything and why, well, that might be slightly ignoring the elephant, don’t you think?"

Medicine is the study of who lives, who dies, and why; but I wouldn't go looking in a medical textbook for a set of ethical principles.

Posted by: PooterGeek | Apr 13, 2006 2:13:15 PM

Tim, I think you're making too much of the "attacks from the Right" thing. Lefties will believe in an incredible variety of strange nonsense (e.g. Ba'athism, Zarqawi), as long as they're reassured that it doesn't have any "right" in it. Like a little kid who has to be reassured that nothing he eats has onions in it.

Osler, I agree that anybody wacky enough to take Marxism seriously in the first place should never be trusted with sharp objects, regardless of how far apostate he goes in later life.

Posted by: P. Froward | Apr 13, 2006 2:16:10 PM

"I agree that anybody wacky enough to take Marxism seriously in the first place should never be trusted with sharp objects, regardless of how far apostate he goes in later life."

Does Tony Blair know this?

From the biog of Dr John Reid, the present secretary of state for defence:

"Born in Lanarkshire in 1947, John Reid comes from Catholic mining stock. His father was a postman and his mother a factory worker, but he broke away from his roots thanks to hard work and a good education. This culminated in a doctorate in economic history at Stirling University: a well-informed and sometimes brilliant analyst, Dr Reid is no dim central belt machine politician.

"He joined the Communist party in 1973, leaving it to become a professional Labour party activist with close links to Neil Kinnock. He reaped his reward in 1987 when he won the ultrasafe seat of Motherwell North (now Hamilton North and Bellshill). He voted for Tony Blair as party leader in 1994 and by the end of that year was deputy spokesman on defence."

With a doctorate in economic history, Dr Reid can hardly plead ignorance about Marxism or Khrushchev's revelations about Stalin delivered at a secret session of the Soviet Communist Party in February 1956:

Perhaps he especially admired this bit:

"[Khrushchev] revealed that in 1937 and 1938, 98 out of the 139 members of the Central Committee were shot on Stalin's orders."

Posted by: Bob B | Apr 13, 2006 2:40:53 PM

John Reid did say something like "I used to believe in Communism, I used to beleive in Santa" Which is reasonably good.

Posted by: Rob Read | Apr 13, 2006 5:21:44 PM

Rob Read

Yes, but 26 is a bit old to believe in Santa

Posted by: Umbongo | Apr 13, 2006 5:53:49 PM

How does someone with a doctorate in economic history come to believe in Communism when Stalin's Agrarian Policy for the Soviet Union, set out in a speech on 27 December 1929, was to "smash the kulaks, eliminate them as a class"?

Stalin laid out the Communist party line for killing by category in that speech - the Ukraine famine of 1932/3, in which millions died, was a direct consequence of his policy:

As economic historians understand very clearly, an agrarian revolution of some kind is absolutely fundamental to making the transition from a basically agrarian to an industrialised economy because the growing industrial proletariat (= workers), living in the towns and cities, can only be fed from either imported agricultural produce or from a food surplus exacted by some means from the countryside.

Since the Soviet Union's prospects for importing agricultural produce on any scale at the time were remote, Stalin concluded that the way to generate and exact the necessary food surplus to feed the industrial proletariat was enforced collectivization of farming, and by his lights that meant terrorising or killing off the kulaks who had been acting as farming entrepreneurs in the countryside since the Soviet revolution of 1917 and through the period of Lenin's New Economic Policy.

In fact, the collectivization of agriculture never, ever worked - the continuing failings with agriculture were among the factors which contributed to Khrushchev's eventual downfall in 1964. The small holdings, which the peasants working on collective farms were permitted to work at various times and sell the produce from, contributed a disproportionately large share of the Soviet food supply. By the early 1980s, the Soviet Union was having to buy grain from America with the approval of the Reagan administration.

All that should be thoroughly familiar to any moderately competent graduate in economic history as they inevitably cover issues in standard courses of how the prior agrarian revolution in Britain was a pre-condition for the subsequent pioneering industrial revolution. If Dr Reid wasn't up with that, I can only .. err .. wonder.

Posted by: Bob B | Apr 13, 2006 9:12:57 PM


I think you are being a little harsh. They don't claim the document for the Left, merely that they largely originate from the Left.

There is a lot to like in this manifesto (and it is rare that you can say that from the Left these days) but my criticism centres around their economics i.e. there is none. They state that they are in favour of a strong economy but fail to spell out what this entails (i think they imply capitalism and globalisation are working but they don't like the fact that the rich are getting richer - even if the poor are getting a lot less poor).

For other niggles, see my blog.

Posted by: pommygranate | Apr 14, 2006 6:03:46 AM

By historic tradition, economic diagnosis and prescriptions were fundamental to the radical mission in politics.

Hence, not merely Marx and "scientific socialism" but the Utilitarians in the 19th century and Henry George's proposal for taxing rents. In the micro dimension in the 20th century, we had the Lange-Lerner model for a market-orientated socialist economy with its huge associated literature on optimal (Ramsay) pricing in public sector business and then the regulation of privatised utilities.

In the macro dimension, we had: Can Lloyd George Do It? - the Liberal Party pamphlet for the 1929 election co-authored by Keynes - and after WW2, Keynesian fine tuning to maintain "a high and stable level of employment." Gaitskell, Tony Crosland and Harold Wilson had all been academic economists. But the age of modernisation is now upon us and economics stuff has all been relegated to margins and footnotes. Economists are mere experts on tap but never on top. Visions, aspirations and narratives are in ascendancy.

Perhaps the clearest manifestion of the notion that politics always trumps economics was in the European debate on monetary union in the 1990s. Launching the Euro was a over-riding political aspiration which incidental economic reservations were not permitted to intrude upon. That was why Bernard Connolly was fired from his monetary policy post in the EU Commission in 1995. It was why Blair, the Blairites and the Europhiles would go around flag-waving for the Euro leaving the Treasury to rein back ascending enthusiasm in 1997, with the Treasury's five tests, and then again in June 2003 when the Treasury (very sensibly) concluded that joining the Euro was emphatically not in Britain's interests - at least for the foreseeable. The EU Lisbon agenda of 2000 to make the EU the most competitive global region by 2010 was a statement of resounding aspiration. Actually getting there is a minor detail.

Economics is among those subjects, like physics, in declining popularity for A-levels and degrees. As the Euston Manifesto exemplifies, the exciting, motivating stuff is about meeja presentations, flashing aspirations and human resource management.

Posted by: Bob B | Apr 14, 2006 10:01:03 AM

In a nutshell, BobB.

It's meaningless tosh. I can't see how Tim would be offended by it, except as a document which saps the human spirit in general.

But it's new, it's modern, it's global. I'm sure they've squeezed 'empowering' in there somewhere.

I wouldn't know, I couldn't get past the first line:

A. Preamble

Or "How a management consultant starts a sentence".

Do I want some?
f*** no.

Posted by: FishAreFun | Apr 14, 2006 11:37:37 AM

Point 9 is interesting. Note, "We are opposed to all forms of terrorism. The deliberate targeting of civilians is a crime under international law and all recognized codes of warfare, and it cannot be justified by the argument that it is done in a cause that is just." -- it doesn't state that 'deliberate targeting of civilians' is terrorism, nor does it otherwise define or limit the definition of terrorism, but I'm guessing that the implication is that 'deliberate targeting of civilians' is what is meant by terrorism.

So, what does "deliberate" mean in this context? Does it include use of force where collateral damage and civilian casualties are inevitable? What about attacking infrastructure (a bridge, a telephone exchange, a power station) which has both military and civilian uses? Are the resulting excess deaths the result of 'terrorism', or just victims of tragic events that anyone could have predicted? What about bombing military targets in urban areas? Is this a manifesto for unilateralists?

Posted by: Chris Lightfoot | Apr 14, 2006 1:09:38 PM

the interesting thing about the "terrorism" bit is that although it is not particularly precisely worded, as far as I can see it does rule out Oliver Kamm's actual view, which is that "terrorism" carried out by democratically elected governments is morally permissible because it can be "corrected" at a later date.

Posted by: dsquared | Apr 15, 2006 5:02:37 PM

You mean as in this piece where he quotes Conor Cruise O'Brien writing, "the use of violence by the democratic state is subject to scrutiny and criticism, and abuses can be punished and corrected"?

#9 is so ambiguous that I'm not sure that it does rule out this interpretation. If you accept that the second sentence ("The deliberate targeting of civilians...") defines "terrorism", then it rules out this-war-now, and (if you accept a reasonable definition of 'deliberate') a lot of other prospective wars; but if you discard the sentence as being an aside entirely unrelated to the rest of the paragraph, then it doesn't, because "terrorism" remains undefined and can presumably be taken to mean only what the authors think it does: blowing up trains in London or Madrid, or police stations in Baghdad is; but blowing up water-treatment plants or electricity substations in Iraq isn't, as long as it's the US Air Force doing it.

Posted by: Chris Lightfoot | Apr 16, 2006 2:10:03 PM

Actually, now I come to re-read it, point 9 isn't actually particularly woolly by the standards of the rest of the document. For instance, point 1 states that the signers like all of the trappings of democracy, but it doesn't actually come out in favour of democracy as such, by which I mean people voting to determine who rules them or how they should be ruled. As someone remarked above, it really is politics for management consultants.

Posted by: Chris Lightfoot | Apr 16, 2006 2:23:23 PM