How to Save the Republican Party

There is, quite rightly, a lot of soul searching going on in the Republican Party at the moment. In the aftermath of losing one of the most winnable elections in modern history, there is a growing consensus that things need to change. Recognising this reality is not enough. Real change means taking action; it means making genuinely difficult decisions; it means breaking away from the past and planning for the future.

The ever brilliant Mike Gerson and Peter Wehner have written a superb essay on the future of the Republican Party. It contains so much good content that to share the highlights would be to run the risk of cutting and pasting the entire article.

Gerson and Wehner start by suggesting that the modern Republican Party should learn from both Bill Clinton and Tony Blair – two men who reversed the declining fortunes of their respective political parties by taking on some of the most deeply-rooted, politically-toxic issues that had prevailed for many years – and winning.

They go on to propose changes in policy as well as in the way in which the key messages are communicated. They put it far more eloquently than this, but sub-text is that the Republican Party needs to shake-off the image of being the anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-government Party of the rich.

The analysis of what has gone wrong within the Party is both frank and honest. They describe last year’s Presidential election as “not only a dismal showing for the Republicans but the continuation of a dismal, 20-year trend.” Ouch.

On the need to modernise, they state:

“Republicans, in short, have a winning message for an electorate that no longer exists.”

“It is no wonder that Republican policies can seem stale; they are very nearly identical to those offered up by the party more than 30 years ago.”

I’ll end with a longer section on the issue of marriage, which highlights the failure among conservatives to grapple adequately with the issue. Although written for the American context, the same sentiments can be applied for the UK context. I agree wholeheartedly with their analysis:

“Addressing the issue of marriage and family is not optional; it is essential. Far from being a strictly private matter, the collapse of the marriage culture in America has profound public ramifications, affecting everything from welfare and education to crime, income inequality, social mobility, and the size of the state. Yet few public or political figures are even willing to acknowledge that this collapse is happening.

For various reasons, the issue of gay marriage is now front and center in the public consciousness. Republicans for the most part oppose same-sex marriage out of deference to traditional family structures. In large parts of America, and among the largest portion of a rising generation, this appears to be a losing battle. In the meantime, the fact remains that our marriage culture began to disintegrate long before a single court or a single state approved gay marriage. It is heterosexuals, not homosexuals, who have made a hash out of marriage, and when it comes to strengthening an institution in crisis, Republicans need to have something useful to offer. The advance of gay marriage does not release them from their responsibilities to help fortify that institution and speak out confidently on the full array of family-related issues. Republicans need to make their own inner peace with working with those who both support gay marriage and are committed to strengthening the institution of marriage.

Yes, the ability of government to shape attitudes and practices regarding family life is very limited. But a critical first step is to be clear and consistent about the importance of marriage itself—as the best institution ever devised when it comes to raising children, the single best path to a life out of poverty, and something that needs to be reinforced rather than undermined by society.

Other steps then follow: correcting the mistreatment of parents in our tax code by significantly increasing the child tax credit; eliminating various marriage penalties and harmful incentives for poor and for unwed mothers; evaluating state and local marriage-promotion programs and supporting those that work; informally encouraging Hollywood to help shape positive attitudes toward marriage and parenthood. There may be no single, easy solution, but that is not a reason for silence on the issue of strengthening and protecting the family.”


Links of the Day…

A selection of articles that I have enjoyed over the last few days…

More Capitalism, not less of it, is the Answer – Ian Birrell 

What Data Can’t Do – David Brooks 

Real Conservatives cut spending before taxes – Daniel Finkelstein 

The Great Think-Tank Bubble – Ken Silverstein 

Europe Needs Cameron’s Tough Love – Andrew Mitchell 

Michael Gove Interview – Daily Mail 

In Praise of Jeremy Browne MP

Jeremy Browne was on brilliant form in the Commons yesterday. First he issued this succinct defence of the government’s policy on the police:

The purpose of the police is not to employ as many people as possible but to try to make the public as safe as possible and reduce the amount of crime, and that is what is happening.

Followed by this confident challenge to Labour MPs trying to interrupt him:

Mr Browne: I want to make a bit of progress and will give way later…If any Labour MP wants to intervene because crime has risen in their area since the general election, they can get up. Anyone? Go on.

Chris Leslie rose—

Mr Browne: No, crime has not risen in the hon. Gentleman’s area. It is down.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab) rose—

Mr Browne: No, it has not risen in the hon. Gentleman’s area. It has not risen in either of those areas…

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Browne: I will give way right now to anybody who has seen an increase in crime…Every single Labour MP here today has reason to be grateful to the police and to this Government for overseeing the lowest period of crime since the survey began 32 years ago.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Browne: I will get to the details, because some Members are actually genuinely interested in police funding, rather than in trying to score party political points. I owe it to them to treat them seriously…

Radio Four’s Today in Parliament programme has the audio of the debate available for the next 7 days:

Can Money Buy Happiness?

Academically speaking, the answer to this question has, for a long time, been no. This is because of something called the Easterlin paradox – the theory that economic growth in a country does not result in greater happiness for citizens of that country.

But the theory is being challenged.

This week, writing in the Telegraph, Allister Heath cited two new academic papers that claim to disprove the Easterlin paradox. Both papers suggest that increased wealth does result in increased happiness.

The first paper cited by Heath is The New Stylized Facts about Income and Subjective Well-Being by Sacks, Stevenson, & Wolfers. This paper uses data on citizen’s life satisfaction from the Gallup World Poll and compares it against a measure of average income (real GDP per capita). The authors find that wellbeing does in fact rise with income. Moreover, the data show that the correlation stands within single countries, across countries, and over time.

The paper concludes with five “stylized facts” that include findings such as, “richer people report greater wellbeing than poorer people” and “richer countries have higher per capita well-being than poorer countries.”

The paper also offers an explain of why Easterlin came to the conclusions that he did in the 1970s: namely lack of data.

…[Easterlin] failed to find a statistically significant relationship between wellbeing and GDP …There was simply too little data to have the precision necessary to reach a conclusion in either direction.

The second paper cited in Heath’s article is The Easterlin illusion: economic growth does go with greater happiness by Ruut Veenhoven and Floris Vergunst.

This paper also finds that wellbeing rises with income. The authors reveal a positive correlation between GDP growth and a rise of in happiness in nations. They go on to say that both GDP and happiness have gone up in most nations, and average happiness has risen more in nations where the economy has grown the most.

So that’s it then. Money can buy you happiness after all. Or can it?

There remains a discussion as to whether disproving the Easterlin paradox is as simple as the two papers suggest. For example, wellbeing expert Carol Graham argues that it depends on the question that is asked in the survey.

Graham draws a distinction between life evaluation data and life experience data. Happiness data that capture citizens’ life evaluation correlate more closely with income compared to happiness data that capture life experience. This point is made by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton here.

So can money buy happiness? It seems the jury is still out. Academically speaking, anyway.


**More on this, including helpful summaries and useful context, can found here and here.


The Major Years

JMajorPMDigging around YouTube I found this BBC documentary on John Major’s political life (first aired in 1999, I think). It features extensive footage of John Major discussing and reflecting upon his political life including his fast rise within the Conservative Party (from very humble roots) as well as his time in Downing Street. It also features interviews with many of Major’s contemporaries including Douglas Hurd, Ken Clarke, Norman Tebbit, Charles Powell, and others.

I’ve always been fond of Major the man (I’m too young to be able to remember him as Prime Minister). To my eye, there is a rare dignity about him, especially in the way he has conducted himself since leaving office. His decision not to accept a Peerage upon leaving office (an offer usually extended to all former Prime Ministers) is notable, even though he’d make an excellent addition to the House of Lords. His recent appearance before he Leveson Enquiry was also very impressive, as are his occasional appearances on Andrew Marr’s sofa on a Sunday morning. Further, his books on the history of Cricket and the Music Hall demonstrate genuine expertise and passion for subject matter beyond politics.

The BBC documentary is presented in five parts, each 15 minutes long, which I have embedded below. Enjoy…

The Major Years, Part 1

The Major Years, Part 2

The Major Years, Part 3

The Major Years, Part 4

The Major Years, Part 5

On the Worst and Best of Humanity

NYT Mag CoverA recent episode of the brilliant Danish political drama, Borgen, included an uncharacteristically disturbing storyline about paedophilia. The episode entitled ‘Them and Us’ delved into the childhood of leading character Kasper Juul, to reveal that as a young boy he had been sexually abused by his father and by his father’s friends.

At times during the episode my wife and I found the flash-back scenes of Kasper’s childhood so upsetting that we could not watch them, opting instead to fast-forward past them.

Just a few days later on the New York Times website I stumbled across this long feature article that movingly tells the stories of several American women coming to terms with being victims of childhood sexual abuse in the knowledge that images and videos of their abuse are being shared among paedophile networks on the internet.

The article is utterly horrifying and, in parts, very difficult to read. It stirs up fierce waves of emotion that rage deep inside. Feelings of sorrow, love, and compassion for the victims soon morph into utter disgust and anger towards their abusers. I wished I could reach into the story and somehow protect the young girls from the evil being done to them. At the same time I wished all kinds of pain and misery on their abusers.

The NYT article follows the victims’ quest for some sort of legal justice. Indeed, it explores what justice even looks like when dealing with an area of the law that is constantly evolving. Thankfully, a little-known provision of the Violence Against Women Act provides some hope. This provision gives victims of sex crimes, including child pornography, the right to restitution or compensation.

With the help of lawyers, judges, and other experts, the women in the article are able to seek damages from anyone found in possession of the indecent images of them.

This financial compensation is small comfort considering the crimes committed and the lost childhoods of the victims. But the money represents something greater than compensation. It establishes a firm principle and proclaims a warning to anyone involved in child pornography: “if you participate in a market, you become responsible for that market” (quote: Paul G Cassell).

After reading an article like this it is easy (and perhaps natural) to dwell solely on what is wrong with humanity. Specifically, on the unimaginable levels of wickedness that people inflict upon each other. But the lesson I choose to take away is this: despite humanity’s seemingly endless capacity for evil, there exists in this world an unquenchable thirst for justice. This pursuit of justice is underwritten by a profound sense of compassion, made possible by men and women of courage who are standing up for what is right. In this case the lawyers, legislators, judges, and jurors who have protected and supported the victims of paedophilia.

And that, despite everything else, fills me with some hope.