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Race, class and Donald Trump

7_scary_realities_for_americans_with_donald_trumHow did the unthinkable happen? If only a short blog post hours after the biggest upset in world politics since the Soviet Bloc went under could provide the answers. Hot takes rarely do. Usually we have to wait months – years for perspective to form, and see an event in its singular aspect. Unfortunately, we do not have the time, the people who are going to be at the sharp end of a Trump presidency don’t have the time. We need to understand what has happened not because it’s a jolly fun thing to do, though there will be plenty who build careers off the back of providing comment and analysis of this kind; we need to get to grips with it to stop it from happening again. Here are some very sketchy thoughts.

The knee jerk nonsense of sundry liberals, which is already trying to carve a space for itself as the received wisdom on matters Trump, is most unhelpful. That the centre could not hold because the majority of white voters, some 62% of the population, voted because racism is the wrong conclusion. Yes, it was white people, but to mangle a phrase from a different context, not all white people. It was the well-off white folks, the middle class (not in the traditional American sense of the term) and the vast legion of small business people who are the constituencies who tipped it. In other words, the beginning of wisdom about Trump’s victory begins with taking race and class together, of doing a touch of maligned intersectional analysis.

Just so we’re clear, racism is as American as Mom and McDonald’s. All through the American Revolution’s heroic phase and down to today, the division of labour has always been heavily racialised. All whites, regardless of poverty and destitution, could draw deep from ideological resources that justified and maintained slavery to create an imagined superiority, and one that has blighted generations of white Americans. Of course, the Jim Crow laws in the South institutionalised racist supremacy and though they’re long gone, the regular killing of black men by mainly white police forces show it hasn’t gone away. Not completely separate from this is racial segregation. Despite being the great melting pot, it’s probably fair to say that post-imperial Britain, with all its problems and issues, has proven much more successful in integrating ethnic minorities than the land born entirely from immigration. However, segregation and the racialisation of work, like all over the advanced West, had started to dissolve. More advanced in the socially progressive, metropolitan coastal states, it had a long way to go elsewhere, but nevertheless showed the interior its future. For the majority of white America, evidence of integration’s insidious creep was felt through immigration. Year after year, more Hispanics appeared waiting tables in their restaurants, tending their gardens, working in their hotels, their service stations, their supermarkets and malls. They were a visual reminder that white America is a group in relative decline.

This is only part of the story. The race anxiety vote theory doesn’t stand up. None of this is new, it was the case in 2008 and 2012 when enough white people voted for Obama. If whites are essentially racist, why the variance over time, and why were plenty prepared to vote for the mixed race fella with the very non Anglo-Saxon name? Economics might have something to do with it too. Neoliberal economics and governance, the subordination of all to the demands of capital and the whims of the market ceaselessly undermine our senses of self-security. The lot of the majority, regardless of ethnicity and race, is to sell our bodies and our brains, and therefore our freedom for a set period every week in return for a wage or a salary. For too many of us, there’s even uncertainty whether there will be work enough available to pay the bills. Doubling down on this way of being has been the great transition of the last four decades, where the memories of industrial capital echo around crumbling factories. Manufacturing jobs, Proper Jobs, have either disappeared, got themselves exported, or absorbed into manufacturing machinery. They are now replaced by office jobs, service jobs, caring jobs, of jobs that no longer make things and instead produce the intangible. Across the Western world, but particularly in America and Britain, governments have overseen and connived with the abandonment of millions by capital. These are the left behind, a strata of people with a skill set and a mind for another time, and they have been discarded. That is the unmissable, crucial context for Trump’s victory in the rustbelt states.

Yet, as we have seen, while white workers of modest means did vote for Trump, fewer than half of them did. It was the better off. How then to explain this? It doesn’t seem to make sense. In studies of voting behaviour concerned with economic voting, summed up by another Clinton in a happier time as “it’s the economy, stupid”, researchers typically distinguish between two sub-categories. There is ‘pocket book voting’ (behaviour conditioned by the prospective impacts on one’s finances, and/or those of relatives and friends) and ‘sociotropic voting’, which is where a voter looks at the health of the wider economy over and above personal circumstances. All aspiring governments construct narratives that address the personal and the social, and they are emphasised and de-emphasised when expediency requires. In Trump’s case, the pocket book was addressed by cutting taxes, and attacking higher health premiums for the better off to pay for Obamacare. The macro story was about restoring industry to the rustbelt by repatriating it from the Far East and Latin America, and curbing immigration to ensure the right (white) people got the jobs. As a pitch, on paper it seems something you might expect white working class voters to get on board with. And some of them did. But it was the white middle class who were proper beguiled. Why?

Generations of Marxists have talked about the petit bourgeois – small business people – as if caught between the fundamental forces of capitalism. On the one hand, big capital can out compete and always threatens to put the smallholder out of business, throwing them down into the wage-earning mass. On the other, ungrateful employees are always bellyaching about not having enough hours, wanting pay rises, having more time off, wanting more autonomy, and, through incompetence or, heaven forfend, strike action threaten the viability of the business. To occupy the position of the petit bourgeois is to surrender to the icy grip of permanent existential dread, of not having mastery over one’s fate (despite the promise of being one’s own boss), and feeling hemmed in and under siege in the market place and at work. Second, for privileged layers of white people, the managers and the professionals, they share a certain outlook with their small business counterparts.

Their good fortune is a consequence of their talents and graft. The privileges accumulated, the good salaries, nice house, multiple cars, expensive holidays, and the million and one trappings of the good life are theirs By The Sweat Of Their Brows. And they too are anxious it could all get take away, either by economic crisis leading to redundancy and unemployment, or ever-encroaching taxes and health insurance premiums. For both these groups, their sources of status anxiety are bound up with the great intangibles of class dynamics and process, they are therefore very likely to respond sociotropically to economic policy. Trump’s pledge to decent, secure, well-paid manly jobs, to get Motor City motoring again perversely had more of an impact on the non-working class segment of white America than the worker. By giving the impression of a return to stability for the worker, so too the more excitable petit bourgeois is swept up in enthusiasm.

There’s no real excuse for us commentators and so-called professionals not to have seen a Trump victory coming. His platform is backward and deeply troubling, but his campaign team – and The Donald himself – understood that stability and security, served as it was in racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric might appeal to enough people. And so it proved. One of the reasons why Hillary Clinton’s campaign didn’t, despite just edging the popular vote, was because it stripped out emotion and values. Technocratic managerialism was the order of the day, just as it was for the failed Remain campaign, just as it was for Labour’s failed 2015 election campaign. For the future, assuming a Trump presidency affords us the luxury of having one, there has to be a revolution in the Democrats. It needs a vision of the good life and not rely on how awful Trump’s presidency is bound to be. It needs to challenge the nativism and racism, and win enough people back to a positive programme that understands insecurity and is sincere about tackling it. They need to construct their own American story around a credible, non-political establishment candidate. It has to fight shit values with good values, not pander to them. Unfortunately, though it’s early days yet, shrieks of liberal despair across today’s media aren’t good. Some have not only learned nothing about Trump’s shock victory, they don’t want to learn anything. If the Democrats choose to listen to these people again, come 2020 there’s going to be exactly the same outcome.


  1. Tony says:

    “One of the reasons why Hillary Clinton’s campaign didn’t, despite just edging the popular vote, was because it stripped out emotion and values.”

    This is certainly an important factor.

    Channel 4 News, 9 November 2016:

    Trump voter (female):

    “Well, he said he’s going to make America great again”

    Interviewer: “How’s he going to do that?”

    Trump voter: “I don’t know.”

  2. Karl Stewart says:

    Decent article Phil.
    It’s important firstly to keep in mind a couple of things. Clinton actually received more votes – about 230,000 more votes – than Trump.

    (In terms of predicted vote share, the eve-of-poll opinion surveys were actually pretty accurate).

    So Trump didn’t actually win the election, it was awarded to him courtesy of the rigged US electoral college system that, until yesterday, he was such a robust opponent of.

    Secondly, all the evidence from the primaries indicates that Bernie Sanders would have polled far more strongly in those so-called ‘rust-belt swing states’ than Clinton did. He had opposed the free trade deals that impacted so much on industrial employment for example, while Clinton had supported them. And opinion polls consistently projected Sanders 10 to 15 per cent higher than Trump in vote share.

    Sanders was making just those arguments – but from a left perspective – against the free trade deals and for the recovery of industry and industrial jobs, that would have won working-class voters in huge numbers.

    On the issue of immigration, it’s an absolute nonsense for any US politician (with the exception of someone representing indigenous people) to criticise it. Apart from the people they stole the land from, they’re a whole nation of immigrants.

    1. The figures say it all: Trump lost the popular vote and got fewer votes than Romney. So how did he win? It’s because the Dem candidate got 7m fewer votes than Obama did in 2012. Large numbers of progessively-minded people chose not to vote for Clinton.

  3. John Penney says:

    Good article, Phil. All your points are very valid, particularly on the significant role of a increasingly frantic petty bourgeois “Poujadist” cohort in the overall Trump vote.

    Also very true, as Karl points out, that all polling has indicated that Bernie Sanders would have decimated Trump’s vote – by both stripping away a significant element of the despairing ” white blue collar” , poor manual worker, cohort that helped win it for Trump, and also not losing the MILLIONS of previously Democrat voters that early surveys claim simply couldn’t stomach voting for the widely understood to be utterly corrupt, bankers’ creature, Hillary Clinton.

    I don’t think in the UK, with its generally rather deliberately undetailed media coverage of the “EMAILS and Clinton Foundation, and $200,000 talks to Goldman Sachs ” scandals, that most people here grasped just how widespread in the US was the clear understanding of the utter corruption of the Hillary and Bill dynasty.

    In a situation where the ordinary working class family , across all ethnicities, has been absolutely hammered economically over the post 2008 period, to a degree totally dwarfing our general UK experience with our (now badly damaged admittedly) Welfare “safety net” still providing some support from the Austerity blizzard , the brazen lying cynicism and self enrichment of the Clintons was just too much for huge numbers of voters. That so many instead voted for the superficial sloganized populist Right demagoguery of Trump, in the absence of a Sanders Left option, just shows how desperate masses of Americans are today – for a promise of “change” ,no matter how vacuous.

    1. Tony says:

      Hillary Clinton had long been seen as an electoral liability. That is why Senate Democrats approached Barack Obama in 2008.

      In the 2016 presidential election there was no slogan that I am aware of. Trump certainly had a slogan.

      Another presidential election thrown away by the Democrats.

  4. Rob Green says:

    The left eh? What a degenerate lot. When they are not cheerleading for Putin they are in bed with the Zionists. If you cling on to the wreckage of neo-liberalism, globalization and capitalism, if you put forward the EU and Clinton as solutions to the collapsing capitalist order you are going to get Brexit and Trump.

    1. Stephen Bellamy says:

      ssshhh they don’t want to hear that. But that is precisely why, had I had a vote, I
      would have voted for Trump.

      ” By their limping shall you know them ” …Old Irish proverb.

      1. John Penney says:

        “Would have voted for Trump” eh ? Don’t worry lads, sorry about your utter disappointment with “the Left” , but I’m sure there will be a suitable radical Strasserite populist movement along to fill the gap left by an imploding UKIP soon, with just the hard line on “Zionism” and a faux “anti capitalism” rhetoric, you’ve both obviously been looking for all these years.

  5. Bazza says:

    Yes some saying it echoes Brexit misses one point;in the UK it was a referendum and direct democracy, in the US it was their odd electoral college system and if it had also been by direct democracy (as stated) Clinton would have won by 200,000 plus (and Al Gore previously would have beaten Bush Jnr too) so perhaps reform is badly needed there.
    Another good point mentioned which also relates to our Brexit is that some are saying it was only the Left Behind but in the UK something like 60% of Tory voters voted Out too so there are some commonalities – the selfish middle class and some desperate working people.
    I agree Bernie Sanders would have done better amongst those in the Rust Belt and amongst middle class professionals and would have probably beaten Trump.
    I’m not sure if the Democrats can be revitalised and shifted to the genuine Left but wonder if it may be better for poor whites and black and diverse Americans along with Bernie Sanders supporters to form a US Labor?
    I think if I was a US citizen there now then I would be trying to do this.
    Concerning repatriating capital to the US to spend in the Rust Belts etc. I wonder if a leopard can change its spots?
    Doesn’t capital have a loyalty to no country but a loyalty only to profit and would it return to pay good wages and take less profit?
    I doubt it very much but John Penny made a very powerful point in another post here about needing to be very wary of a reinvigorated US Military-Industrial Complex under Trump and perhaps this may be the bait for capital as callous sections of US Big Business see war as a very profitable venture (as long as their children aren’t involved?) and of course there are added bonuses of the spoils of war – Oil from Iraq, Libya, Syria (this latest after a Trumo deal with Russia) a Gas Pipeline (Afghanistan) but of course there mustn’t be too many US lives are lost (to avoid a potential public backlash like Vietnam).
    But perhaps the ultimate tragedy (as well as the loss of many non-US lives) may be that this may also be the fate for some poor blacks and possibly some of the younger, fitter Trump supporters who in true US Gung Ho fashion may sign up?
    I heard an excellent talk by Dr Ha Joon Chang a few years ago and he said that we should all read the financial pages of newspapers to be economically informed citizens (which I have done ever since and often they are the most political) plus I read New Left Review and perhaps we all need to all do this now to read the signs and particularly to keeping an eye on the US; our Labour forefathers and mothers always gave us important messages such as: “Knowledge is Power” and we need to arm ourselves now with intellectual ammunition to inform practice.
    Yours in international solidarity!

  6. Bazza says:

    Oops long day!
    Syria (this latest after a Trump deal with Russia)
    And meant Bernie Sanders would have done better amongst those in the Rust Belt and the progressive middle class.

  7. David Pavett says:

    The knee jerk nonsense of sundry liberals, which is already trying to carve a space for itself as the received wisdom on matters Trump, is most unhelpful. That the centre could not hold because the majority of white voters, some 62% of the population, voted because racism is the wrong conclusion.

    Phil B-C says that’s too simple and that you have to consider class as well. If course you do, but the trouble with this criticism of the vague target of “sundry liberals” is that this is exactly what most liberals did (go to the Guardian for evidence). Moreover, they did this without having to appeal to “intersectionality”. If you are going to take on an enemy it is better to choose a real one.

    Despite being the great melting pot, it’s probably fair to say that post-imperial Britain, with all its problems and issues, has proven much more successful in integrating ethnic minorities than the land born entirely from immigration.

    Some mistake here surely. Virtually every study or commentary or poll I have seen on this issue suggests the opposite.

  8. by the way says:

    apropos “unthinkable” – dont rule out vote fraud – there have been continual rumblings about those “opaque” internet connected computer vote tabulators – whereas the guardian graphs show that the differences from last opinion polls to result is greatest where the biggest swing was necessary ! That doesnt invalidate the rest of these debates though !

  9. Chris says:

    Trump’s bad news, but the one upside is that the whole Social Justice Warrior phenomenon and political correctness are dead in the water.

    Finally we can move on and get back to how the left ought to be.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      Trump losing the vote to Clinton by about two million votes (despite widespread voter suppression preventing many millions of black and hispanic residents from voting) but still being declared “president-elect” proves once again that the USA has a rigged electoral system and also shows that white supremacism remains popular among a significant minority of USA registered voters.

      The only “upside” to this is that, hopefully, the protests against all this will lead to a strengthening of the left in the USA. Or perhaps, even better, to the seccession of ‘blue’ states from the ‘union’. Let Trump be president of “Redneckia”.

      And what’s all this?

      “…political correctness…dead in the water…back to how the left ought to be…”

      When the right talk about “political correctness”, they mean the policies and laws that have been won against racial discrimination, for equal rights for gay people, and even health and safety at work regulations.

      1. Rod says:

        ” the USA has a rigged electoral system” This is just silliness.

        The U.S. electoral system is no more rigged than the U.K. electoral system. There are plenty of constituencies in the U.K. where the winning candidate has received a minority of votes.

        1. Rob Bab says:

          “The U.S. electoral system is no more rigged than the U.K. electoral system.”

          1. Karl Stewart says:

            Rob, point me to an electoral contest in the UK between two individuals in which the second-placed candidate ‘won’ and the first-placed candidate ‘lost’.

        2. Karl Stewart says:

          Rod, there is not one single constituency in the UK where the second-placed candidate ‘wins’ and the first-placed candidate ‘loses’.

          1. Rod says:

            There are plenty of constituencies where the winning candidate has received a minority of votes.

            Would you suggest that the UK MPs who have received a minority of votes should somehow be disqualified?

            And further, in ’97 Blair received a minority of votes cast yet won a majority of seats. In the February 1970 GE the Edward Heath’s Tories received more votes than Harold Wilson’s Labour yet Wilson was returned to the HoP with more MPs and therefore formed the government.

            That’s the way our system, with constituencies and political parties being central, works. It is childish to proclaim the system ‘rigged’ when it doesn’t deliver one’s preferred government.

          2. Karl Stewart says:

            Response to Rod at 9.46pm on Nov 14th:

            Rod, you’re confusing ‘majority’ with ‘plurality’ (i.e topping the poll).

            Of course many. many representatives at all levels and in all walks of life are elected to office without winning a majority of the votes in their constituency.

            But the US ‘electoral college’ system is the only system in the world in which the ‘winner’ is not required to top the poll, is not required to win a plurality of the votes.

            This is what makes that system uniquely undemocratic.

            Trump has lost the vote. He has no democratic mandate for his programme.

          3. Rod says:

            Karl: “Trump has lost the vote.”

            This sort of nonsense explains why some sections of the Left find themselves permanently wallowed in irrelevance.

          4. Karl Stewart says:

            Response to Rod at 9.37am:

            To say Trump has lost the vote is simply stating the truth. If stating the truth is a problem for you, then I ‘m sorry, but we need to deal with the world as it is and not how you’d like it to be.

            Your man lost the vote, but an anachronistic system that was put in place to placate slave owners means that he was awarded the presidency.

            The truth my friend.

      2. Rob Bab says:

        @Karl S
        “…proves once again that the USA has a rigged electoral system and also shows that white supremacism remains popular among a significant minority of USA registered voters.”
        Really? White supremacism? People didn’t vote for Trump because they are White Supremacists. That’s like saying they voted for Corbyn because they are anti-Semites. Yes, Trump maybe is an arsehole but there’s no doubt that Clinton’s a proven shit!

        “And what’s all this?
        “…political correctness…dead in the water…back to how the left ought to be…”
        When the Right talk about “political correctness”, they mean the policies and laws that have been won against racial discrimination, for equal rights for gay people, and even health and safety at work regulations.”

        No, Political Correctness helps the Right. It makes the Left look and sound stupid. In the real world where life is harsh and unforgiving, the idea that peoples personal sensitivities come before all else is a piss take. I wrote a comment to Bazza a few days ago and it was blocked. Why? I guess because it was too near the knuckle. Blocking comments stops all sides being heard. What Pc has done has stopped debate and makes the left look like the fascists. The Left should be open and willing to listen, debate and defend not blanket ban subjects. No wonder the Alt Right is making gains. An Trump supporter called Milo Yianopolous, a gay Jewish person, toured the Universities etc to packed houses, unpicking the PC nonsense. The Left are losing the youth all for the sake of PC and ‘feelings’.

        Karl, and what’s all this, ‘Redneckia’? By your own standards isn’t that a bit un-PC? What’s wrong with being a Redneck ffs?
        “The term redneck is a derogatory term chiefly used for a rural poor white person of the Southern United States.”
        Oh, I suppose it now has a different meaning like the word “gay”. I should have checked with the PC police, eh Karl?

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          The significant minority of Trump voters were right-wing conservatives and white supremacists – and by ‘Redneck’ I mean the scum of the earth Rob. The racist, lynching, sister-shagging filth who voted for Trump.

          Some of these individuals are so truly pig-ignorant that they really seem not to realise that they are all illegal immigrants who stole the land from its original inhabitants.

          Treaty after treaty was made by the US government and then broken by illegal encroachment onto other people’s land. The overwhelming majority of the land mass of the USA was stolen illegally in this way and the descendants of these illegal immigrants voted for Trump.

          White supremacism is strongly etched into the DNA of the USA, and Trump played to this constituency shamelessly.

          But he still lost the vote, which is heartening.

          And the young people of the US are out on the streets, representing the majority of the population, rejecting Trump and everything he stands for.

          As for what you refer to as “political correctness” I do remember before “political correctness” and black and asian people were regularly attacked, there were lots of TV programmes which were openly racist – Love Thy Neighbour, Mind Your Language, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, – all of which contributed to the racist atmosphere. When I was a kid, at my local shops, there was a “Asians Out NF” painted on a wall in six-foot high letter. I actually thought this meant asians were not allowed in that area. That was the reality before “political correctness”.

          Gay people were openly attacked, and they were too frightened to go to the police. They were a figure of fun in public and had zero rights.

          You and Trump want to go back to those “good old days” I don’t.

          1. Chris says:

            It’s perfectly possible to win for a party in the UK to win a majority in a general election but not get the most votes. The Tories did it in 1951. As for the US electoral college, who knows how people would vote were it not in place? Maybe many more Republicans would turn out in Washington DC and Hawaii.

            Political correctness is not genuine anti-discrimination policies, but it might mean fake ones, like persecuting Christians who don’t want to cater a gay wedding or something. It is the politics of progressives who believe they’ve won the culture wars and want to punish the losers. That sort of “anti-discrimination” needs to go and the left won’t win again till it does.

          2. Karl Stewart says:

            Response to Chris Nov 13th 10.01pm:

            Every single MP elected to the UK Parliament in every single election has to win the popular vote of the constituency they want to represent.

            Trump lost the popular vote of the constituency he wants to represent.

          3. Verity says:

            “Every single MP elected to the UK Parliament in every single election has to win the popular vote of the constituency they want to represent”.

            As indeed is the equivalent in the US, where winning delegates from each state have to win the popular vote in those states they represent. After all it is country made up of united states not simply a single country without devolved powers.

  10. Karl Stewart says:

    Response to Verity at 7.20am:

    No, the nearest equivalent in the US to our Parliamentary elections would be their congressional and senatorial elections.

    And their govenorship elections are similar, one could say, to our London and city mayor elections.

    We don’t have an equivalent here to their presidential election, but many other countries do, and they use a straightforward popular vote election.

    The principle here is that a politician needs to win the popular vote in the constituency she or he is standing for, whether that be a town, a city or a whole country.

    The presidential ‘electoral college’ system is not used by anyone else in the world. It’s completely illogical.

    1. John Penney says:

      Nonsense Karl, the US electoral college process for US President is not “illogical” in the least. The USA is a bourgeois democratic federal state, with a careful division of powers both at the overall central Federal level (Supreme Court, President, Congress), and as between the identically structured individual states and the central Federal Government.

      It is a nominally “perfect” bourgeois democratic state structure, that shows up our utterly ramshackle bourgeois “democracy”, with its non-elected Upper Chamber, and “constitutional monarchy”, as not even a true “bourgeois democracy” at all. Of course being a capitalist bourgeois democracy has never stopped the USA being entirely in hock to its superrich capitalist class, allowing slavery, allowing gross institutional discrimination , and facilitating US Imperialism.

      The point is that being a true federal state, with each state having considerable areas of autonomy, the Presidential election is the culmination of the decisions of the citizens of each STATE, not the citizens of all the US citizens as a total, US-wide bloc. Therefore the only complaint that can be levelled at the fact that Clinton got more votes than Trump, but lost, is that some states get more “electoral College” votes than their total relative population size justifies vis a vis other states. Ironically we on the Left are currently moaning at the forthcoming Tory “gerrymandering” of our constituency boundaries, precisely to “correct ” the current flaw that so many UK Parliamentary constituencies have such unequal population numbers !

      Only a centralised state, like France, can justify a Presidential election determined by the nationwide vote as a single bloc. The USA is a carefully structured FEDERAL state, so state-based electoral college votes are the correct system – and its just tough luck that this time around it assisted the election of a Right Wing populist demagogue.

      1. C MacMackin says:

        While you are correct that the US is a perfectly functional example of bourgeois democracy (at least in principle, if not in practice), I disagree with you that the electoral college is the correct way a federal state should work. I am of the opinion that the federal government should seek to represent the entire country, not simply be the sum of the individual states. This is neccessary to help promote a sense of solidarity between states and a feeling that they are all striving towards a common goal. The president is meant to lead the nation, not to lead 50 states. For such a system to make sense electorally requires a single voting bloc.

        Perhaps this idea of the president leading the nation and not the states is not how the US was constructed when the constitution was written. I don’t know enough about it to comment. However, I believe that this is how it should be. It is certainly how some other federal systems work, such as Canada. Of course, Canada is a monarchy and thus has no presidential elections, but the idea is that Parliament is governing a single country, not 10 provinces.

        Mind you, when discussing all of this, I should note that I don’t really support presidential systems in any case. I’d much prefer a parliamentary republic.

        1. John Penney says:

          Canada is an inconsistent constitutional “lash up” , because of its British Empire past – living on in its most obvious form via its retention of the Foreign monarch.

          Whilst the USA is an entirely consistent bourgeois democratic Federal state. The UK needs a federal state structure now, after the quasi home rule given to Wales and Scotland, with an English Parliament to match full federal Scottish and Welsh, and N.Ireland, Parliaments . To weld it all together, as long as we are stuck with a monarchy, the UK would need an all-UK Federal Parliament and ALL UK Prime Minister. It would be ludicrous for this all UK Prime Minister, or indeed the Parliamentarians for the Federal Parliament to be elected other than by the separate blocs of English, Welsh, N.Irish and Welsh, voters. That is what proper, USA style federal states are all about.

          That some states are inconsistent mixes of federalism and centralism, merely reflects their different histories. The US structure is the best example of a “perfect”, bourgeois democratic federal state. And of course, as a capitalist state, its still rubbish for most of its citizens !

          1. John Penney says:

            A Federal UK would probably need a division of England into Regional Parliaments – otherwise England would always actually get to choose the Federal Prime or Chief Minister, because most Federal MPs would be from England, with the overwhelming bulk of the UK population.

            I have to admit that, for the purposes of democratic comprehensive economic planning, the retention of a centralised state would have been MUCH easier. But that ship has sailed.

          2. C MacMackin says:

            Well, it is true that Canada’s federal structure was the result of the fact that it was initially formed out of 3 seperate British colonies and our more centralising influences are the result of having just witnessed the American Civil War. In those ways, yes, it is something of an accident of history. But federalism just means that, constitutionally, some powers are held centrally and some are held by subnational entities. The fact that some federal countries assign different powers to the central government and use different means of electing it does not suggest that they aren’t “properly” federal.

            In the British case, I agree that federalism is probably the best option now. Mind you, it would be difficult to implement without much broader changes (such as a written constitution), as it would undermine parliamentary supremacy. In a first-past-the-post parliamentary system, then of course the PM would be chosen by subnational blocs of voters (i.e. the voters in each constituency when they elect their MP). Even many forms of proportional representation (not to open that can of worms here) may still have distinct sub-national groups of MPs. This wouldn’t be a substantial change from how things operate now. I’m of the opinion that, where someone is directly elected, there is no real justification for these sub-national voting blocs, however. This and other issues like it are why I favour parliamentary systems over presidential ones, though.

            Yes, federalism will make planning more difficult. Trying to ensure that the federal government retains control over large portions of economic policy would help to some extent. Some sort of hieararchical planning system would probably be necessary, perhaps a bit like the Cybersyn experiment in Allende’s Chile.

    2. C MacMackin says:

      Karl, while this is true, the ultimate winner of a general election in the UK can be just as perverse as in the US. Labour lost in 1951 after receiving the highest percentage of votes ever accorded to a single party, before or since. First-past-the-post can give just as ridiculous a final outcomes as the electoral college.

      1. Karl Stewart says:

        I get your main point – that the UK system can lead to its own anomaly of the party with the most votes losing the election (and hey, who are we to criticise the way anyone elects a head of state when ours is selected by being the first-born male in a particular family).

        But I go back to my previous point that no other nation on earth uses this system, indeed, even the USA doesn’t use it for any of its other elections, which are all by popular vote.

        And my other point that every other election for every other office takes place on a popular vote basis, of that constituency.

        Either it’s a national election for a national president – in which case it can only be by popular vote. Or it’s a ceremonial role which wields little or no real power and is chosen directly by legislators.

        This fudge of the two is the worst of all frankly.

        (Finally, just a couple of pedantic points, Labour’s 1951 vote total was the highest number of votes polled by a political party up to that point, until it was surpassed by the Tories in 1992. In terms of Labour’s 1951 percentage, it was Labour’s highest ever (48.8) but there had been several previous occasions earlier in that century and the previous one when higher percentages were achieved by the Tories and Liberals.)

        1. John Penney says:

          I simply repeat, Karl , the USA is a bourgeois democratic FEDERAL state, with a division of powers at both individual state and Federal levels. In electing a Federal all-states President via an Electoral College system based roughly (but not exactly) on the populations of each state, the President, as essentially the “Governor of Governors” , perfectly reflects the Federal form of the US Constitution. A President for a non-federal “unitary” state , in contrast, is elected by ALL citizens directly. The US is a Federal State. What is it about this distinction you can’t grasp ?

          1. Karl Stewart says:

            So is the Russian Federation, and yet it elects its president by popular vote. (Not holding Russia up as a paragon of democracy, just citing its method as an example).

          2. John Penney says:

            That the current Russian State, the current Russian Mafia state, stage manages the election of the Don of Dons, Putin, via a direct all citizen election, merely repeats what we already know, that few “FEDERAL” states are as consistently truly federal as the nominally “perfect” bourgeois democratic federal state of the USA. It is these others that are constitutionally inconsistent, not the USA.

            Why can’t you grasp this very basic constitutional fact, Karl ?

          3. Karl Stewart says:

            Response to JohnP at 9.14pm on Nov 14th:

            To be fair John, I did stress that I was just citing the Russian Federation as an example and not holding it up as a paragon of democracy.

            I find it odd that you defend the US ‘electoral college’ system, which is the only example in the world that I can find where candidates do not need to top the poll in the constituency they stand in, in order to ‘win’.

            You think the rest of the world, and every other electoral process is out of step? I just find that an odd point of view.

        2. C MacMackin says:

          Yes, I do agree that a president with any actual power should be directly elected, preferably with a preferential ballot.

          (On the pedantic points, I guess I was misled. I could have sworn I’d read that 1951 was the highest percentage vote ever recorded, at least since universal suffrage had been granted, but this was on Wikipedia I think…)

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