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#4 The Startup Party: Time to Build from September and replace the Tories?
Assumptions? The market opportunity? Principles for a new Party? How to grow? Stand in seats in GE24?
Below is a post published 11/8 for subscribers, now FREE to all… Please SHARE… If interested in helping, see bottom…
I’m adding some clarifications in the text [inside square brackets] and some thoughts on comments at the bottom.
If interested in what we did in No10 2019-20, rather than the fake media version, see here.
The Insider SW1 network that lives on Twitter is even more divorced from reality than in 2019 or 2016. The disintegration of the Tories, Trump running, the mad war and constant lies from governments and old media, the collapse of old media business models etc all strengthen this trend. (E.g they really believe the answer on illegal immigration is to tell voters that stopping a few dinghies is ‘an unrealistic expectation’ for an island and there’s nothing to be done except define it all as legal, see below...)
As Rick Rubin, cofounder of Def Jam records, said recently — WWE is real and it’s mainstream political news that’s fake. This will sound nonsensical, or ‘a sign of the terrible lack of confidence in our precious institutions’, if you’re a political Insider or trust political Insiders and the BBC/New York Times. If you realise just how much political news really is invented (with lower production values than WWE) and how much of supposedly ‘real’ political action is fake responses to fake news, it makes perfect sense.
There is a growing bifurcation between the ‘reality’ A) believed in and propagated by the Insider network that watches it and manufactures it all day on Twitter (that creates fakes then swallows and spreads them) and B) the private discussions of entrepreneurs plus Insider dissidents. On my computer I have Twitter lists and WhatsApp groups for both. The dissonance is deep and deepening. It’s no exaggeration to say that one can flick between these two realities and see at the same time a) ‘supporting Brexit is like believing in QAnon’ from Insider elites and b) look, another thing the White House and CNN said is a QAnon conspiracy theory turns out to be true, from dissident elites.
Both networks increasingly regard the other as living in parallel worlds. Insiders rant that dissidents are clueless and/or ‘fascist’. The dissidents laugh at the Insiders with contempt — but, for now, mainly privately.
A professor of economics at Oxford writes:
Once we see Brexit as akin to something like QAnon, then any smugness the UK might feel about conspiracy theories in other countries evaporates.
Almost art! Let’s hope he and his friends like Jolyon run the pro-ECHR campaign to come. Will they be able to persuade people it’s a ‘conspiracy theory’ that No10 believes the ECHR requires we give paedophile torturer/murders a taxpayer funded wedding, therefore such insanities cannot be stopped — and indeed providing such a wedding is a sign of our belief in ‘the rule of law’ and ‘a rules based international order’, so is actually good? Or will they repeat every mistake they made on Brexit and blow themselves up?
Why did the Putin-Trump-Brexit-Facebook conspiracy take off among Insiders? Because it allowed them to explain what happened without admitting their own incompetence and delusions — instead of Insiders living in a parallel world, Insiders revealed a powerful global conspiracy that invented a parallel world and conned voters into believing it. Super-convenient! We understand reality; our evil opponents tricked the idiots into believing fakes! In an epic plot twist, this ludicrous conspiracy theory about a conspiracy went mainstream, anybody who pointed out how Facebook advertising actually worked was denounced as a fascist tech bro peddling conspiracy theories, and much of elite Silicon Valley found itself inadvertently on the same side as the deplorables! It became high status to believe in Cadwalladr; low status to believe unironically in Brexit/Trump. In a tragi-comic sequel, the conspiracy theory has motivated Insider networks across Twitter over the Ukraine war and provides them with a catch-all dismissal to all dissidents: Putin stooge (regardless of the fact that today’s ardent Azov fans near-universally supported establishment inaction against the Putin mafia state for 20 years). To dissidents, the Insiders are trapped in a simulacrum of their own fakes; to the Insiders, dissidents are idiots and/or fascists.
When you watch the 2024 elections here and in US, almost everything you see in the old media will be fake. And in America there will actually be vast amounts of fakes from LLM tools (UK politics is too backward to use modern tools). If you want to understand what’s happening, take Lee Atwater’s advice — watch WWE. You, SW1 hack, are telling yourself I don’t really mean it, that this is an act. No. I mean it. I mean it so much that in No10 I actually planned to hire WWE people to work on No10 communications, and boy would it have worked well. To spread fakes? No, to spread the truth.
And who do you think will prove better at mastering the new media and therefore dominating the battle to define ‘reality’, the old Insiders and the old media who can’t even master 1960s polling and TV, or the entrepreneurs?
The battle over technology relevant to social acceptance of ‘political reality’ is one reason I think it’s practically impossible to imagine the old parties reforming in any meaningful way. Instead they will just become more and more obviously clueless. The Vote Leave attempted-but-only-partially-successful-coup was the last chance for an almost normal rebirth of an old party. Now there’s probably only the startup path…
To subscribers: I’m going through comments and replying. To those offering help, if we get going in a few weeks then someone will go through comments and get in touch… I’ll fix the promised phone call for next week.
8 / 9 / 23
A great chance (best since 1850s?) to replace the Tories
An easy way to see the utter rot of the Tory Party (and the No10/Cabinet Office system) is to consider that after the Boris-Truss fiasco they’ve put in charge the MP with probably the highest IQ in Parliament and the toughest work ethic and he’s ‘respecting the institutions’ and ‘listening to the MPs’ like a good head boy with personal integrity just the way he’s been told to by Cameron, Osborne, Hague, Insider pundits, the Institute for Government et al, and the result is:
no grip of power, the Cabinet Office a dumpster fire and no No10 plan to fix it, No10 given the run-around by Whitehall as soon as the PM’s office switches from one disaster to the next,
no governing plan for the NHS, crime, the war, productivity growth, R&D or anything else — just nightmarish Treasury budget/Spending Review processes that vandalise long-term building and entrench the dangerous rot of critical national capabilities,
no serious polling, communication or political machine (just incoherent jabbering to the media per the Tory model of ‘communication’ for decades),
no political strategy worth spit (current approach is indistinguishable from ‘annoy everyone’),
a humiliatingly awful level of argument from No10 on every major issue (reduced to defending idiot MPs telling people to ‘fuck off’ out of frustration that their own policy, which officials and their own spads told them couldn’t work, has turned into the predicted fiasco),
The old system isn’t getting any better than Sunak as PM* so what does this say about the system? For Insiders obviously the answer is — he should have been even more Insider, tell the country immigration is good (not out of control), the boats need a ‘safe route’ so they stop being ‘illegal’, ignore crime, you’ll have to work harder and pay more taxes and trust Westminster more, no populism! Outside SW1, the answer has been clear for years but SW1 doesn’t want to hear it: government is broken because the people aren’t up to it. [*I.e he’s unusually bright and unusually hard working, the current parties struggle to generate almost any MPs near his level on these 2 dimensions and have very low chances of generating someone at a much higher level on both because such people have better options than being an MP, see below.]
Every aspect is rotten and this exerts a collective paralysis. Having resolutely ignored the core dysfunctions of Whitehall in favour of daily tacking to MP factions and ‘the news’ in Westminster (‘respect the institutions!’), No10 is now timed out by that system — normal-mode Whitehall can’t do anything fast and from September officials will ensure the timetable for anything they don’t agree with stretches into the election campaign so it won’t happen.
Even if the PM suddenly decided to use his power he won’t be able to. But all signs are he’s effectively given up. Officials across No10/70Whitehall discuss ‘has the PM given up or is it some complex psychology indistinguishable from giving up?’. Either way, he’s chosen not to use the power he has but instead listen to uber-Insider-pundits with the inevitable results.
How does he spend his time? A few officials who work with him give almost the same line:
He’d make a great PS [private secretary] or DG [director general], every meeting with him improves some second-order thing a bit, but he isn’t doing the PM’s job, I don’t think he realises this and I don’t think his spads tell him.
He spends his time wading through endless detail and spreadsheets on fifth order matters because it’s psychologically easier than doing the PM’s actual job which he doesn’t know how to do nor wants to do. Officials obviously prefer him to Boris or Truss. He reads the papers diligently and is neither a crook nor a cretin. But the old hands know it’s roughly the Brown failure mode: a workaholic, the PM’s office a massive bottleneck and can’t sustain focus when the news shifts, the smartest MP but can’t build a team or lead etc etc. No10 is so politically lost that OFFICIALS suggest ways the PM can achieve his priorities faster and his OWN SPADS say ‘no too aggressive’. The fundamental reason for the boats failure is choices by the PM’s political team and a reluctance by Sunak to face unpleasant reality, not deep state resistance.
If he had four years I can imagine him figuring things out and evolving but his misfortune is that he had no time to learn. He’s compounded his misfortune by listening to the most insider of Insider advice. When you make your daily fix the MPs and news, as almost everyone does, it’s incredibly hard to escape from because, like escaping any addiction, there’s an unavoidable awful period after you change course where you annoy everyone before a new plan has time to work so there’s always a ‘sensible’ Insider argument to delay. And by the time you realise you’ve wasted your time reacting to the news like every PM since Thatcher, you’re done. (See here for why I got him promoted in 2020.)
[Since I wrote this in July many who deal with him say he has retreated to an extreme bunker mentality and the signal is clear: do not tell him ‘you’re wrong PM’. Boris was a disaster in 100 ways but one of his few very few good points in 2019 was you could say ‘you’re wrong’. His collapse in 2020-1 was closely correlated with his shift away from this.]
From September a long election campaign will effectively start and it will be a continuation of 2023 — a weekly race to show who is worse at politics but with all fundamentals favouring Starmer.
Then dud Starmer will fail from Day 1 and the patterns of failure will be the same as we’ve seen since Brown (with the brief partial exceptions of July-December 2019 and March-May 2020). Starmer and Sunak will write Memoirs and puzzle, like Cameron’s, about how they could never find those mythical ‘levers of power’ — the levers that the Cabinet Secretary of spring 2020 said a few days ago that he also struggled to find or, if he did, found they didn’t connect to much (even though, remember, the Cabinet Secretary is 10X - 100X more powerful than the average Cabinet Minister).
Will the Tories improve after the election and grasp why they failed so badly, why the 80 seat majority Vote Leave won was wasted? No. They will talk rubbish about the last 15 years, as they did after 1997.
Already I’m getting messages from MPs and donors ‘How do we rebuild the Party after the inevitable, can we have a quiet chat?’ NO NO NO. No more excruciating Tory dinners. No more ‘X is obviously not up to it but … maybe … we could build a team around them, oh god pass the red…’ NO. Plough the old Tory Party into the earth with salt. I prefer the calls that start, ‘Come on, it’s time for the startup party let’s go’.
This is the time to start building the replacement so that from 2200 on election night in October-December 2024 the old Party is buried and a new set of people with new ideas start talking to the country and can take over in 2028 and give voters the sort of government they want and deserve.
Some basic questions for The Startup Party?
What is the political opportunity, why is it here now? (The context of what happened in the Brexit referendum and 2019, the VL plan to transform the Tory Party etc, is obviously relevant but I won’t rehash all this now, cf. HERE.)
Why are Starmer and Sunak failing so badly? What does this mean for the election and how the next government fails? What will the old parties plus normal Whitehall plus normal political media generate left to their own devices (i.e rattling around without a strong external force affecting the system)?
How to turn some ideas and writing into practically building TSP? Timing? Basic principles for building TSP so it’s 10X higher performance, more interesting, more attractive than the old parties?
What’s the political story for TSP? How does A) some sort of attempted objective picture of our biggest problems overlap with B) the nature of the political opportunity?
What are the dynamics among different elites, in particular the subset of elites who are a) most competent at building but also b) almost entirely disconnected from mainstream politics?
Should the project be strictly/legally time limited? E.g something like — the new entity dissolves legally 10 years to the day after it first takes control of No10. So there’s a campaign 2024-28 then, if we win, a ten-year-two-term project to transform the British state, then hand power over to others, with the new party legally dissolving.
Should TSP stand some candidates (~25-75?) in some interesting seats in GE2024 to a) build the brand, b) build the network, c) give some people experience of an election, d) help ensure Tory oblivion? Or focus entirely on building towards 10pm on election night? There’s arguments both ways and it obviously depends on how things develop (see below). Even winning a small number of votes in a relatively limited number of seats could drive the Tories towards extinction so should be considered. Some people are worried about Starmer having a Blair-like majority. I’m much more worried by the continuation of what I’ve witnessed for 20 years and happy to gamble on Starmer having a Blair-like majority if it means the replacement of the perpetual rotten Tory horrorshow. Starmer with a Blair-majority really means the civil service running things anyway, so it will be normal-rubbish but hardly revolutionary, and not much different to Tories in charge.
Some basic assumptions behind TSP.
The market opportunity for TSP.
What would TSP look like overall.
Very rough steps for building TSP.
The hardest problem.
What about the 3 recent by-elections?
I haven’t looked at details but my impression is they were practically the worst possible for the Tories. Why?
They show the Tories actually on course for wipeout.
The ULEZ fiasco gives Starmer a stick to beat the MPs with and ditch a load of stuff that scares swing voters.
The ULEZ fiasco gives Tories/PM many new ways to avoid facing reality, which is what most of them want to do, including many close advisers to Sunak. Given they have no actual plan, lurching in response to ULEZ could easily make a disastrous situation even worse for them. (SW1 repeatedly over-theorises from minimal data and Uxbridge/ULEZ is a classic example.)
This is even worse for the Tories than losing all three and great for Starmer.
And even better for The Startup Party!
If you were part of the Vote Leave network please forward this to others you know in that network. Leave feedback below…
NB. please remember what I said before, a new party is a startup and it’s a good way to think about this project, but The Startup Party isn’t an actual name, it’s a place holder, plenty of time for horrific arguments about names if we make this real!
(Apologies for quiet over last month, I’ve had to do my covid statement for the official inquiry. I’ll post some of it here over the next few weeks as I finish it.)
Actual cultural-political predicament of ‘conservatives’ vs focus of ~100% conservatives (blonde = scoring interviews with old media)
[A few thousand voted in the polls below]
A few basic assumptions
The original VL plan to transform the Tory Party is kaput. It would have been a different story if Boris-Carrie had enjoyed themselves smashing champagne bottles off boats while VL ran No10 and used the 80 seat majority to do the VL plan. The country and party would look profoundly different. No HS2, no £35B down the toilet this Parliament alone, and so many things happening instead. The argument would be about the winners and losers rather than ‘why bother with Brexit then change nothing?’. Starmer would have been smashed to bits. Many MPs would have ‘retired’, new MPs recruited, and CCHQ closed with an effectively new party reopening in the Midlands with an edge-of-the-art political machine. Such a transformation — using four years occupying No10 with an 80 majority, changing facts on the ground and demonstrating things rather than arguing about things — is not possible in Opposition using the rotten old Tory institution. Dramatically cutting taxes for working people is extremely different to promising to cut taxes after 14 years of putting them up. So our old plan is kaput. And it was a once-in-decades opportunity — election victory on a the biggest issue in politics for decades, the biggest government crisis since 1945, clear mandate and need for huge change in economy and government, a team with a plan, a civil service willing to do a deal on massive change instead of fighting it, a PM with very strong personal incentives to change a lot (objectively speaking, but it turned out he disagreed!), opposition in chaos. This combination is highly unlikely to recur ‘naturally’ for many decades.
The old parties have failed for decades, they’re programmed to fail, they’ll carry on failing. Sunak’s approach can’t work. Starmer is dud. Some part of him knows how bad he is at politics, and so does his team, hence their approach to the election is, and will get more, minimalist and risk-averse. Watching the two old parties approach the election and fight it, crucial voters will conclude: ‘we desperately want change, we keep trying to vote for it but the old parties can’t give it, but we only have this rubbish choice so time for change, Starmer’s crap but not as bad as watching the Tories on TV for another four years’ etc. So Starmer will win but without enthusiasm anywhere beyond his inner circle. (Is it really over? Starmer is so bad that even after Sunak embarked on the wrong approach on all important things for six months (economy, NHS, crime, boats, Whitehall, party, politics), Starmer vanished instead of nailing the coffin lid shut. I haven’t noticed Starmer do ONE significant thing since Christmas, he’s been effectively invisible (the only Labour thing I noticed was Reeves cancelling some green spending promises). He couldn’t even mount a sustained campaign on the NHS after the mad No10 strategy of leaning into the strikes. But the fundamentals mean Starmer’s position improved in the polls despite failing. Some of Starmer’s record is such that a competent aggressive campaign could blow him up. But the Tories are so bad they can’t put him under any pressure, never mind the sort of pressure needed. So unless Starmer blows himself sky high, the fundamentals remain: 14 years, overwhelming failure, the Tories blew up the economy, they are visibly rotten, time for change.)
After Starmer staggers into No10 he will fail as PM in highly predictable ways just like Major, Brown, Cameron et al. He will be herded, like a Herdwick into its pen, by constant ‘legal advice, Prime Minister’, a standard way officials control ministers. He’ll fumble around, his spads will have beers with Cameroon spads lamenting how hard it is to find ‘the levers of power’, and all the pathological aspects of the last 20 years will get worse while core state capabilities are neglected. The Treasury will prevent long-term building with its appalling Spending Reviews and Budget processes. Institutional failure everywhere will lead to demands for more cash everywhere. Unable to change 5% of what needs changing, Starmer will be faced with rapid drops in the polls or fire-hosing cash and trying to blame it on the Tories. Officials will show him how to ditch election promises while blaming it on Tories: ‘better to grasp the nettle in the first few months PM, you can say, now we can see the books it’s so much worse than we realised, plenty of time for voters to forget by the next election PM’. This is probably what he’ll do (especially when his team finally figures out they can be more aggressive in taxing the wealthiest than they realise). Some things will improve a bit just because they firehouse cash around but the core reasons for state failure will no more be faced than Sue Gray will allow the closed caste of the civil service to be opened up. So: more cash and power for the old rotten structures and No10 chasing the media all day, plus ca change…
The Tory brand is horrific. The failure to do much other than cause chaos, their obvious lack of interest in productivity and growth, their appalling paralysis post-2020 on every important issue is much worse for them than they grasp. They’ve also trashed the reputation of ‘capitalism’/free markets and strengthened the view that capitalism is a racket to help the privileged. In GE2019 we promised not to raise income taxes for average families then the Tories put them up. We promised to take back control of the borders and LOWER the insane legal + illegal immigration rate while we built infrastructure — then the Tories sided with the Confederation of British Sex Criminal Rentiers (formerly known as the CBI), opened the floodgates and refused to change the complex of laws that stops us building infrastructure ‘cos immigration = GrOwTh’. We promised to take violent crime seriously then the Tories let the old system roll on letting out the worst people on earth to slaughter again. The Tories can’t do anything with the NHS except make it more complex and expensive. Even if they have an idea that’s right nobody trusts them so they contaminate it. People assume they’re lying or their real motive is to funnel cash to their rich mates. The idea that after 2024 they can put a conventional leader in and return to rhetoric about ‘the party of low taxes’ and ‘fiscal conservatism’, ‘free enterprise’, ‘the natural party of government’ is even more deluded than all those in 2022 who said ‘don’t underestimate Truss she could surprise everyone’. As with the disaster of the Major government, for many years millions repelled by this government will think ‘Tories are useless / Tories are appalling / I don’t want to see them on TV switch channel’. It will be simply inconceivable to vote Tory — beyond a ‘what’s my interests’ question or a ‘is Starmer rubbish’ question, it’ll be more a moral/aesthetic revulsion and this is much harder to turn around in Opposition even if you are good at politics. And they’re hopeless at politics.
The Tory Party won’t suddenly get good at politics after losing GE24. They didn’t learn after 1997, 2001 or 2005. They didn’t learn from their failure to win a majority against Brown after the biggest financial crisis since 1929 or their tiny majority against ‘Edstone’ Miliband. They didn’t learn after the referendum — the ERG and the dominant faction supported a doomed strategy that drove the country and the party into a disastrous cul-de-sac from which they had to beg Vote Leave to rescue them. Sunak didn’t learn from his failure to beat Truss and hasn’t learned from the failure of his approach so far. In 2019 Vote Leave partly captured the Party, started changing it to something new, and started getting to grips with massive issues. Boris-Carrie stopped this. The Party and its pundits were happy — they babble about ‘no growth’ now but when No10 was run by a team manically focused on growth all they could do was bitch that we weren’t focused on them! The different factions hate each other but agree that they don’t actually want to change much (measured on the scale of what Vote Leave wanted and voters want and what the country needs). Their true interest is the media coverage of power rather than power itself, and, as you can see now as they stagger around 20 points behind, they’d rather fail and lose than listen to voters and take on incumbents to get things done. After GE24 it may well be that the worst, blindest elements will be strengthened. And almost inevitably discussions about Tory strategy will be polarised by the old media between so-called ‘modernisers’ and ERG/Truss-ers both of which will peddle illusions about the world and voters (similar to post-1997/2010/2015/2016/2017/2019). You can already see the Establishment types saying loudly that 2019 was a ‘fluke’ and the Party should re-orient towards mainstream opinion among rich graduate London (very far from the median swing voter). You will search ConHome in vain for a serious analysis of why the Tories failed in government (they too can hardly spell out the truth about the quality of people without destroying relationships). The few decent Tory MPs trying to talk sense will be swamped by the rest and, having to maintain relations with the Party, will be unable to build what’s needed. Anybody arguing for something like the approach I sketch below will be seen as a bigger enemy than Starmer by Tory Insiders. Their one and only hope will be Starmer is SOOOO bad he collapses (which could happen because of global economic and security dynamics plus our internal rot/fragility) then Tories return by default (not necessarily even if Starmer collapses).
Voters will increasingly demand change, the old parties can’t/won’t supply it and this will be even more intense by 2028. So — the next two years will see a hideous election showcasing the rot of the old parties, a rapid depression about the new government, and the same old Tory horrorshow whether it’s KemiB wheeled out by Gove-Osborne or an ERG-er or a compromise. It will be obvious outside SW1 that the old system cannot regenerate itself. All this will intensify the tension between A) a great and growing demand for different politics and B) the old parties don’t want to supply it and couldn’t if they tried — the best possible environment for a startup to challenge incumbents. Somebody will seize this huge opportunity, for good or ill.
Respectable opinion among Insiders is amazingly conformist and this will make the Tory Party’s position even worse. The median Tory and median Labour MP are much closer to each other on many issues than they are to the median voter outside London (e.g crime, immigration, ‘security’, recent nuttiness on sex). As Schwinger said, ‘The pressure to conform is enormous.’ The pressure has grown and will grow. The nature of the people and the nature of the network strongly reinforce conformism. The dominant Insider network consists of people from the old parties, old media, old academia, and old Whitehall who are extremely conformist and desperate for social approval (and to avoid online social ostracism) and who live on Twitter. Decentralised social dynamics keep the network strongly aligned. This combination means Insiders now really are almost all NPCs (though ironically they think of themselves as highly individualistic). This online culture programs their emotions which in turn generates their responses to issues (though ironically they think of themselves as highly rational and the median voter as highly emotional, the truth is more the opposite). This is why they herd en masse and quickly forget the old official line: closing borders = racist/idiotic, closing borders = sensible; ‘Ukraine has a massive Nazi problem’ becomes ‘a Ukraine Nazi problem is Russian propaganda, Azov are freedom fighters’ etc. This network’s core program is that politics is a long march left so get with it. ‘Conservatives’ must either operate in this narrow band of opinion and stay socially acceptable at dinner parties in London, which means everything keeps moving left even when they ‘win’*, or be labelled ‘populist’ or ‘fascist’. In America the Democrats increasingly define Republicans as ‘fascist’ therefore ‘a danger to democracy’ who ‘can’t be allowed’ to win, and Republicans increasingly see themselves as persecuted by a ‘fascist’/totalitarian Democrat Party. It’s not as bad here but Insider dynamics in SW1 are similar. I don’t see this Insider-left-NPC trend weakening over the next few years, especially with the stagnation of productivity and imminent tax rises, Trump v Biden 2, plus, maybe, further financial crises blamed on ‘capitalism’. To some extent this terrible dynamic suppressing discussion is short-term ‘rational’ for the Insider-left-NPCs in the sense that it is objectively effective in suppressing dissent and keeping talented non-Left people quiet. (*The only serious public service reform since 2010 is what we did in DfE 2010-14. Note how immediately we left the Cameroons implemented the retarded sex policies now causing so much trouble and in 2021 the Government introduced a Bill to reverse many of the changes without realising that’s what they were doing, then defended themselves when this was pointed out by saying they didn’t understand what DfE officials had written.)
MPs see themselves as victims. Across party lines MPs share the view that they are misunderstood heroes and the voters are ignorant and need Platonic Guardians — the MPs. I’ve watched SW1 through the North East Assembly referendum (a massive ‘we hate Westminster’ signal), financial crisis, expenses, Brexit, covid, the Ukraine disaster and cost of living crisis. A principle unites MPs: they cannot absorb how much the public holds them in contempt and they can’t help but listen to those pundits who tell them it’s unfair. This is so strong that, largely forgotten now, the MPs actually spent the last week of the referendum campaign tweeting each other ‘I ❤️ MPs’. Voter contempt for the old parties fuelled Brexit, it fuelled our 2019 win, SW1 can’t face its implications, and it will fuel the growth of new political movements.
Dissident ‘conservatives’ are generally losers. Dissident conservatives / GOP, those who criticise the mainstream but work full time in politics, are generally lower IQ and clearly losers in comparison with the elite Insider network. Larry Summers is smart. The people who are as smart as Larry Summers and think he’s wrong and can argue on his level are overwhelmingly in hedge funds, banks, VCs, PE, tech startups, research labs, academia and so on — keeping their heads down and building walled gardens between themselves and political madness. They are not pundits or in think tanks on the conservative fringe. Dissident ‘conservatives’ tend to treat their own voters as idiots. They produce low quality stuff. They hate the New York Times but don’t even try to build something to compete with it. Like the non-dissidents, their real priority is grabbing prime time interviews on the old media. Like the nuttier Left activists they optimise for clicks rather than building. Look at Tory think tank world — they whinge about the HMT-OBR hegemony but are no intellectual threat to it. There’s a huge opportunity to challenge it because HMT is so amazingly backward in technology and modelling (particularly revealed by covid, undiscussed in SW1) and there’s world-class skills in this within 2 miles of Whitehall but it’s inconceivable a conservative institution would have the gumption, brains and people to build something better than HMT-OBR. The entire think tank ecosystem generates less of interest and influence than the Cowen/Tabarrok free blog or Scott Alexander’s substack and their proposals are almost totally ignored by those with power. Tactical ‘successes’ are spun to give donors an illusion of fighting the tide but rarely matter and are mostly an illusion of progress and a waste of energy. You could see a political experiment on this with Truss who arrived in Downing Street with a team consisting of an unusual number of the fringe/dissident world. They blew up on contact with Whitehall. After years of whining they’d never bothered figuring out how it works and destroyed their own power from Day 1. Now they whine about how they were victims of a conspiracy. Politics is a constant series of conspiracies! They occupied No10 but couldn’t conspire to use the massive power they had and let themselves get spat out in days. The answer is NOT more money for dissident/fringe conservatives. It is building something very different that attracts different people.
Fundamental to our politics is the shift of talented people out of politics/government and the asymmetrical effects on those who oppose the Left/‘progressivism’. There is a vicious circle across the west that keeps almost all the most able people out of politics/government/public service. But the ‘progressive’ Left attracts a lot of smart people who believe in more centralised state power and want to exercise this power over others. People with the same IQ who strongly disagree with them are much less inclined to spend their time navigating low quality political hierarchies to capture centralised institutions (per above). Many entrepreneurs have become much more hostile towards the Left in private as the Left has clearly been increasingly captured by fanatics like BLM/trans-nutjobs/‘defund the police’ et al. But polarisation, the asymmetry of financial rewards between public service and business, the smell of failure among ‘conservatives’, and the way the Left and old media stamp on those who step out of line, pour encourager les autres, all this and more has incentivised them to stay private and not engage with conventional politics. (The old parties and Whitehall by definition can’t suddenly change this even if they wanted to. Without something like TSP this trend will continue and the mismatch between our problems and state capacity will grow. Eventually, the retreat to walled gardens and fish ponds will run out of road. You may want to steer clear of politics, dear entrepreneur, but politics is interested in you and what it can take from you. How many of you will volunteer to spend less time tending your fishponds and step into, or adjacent to, the firing line? What sort of fear will it take?)
Libertarianism is no solution. It is mistaken in important ways about the world (though Smith-Hayek-Mises are mostly right about the enormous advantages of the information-discovery process of competitive markets) and it cannot win elections in a democracy. The most they can ever hope for is small marginal improvements in odd niches. Cowen/Tabarrok influencing half-doses and rapid tests is about as good as it gets. It’s impossible to do what libertarians want and make a democratic culture libertarian. NB. Singapore is very far from a libertarian paradise even though it is much more practically influenced by Smith-Hayek-Mises than anywhere in the west. We can learn a lot from Singapore and should but the lesson is NOT ‘libertarianism is a realistic political project in the west’.
Insider consensus about the solution space for viable political strategies is very wrong. For example, Insider consensus is: ‘it’s impossible to win while being much more free market, maybe smashing the planning system is the right policy but it’s impossible politics’ etc. FALSE. A reason for the error is Insiders assume that a party that’s ‘more free market’ in some areas must look ‘more Tory/Right in every way’ or else it’s ‘incoherent’. FALSE. The fact that libertarianism is not a viable political project does not mean what Insiders think it means. As I explain below, the approach that overlaps what the country needs and what could win does not fit on conventional SW1 left-right axes. And Insiders confuse ‘what’s your policy on X’ and ‘what is the story you tell’. You can have policies to change the planning system but not be defined by that story with everybody — the story that some audiences hear may be more about violent crime and the need to ban MPs from secret share dealing than about the planning system!
Technology is on the side of TSP, not incumbents. The success of GPT and LLMs generally and the incredible growth of this ecosystem not only has profound implications for the economy, security and the deep state — they represent a massive opportunity for a new political force. Something approaching Cadwalladr’s worst nightmare — what she thought happened in 2016 but did not — is now technically feasible: effective automated personalised communication at scale. There is no way the old parties in UK will be able to use the new tools (in America they can and will). The Tories have regressed since 2019. (This is also, obviously, a profound national security question that Whitehall is failing on for similar reasons to Tories: they cannot get the people they need. See below)
The mainstream Insider view that politicians generally know what they’re doing is nonsense. The easiest way to understand this is to grasp that almost no Insiders can even do old school polling properly [never mind sophisticated technology] despite the fact that ‘understanding public opinion’ is at the core of their job description, what they actually like chatting about, and they’re strongly incentivised to understand. This is like Marc Andreessen being clueless about software, Warren Buffett not being able to read a balance sheet, or Paul Graham being lousy at talent spotting. One of the most interesting things that’s happened in US politics since 2016, mirrored here to some extent, is that entrepreneurs have shifted from the conventional Insider view towards my view (and, I think, the more successful they are the more scales have fallen from their eyes which, if true, is more politically important than the median entrepreneur shifting).
These dynamics are almost all terrible and an opportunity.
For more on this background, the big picture on why I tried to do Brexit.
Sketch of some principles for TSP
What does the market opportunity look like?
This is NOT any sort of ‘list of policies’. It’s 100X more important to figure out some broad principles than discuss specific policies.
This is, obviously, just a sketch for discussion, not remotely definitive, intended to be useful for the sort of people who might want to get involved. It’s the people who will make TSP possible and successful, not what I’ve written below. But any set of people, however able, are constrained by the historical moment. These constraints can shift suddenly during a crisis — that’s why summer 2020 was an extraordinary opportunity. Predicting how crises develop is impossible in any sort of detail but one can trace background features, just as people in the 1840s could identify background features that affected the dynamics when the crisis came in 1848-9.
A. New people, new ideas, new machines — in that order!
TSP must be ‘programmed’ for different ends, ways and means to the old parties.
The only point of TSP and the only way it could win is for A) an obviously different set of people B) to offer obviously different ideas and C) behave obviously differently. And have a communication machine tell a compelling story effectively.
This combination must build a new political coalition combining:
a) people who generate new knowledge,
b) people who generate new wealth,
c) people who can build (public and private sector), and
d) the majority of the public who hate existing parties.
The core must be NEW PEOPLE
In particular TSP needs to find some great people from the worlds of:
Armed forces, intelligence community, special forces, police (serving and veterans).
Education (broadly defined beyond ‘state school teachers’).
Research (more and more of the best young researchers are steering clear of the mainstream funding systems because they’re so horrific, e.g you’ll find the best 27 year old whizz kids interested in AI in places like OpenAI, not filling out UKRI compliance forms).
Roughly 99% of the people we need now have nothing to do with politics/government in Westminster.
Remember, the absolute core of VL being able to win in 2016, despite Remain having almost every force with power and money on its side, was that we got a) a small group of excellent people b) working together in a startup environment with minimal friction and operating outside normal SW1 rules/ideas c) focused on voters not SW1. We already know this can change history.
B. We focus on the most important problems, how political power does and should work, and the voters
The old parties focus on the old SW1 game and the old media but can’t even get to 1968-America levels of sophistication in handling TV (cf. The Selling of the President), never mind advanced technologies. They’re so addicted to the 24/7 cycle of chaos (‘news’) they can never focus on anything that isn’t leading the news therefore they cannot drive hard changes or communicate effectively.
They don’t actually try to communicate anything effectively and this is not discussed by Insiders who can’t see it. All SW1 ‘communication’ is flotsam and jetsam of news. Within a few weeks there is almost always a shift of focus. Even a story like Grenfell only dominates for 2-3 weeks. Then the daily chatter is something new. And this just continues over and over again in multiple cycles per year. Nobody tries to make an argument or tell a story over months and years that persists despite news. Nobody remembers all the arguments and promises and ‘campaigns’ and ‘initiatives’ and ‘strategies’ — not even the few hundred key players themselves and the hacks who report it, never mind the voters. This is true even when a big thing comes along like Ukraine.
Consider the Tories since 2010. What example can you think of where Tories persisted in trying to make an argument about an important question, stuck it at for years, and persuaded the public?
And they demonstrably have no interest in building a government that can maintain focus and build fast while the leader is inevitably focused to some extent on the news — when we started building such a machine in summer 2020 (including a new communication machine) the Tories freaked out and couldn’t discuss it intelligently (though parts of the deep state supported us).
TSP shouldn’t play the old SW1 game that voters hate and doesn’t work. It should cheat the rules and change the game. Unlike the old parties it should focus on the important problems facing the country and the world and take power seriously: how does it really work, how should it really work, how to use it to achieve our ends? And it must tell stories that persist over time and make sense of an increasingly baffling world.
In Jeff Bezos’ terms, we will focus on the customers not the competition — i.e the voters, not the other parties. This is a superpower that the old parties, optimised for maintaining social relationships in London, are unable to copy. It will seem super-weird to them, like VL 2016 and 2019 looked super-weird, and even if they try to copy they will fail. Incumbents almost never reinvent themselves to act like startups. In 2019, the core reason why we managed to improve in the polls so fast and win the election so easily was simply that we focused on the voters and the important issues. Almost all the most high status pundits called us idiots right up to election night (then had three weeks off and started calling us idiots again in January). Remember when we fired the 21 MPs? Pundit world unanimously thought it a huge blunder even though the relevant voters strongly supported it.
If you want a party that optimises for Insiders and the old media, you can already support the old parties.
The market opportunity is for a party that optimises for voters.
C. We recruit entrepreneurs, technologists, and small/family businesses
Small businesses are a fundamental source of dynamism and extremely important to the economy. They are embedded in their local communities. They ought to be a huge source of strength for the Tories. In the 1980s Thatcher and her network pushed the Tories to reach out to these networks. But the Tories now treat them with something between indifference and contempt. The Tories now are the party of rentiers from the old economy plus the senior people who suck cash out of the public sector, not entrepreneurs. They’re more likely to spend time talking to the worst elements of HR world at a nightmare London conference on Diversity Equality and Inclusion than small business founders in the Midlands. Remember when the Remain campaign’s Tory ‘strategist’ (now advising Starmer!) said the Party had to abandon ‘life’s losers’? This is how they think about the median Brexit-supporting small businessman in the Midlands. I’ve spoken to senior Tories for 20 years about economic policy. They literally think of the CBI as ‘the voice of business’. When I said it was one of the worst institutions in Britain they were confused/appalled.
There are so many ways the Tories have screwed entrepreneurs, sometimes deliberately but mostly through ignorance, indifference and because for them government is largely doing what HMT officials tell them to. Year after year since 2010 the Tories have gone along with every Whitehall measure that imposes costs, complexity and delay on entrepreneurs. The Treasury tends to see them as the enemy for not handing over more of the money they earn so are always looking for ways to grab more. Most MPs have no idea what Whitehall has done to these businesses, their complaints have been ignored. This is, obviously, linked to why SW1 doesn’t take the costs of regulation seriously — if you don’t spend your time with those who suffer all the costs and friction and instead you spend your time in London with policy wonks, academics, hacks and lawyers who’ve never built a business, then obviously you won’t understand the importance of regulation.
If you want a Party that focuses on the appalling CBI, the world of HR/DEI, of big businesses hiring lobbyists and lawyers for regulatory capture, you can already support the old parties.
The market opportunity is in supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses. We will value them and speak for them.
D. We take a) the generation of knowledge, science, technology, and new companies and b) the long-term productivity problems really seriously
This obviously connects to (C).
TSP should be much more aggressive in promoting competition and stripping regulation and friction, and using markets to solve problems for public services than the Tories have been since Thatcher. And it should be much more aggressive in setting strategic priorities for developing critical state capabilities and ‘gardening the ecosystem’ for startups, VC, R&D and advanced technology.
Much more Hayek for 95-99% of the economy, much more Lee Kwan Yew for 1-5% — e.g simplifying vast amounts of Whitehall to create a super-focused entity for building a golden bridge for investors as we started in summer 2020 (cancelled by Boris-Carrie). NB. This is not ‘picking winners’ in the sense of so many failed attempts by governments to second-guess competitive markets or consumer preferences — it’s about building creative ecosystems such as the ARPA-PARC ecosystem that generated the internet and personal computing, or the ecosystem we need now for AI and drones. America beats Europe because it is better at both aspects — it’s better at the ‘more Hayek for 95-99%’ and it’s better at the ‘more Lee Kuan Yew for 1-5%’, but the latter is 100X less discussed and understood across Left and Right for reasons I’ve discussed before. Summary: Tories don’t want to think about science/invention, Labour doesn’t want to think about startups/regulation, but creative ecosystems need both.
The establishment has rhetorically been shifting towards Vote Leave’s agenda. There’s been a lot more stuff from Insiders on the R&D ecosystem as a critical priority for government. Blair has rightly pushed No10 to be much more aggressive and ambitious on AI. There’s growing recognition that Whitehall is knackered and its HR model is a nightmare — even the former Cabinet Secretary the other day sounded like one of my blogs from 2014. There’s growing recognition that the MOD is a disaster and we were right about, for example, the way drones would revolutionise war — something strongly resisted by Wallace and much of senior MOD in 2020. Apart from some Truss-ites nobody’s going to side with SW1’s January 2020 hostility to building a No10 data science team and making data science central to the rebuilding of broken Whitehall management (especially as it sinks in this is a way to get better data than HMT has). And much more.
But it’s almost all just rhetoric and it hasn’t changed anything in how the Tory Party sees politics or conducts government.
An example… One of the many ways the NHS is truly absurd-by-design is data sharing. Many of you will have experienced the same as me — you have a scan, you talk to a doctor, they say ‘you’ll have to do scan X at Y’, you say ‘but I did scan X at Z last week’, they say with a sigh ‘I’m afraid the systems can’t talk to each other so you’ll have to do it again’. Another example: it’s already been demonstrated how using hospital data can radically speed up getting patients out of beds thus expanding capacity. A huge priority for No10 right? It was explained to No10 in December how they could make dramatic progress on waiting lists. No10 told Whitehall to prioritise it. What happened? Not only did Whitehall not execute, they did the opposite of speed up — they actually did an extra-slow procurement, and bogged the contract, and kept the bogged contract after it was pointed out they’d bogged it, then went through extra processes to slow it all down further. And when some officials, depressed by the whole thing, suggested ways to go faster, they were told they were being ‘too aggressive’ by THE SPADS! Truly it’s always worse than you think.
Do NOT make the mistake of thinking ‘amazing’, ‘awful’, ‘disaster’. No, this is what MPs and political hacks say. It is a false reaction. The correct reaction is: all normal, the system is working as intended.
Ironically, the Insider who has shifted most to the Vote Leave agenda is Blair, not the Tory MPs who can’t hide their boredom and/or hostility. (See here for details on how I spent my time in 2020 getting work going on dozens of relevant ideas.)
Given their dire current situation the conventional theory of how politics works suggests they should really be focusing on how to grow real wages — but as you can see it remains of no real interest to MPs and No10 is doing almost nothing. Debate is almost all about gimmicks or nudging things 1%. Even in an existential crisis they cannot move more than a fraction from the gravitational pull of existing bureaucracies.
The lack of Tory interest in economic policy and the fundamental long-term stagnation of productivity is prima facie baffling given … they are politicians supposedly trying to win elections! What’s the explanation? It’s a product of a more general problem — their focus is always on today’s media and their position in Insider coalition networks, NOT winning. This more general issue also explains other otherwise baffling things, like their total lack of interest in the MOD for 14 years, their total lack of interest in actual border control and so on. They still call themselves ‘the party of business’ and ‘the party of the national interest’ and ‘the party of the armed forces’, echoing the 1980s, but they aren’t actually interested any more in any of these things.
Both Labour and Tory are locked into a media ecosystem and legal ecosystem that supports a combination of, to simplify crudely, *ESG + DEI + nutty green + nutty progressivism + technology hate*. Apart from the awful political and cultural effects, this combination is also a disaster for productivity growth and a market opportunity for TSP.
Both Labour and Tory are so locked into an approach to managing government and public services that they have no alternative to increasing taxes and blaming it on ‘an ageing population’, ‘climate change’ and so on. The government is swimming in money. It does NOT need to raise taxes. It says it has to because it doesn’t want to get involved in the hard business of changing how they work and actually having PRIORITIES (a word almost as unmentionable as ‘management’).
The government has poured something £35 billion down the toilet of HS2 just in this Parliament. It wouldn’t surprise me if it ends up being over £200 billion total. The fiasco was obvious in 2019 when the ‘evidence’ presented to No10 by DFT and Cabinet Office was clearly totally bogus and was exposed as such and had to be withdrawn. But they didn’t bother coming up with new evidence! Are you going to fire any of the people and do it differently, I asked? Of course not! Just more money. And Boris ‘money’s just numbers in a computer’ Johnson waved it through and the MPs of all parties cheered. Internal documents now show the absurd project has negative real expected value — but of course they just keep this secret and plough more cash in, with cross-party support! This enormous wastefulness is everywhere and embedded in all the parties. Like with violent crime, because they’re all so similar they can’t imagine a political world where taxpayers money is treated with respect.
For Insiders there really is no alternative to tax rises. A) They think any large scale changes to how the state works are either evil or impossible. B) Most Insiders want taxes to rise in principle. C) Most Insiders grossly exaggerate the extent to which public service performance is bad because of ‘lack of money’ and massively underrate the importance of terrible management (the unmentionable word in SW1) and costs of regulation/friction (dismissed because Insiders never have to deal with regulation because they have nothing to do with startups, see below).
I wanted the Tories either to a) commit to no more taxes and thereby increase incentives to change how things worked, or b) blow themselves up, so I pushed into the 2019 manifesto the tax ‘guarantee’. And so strong is their instinct for not rocking Whitehall’s boats and so total is their lack of interest in getting to grips with services that they’ve blown themselves up rather than stick to it! AND they still go on TV saying ‘we’re the party of low tax’ as if voters are lobotomised.
If you want a party of high tax, high friction, rising debt, low productivity, and stagnant wages, you can already support the old parties.
The market opportunity is for a party that ditches this combination and the anti-productivity/technology policies it drives.
(I won’t go into the issue of Net Zero / environment here. Obviously the Tories have bogged it. They’ve lurched from ‘swallow it all’ (Boris-Carrie) to spasmodic rejection to please the Telegraph (No10 now). Both approaches are doomed. TSP should handle it all very differently to any of the old parties. This will also be shocking because Insiders increasingly treat this subject religiously, with taboos, rather than politically/scientifically and therefore are out of touch with voters.)
E. Contra-Insiders,‘not normal politicians’: on the side of taxpayers against the old parties, with voters against unions and the CBI, the local against Whitehall, with mothers against the violent, for women’s safety against the men-pretending-to-be-women
For political-academic-media Insiders, ‘loss of trust in our institutions’ (i.e them!) is a big problem, for many of them ‘our biggest problem’.
I think the opposite: our real problem is that there’s too much trust in obviously failing institutions and they need rebuilding.
We shouldn’t trust regulators. We shouldn’t trust probation decisions. We shouldn’t trust the Cabinet Office — after all, MI5, MI6 and the SAS/SBS don’t trust it, why should voters?!
This general approach is a sharp contrast with the existing parties, the public is strongly on our side, and the old parties won’t be able to shift. In 2004 I was involved in running the campaign against the North east Assembly. We won 80-20. Our core message? ‘Politicians talk, we pay’ — if you trust Westminster then vote Yes, if you don’t and you think they’re failing, vote No. SW1 never learnt from this, which partly contributed to the referendum result where we made the same arguments outside London.
What sort of policies does this perspective imply? (None will be well defined, just for illustration.)
We wouldn’t accept a penny of taxpayers’ money to fund the party and will legislate to end all such payments immediately.
MP salaries should be linked directly to the rise/fall of median incomes. This incentivises MPs directly, unlike now, to grow the private sector. It means MPs get a pay CUT when the private sector is hit. Arguably all public sector wages should be linked like this to focus everyone’s minds on the real costs of all the nightmarish regulation that otherwise neither MPs nor other public sector workers pay attention to.
All expenses instantly transparent in machine-readable form. And all share dealings. Arguably all MP tax returns too. I have a strong feeling there’s a lot more corruption than is realised and many MPs think of themselves as justified in dodgy dealing because ‘my salary’s too low’ (which pundits encourage them to think).
Recruit Ministers from outside parliament. I’ve done market research since 2004 on this. It’s very popular and an open goal. It’s also unarguably necessary if you’re trying to recruit the best people who, by definition, are almost all outside Parliament. The old parties won’t do this because their MPs would go insane (as Boris said to me in summer 2020 when I said we should do this to replace Hancock et al).
Open up the civil service so appointments are open to outside candidates by default with almost zero exceptions. This is also unarguably necessary if you’re trying to recruit the best people who, by definition, are almost all outside Whitehall. The permanent closed caste civil service as it now works is one of our greatest sources of fragility and failure.
The old parties have the classic problem of incumbents — there’s so much to DEFEND! How can we do X when all these groups whom we spend our time trying to appease all oppose X? From BAE to unions, they can’t move without hitting this problem.
If you want a party that supports big old incumbents and wants to keep doing the same as the past 20 years, you can already vote for the old parties.
The market opportunity is for a Party that is credibly anti-Insider, can build, and is future-focused rather than incumbent-supporting.
F. We believe in controlling the borders, we will stop the ludicrous boats, we will cut illegal immigration to a tiny and irrelevant problem, we will ensure we actually know who enters/leaves our country
The old parties very visibly haven’t cared about these problems. It doesn’t matter what any of them say, everybody outside SW1 knows not to take it seriously. E.g If they wanted to know who comes into the country they’d have built a system to do it. Nobody did until we arrived. We did want to, so in January 2020 we started building it; Tories don’t so they stopped pushing it and it hasn’t happened (they probably just spent a load of cash on something that doesn’t work then went quiet on it knowing Labour would never bother asking).
The people who think of themselves as the smart people in SW1 regard it as literally impossible to ‘stop the boats’. This is, obviously, laughable. Many countries including us have dealt with 1000X harder problems — Pompei famously cleared the sea of pirates in weeks, over 2,000 years before radio! I am 100% confident that the British state could stop the boats and it wouldn’t even be a serious test for a serious government— the problem is none of the old parties want to and would rather lose every election than really try (as Sunak is demonstrating). And because everybody in SW1 shares the view ‘it’s basically intractable’ and no other player will show anybody else up, they’ve all felt safe in not taking it seriously.
This problem is going to get worse and worse as environmental and political problems send more and more people, especially young men, from Africa and Asia into Europe. The EU is already knackered in dealing with this issue. It can’t handle it legally, operationally or politically. It already has serious problems with extreme/fascist parties. This will grow and grow. (NB. As I’ve said many times this was one of the core reasons for doing the referendum.) The sooner we grip this problem, the less force and disruption the solution will need — which is best for everyone. If we continue with the Tory-Labour approach, we will have millions more immigrants, many illegal, and it will get harder and harder to deal with and require more force and disruption.
Even if the old parties did suddenly try to take it seriously they couldn’t actually control our borders because they all believe in the European Convention of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act. As Sunak has unwittingly demonstrated. He let himself be persuaded of nonsense on boats. He chose to ignore those who pointed out that even if the Courts accepted his Bill (his best case scenario), his Bill did not give him the powers to actually stop the boats. No10 remains deluded on this and those who know it won’t tell Sunak he’s bogged it.
If you have any trust in the old system, it seems amazing that a smart PM could repeat what Cameron, May and Boris did — simultaneously a) promise to solve a problem, b) sort of choose to believe rubbish, sort of deep down know it’s rubbish, c) raise the salience of an issue they can’t solve because of their own laws, lawyers and courts, d) when the whole thing inevitably fails and the public is angry, start spinning that really it was a clever strategy to ‘set the issue up for the next election’. But when you understand Tory world is rotten it’s all natural, not ‘amazing’.
I showed focus groups in 2015-16 video of immigrants running through the Channel tunnel and asking what they thought. A typical response:
We’re an island, it’s a FUCKING TUNNEL as wide as this building excuse my language, if the wankers in London wanted to stop this they could, they don’t cos they don’t care, they’ve given up.
If you don’t care about controlling the borders you can already vote Tory or Labour.
The market opportunity is for a party that does care and can credibly act. You can only be credible if you are prepared to repeal the HRA and end the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg Court.
(Ps. The delays in implementing Brexit border checks are connected. In 2019-20 we began getting to grips with the amazing farce of British border security. But this, like most things we started, shut down 2021-2. The British state literally cannot build the sort of system a competent country has at its border. And the Tories have just sat there as the years ticked by. After they lose watch them suddenly discover the idea ‘we should know who/what comes in/out’, after 14 years of ignoring the problem and getting the runaround from lawyers and Perm Secs.)
G. We will repeal the HRA and leave the jurisdiction of the ECHR’s Strasbourg Court
I’ve said repeatedly 2021-23 that a) legal advice to No10 in 2020 was definitive that everything Boris and Sunak have said 2021-3 about ‘stop the boats’ is nonsense because of the ECHR/ HRA + judicial review, b) the media will not report this issue properly because the entire system wants to hide the true role of the ECHR, c) Tory MPs are happier living in fantasy than gripping the real problems.
The ECHR/HRA has many effects, e.g:
Make it impossible to control illegal immigration. 25 year old men declare themselves 14 year old gay kids and that’s it, the British government is snookered and that’s another person here for life, using the NHS etc. The Strasbourg Court has ruled that it has extra-territorial reach so it also prohibits the use of the Navy to stop the boats in French waters and dump them back on the French beach. And on and on in a hundred ways.
Make tough surveillance of terrorists impossible. I’ve had personal experience of Kafka-esque meetings after a terrorist incident when the police and intelligence services admit they could not keep convicted terrorists (never mind suspects) under surveillance because of the ECHR/HRA. There are many, many ludicrous ways in which security is undermined. Most of these are classified in order to stop MPs and public knowing. Officials know some of these stories are so insane that publicity would undermine support for the ECHR/HRA.
Create such Kafka-esque absurdities we sometimes have special forces call in drone strikes to whack people instead of arresting them because it weirdly makes more legal ‘sense’, given legal advice. Such cases are, obviously, kept very quiet like many other ways the intelligence services are affected. There are some truly jaw dropping examples that Sunak should make public but won’t — those of you who read the yellow paper on terrorists bringing legal action in London while on the run from JSOC will know the sort of thing I mean. Good for some rich human rights lawyers (some of whom should be disbarred), humiliating for any serious country.
Prevent us giving the Home Secretary having an emergency power to prevent the release of the worst criminals by the appalling probation service.
Influence countless government decisions every day that are >99% hidden from Parliament and public. Every day a) ideas are rejected because ‘legal advice is it’s non-compliant with HRA’; b) ideas are rejected because people don’t want the multi-year delay and noise of a judicial review to figure out if X is compliant, and officials are highly incentivised to avoid JRs; c) legal guidelines drawn up for people like police, intelligence services, schools etc affect operational decisions. A mundane example: searching pupils. In 2011 we decided to give heads more powers to search pupils for different things (weapons, porn, fireworks etc). Immediately officials said ‘against ECHR’ (because of privacy). Normally this would doom a Tory effort, the ministers shrug and move on in 99/100 cases. I went and hired one of the top handful of barristers to review DfE legal advice. Conclusion: nonsense, the ECHR is such that almost anything might be subject to a JR, you’ve got a perfectly reasonable case to argue so it’s a political question about whether you’re prepared to risk a JR. We went ahead. While I was there there was no JR. Heads got the extra powers. Such things are repeated in No10 daily and generate an amazing and costly friction. Almost 100% never see the light of day and Insiders are happy because they don’t want the public or MPs to understand.
What should Sunak have done on ECHR/HRA?
A. Explained how the ECHR/HRA plus judicial review make it impossible to control our borders and published government legal advice demonstrating this is the official view of the civil service and the human rights lawyers themselves.
B. Connected this to many arguments on crime and national security, terrorism etc (a few examples above). The PM can declassify things. ‘I’ve declassified these examples so the public know the farce that’s been happening and how it’s been kept secret…’ The public would be gobsmacked. So would MPs!
C. Made a simple argument — if you support all this insanity, vote Starmer, if you agree it’s all insane and my predecessors have screwed the country by accepting it and keeping it almost all secret, then vote for me, I’m bringing in legislation so we can keep the worst criminals and terrorists in jail etc — and by the way if the unelected Lords disagree then that’s another brilliant reason to change that whole rotten fiasco too.
Starmer would have had to oppose but with an awful sinking feeling. And then you make Jolyon, trans-rights whack jobs, the human rights lawyers defending the worst people on earth et al the champions of the ECHR. Jolyon really wants to be famous — agreed, he deserves to be famous! And hey presto, you’ve got a much easier campaign to win than Brexit. The pro-ECHR campaign would be the Insider-left-NPC Twitter network and they’d be working really hard for the anti-ECHR campaign every day.
But this requires caring about the real problem, being prepared to annoy existing power structures, take on Whitehall and graduate London, and actually focus on a competent campaign for month after month. So, obviously, the Tories shot themselves in both feet instead and are something like minus-80 on immigration.
If you don’t care about all these things you can already vote Tory, Labour or LibDem.
The market opportunity is for a party that does care and can credibly act.
(An irony of the current dynamics is that after the election the Tory Party will either support leaving the ECHR or be replaced by a party that does — it’s clear how this is evolving. After 14 years of lying to themselves, Parliament, and the media about all these things they will suddenly flip — but being Tories they will do it crassly and incompetently. I hope they don’t do a sudden panic-stricken flip to oppose the ECHR next year as their failure will complicate the whole issue but this can’t be ruled out. You can imagine the pundit columns, ‘see it didn’t work!’ Establishment pundits will say in Opposition — embracing the ECHR is a sign of ‘seriousness’, opposing it a sign of ‘extremeness’’ and ‘unseriousness’. But the truth is if you prioritise solving some problems then the only ‘serious’ option is to leave the ECHR. The alternative is continue with the mix of Tory delusions and lies. Tory Insiders’ preference post-2024 will be to pretend that some ‘sensible reforms’ can deal with the ‘worst excesses’ but that overall we should simply not care about it ‘cos immigration good, get modern dummy!’. If you agree, then vote Tory! But, on the other hand, the Tory Insiders will have a small point — it will also be true that the least serious MPs will disproportionately support leaving the ECHR! The pathologies of SW1 are complex…)
H. We will focus on systematically eliminating the ways in which richer people and powerful incumbents have unfair advantages in tax, law etc
The Tories can’t do this because they don’t want to. In 2020 I said to Boris and some other ‘normal’ Tories that ‘obviously our priority is cutting taxes for people on median incomes, not keeping all the unjustifiable perks of the wealthiest 1%’. The usual stares implying I’m mad.
All across our economy there are people at the top of entities protected from competition that are paying themselves an unjustifiable amount of money. For example, our universities are year-by-year deteriorating because we can’t pay junior people like America does. Yet our universities now routinely pay over 500k a year for some mediocrity to be Vice Chancellor who then inevitably increases the power of the HR department which then spends more money on more HR/DEI and squeezes actual research. Utility companies have cosy deals with investment funds and their management routinely walk away with millions after abject failure. All across the economy and public services you see senior management walk away with rewards for failure then get protected by the MPs.
When I raise these issues with Tories? The usual stares implying I’m mad. They can’t even grasp that regardless of one’s views on the details, this is a huge political problem for them. For year after year the Tories defend the indefensible and even blather that they’re defending ‘free markets’, as if these university bureaucrats and water company executives are analogous to 25 year olds who build a deep tech company.
Why? Emotionally Tory MPs are on the side of the rentiers, the failed utility bosses. They feel like ‘they’re our people’ and those people really are often their cousins so literally are ‘our’ people!
We can’t support the politics of envy, Dominic.
It’s not the politics of envy. These people are not Steve Jobs getting great rewards for building valuable companies. They’re second rate academics getting 750k a year to FAIL. They’re FAILED businesspeople in uncompetitive markets pocketing millions. Defending them is not defending capitalism — certainly not as Adam Smith or Hayek would see it — it’s undermining public confidence in competitive markets and undermines your other arguments.
Look at farm subsidies and the amazing number of ‘green’ scams for the wealthiest 1%. When I talk socially to the wealthiest people in the country, it’s striking how many of them are snaffling cash from taxpayers on their large estates! Amazing how keen the old establishment are on Net Zero when it’s another transfer scheme to them from taxpayers on 25k! Again, MPs say nothing because it’s their cousins snaffling the cash. If you attack it? NET ZERO! Don’t challenge the taboo!
What’s the Tories’ core brand problem for decades?
‘They’re the party of the rich, they don’t share the priorities of normal people.’
Why is this so damaging?
Because it’s true! When you listen to them in private, they generally sound like the party for defending morally and economically unjustifiable perks from the system — NOT the party of the median voter, nor the party of entrepreneurs, nor the party of Adam Smith and Hayek on things like taxes and planning reform, nor the party interested in building critical state capabilities.
I recently suggested some ideas to a senior person in No10. Their response? The donors would go mental!
If you want a party that makes the tax system so complex the rich inevitably enjoy unjustified perks, you can already vote for the old parties. If you want a party that sticks up for rentiers and sticks it to small businesses and entrepreneurs, you can vote Tory. If you want to subsidise the wealthiest 1% of landowners and big old companies with taxpayers money, vote Tory or Labour!
The market opportunity is for a party that strips out unjustified perks for the rich and is on the side of startups against incumbents who hire lawyers and lobbyists in pursuit of regulatory capture.
I. TSP should help build things now to solve problems for people that are caused by political failure
Politics should not be just about talking and elections.
Particularly given technological changes, in building TSP we should ask — how can we build things now to help people overcome the core failures of politics? — problems the politicians just talk about, mostly without getting to the roots of the problems.
How to get healthcare for your family given the old parties have collapsed the NHS?
How to help your children learn in safety given the old parties have 1) corrupted curricula, exams, universities and 2) empowered fanatics to indoctrinate pupils and students?
How to make your family and local area safer given the old parties have 1) given up on controlling violent crime and immigration and 2) prioritise the ‘human rights’ of murderers, sex criminals and terrorists over your family’s safety?
The Startup Party should help build solutions to these problems that voters really, really care about and the old parties obviously don’t. This will a) actually help people and b) be great politics. Solving real problems on the ground is the fastest way to bootstrap a network that rapidly overtakes the old parties, especially given the Tories are literally dead in much of the country. (I experienced this in the 2019 election. When I told CCHQ officials our models showed various seats were in play that they’d never won in decades if ever, and we should get volunteers there, I was told, ‘there is nobody there Dom, they’re literally all dead’.)
An example… Before 2010 I and some others set up the New Schools Network to talk to parents across the country and prepare the ground to create new schools. It didn’t focus on SW1 and barely registered there and it wasn’t a ‘think tank’ but had much more effect than any of the ‘think tanks’. This was central to fast progress in government. It’s highly telling how the Tories closed this down and have zero interest in how we really did the only big public service reform since 2010. (The dominant SW1 story — ‘Gove gave clear leadership and lots of speeches and Whitehall delivered’ — is laughable.)
An example… Labour or Tory, Insiders have little-to-no grasp of how debates about the pros/cons of school and university are changing fast among entrepreneurs. They all reflexively defend the state controlling school curricula and exams and they can’t imagine a different world to what they experienced — going to a ‘top’ university is a crucial signal. Even GPT4 hasn’t changed this much, Insiders are not inclined to see how these tools will change the whole field in the next 5 years. But among entrepreneurs and younger people it’s obvious that the problems and costs of the old system are rising fast while the opportunities to do it better and cheaper are growing. The old parties will reflexively defend current business models in school and university. Tories in 2025 will publish absurd documents on how to teach patriotism in state schools — more Stalinism comrades! — as if the last decade hasn’t happened. Behind this is the belief across Parliament that most people are too ignorant to make ‘sensible’ decisions.
In area after area like this, a new political force can engage in debates free of having to defend the old systems. If odd Insiders try to alert the old parties how the world is changing, they’ll be shouted down. The Tories don’t understand what we did in the Department for Education 2010-14 and they’re not interested, there’s no way they’ll figure out what’s going to happen.
If you want a party that just talks and can’t build, you can already vote for the old parties. If you want a party that truly believes a few hundred low calibre people in parliament should control school exams and university standards, then vote Tory or Labour. If you think this model will survive technology and market pressures, support the old parties!
The market opportunity is for a party that does care and can build, for a party that supports startups building new ways to deliver services people want but the old systems are getting worse and worse at.
J. Bias in favour of decentralisation
TSP should be strongly in favour of a general decentralisation of power and taxes/spending. National taxes should fall, local taxes should rise, more money raised AND spent locally without Whitehall directing or micromanaging. Policy mixes like a) much easier to build and b) something like land taxes.
The centre of government combines a) an appalling degree of ignorant/incompetent micromanagement and b) a lack of power and capability to act where the centre needs to be powerful and decisive.
We have a Treasury that tries to second-guess Fields Medallists about the future of maths research but can’t procure fast in a national crisis.
We have a centre that micromanages spending to an absurd degree on public sector use of technology but can’t build a file sharing system for the PM and spends four years arguing among itself about Teams versus GoogleDocs for No10 (they’ve just agreed to pay consultants a fortune to try to settle this multi-year intra-70WH feud).
We have a centre that promotes its own blend of HR/DEI madness across the public sector but can’t shuffle people around within 100 metres of the PM’s study on the most critical national priorities — a centre that tells everybody how to be ‘inclusive’ and can’t even boot out proven stalkers sitting 50m from the PM.
So, in the same way we need to be about 95% more Hayekian and about 5% more ‘strong state capability’ when thinking about the economy and public services, so we need to be about 95% more decentralising and about 5% more ‘strong state capability’ when thinking about the balance of power between the centre and the edge of the power/money.
If you want a party and government that is the most centralised in Europe (contrary to our whole history when we were more successful) and destroys local government and can’t perform basic tasks, you can already support the old parties.
The market opportunity is for a a party committed to decentralisation and a dynamic powerful centre.
K. TSP opposes another Brexit referendum before 2040
In 2015-16 all the parties and the Remain campaign said the referendum was ‘for a generation’.
The only point of doing Brexit was to change a lot. So the Tories have done the dumbest thing possible — supported Brexit in 2019 then done almost nothing to justify it. And the most obvious thing that came from it and paid for it in its first year! — much faster action on vaccines than Brussels, which could never have happened without Brexit — they never mention.
TSP should respect the referendum and say that we expect that at the end of a decade of sorting ourselves out people will strongly oppose handing over vast power to a visibly stagnant and failing institution, but this decision is for the Parliament after 2040 (2020 being the year we left and 20 years being a modest view of ‘a generation’).
If VL was right by 2040 it will obvious that handing over massive power to Brussels and joining the euro would be a disaster and the issue will have gone. If we’re such a shambles that it makes no difference, then have another referendum and those that can should emigrate! Free movement in 2040 will not be for the faint hearted!
If you want a Party that doesn’t change much and doesn’t believe British voters should control their own laws you can already support the old parties — the LibDems want to rejoin, the Tories support the ECHR.
The market opportunity is for a party that will be aggressively different and seek to show why fast change is much better for prosperity and security than rule by Brussels.
We’ve watched the old parties screw up one war after another since 9/11.
The same story repeats.
Propaganda, grand promises, failure, lies and delusions, another country wrecked, more people hate us to their dying day, onto the next ‘war for democracy’.
Even to my extremely cynical mind, it was wild watching so much of the left join the Iraq-neocon warmongers in 2022, swallow the propaganda and ramp it up. Hard to remember now but back in February 2022 we were all told ‘it’s nothing to do with NATO’ — now we’re told if you don’t support expanding NATO to the Russian border you must be a KGB stooge.
Here isn’t the place to go into the complexity of Ukraine.
The approach of MPs (both parties) for decades has been a combination of:
allowed critical capabilities to rot
cheated the budgets and lied about it all, in ways that would get businessmen jailed
degraded the ecosystem needed for companies that support critical capabilities
let Russia and China infiltrate critical networks and steal many billions in critical technology often paid for by taxpayers (covered that up too)
all while intermittently bombing people and lecturing them about a ‘rules based international order’ which means, as parents used to say, ‘don’t do as I do do as I say’.
Amazingly this hasn’t worked well! And to the shock of Western elites, the rest of the world has not bought our propaganda on Ukraine.
The TSP should:
Build capabilities seriously.
Take defence against Russian and Chinese infiltration and IP theft seriously. (NB. It took the VL team in No10 to get legislation in to deal with China/Russian operations and theft, the MPs wouldn’t do it left to themselves.)
Stop the embarrassing babble about ‘punching above our weight’ and ‘the special relationship’. The MOD and Foreign Office can’t punch BELOW our weight and the FO doesn’t want to. It is reflexively on the side of Brussels, Paris and Berlin. Its priority is DEI and keeping international lawyers happy. If you want to know why we can’t exert ‘influence’, follow Simon McDonald on twitter and reflect that he ran the FO.
Start telling the truth about the rot of our defence and the lying budgets. There’s tens of billions in secret disastrous budgets that Starmer will be shown on yellow paper, giving him the same choice as his predecessors — face the truth and have honest budgets, thereby blowing up your spending plans, or classify more and punt more down the track to the next sucker like Brown, Cameron, Osborne, Heywood et al. (In Q3 a secret process got the first honest MOD budgets for 20 years; Boris and the Cabinet Office shredded them.)
Not get involved in more Iraqs, Syrias, Ukraines unless at least America, China, Russia and India are all prepared to cooperate in a multinational force.
Oppose NATO expansion / extending nuclear tripwires up to Russia’s border.
Learn one absolutely clear ‘lesson from history’: we see over and over how extraordinarily hard it is to understand what opponents are really thinking, but every generation promotes people to key jobs who are wildly overconfident in their ability to understand this. We see this problem everywhere on Ukraine. I sometimes talk to people who are in the room with world leaders to discuss nuclear issues viz Putin. I say to them, what do you think about the fact we now know (but didn’t for decades) that Castro pushed for escalation even though he thought it would mean the total nuclear destruction of Cuba? Almost none of them know the history of the Cuban crisis or have studied the lessons from nuclear thinking in the Cold War and the archives’ secrets.
NATO should build conventional defences so it can defeat any Russian conventional attack on NATO. If Putin wants to start a nuclear war that obliterates civilisation, we have no means of stopping him (until/unless new capabilities are developed) and can only hope people disobey/shoot him. But we should aim for a situation in which everybody in the world can see that we are acting defensively only and if Putin escalates with nuclear weapons, then he has chosen to do it in clear unambiguous fashion without being attacked. We should at all costs not allow it to happen either because of chaos (like Cuba) or because we have no other way of stopping Russian forces. Cold War ideas about nuclear strikes in response to conventional attacks, in order to save money, should be unambiguously dropped. Limiting chances of nuclear holocaust will be ‘expensive’ in conventional terms but it’s actually cheap and we should pay up.
No war over Taiwan either. If China invades Taiwan it will provoke huge defensive moves against itself across Asia. We should be considering where realistic and credible red lines really are — they certainly don’t run through an island visible from China’s shore full of millions of Chinese people with cousins in the PLA. The One China (but peaceful unification) policy was a good one. We should return to the Lee Kuan Yew approach that Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Obama stuck to. And be tougher on China’s infiltration at home. The combination of weakness viz Chinese intel operations and aggression viz Taiwan is the wrong way around.
Everybody should re-read JFK’s speech on peace and think about how to live in a world where we do not treat WMD states as if they’re tinpot African countries to be roughed up with impunity. Survival in a world of WMDs (that will become deadlier and easier for fewer people to deploy) is a long game!
If you want a party that constantly involves us in wars it does not take seriously while neglecting security at home, you can already support the old parties.
If you want a party that a) leaves us wide open to China covertly infiltrating critical infrastructure to an extraordinary extent while b) threatening China over an island full of Chinese people, you can already support the old parties.
If you want a party that’s amazingly weak on surveillance of terrorists because of ‘legal advice’ and allows extremists to roam around Britain spreading their message because of ‘human rights’, while interfering non-stop all over the world, you can already vote for the old parties.
If you want to keep propping up regimes that export their fanatics here, vote for the old parties.
The market opportunity is for a party that takes war seriously, prepares seriously, but really tries to stay out of it and does not try to play imperial adventures in a democratic culture totally unsuitable for imperial adventures.
Empires are for the likes of Alexander and Caesar and pre-democratic Britain — strategic cultures that can think and build long-term — not for modern democracies like America or Britain that cannot sustain focus. It’s impossible to be a serious Empire and have the US Constitution, as the Founding Fathers knew. We already have a group of people in Europe that think imperially — the Leninists in the European Commission. We should leave doomed imperial adventures to them and their PowerPoint-only ‘European defence forces’, for so long as they can keep the euro propped up.
Ps. This is an interesting perspective by J Gaddis on NATO enlargement. Insider discussion on Ukraine is conducted without reference to the fact that the idea of expanding NATO to include Ukraine was seen 1991-4 as an obviously stupid and dangerous policy by those who won the Cold War. Like ‘Azov = Nazis’ » ‘Azov = freedom fighters’, it’s now memory-holed.
Some principles of strategy are so basic that when stated they sound like platitudes: treat former enemies magnanimously; do not take on unnecessary new ones; keep the big picture in view; balance ends and means; avoid emotion and isolation in making decisions; be willing to acknowledge error. And yet, the Clinton administration's single most important foreign-policy initiative - NATO enlargement - somehow manages to violate every one of these principles. Perhaps that is why historians so widely agree that NATO enlargement is ill-conceived, ill-timed, and ill-suited to the realities of the post-Cold War world.
Also cf. George Kennan, he of the Long Telegram and the famous ‘X’ article on containment in the late 1940s who lived to see the start of NATO expansion debates.
Such views now are widely dismissed by the Insider-NPC network as ‘you must be a Putin stooge’ — which is doubly ironic given so much of the Insider-NPC network actually were fooled by Putin 20 years ago and thought of him as a ‘reformer’, think tanks were full of pieces about how Russia would join the EU/euro written by people who now call for all-out war on Russia…
JFK’s Peace Speech (remember, if he hadn’t rejected the unanimous military advice in 1962, YOU may well never have existed)
What would TSP look like overall?
After it gets going it would look to Insiders somewhere between ‘incoherent’ and ‘terrifying’.
Much tougher on crime, security than Tories.
Much tougher on abuses of the system by wealthiest 1% and powerful incumbents than Labour.
Much more pro-growth and productivity and technology than either party.
Much more practical and bottom-up on public services than either party. Instead of rhetoric about ‘radical reform’ plus more centralisation that can’t deliver (the old parties’ model of ‘reform’), we empower voters, patients, parents etc to build new, decentralised ecosystems for delivering health, education. A party based on representing entrepreneurs and public servants will talk and act very differently and be more credible.
Much more pro-technology than either party viz energy/environment, doesn’t fit on SW1 pro/anti net zero spectrum. Build build build nuclear energy, reduce leverage of the world’s worst regimes, explain how it will save the lives of children because of eliminating pollution.
The only party that values entrepreneurs and SMEs and will change tax and regulation to help them thrive.
The only party arguing for a major shut down of lots of central government with power and money shifting to local communities.
The only entity that can discuss problems with immigration, crime etc honestly because we’re the only ones not having to lie to coverup the problems of ECHR/HRA.
The only party consistently opposed to imperial adventures.
The only party that can talk sense on the sex hysteria. Stonewall and its like purged from Whitehall, the madness gone from schools, castration of gay children and sterilisation of girls illegal, always on the side of women’s rights and safety against the aggressive/violent men-pretending-to-be-women. Want a sex change? If you’re a child, no dice. If you’re an adult, work, save money, pay for it yourself — taxpayers earning 20k aren’t paying for it. This hysteria would blow itself out like witch trials with the right approach but the old parties are paralysed.
The only party that says the answer to the failure of X is NOT ‘reform X’ but ‘close X and replace with Y’.
Navigate by voters, not London dinner parties (which by definition are behind the curve). Doesn’t fit on the SW1 left-right spectrum generally.
Doesn’t look like normal politicians, the party legally ceases to exist after 10 years in government, we’re credible when we say we’re here to solve problems and change course then we’re off.
If you care about things like pandemic preparation, how to regulate AI, what are the new versions of GCHQ and the SAS/SBS, then this is the party for you.
Unlike the old parties we will not be confused about the difference between a) complex arguments aimed at niche audiences and b) effective mass communication which we will be 10X better than them at.
Insiders will obviously attack hard but then they’ll realise that lots of their attacks help us and ‘incoherent’ doesn’t work as an attack. Remember SW1 said VL was ‘incoherent’ all through 2015-16, to the ‘left’ of Tories on NHS and to the ‘right’ on immigration — i.e where the public was.
Many voters, many entrepreneurs and many who work in public service will agree with this overall mix and could openly support without the appalling social implications of supporting the loathed Tories.
Younger people in particular who oppose the current Insider consensus have no interest in dealing with Tory constituency organisations which feel like a nursing home, and don’t want to associate with the appalling Tory brand. So if we get going then quickly we will get all the younger people who oppose the mad Left and the Tories will seem doomed to die out even faster. With mad Left ideas increasingly in charge of all institutions while these institutions fail and tell the young to pay more taxes, there’s bound to be a revolt of the young against the dominant ideology that will take Insiders by surprise. We’ll be the natural home.
Using Insider hate/energy…
In the 2004 referendum, the establishment Yes campaign watched us launch an anti-politicians campaign. It drove them nuts. They attacked us. And all their attacks worked for us and reinforced OUR message.
Same thing happened with Cameron cancelling his events and holding a press conference on Turkey / Vote Leave ‘lies’.
Same thing happened Q3 2019.
Same thing will happen with TSP.
Imagine a party that a) mobilises some of the most talented people in the country and b) takes the voters’ side against the old parties and other old power structures operating on principles roughly like the above.
The old system will go crazy with hate. Tory-Labour rivalries will be mostly forgotten. They will unite in attacking this appalling new force. Danny Finkelstein and Owen Jones will sing a similar song!
This highly visible conflict will give us a powerful surge of energy. With some luck, the stronger the Insiders’ resistance and hate, the stronger and faster our energy and growth…
A very rough path into the forest
How to make progress?
potential MP candidates, ministers and leaders
a story that’s compelling for a fraction of voters big enough to change British politics (40% plus to win a majority but the right way to think about it is 50%+)
a policy-communication-network machine (using new technology) much more able than the old parties to sense, understand (the world and voters), and act (it must be much better to overcome their structural advantages)
money (not much, the importance of money is overrated and the importance of people and message is underrated).
A tentative path:
A few months discussion here and elsewhere.
Build informal networks.
Think through issues of structure, legal personality etc.
Raise a million quid to hire some people and get building.
Think through basics of: how to go public (people, message, names), how to grow (e.g what do we ask people to do).
Seek first core staff.
Recruit support particularly among: entrepreneurs, SMEs, the NHS, armed forces / intelligence services / cops.
Iterative process of figuring out core elements of an actual plan for government, a story for the public, market research, recruiting.
Build an edge-of-the-art communication machine.
Go public Q4 2023 / Q1 2024.
Quiet discussions with the best 5% of current MPs and organisers to defect.
Arguably make clear the goal is to win in 2028, govern for two terms then self-destruct as a legal entity so the project is credibly hardwired to be fundamentally different to a normal party and it provides a clear focus: 2023-8 is building then 2028-38 is a decade of governing then we’re handing over, we’re not doing it to build an empire or to become a permanent feature of a new system, we’re actually building healthy regeneration into the new approach. (A lot of crucial things — e.g ‘change civil service’, bring a different elite into government, build/rebuild critical capabilities, make science and technology a central focus, change MoD procurement — need to start Day 1 of a new government but will take 5-10 years to embed and show people gains.) It would be an attractive way to build a new party. It would mark us out as credibly different from the start — we’re not a normal party and we’re not a normal group of politicians, we don’t want to keep power, we want to clear up the mess the old parties have made, retire a load of the old guard who’ve failed, build healthier institutions, then return to our lives and families and hand the country on to new people.
Figure out whether we stand any candidates in 2024 or not. There are already Tory MPs and candidates talking about a new Party immediately after GE24. These discussions are bound to spread regardless of what I do as people increasingly face the rot of the parties and the state of the country and the basic fact that the smartest hardest-working MP can’t stop the ship sinking.
Immediately after the exit polls are live on election night 2024, have a plan to divert energy and money away from ‘how to revive the Tories’ to ‘how to replace the Tories’.
How could you personally help?
If you want to think about this here are some questions to think about:
Who are the local figures in your area with the most moral authority: head teacher, an army hero, NHS hero, an ex-policeman, an entrepreneur with good local reputation, a Nobel Prize winner?
Who is the most competent person you know at building an organisation?
Who are the 10 people you know who are most fed up with ALL parties and might volunteer time building something and are persuasive?
Who do you know who is best at organising / coordinating people online?
If you were part of the Vote Leave network please forward this to others you know in that network. (If you were part of old VL and leave a comment, please identify yourself with ‘oldVL’. If you’re an official tag ‘official’. If you work in a public service tag ‘pubserv’.)
Please do not post here ‘my ideas for a policy on X’. That is for another post shortly!
Open networks so non-credentialed people can make contributions
There are many myths about organisations including the persistent delusion that decentralised systems can replace any need for hierarchy.
A party built to win power then govern will to some extent have to be, like everything at scale, a hierarchy.
BUT it doesn’t have to be like the old parties and it can build itself with new technologies from the start.
There are some aspects of the open source movement that are different to how the old parties work. For example, a mix of:
Clear goals and tasks
Openness: everyone can contribute
Non-credentialism: contributions, respect etc based on achievements not credentials
Verifiable and reversible contributions
The combination of tactical and operational decentralisation with advanced tools can be powerful.
LLMs could enable us in 2024-25 to engage in personalised communication at scale. Think Carole Cadwalladr’s nightmare! What she thought we/Trump did in 2016 (we didn’t) actually is sort of possible now! But the old parties can’t even do TV close to right.
If you want a party that is an old school centralised hierarchy that moves at the same speed as Whitehall (i.e glacial) and can’t innovate, then you can already vote for the old parties.
The market opportunity is for a party that is a weird hybrid of ‘strategic centralisation, tactical decentralisation’ plus new technology.
What’s the hardest problem?
Figuring out a political strategy for TSP and a message to win >40% of the vote is far from the hardest problem. Raising money isn’t the hardest problem.
The hardest problem will be attracting certain sorts of people needed to get it off the ground and growing fast. If we can’t get it going, the fundamental reason will almost certainly be that the sort of people we need to get involved won’t move.
This is a big problem in America. I spent some time 2021-2 trying to get American entrepreneurs to get involved in politics to start building and push America away from Trump-Biden II. I failed. Part of the reason is the vicious circle I’ve mentioned many times here — the worse the old system gets, the higher the costs for most talented people in getting involved. This is partly why the Left are so aggressive in attacking anybody who speaks out — pour encourager les autres. It works.
Such a venture needs a coalition between a new elite and a subset of normal voters. Mobilising a subset of existing elites, attracting new talent and persuading them to spend their time on something that short-term is fraught with problems and all gains are long-term and largely accrue to others is very hard!
I will say more about this and crucial intra-elite tensions.
I think the thought experiment at least is worth pursuing.
SW1 thinks our political system is very resilient but it isn’t. I wrote in 2013 that really it is extremely brittle and would get more brittle. Brexit, covid, Ukraine have exposed the truth but have not made the old parties face it and change. Everything is subordinated, mostly unconsciously, to minimising adaptation and reinforcing the old system with more power and money. It’s even more brittle now than a decade ago and dangers are worse. The only reasonable assumption that fits the evidence is that the scale of shock needed to make the old parties face reality is nothing short of a worse nuclear crisis than Cuba 1962, worse terrorism than 9/11, a worse economic crisis than 2008, a worse pandemic than covid. More likely than adaptation is slow rot, elite blindness, fast crisis, and disintegration à la Austro-Hungarian Empire — a bigger version of spring 2020 when covid kicked the door down and the rotten roof fell in.
The reason I tried so hard 2015-16 and 2019-20 was a feeling of doom about the current system. *I* don’t need to do this. But *SOMEBODY* needs to get us off the track we’re on.
Short-term this is unlikely to succeed. But somebody will do something like this. And if it happens in response to the next set of crises — when the financial system melts down, when we have large scale violence because of racial/immigration/terror conflicts, whatever — it will be ugly.
Over the next month I’m going to think through all this, talk to some people, read all the comments/suggestions here then make a decision around mid-September on whether I’m going to spend a lot of time over the next year trying to build a team that can really do this.
My role would be similar to summer 2015 with Vote Leave when I biked around asking people to quit their jobs and join our startup — find some great people and help them work together. But if I can do this and it grows then I will step back. I’m good at getting very talented people working together but I’m not the person to go on TV and persuade people to vote for the new thing. To work, TSP needs to be the party of entrepreneurs and public servants, not my blogs!
I will read every comment on this blog and engage with subscribers as I think it through.
Experiment: the top 5 ranked comments, I’ll fix a video call and we can discuss stuff then I’ll post the video.
I’ll make this blog public after feedback and tweaks in a week or so.
Some interesting things
Fascinating on Obama. How many political obsessives have even heard of Garrow’s book?! Also an enormous indictment of the entire conservative research and media worlds! Why keep giving money to these institutions?! They get million after million and don’t even interview three Obama girlfriends!
Interview with Ben Horowitz. On the question of whether technology X is good/bad?
On the question of whether the benefits outweigh the risks, I go back to something the great Andy Grove said about the microprocessor. A reporter asked whether it was good or bad and Andy said: "That's the wrong question. That's like asking whether or not steel is good or bad. It just is. The right question is 'how do we make it good.'" [Same answer as von Neumann on nuclear science.]
Andreessen & Horowitz podcast. On Oppenheimer, communism, comparing the America that could build in 1940-45 with now, the Bay Area, how it sucked in talent, meritocracy, why it’s so left / how it’s changed, the nightmare spread of racialisation.
Andreessen on giving himself a second education after 2016. One man’s self-reflection/education very likely greater than the combined self-reflection of all UK Cabinet Ministers post—2016!
Andreessen on the future of tech and AI. NB. He does not think ‘don’t worry about AI dangers’, he thinks — a society that’s forgotten how to build and funds gain-of-function experiments in low security labs post-covid, and lies to itself about covid origin debates, is not going to regulate AI sensibly. Unlike SW1 I’ve watched this debate since it was a tiny corner of the internet in 2000, very far from anything mainstream. If you’re not worried about something much more intelligent than you then you don’t understand politics. If you trust our current regimes to regulate it sensibly then you don’t understand politics.
Andy Matarshak interviewed by Dwarkesh. Also covers memory systems.
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