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Discussion > The World Turned Upside Down

I don't often comment here (though I do occasionally), and I've never started a discussion thread before, so please be gentle with me! This thread is prompted by reading and enjoying the comments on the Donald Trump and EU Must Be Joking threads, which made me think about the politics of contributors and the positions they take on various issues (including, but certainly not limited to, climate change).

The World Turned Upside Down was a ballad written in the 1640s in the aftermath (I believe) of the British Civil Wars. There were also wood cuts on the same theme, at a time when people thought that nothing made any sense any more. It's rather what I think about the current state of UK and US politics, hence the title of this thread.

My starting point is that traditional left/right distinctions seem to have broken down, if not completely inverted. I generally regard myself as rather more left wing than right wing, and confess to having been an active member of the Labour Party for many years, before Tony Blair saw me leave. I no longer support any political party, though I think my underlying politics haven't changed much, if at all, and that the Labour Party left me, rather than the other way round.

One of the points that has always puzzled me about the climate change debate is how I find myself on that issue more often than not on the side of people who would regard themselves as more right wing than me, and in opposition to people (like, I assume, from comments on this site over the months and years) Raff, Entropic Man, Phil Clarke et al, who seem to see themselves as being more to the left of politics. Yet the problem with the policies espoused by them and their ilk is that they involve redistributing money from the poor to the rich, putting up fuel prices, and thereby damaging industry (and therefore jobs). Labour, Green, Plaid Cymru, SNP (all parties claiming to be of the left) and the aforementioned commentators all support such right wing policies. UKIP (a party of the right) and some presumably right-wing commentators on here, oppose such policies. How has this state of affairs come about?

Much the same could be said, in my opinion, of the EU. I oppose the UK's continuing membership of the EU from, I believe, a left-wing perspective. It has created political instability in Ukraine, it adopts the same climate change policies that have the effects mentioned above, it destroys jobs, it has fuelled mass unemployment (particularly youth unemployment, especially in the member countries on the Med), and it encourages mass immigration, driving down wages for the already lower-paid, and encouraging more immigrants to risk their lives to get here. Big business, meanwhile, loves the EU, and lobbies hard for the UK to remain a member. So how come it's right-wing UKIP who oppose our membership, and supposedly left-wing Labour, Green, SNP and Plaid Cymru all support our membership? As John Redwood (a very right wing Conservative MP) said: "It appears that many on the left apply a double standard. They condemn anything done or said in the US and UK, that they sign up to and even welcome if it is done in the name of the EU."

Gordon Brown's intervention yesterday, before it was rightly deflected from the news by the awful shooting and stabbing of Jo Cox, is a case in point. His argument for staying in the EU was essentially that it protects Britain from the worst excesses of a Conservative Government. This struck me as saying that he was giving up on Labour being in Government for the foreseeable future. Also that he is quite happy for an unelected and undemocratic supranational body to prevent a democratically elected UK Government from implementing its mandate - a shocking and profoundly undemocratic take on the situation. Goodness knows what earlier Labour leaders would make of that awful cop-out. I know I'm not impressed.

And now the really controversial one - Islam. I fully accept that there are many decent Moslems, and many of them are in this country. However, some at the more extreme end of that religion can safely be characterised as homophobic, misogynistic, intolerant, and in the worst cases, extremely violent. At its worst (and, I stress, only at its worst), it epitomises all that those of us on the left should abhor and should condemn utterly, but again there seems to me to be a strange reluctance on the part of left-wing politicians and commentators to do so. Actions and language that they would unhesitatingly condemn (and rightly so) if coming from Farage or some other right-winger, seem to be strangely tolerated when coming from Moslems. I think the Labour Party has got itself into a difficulty here. It no longer seems to represent working class people (or even to understand them), and relies heavily on immigrant votes. It therefore finds it hard (politically inconvenient?) to criticise intolerance from that quarter. Our liberal society has a strange dilemma - do we tolerate intolerance, or are we only intolerant and critical of traditional right-wing intolerance? If we accept intolerance from some Moslems because they are a minority grouping in need of protection, are we not storing up awful trouble?

Finally, it seems to me that it is the disconnect of politicians (particularly left wing ones) from the views of the electorate which fuels extremism. If ordinary people feel they aren't being listened to and that politicians are making their lives worse rather than better, then they will turn to people who do listen to them (or at least pretend to do so). I think this explains the profound contempt that currently exists for the establishment, and for the rise of Trump, a man for whom I have no time whatsoever (though I do hope that if he is elected POTUS who will stop Obama's damaging climate change agenda in its tracks - and where the US leads, the rest of the world tends to follow).

A bit of a ramble, for which I apologise, but I would welcome the views of all, whether on the right or left or of no particular political persuasion.

Jun 17, 2016 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Hodgson


I see two things that are insidious:

[A] The rise of the Political Class whose only training and experience is in Politics and who have become detached from the population at large, and who seem to loath and despise the lower social classes.

[B] The rise of the professional adminstrative class (eg the UK Civil Service and Brussels officialdom) who operate with very little oversight, whose members enjoy far better employment conditions than the population at large, who reward themselves hefty bonuses, irrespective of performance. And who show some symptoms of regarding the population at large as The Enemy.

I think that both [A] and [B] contain the seeds of their own destruction as things that cannot last forever - either because of the rise of Donald Trumps or because of financial implosion.

Jun 17, 2016 at 3:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

Thinking about it, perhaps [A] can explain the phenomenon of Donald Trump and [B] can explain Brexit.

Jun 17, 2016 at 4:58 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A


Thank you for commenting, and for your thoughts. You probably won't be surprised to learn that I agree with your analysis. My main perplexity, however, stems from the current confusion (as I see it) between right and left, with people of the right supporting what I regard as left-wing policies, and vice versa. I'm struggling to understand how this happened, and am even more confused by it.

I generally have a very high regard for the wit and wisdom of most of those who comment on here, including those with whom I frequently find myself in disagreement (especially on climate change and energy policy), so I am interested in knowing what others - of all political complexions, and of none - think about how and why this state of affairs came about. I'm in my 50s, and I can't remember a time when politics on both sides of the Pond was, frankly, so weird.

Jun 17, 2016 at 6:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Hodgson

Both sides of the political divide have stopped looking after us. They wildly alternate between caring for the poorest and then the richest, with the majority of us stuck in the middle paying for it all. Their loyalty is to an international elite who play at caring for the masses while they squirrel money away beyond our grubby fingers. They think that the answer to a runaway public spending bill is to add more workers and don’t seem to realise that more workers today just means a bigger bill tomorrow. It won’t be their problem by then. They’re playing the same game that Philip Green engaged in – promise the workers and customers everything, strip the assets and then be a long way away with a knighthood when it all falls apart.

They're like the succession of top flight business directors flown into a failing company, who stay for a few years, make no difference and then move on. Eventually you realise that they weren't brilliant, they were just lucky to be at the helm of businesses that did well in spite of them but when faced with a failing business, they've got nothing to offer beyond a good suit and a confident smile.

Jun 17, 2016 at 7:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCo2

MartinA. Are you sure your political class (A) and the professional administrative class (B) are really recent phenomena? I would suggest they have reappeared after a temporary absence or decline following WWII. The political class have been with us since the formulation of the present parliamentary system when only the rich and privileged could play. The professional administrative class, I suggest arose with the development of the Empire, especially India. Administrators took responsibility for all decisions, even those we would now consider as the preserve of goverment.

These two groups have always been with us, but temporarily declined in their visibility with the rise of the Labour Party who didn't have (A) and were suspicious of (B).

Another interesting phenomena which is affecting both sides of the Atlantic, is the move towards isolationism. With Trump pushing "America First" and Brexit in the UK. What is causing this lack of satisfaction with the status quo? Are these different phenomena or are they interlinked. Is the decline of the UK and USA relative to the BRICK economies partially to blame, making our populations insecure and dissatisfied?

We live in what the Chinese

Jun 17, 2016 at 8:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan kendall

call interesting times and curse.

Jun 17, 2016 at 8:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan kendall

AK, I think that you'll find that "America First" was always the norm, it's recent history that's changed all that. At some pont we stopped being proud of who we are and what we get right and started despising everything.

Jun 17, 2016 at 8:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Mark, I am not really of the left as you imply, though I used to be on the right (5 years ago) I am now more of the pragmatic center. I don't agree with the reversal you see in politics. If you think those on the right here oppose renewables or any other green policy out of sympathy for the poor, think to yourself whether they would reverse their position if funding for policies came not from increases in electricity tariffs but from an increase in capital gains tax, higher rate income tax or some other tax that affects the non poor. Clearly they would not; their 'sympathy' for the poor is purely opportunistic, as with their sympathy for Africa.

My preference for action to reduce CO2 would be for a carbon tax with the proceeds paid at a flat rate per-person. This would be redistributive, aiding the poor. My guess is that you would find no support here or on the right for such a policy if it were accepted that action on CO2 needed to be taken and that the proceeds would soon get converted into a tax rebate so that those who paid most tax got the biggest rebate.

Jun 18, 2016 at 1:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Raff, you've never explained how a carbon tax would work to reduce CO2. Start your own discussion about it.

And no we wouldn't support any increase in any tax to pay for current renewables because THEY DON'T BLOODY WORK! All subsidy should be scrapped and the greedy idiots who put them in should take the hit. If anything, they should be fined for polluting the energy supply with unreliable electricity.

Jun 18, 2016 at 4:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

I think I tend to agree with both of Martin A's posts. Although I do think they've been with us since we started living in cities and in groups larger than tribes. Most empires become overburdened with functionaries and a ruling class who are totally isolated from everyone else. As a result they have internal strife and become vulnerable to invasion and changes in the environment

As the politicians drift towards a middle ground not differing in the majority of issues it leaves what are normally minorities who disagree with the mainstream enough to form a sub-groups which don't normally, in the end achieve anything significant, for example CND and anti-Windfarm groups. The ruling elite who know they are right pay lip service but continue as before.

Where the situation becomes difficult for the ruling elites is when a single issue has become large problem or perceived problem. In the UK immigration and £350 million a week and threatens to upset what is a happy co-existence of the major parties. In recent years UKIP eating away at Tory support and previously Lib_Dems making in roads on both. Lib-Dems were seen off by coalition. UKIP proved a harder nut to crack, ending up with a referendum which seemed a good idea at the time. People of all political views unite when offered a single vote which doesn't seem to directly effect anything else, US President and Brexit for example.

The problems only come afterwards when one group of voters expect immigration to stop completely and many current non-UK citizens to "go home" and others are happy with a points based system which will only see a partial reduction, another group want £350 million a week spent on the NHS, another want it in their back pocket and yet another are happy to see it spent on various things. I noticed in the news a few days ago the Brexit group were offering more than "Take Control Back" with some statements on continued spending on what the EU spends in the UK. Without forming a new political party they can't offer anything and certainly can't guarantee it.

In Scotland the post independence situation seems to have polarised voting in the last election in an interesting way. Leaving aside hard core voters who will vote the same way whatever happens; those who voted for independence continued to or moved to the SNP, unionists of the left and right seem to have voted Tory the only unionist party. What happens 5 years down the line remains to be seen.

I think Alan Kendall is right about interesting times.
Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it, and it may not be what you expect.

Jun 18, 2016 at 8:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Thanks, one and all, for your comments. Interesting views from one and all.

Raff - thank you for clarifying your political views - I had wrongly inferred from your comments about Trump that you were of the left. It should have been obvious to me that you don't have to be left-wing to view Trump with great suspicion! I do, however, take issue with your view that a flat-rate tax (whether on CO2 or anything else) would re-distribute wealth from the rich to the poor. It's almost week one economics A level stuff to know that the opposite is true. Flat rate taxes always hit the poor harder than the rich, because they spend a larger proportion of their much smaller income on any flat rate tax than do the wealthy. The Thatcher Government here in the UK reaped the consequences of that with their mis-guided attempt to introduce a "poll tax" which would see everyone paying a flat rate of local government tax - it resulted in riots. If you want to re-distribute income from the rich to the poor, you need progressive income tax. Labour's partial movement away from that, towards regressive indirect taxes when they were last in power here was something else that disappointed me about them.

I do, however, agree that many people of the right don't oppose "green" policies out of sympathy for the poor (though I wouldn't accuse anyone here of baser motives). I find it perplexing that prominent, wealthy, land-owning Tory politicians, for instance, aren't more sympathetic to such policies, since they personally make so much money out of them. I'm perplexed as to why left-wingers are happy to plunge the poor into ever-greater fuel poverty, and support "green" policies so enthusiastically, despite that obvious consequence. I don't suppose I'll learn the answer, but I would like to know why (in the UK at least) if you want left-wing policies you have to vote for a right-wing party, and voting for a left-wing party will lumber you with right-wing policies.

Sandy S, thanks also for your take on it. I think we have different views on the EU debate, but I think your analysis of it on this thread is pretty close to the mark. Should we vote to leave, I don't have much confidence that things will get better as they then should, in part for the reasons you suggest, and in part because our home-grown politicians will continue to let us down.

As for what happens to the Tory party when it's all over, is anyone's guess. They could implode, but whether Labour will get its act together to take advantage is a moot point. UKIP could benefit greatly in that scenario, a thought which (a bit like the prospect of Trump becoming President) excites me and scares the hell out of me in almost equal measure. As you say, Alan K, we live in interesting times.

Jun 18, 2016 at 8:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark Hodgson

Tiny CO2. Don't agree that America's position has been "America First", which today means "America First Regardless" The USA has a record of aiding Europe in two world wars (militarily and by lend-lease), post war (Marshal Plan) and subsequently within the UN and its agencies (being by far the largest financial contributor), NATO and other agreements in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Yes many of these are not exactly altruistic, but they are hardly the actions of an inward looking, America first regardless, country that a Trump presidency seems to imply.

On the other hand perhaps Trump's behaviour will change; he already seems to be rowing back on some of his wilder pronouncements.

Jun 18, 2016 at 10:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan kendall

Mark, I said nothing of a flat tax. The flat part is the dividend, the proceeds of taxing carbon being returned to the population as a dividend, the same amount paid to each adult. See for an example.

... if you want left-wing policies you have to vote for a right-wing party, and voting for a left-wing party will lumber you with right-wing policies.

I don't know what you mean there. What left wing policy has the UK Tory government enacted? What right wing policy has Obama enacted?

Jun 18, 2016 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff


My preference for action to reduce CO2 would be for a carbon tax with the proceeds paid at a flat rate per-person. This would be redistributive, aiding the poor.

By that I take you mean that there'd be a dividend in cash paid to all UK residents at the end of the financial year with the total taken in Carbon Tax divided equally amongst all? So you've got a carbon tax which raises the cost of everything, you then give proportionally more back to the poor, less administrative costs, and expect that to redistribute wealth and reduce CO2 production and at the same time be economically neutral?

Jun 18, 2016 at 3:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Mark Hodgson
Another reason why I don't think that Brexit will deliver what its supporters hope is that even today the UN seems to be becoming a de-facto world government without the benefit of a single market.

The usual end for a situation where the elite are so divorced from the rest that they are unaware of growing dissatisfaction and unrest is a bloody revolution and a long period of chaos until everyone gets tired of killing each other.

Jun 18, 2016 at 3:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Sandy, it wouldn't be economically neutral, clearly, as it is trying to change the way the economy works by altering the costs of things that emit CO2 (or do so during manufacture) relative to those which don't. Carbon taxes are generally seen as one of the best way to reduce emissions (as Richard Tol) but because of decades of obstruction and denial (CO2 isn't a greenhouse gas, it is just a trace gas, the planet isn't warming, etc) by the right/fossil-fuel industries they have been passed up in favour of inferior schemes like carbon trading or subsidies for renewables. Denial has had its price.

How do you see the UN "becoming a de-facto world government". What legislation have you seen that comes from the UN apart from idiotic anti-drug laws (inspired ironically by anti-UN US drug zealots).

Jun 18, 2016 at 4:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

The EU already has a 'green' tax in mind but it doesn't intend giving any of it back.

Jun 18, 2016 at 6:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Incidentally, that's a good example of why the public are beginning to revolt. Clever people think that they have to sneek stuff past the public, but eventually they find out. You may not know exactly how often you're being stiffed or by how much but you know that they're lying to you a lot of the time.

Jun 18, 2016 at 6:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2


Again I misunderstood you - probably my fault - so again thanks for the clarification. But you won't be surprised to learn that I rather agree with Tiny CO2 and Sandy S with regard to their response to your proposal. Still, it's an interesting proposal, now that I understand it, and whilst I don't agree with the need for it I do agree that it might in theory be redistributive, as you propose it. The problem with it, it seems to me, is that as Sandy points out, it would be expensive to implement, and would add to costs, so at the end of the day, the Government wouldn't be any better off, and the poor might be no better off in practice, due to their "dividend" being cancelled out by higher prices. Some of them would undoubtedly be much worse off if they lost their jobs thanks to energy-intensive industries being destroyed as a result of the operation of the tax. You might think that a price worth paying to reduce CO2 emissions, but I don't, nor I suspect would the workers who lost their jobs as a result.

My comments about voting for a left-wing party resulting in you being saddled with right-wing policies, and having to vote for a right-wing party to get left-wing policies, were really aimed at the UK rather than the USA. The forthcoming US Presidential election, and the recent primaries, will be/have been fascinating, but while I did study the US political system in my dim and distant past, my focus at the moment is mostly on the EU referendum and the current behaviour of UK political parties (though I'm keeping a weather eye on US developments). My reference was really to UKIP - a right-wing party, with a fair number of right-wing policies, but with policies which might also help the poorest in society. They would repeal the Climate Change Act, so that we could all stop seeing our electricity bills hiked by subsidies aimed at supporting Big Wind. This would have the (in my view) desirable effect of no longer pushing already poor people into fuel poverty, and of ceasing to reward rich landowners for simply being landowners who lend their land to wind turbine and solar companies. They would also make strenuous efforts to control immigration, thus reducing the downward pressure on the wages of the lower-paid, and making it more likely that unemployed people could find work, thus improving the quality of life of some of the most disadvantaged in society. I regard those as left-wing policies, or at least left-wing in their effects even if that isn't the intention. Vote SNP, Plaid Cymru, Green, Lib Dem, Labour and you'll get policies the opposite of those and which have the opposite effect. Strangely, the same seems to be true in the US, with the Republicans having a similar outlook on energy policy to UKIP here in the UK. I accept that Obama means well, but the many disadvantaged people in the US who probably feel let down by his almost 8 years as President, could in part explain Trump's otherwise inexplicable popularity. Obama's promises about Guantanamo Bay and US intervention in the Middle East also seem a little hollow after the event.

Jun 18, 2016 at 8:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Hodgson

Mark Hodgson
Thanks for raising this interesting issue. It's been raised in the past by Paul Matthews, among others, who had a discussion thread here on leftwing sceptics a while ago.

It's not difficult to find reasons why the left might fall for climate catastrophist propaganda. The left has traditionally been in favour of international action, rational planning based on scientific principles, grandiose projects with quantifiable targets: - all that was missing was a global project and the graph to go with it.

One explanation is the Watermelon theory, ably expressed by James Delingpole in his book “Watermelons”, which claims that the fall of the Soviet Empire obliged a generation of Marxists to redefine themselves as Greens. It may explain the positions of some of the actors in the movement, but, given the fact that Marxism is almost non-existent as a political force in the English-speaking world, it can never be more than a subsidiary factor.

A more promising line of enquiry is the sociological analysis of the left itself. Born as an alliance of the organised working class and sympathetic intellectuals, it has been largely taken over by a new class of university educated workers whose supposed intellectual superiority has led to a (usually unconscious) denigration of the class they supposedly represent (the White Van Syndrome). Champagne socialists (or their French equivalent, the Caviar Left) needed something sexier and more intellectually challenging than the elimination of poverty, and reducing their carbon footprint fitted the bill.

If it's any consolation, this kind of ambiguity has been around since at least the 1640s. The World Turned Upside Down was a song of the Diggers, practical people who wanted to eliminate rural poverty.
Their anthem was updated by Leon Rosselson and you can find the words at
and it is sung beautifully by the Scottish communist Dick Gaughan at

The Diggers were outflanked on the left by the Ranters whose radical attack on Christianity put them at far greater risk at the hands of the Puritan state. Rosselson has a song about them too (Abiezer Coppe). Puritan persecution brought many Ranters round to the Royalist cause, which is roughly where many of us on the left, hoping for Brexit and a Trump victory find ourselves today...

Jun 18, 2016 at 11:45 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

MartinA. Are you sure your political class (A) and the professional administrative class (B) are really recent phenomena? I would suggest they have reappeared after a temporary absence or decline following WWII. (...)
Jun 17, 2016 at 8:26 PM Alan kendall

I said their rise, rather than their existence. But yes I think it is something that by and large has occurred in our lifetimes. Though this is my impression, rather than something where I can quote numbers and facts.

[A] My impression is that, in the past, politicians usually had other careers (military, business, trade union, ...) in addition to (or prior to) their involvement in politics. Today, after a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, they mostly enter the political reverberation chamber on graduating, and that becomes their world, the world outside fading from their view. So yes, I think that the coming of the political class who know no other existence is something new.

[B] Perhaps the Empire explains the origin of the Administrative Class. But, within the UK, my impression is that it has expanded enormously in the past century. (And likewise in the USA.) Today the UK has, apparently, 24 ministerial departments, 22 non-ministerial departments, "300+ agencies and other public bodies". I have no idea how many such entities there were in 1913, but I bet it was a lot less than 346. And that total does not include the EU and UN departments that have significant impact on our lives and which did not even exist in 1913.

So, yes, I think that the rise of the administrative class to its present dominant position is relatively new.

Jun 19, 2016 at 8:37 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

What legislation have you seen that comes from the UN apart from idiotic anti-drug laws (inspired ironically by anti-UN US drug zealots).
Jun 18, 2016 at 4:20 PM Raff

Would the Climate Change Act have come into existence had the UN not existed?

Jun 19, 2016 at 8:46 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

There Raff, I've started you a discussion for your carbon tax so you don't stuff this one up.

Jun 19, 2016 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

AK: You say: "Another interesting phenomena which is affecting both sides of the Atlantic, is the move towards isolationism. With Trump pushing "America First" and Brexit in the UK."

I think Brexit is the opposite of isolation!

Being able to trade with the whole world on your own terms will expand our trade, how is that isolationist?

Jun 19, 2016 at 1:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Richards