• Why Does the Left So Often Disappoint?

    Political commentators have long been puzzled by the fact that, right across the globe and for several decades, the political left has been in retreat and – more than that – has apparently been unable to mount any significant challenge to the growing neo-liberal hegemony which has dominated western democracies since the 1980s.

    Many attempts have been made to find an explanation for this phenomenon, which has been marked not only by the difficulty that politicians of the left have met in getting themselves elected, but also by their apparent failure – when they are elected – to take the opportunity to put alternative policies in place.

    Even on those relatively rare occasions when the left secures victory, it seems that it is delivered only when the voters tire of an incumbent right-wing government and, even then, only when the left assures the voters that it will behave in a way that is little different from what its right-wing rivals would have done.  The consequence is that, when the left finally is able to form a government, it seems to feel compelled to provide as good a surrogate for a right-wing administration as it can muster.

    The stance usually adopted by left governments is that they accept that they must operate within the framework of policy and principle that they inherit and that no challenge to existing power structures is either possible or desirable.  It is believed that any attempt to make such a challenge would be a recipe for disaster and a guarantee of electoral rejection. This reluctant acceptance of the orthodox is the classic attitude of the unconfident outsider – an indicator of how much the left accepts the right’s narrative that the right are where they naturally and properly should be – at the centre – and that the left, by contrast, are – or at least run the risk of being seen as – literally eccentric.

    The consequence is that the left limit their ambitions to administering essentially the same set of policies, but with – it is hoped – a few tweaks that will show the voters that a left government will be more competent and compassionate.  Greater competence and compassion are of course worth having, but the voters quickly recognise that nothing much changes and are easily persuaded that it makes more sense to entrust those essentially unchanged policies to the right-wing parties that positively believe in, and proselytise for, them.

    Left politicians, in other words, are – or at least feel themselves to be – ill-equipped to argue for, and to deliver, a serious alternative to the neo-liberal orthodoxy or a serious challenge to existing power structures.  The most they feel able to offer, if we are lucky and provided they do not positively endorse their right-wing opponents’ support for the “free market” (as the Blair government in the UK did), is some minor mitigation of the free market’s excesses.

    One of the central issues – in fact, the central issue – in democratic politics is, who should run the economy and in whose interests?  Economic policy therefore becomes the most important political battleground, where the expected differences in approach are likely to be at their most acute; it is therefore disappointing that it is precisely here that left politicians are most ready to throw in the towel.

    It is not too much to say that it is precisely on matters of economic policy that, time and again, and in country after country, elections are lost – lost by a left that has no confidence in its ability to resist the assaults of the right.  The left constantly finds itself on the back foot, unable to answer convincingly questions about how it can responsibly manage the government’s finances or struggling to explain how they intend to finance their spending plans or as to how they can avoid raising taxes if they are to fulfil their promises.

    The right have available to them, in other words, a fail-safe strategy for wrong-footing their opponents.  Not all right-wing leaders are quite as direct as New Zealand’s former Prime Minister, John Key, who won an election when he shouted over and over again in the main television debate of the campaign – and in his best barrow-boy fashion – “show me the money”.  But the strategy is always the same, whether or not delivered with more or less decorum.

    The basis of the strategy is a piece of sleight-of-hand that politicians on the left seem incapable of recognising, let alone exposing or countering.  Right-wing politicians – and Mrs Thatcher was an arch-exponent – always proceed on the basis, both explicit and implicit, that running a country’s or a government’s finances is just the same as running a household budget.  They know that most people will instinctively accept that this is so – and the rest is then easy.

    As soon as the proposition is accepted, or at least becomes common ground, it is game over.  The questions then come thick and fast – “how will you pay for it?’ – “where is the money to come from?” – “won’t you have to raise taxes to do all the things you say you will do?”  And so too the nostrums  – “you can’t spend what you haven’t got” and “you must keep within your means” and (a Thatcher favourite) the frequent parallels drawn with the prudent housewife.  The average voter will nod sagely when each of these points is made; left politicians, struggling to find answers, are left looking incompetent at best, dishonest at worst.

    This means that when the left does somehow overcome the odds, and wins power (perhaps by promising not to “tax and spend”), they spend most of their time trying to prove that they are just as cautious and “responsible” as the most doctrinaire of free-marketeers.  Ministers of finance in left governments, from Michael Cullen in New Zealand to Gordon Brown in the UK, have almost always staked their reputations on “earning the trust” of the business community, thereby foregoing the possibility of implementing a left programme that would serve the interests of working people.  Grant Robertson, Finance Minister in Labour’s incoming New Zealand government, has committed himself in exactly these terms.

    So, the left – not daring to say that running the country is absolutely different from managing a family budget – is always pushed on to the defensive.  Yet the two are indeed quite different, and in a way that the left seems scarcely to understand, let alone try to explain, or even less, act upon.

    Why are they so different and where does that difference lie?  Because a household, or, for that matter, a business or individual has, as we all know, a defined and limited income.  They must always tailor their expenditure so as to stay within the money available to them.  If they spend more than they should, they will have to borrow, and – if they cannot repay their borrowings – they will be bankrupted.

    A country – a sovereign country, at least – is, however, in a quite different position.  The one thing it need never be short of is money.  It is in the end the government of that country, usually through the agency of the central bank, that decides how much money there should be in that economy.  There may be all sorts of inhibitions on what a government can do, but we should never – and nor should left ministers – accept the excuse that “there is not enough money”.  Governments can always create the money that is needed – that is, indeed, one of their main responsibilities.

    There are of course consequences – some possibly adverse – of creating more money and it should not be done without assessing what those consequences might be.  The usual constraint is thought to be that creating more money is likely to be inflationary, and will therefore lead to a devaluation of the currency – and that is especially undesirable for a country, like New Zealand or the UK, that is perennially living beyond its means and consequently has to borrow, since repaying loans in a depreciated currency is never easy.

    But the doomsayers’ constant warnings of this kind now need to be looked at in the light of important recent developments.  The story starts, at least in its most recent form, with the now almost universal recognition that the vast majority of money in circulation is not – as most people once believed – notes and coins issued on behalf of the government by the central bank, but is actually created by the commercial banks through the credit they advance, usually on mortgage, and using bank entries rather than cash.

    The truth of this proposition, so long denied, is now explicitly accepted by both the Bank of England and the German central bank, and was – as long ago as 1994 – explained in a letter written by the New Zealand central bank to an enquirer, and stating in terms that 97% of the money included in the usually used definition of money known as M3 is created in this way by the commercial banks.

    The truth of this explanation is endorsed by the world’s leading monetary economists – Lord Adair Turner, the former chair of the UK’s Financial Services Authority and Professor Richard Werner of Southampton University, to name but two – and they are joined by leading financial journalists, such as Martin Wolf of the Financial Times.

    The second development was the use by western governments around the world of “quantitative easing” in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis.  “Quantitative easing” has usually (and pejoratively) been termed “printing money” but the term applied to it has now been sanitised, necessitated by the fact it was new money created at the behest of the government and applied in this instance to bailing out the banks by adding it to their balance sheets.

    These two developments, not surprisingly, generated a number of obvious questions – except, it seems, in the minds of our leading politicians.  If banks could create – year in, year out – billions in new money for their own profit-making purposes, (making their profits by charging interest on the money they create), why could governments not also create money, but for public purposes, such as investment in new infrastructure and productive capacity?

    And if governments can and do indeed create new money through “quantitative easing”, why could that new money not be applied to purposes other than shoring up the banks?

    The conventional answer to such questions (and one apparently and unthinkingly accepted by left politicians) is that “printing money” will inevitably be inflationary – though it is never explained why it is miraculously not inflationary when the new money is created not  by the government but by bank loans on mortgage, or is applied to bail out the banks.  Those who support the status quo, and who want to inhibit a left government from enlarging the role of government, are of course more than happy to perpetuate this useful cautionary tale.

    But, in any case, the great economist, John Maynard Keynes, had long ago explained that new money could not be inflationary if it is applied to productive purposes (like investment capital from any other source) so that new output matches the increased money supply.  Nor is there any reason, Keynes said, why the new money should not precede the increased output, provided that the increased output materialises in due course.

    These arguments are borne out by practical experience.  President Roosevelt used exactly this technique, in the face of conventional opposition, to boost investment in American industry in the couple of years before the US entered the Second World War. The substantial increase in American industrial output as a result was the decisive factor in equipping the Allies to win the war.

    The great Japanese economist, Osamu Shimomura, (who is virtually unknown in the West), then took the same approach in advising the post-war Japanese government on how to re-build a Japanese industry devastated by defeat and nuclear bombs.  The result?  The post-war Japanese economic and manufacturing miracle.

    Today’s Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is a follower of Shimomura.  Shimomuran policies, re-applied today, have Japan growing, after years of stagnation, at 4% per annum and with minimal inflation.

    And in New Zealand, the great Labour Prime Minister of the 1930s, Michael Joseph Savage, created new money with which he built thousands of state houses, thereby helping to bring an end to the Great Depression in New Zealand and providing decent houses for young families (including the one I grew up in).

    And ask yourself a simple question.  When, during the Second World War, Britain was being assailed from sea and air by Nazi forces, was the huge effort being made in British factories to build the tanks and planes and ships and guns with which to repel the invader called off for lack of money?  And if not, where did the money come from?  Or was it just created because it was needed?

    It is the incomprehension of, or rather, the refusal to comprehend, these precedents and the views of experts and braver and better informed leaders elsewhere and at other times that is the most damaging inhibition to the ambitions of left leaders across the globe, and especially in countries like the UK and New Zealand.  If they cannot bring themselves to understand how money is created, and in whose interests it is done, they will never escape the “household fallacy” and they will always be on the back foot in the battle for public support.

    Worse, since they appear to accept the legitimacy of the right-wing demand that they must explain “where the money is to come from”, they are always held back from doing what they seek election to do.  And, even more importantly, their failure to understand the role of money means that they are never able, however radical they may wish to be, to challenge the most important power structure of all – the power to create money that lies in the hands, under current and long-standing policies, of those who know how to use that power to advance their own interests.

    Those interests are those of asset-holders and speculators.  The status quo – one that the left seems so reluctant to challenge – is one in which monetary policy is entirely left in the hands of the banks to deliver.  The commercial banks are allowed to create virtually all the new money in the economy, and the rate of growth in the money supply is regulated only by its price – and that in turn is decided by another bank through the Reserve Bank’s power to adjust the Official Cash Rate.

    Monetary policy currently determines therefore  not only how money is created – that is, by the commercial banks – and sub-contracts (beyond the reach of democratic control) to another bank the power to decide the rate at which it is created.  But it also has a major influence over the purposes to which it is put – and those purposes are not those that would promote better productivity and higher wages, but are those which offer, by underpinning and lifting asset values, untaxed capital gains to rentiers and speculators.  At the same time, the productive sector constantly has the odds stacked against it by the consequences of asset inflation such as the overvaluation of the currency.

    The bias in such a policy is surely evident.  It ensures a significant and virtually constant asset inflation (mainly in housing but also in other real property and in share values) and greatly distorts the economy by diverting the greater part of new money into the accumulation of assets and speculation rather than into new productive capacity.

    By requiring higher interest rates than would be necessary if new money creation were not proceeding at such a rapid rate, it imposes a further disincentive to investment and ensures, as “hot money” pours in from overseas to take advantage of high interest rates, a damaging over-valuation of the dollar that further handicaps our exporting industries.  It is, it seems, this double-whammy – so damaging to our exporters but essential we are told to “earning the trust of business” – for which the left is apparently persuaded that it must abandon its ambitions for a more productive and fairer economy.  Surely the “business” (both sides – employers and workers) whose interests matter most are our producers, manufacturers and exporters.

    Little wonder that the share of the economy accounted for by wages has fallen, whereas that accounted for by profits has risen. The successful obfuscation practised for decades as to how, by whom and for what purposes money is created has allowed monetary policy in its present form to serve as a vital bulwark for the rich and privileged against the ability of democratic politics to bring about a fairer distribution of wealth and power in our society – yet it was precisely that purpose that was sought by those who fought for our democracy in the first place.

    Left leaders, in other words, may be ready to fight the political and electoral battle but they have always shied away from taking on the real battle – that between money power on the one hand and democratic principles on the other.  In a democratic country, there should be no question as to whose interests should be served by the state’s power to create money.

    A left government that created money for productive and infrastructure purposes could revolutionise the country’s prospects, by serving the whole country’s interests, rather than those of the already rich.

    A “lack of money” should, in other words, never be accepted as a valid excuse for inaction by a government.  There may of course be other constraints – shortages or deficiencies of raw materials or skills or technology, or of markets for what is produced – and there may be social or environmental factors to be taken into account, but none of these does more than demonstrate how important it would be that money creation by government should be aligned with an agreed industrial strategy.

    Money is a man-made construct; it does what we want it to do – and, in a democracy, that should mean that it enables those outcomes that serve the wider interest.  Money is, or should be, merely an enabler, a facilitator.  As the eminent economist, Ann Pettifor, has observed, “we can afford what we can do.”

    It is the failure to understand these simple truths that has disabled the left.  They have allowed themselves to be ensnared by the spider’s webs spun by their opponents, and they have lacked the will and intellectual fortitude to disentangle themselves.  Far from debunking the fairy stories, they have even been half-convinced by them themselves.

    Democracy is intended to place the power of government in the hands of the people.  That power includes the ability, and the responsibility, to create the money that is needed to achieve the people’s purposes.  When the left realises the truth of this, they will have taken a major step towards making democracy a reality.

    Bryan Gould

    18 October 2017



  • Time to Use the Remedy Provided by the Constitution?

    We have now had three-quarters of a year in which to form a judgment of Donald Trump’s fitness to hold office.  That judgment cannot help but be adverse – and the only remaining question is, how much more damage will he be allowed to do?

    The judgment as to his unfitness can hardly be doubted – and it is not ours alone.  Eminent psychologists – who have focused specifically on what they have seen of the President’s mental frailties and personality traits – are agreed that he exhibits a range of disturbing conditions.

    In a collection called “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President,” edited by Bandy X. Lee, a psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine, contributors find Trump to be cognitively impaired, a sociopath, a malignant narcissist, and a hypomanic suffering from delusional disorder.

    He is, they say, a fantasist, unable to tell the difference between the world as it really is and how he wants or imagines it to be.  The layman will recognise the truth of this in his compulsion to assert that what he is or does is the biggest or best, even when the facts are clearly against him (as in the case of the size of the crowds that turned out for his inauguration or as to whether or not he won the popular vote in the 2016 election).

    The psychologists point to another worrying characteristic – the irrational rage he shows when his fantasy is challenged or contradicted.  His fantasising combines at this point with his narcissism – his insistence that he must always be right, and recognised and admired for being so.  The psychoanalysts conclude that these deficiencies mean that he “will lack the judgment to respond rationally.”

    We have again seen ample evidence of these aspects of his personality.  We saw it in his handling of the Charlottesville episode, when he could not bring himself to correct his initial error in failing to condemn white supremacists – and again in his over-the-top response to the protests about police brutality against young black men, carried out by sportsmen who kneel rather than stand during the national anthem.  What is remarkable about these instances is his lack of self-knowledge – his insensitivity to the impressions that his actions and utterances inevitably create, even among his own supporters as well as the population as a whole.

    Such failures to comprehend the consequences of what he does or says, such blithe self-confidence that he can always carry the day with another couple of tweets or a hastily arranged rally, are at odds with the calm and rational thought processes that are surely needed when the chips are really down.

    His inability to retain the loyalty of his staff, even in the case of his longest serving colleagues and most senior appointments, and his notable failure to build the kind of consensus, even among his own party, needed to carry through a legislative programme in a democracy, both deliver a worrying message about how isolated he is, how difficult he finds it to relate in ordinary human terms to those whose cooperation he needs – in other words, how neatly he matches the definition of a sociopath.

    There can surely be nothing that more pointedly (and sadly) demonstrates his lack of judgment in human relations than his response to the natural disaster in Puerto Rico.  How could it have seemed appropriate for a US President, visiting the victims of that disaster on American territory, to demonstrate his concern (when he wasn’t lambasting local administrators or bemoaning the cost of aid to his budget or belittling the number of fatalities suffered), by lobbing into the crowd assembled to meet him a couple of dozen paper towels as an indication of the “aid” provided by his administration.  He seemed to have had no idea of how contemptuous that seemed to be of the people of Puerto Rico and their tribulations.

    Here, it seems, is a “world leader” who is driven, not by rationality and careful analysis, but by phobias of various kinds.  He “hates” the White House and cannot bear to be there.  He resents the thought that credit might for any reason be given to his predecessor, so “Obamacare” must go.  He cannot bear criticism, so the purveyors of “fake news” must be threatened with being stripped of their licences to publish.

    The dangers that a sociopathic personality can bring – in terms of deepening divisions and exacerbating tensions – to the integrity and safety of a society that is often at risk of fragmenting hardly need stating.  And that is to say nothing of the international arena.

    He is a President who seems happier making enemies rather than friends.  His repeated intemperate tweets about North Korea, and the insults delivered as well to countries like Iran in his speech to the United Nations, are hardly likely to cool heads and temperatures.  And he seems to glory in the possibility of using the nuclear arsenal he is so keen to build up.  He places us all at risk.

    The 25th Amendment to the US Constitution allows a President to be removed if he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.  Are we not now at the point that the drafters of the Amendment had foreseen?

    Bryan Gould

    12 October 2017


  • What Do the Chinese Pay For?

    The Herald’s readiness to alert its readers to the important conclusions of the University of Canterbury research into the links between China and past and present New Zealand politicians and their family members is to be commended, not because there is anything necessarily sinister about such links, but because we need to know about their extent and their possible significance.

    At the very least, we might regard their number and extent as flashing a warning light.  Why is it that so many influential Kiwis, with entrees nto the heart of the political, economic and trading establishment, find themselves in such demand from Chinese interests?

    There is no reason, of course, why China – a global power of growing diplomatic and economic significance – should not seek to extend its influence by any means legitimately available.  In assessing that legitimacy, however, we need to take account of factors that many might be inclined to overlook.

    There are aspects of China’s relations with other countries, such as New Zealand, that may not easily be appreciated without a deeper understanding of the Chinese world view.  We may not, for instance, fully grasp that China’s objective in its economic relations is not merely to secure essential supplies (and dairy products these days fall into that category) but to become self-sufficient – to control and own the whole supply chain so that they are no longer dependent on trade deals that may have only a limited life.

    So, when we see the Chinese interest in buying up dairy farms, and setting up dairy factories to produce finished goods, and sending those products exclusively to Chinese markets, is this merely the consequence of individual business decisions being made by independent Chinese companies?

    Or is it, rather, part of a much wider and centrally driven (as befits a centrally planned economy) strategy?  Is it not realistic to see the whole process as the equivalent of physically integrating a chunk of New Zealand real estate and productive capacity into the Chinese economy?  Those farms – whose production is totally directed to the Chinese market and whose profits are with equal certainty destined for Chinese pockets – might as well be re-located, as I said a couple of years ago in the Herald, into Zhejiang province.

    Whether or not we think this is a desirable development, we would be naïve not to recognise it.  And we would also be naïve not to see that, for almost all purposes, no distinction is to be drawn between the objectives and initiatives of Chinese business and businesses, and those of the Chinese government.

    Chinese businesses understand very well that the only way they can operate successfully is through acting as the agents and as an arm of the Chinese government.  They will do deals with foreign interests only if they are in line with the government’s objectives, and the deals they make should always be judged in that light.

    Add to that the – sadly – well-documented information about Chinese attitudes to business dealings.  There is little regard for ethical considerations or legal rules, a readiness to get around restrictions and regulations to protect the public interest, and  a willingness to buy what is seen as necessary by way of influence and the inside running.

    New Zealand businesses and individuals, operating as they do in a country that regularly tops international ratings for business probity and honesty, and for the absence of sleaze and corruption, are ill-prepared to function in a different cultural climate.

    The willingness of prominent New Zealanders to sign up with Chinese paymasters should accordingly be judged in the light of these factors.  They – and we – should ask what it is that they are selling that is worth the remuneration they receive.

    Is it their special business or professional expertise?  Or is it rather their closeness to the seat of power, their knowledge of how and by whom decisions are reached, and their ability to influence the decision-makers?

    New Zealand will surely do better in the long run if we retain some sense of our own identity and of precisely where our own interests lie.  Our early days as a colony are surely well behind us.  There is no future for us in returning to that status in relation to China or anyone else.

    Bryan Gould

    21 September 2017


  • The Disintegration of Donald Trump

    Donald Trump has such an outsize personality and dominating manner that it comes as a surprise to realise how fragile he is.

    The answer to what seems to be a paradox lies in a single word – ego.  Donald Trump is the embodiment of ego – he is ego made man.  Much of his behaviour – according to psychologists – is conditioned by his experience in his formative years of trying to match up to the expectations of a dominating father.  He seems to have spent much of his early adult life trying not only to impress his father but to insulate himself against his father’s potential disappointment and displeasure.

    The consequence is that he built himself a sort of protective carapace – a self-obsessed assertion that he was, indeed, all that his father could have wished.  The maintenance of that ego seems to remain his principal obsession.

    The problem with an ego, however, is that it is so easily pricked or punctured.  Even while it remains intact, it is a perilous guide to sensible behaviour, since it provides an often irrational imperative that is not immediately apparent to outside observers.

    But it becomes truly dangerous as it deflates.  Donald Trump now shows all the signs of someone who no longer knows – or has confidence in – who he is.

    Many objective observers could have foreseen – and did – the scenario that is now unfolding.  Here after all is someone who built a fortune and reputation as business tycoon and television personality, but whose experience equipped him not at all for the challenges of politics, diplomacy and government.

    It was always on the cards that such a person would flounder – out of his depth and comfort zone – and that the ego that had hitherto sustained him would quickly become, as he trod water, not a lifebelt, but a dead weight.

    What we have been witnessing is the disintegration of Donald Trump – not quite a Shakespearean tragedy, since his problem is more than just a fatal flaw, but is rather a total absence of the qualities and competencies that his role now requires of him.

    The evidence that he has come to realise that he is simply not up to the job is pretty compelling.  The fact that he would rather be anywhere than in Washington and the White House, and that he cannot get away often enough and quickly enough, is one such pointer to the truth.

    Another is the frequency with which he returns to the scene of earlier triumphs – to the campaign-style rallies – and to the themes – the “fake media” and the supposed crimes of Hilary Clinton – that served him well.

    The problem is that Trump’s personality type is one that is least able to withstand a loss of self-confidence.  With the realisation that the job is beyond him, the Trump ego is punctured irretrievably.  The Trump personality collapses – the hissing sound is almost audible – without the ego to sustain it.

    And the further problem is that this takes place under an almost unprecedented glare of publicity.  Each stage in this public decline does further damage to the Trump psyche and makes the next stage even more unavoidable.

    The damage to the Trump ego is exacerbated by the fact that he has little by way of public affection and respect to draw on and to cushion the blow.  There is no shortage of observers – and voters – who will treat his decline as a proper judgment, not just on his inadequacy as President but also on his deficiencies as a person.

    Even if we could summon up some sympathy for his plight, the primary task is to find a solution to the problem that someone of such manifest frailty has his finger on the nuclear trigger – a situation described as “pretty damn scary” by former US intelligence chief, James Clapper.  We cannot afford to run the risk that the US President might seek to re-establish his credentials as a hero by launching a nuclear war.

    Trump himself may be so disturbed by what is happening that he is suffering a mental breakdown.  Don’t his colleagues owe it to him and to us to help him to find the way out?

    Bryan Gould

    25 August 2017







  • In the Name of God, Go!

    As storm clouds gathered over Europe in 1938, Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, went to Munich where he believed that he had obtained undertakings from Hitler to the effect that Germany would not launch further attacks on its neighbours.  He returned, brandishing the famous “scrap of paper” bearing Hitler’s signature, and proclaiming that there would be “peace in our time”.

    Chamberlain argued that the Munich agreement justified his long-maintained opposition to rearmament; but, in a debate in September 1939, after Hitler had gone back on his word and invaded Poland, Chamberlain – reluctant to declare war on Germany – was opposed by many members of his own party and one Conservative MP, Leo Amery, called out to the deputy Labour leader as he rose to speak, “Speak for England!”

    Chamberlain’s position was further weakened when, in 1940, the British suffered military disasters in the battles of Narvik as they tried to prevent the German invasion of Norway.   The House of Commons responded to the debacle by debating a motion of no confidence in Chamberlain and his government.

    Again, Leo Amery made a telling contribution, quoting to Chamberlain Oliver Cromwell’s famous rebuke to the Long Parliament, “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

    Chamberlain could not survive the defeat he suffered, as many of his own party either abstained or voted against him.  He was forced from office and was replaced by Winston Churchill – the rest, as they say, is history.

    It is one of the great advantages of a Westminster-style constitution that a Prime Minister cannot remain in office if he loses the confidence of his colleagues in parliament.   He can, therefore, be removed at any time.  A decision to send him packing is an expression of the collective will of the House (and not just of a group of disaffected individuals) and will of course be reached only in the most extreme circumstances.

    The American constitution offers no such possibility.  A President’s occupation of the White House does not depend on the support of Congress (though it becomes very difficult to operate effectively without it) – so, what is to be done if a President, for reasons of personality, principle, policy or incompetence, loses the confidence of his colleagues, including those in his own party?

    The need to provide an answer to that question is now becoming especially pressing and must be occupying the minds of many in Washington and beyond.  President Trump’s problems – with Russian involvement in his election, with interfering with the processes of justice, with the nuclear war of words with North Korea, with his failure to condemn neo-Nazi White Supremacists – the list is growing longer day by day – now constitute an existential threat to his presidency.

    The problem is that, unlike Chamberlain, Trump cannot be removed simply because his colleagues have lost confidence in him.  If that were enough, the condition would be easily met.  The evidence is now overwhelming that even his Republican friends in Congress and in the wider worlds of business and the maintenance of civil law and order are desperately concerned about where he is taking them – and the American people.

    The USA’s leadership of the “free world” and its standing across the globe has been gravely compromised.  The moral leadership expected of a President at home is sadly lacking.  It is becoming increasingly clear that the US President lacks the personal, moral and intellectual competence and fortitude to discharge his responsibilities effectively.

    But the US constitution provides only limited grounds for removing a President.  He must commit an impeachable offence or he must be found mentally or physical incompetent.  So, what to do?

    The answer lies, whatever the limitations of the constitution, with the political intelligence and will of his Republican colleagues.  They might not be able to vote him out of office but they can at least make it clear to him that they see him as a liability (as he is surely becoming) and that he cannot expect to achieve anything in office except a reputation as a loser and as an obstacle to good government.

    They may not be able to use, in other words, an opportunity offered by the constitution.  But the necessary words do not have to be uttered at the end of a parliamentary debate.  Leo Amery can be emulated by a powerful deputation of senior politicians who can pick their moment.  Uttered at the right moment and by the right people, the message will be just as clear – “In the name of God, go!”

    Bryan Gould

    17 August 2017