Monday, 26 October 2015

Happy fifth birthday to 'Public Policy and the Past'!

So it was exactly five years ago that this blog creaked into existence, during the ferocious political storm that attended the tripling of English universities' tuition fees to £9,000 (above). And ever since, we've been trying to do two things: first, apply a long-term view to public policy problems; and second, comment on and deploy data and statistics (with all their weaknesses) to the problems of collective decision making. It's been a long five years, and all the time the political weather has got worse and worse for such rational and reasoned approaches. But we've been here the whole time, looking backwards and forward as the scene has darkened and the days have got shorter. And we're going to be here, too, as the days lengthen and the season warms - as sense and progress grow again. Eventually. Some day.

But how have we done? Have we been a good guide to public policy and events, or a poor predictor of what's going to happen? Have we been accurate, precise, to the point - or got everything really, really wrong?

The record's mixed. But that's as it should be. And at least we've been showing our workings, plodding, pedestrian and difficult as they may have been, when we're wrong, we say so. And we expose the reasons why. That's how learning happens.

On the credit side? Well, we started - all those years ago - with a warning that it was the affordability, rather than necessarily the social effects, of tripling those university fees that we should worry about. And as the amounts to be recouped from students have fallen and fallen - as future wage projections have dropped and dropped - our views have been borne out. In fact, things are worse than we feared. Quite a lot less than half the money given to universities by the Government for tuition will never come back from student fee repayments. The whole 'reform' has shifted this spending from the red 'debit' side of the Government's balance sheet to the black 'credit' side (since these are now debts that will flow back in at some point). But the taxpayer's going to be no better off - and may well, if fees rise in the future far beyond £9,000, indeed be paying even more than before. Okay, that's probably what would have happened anyway had Her Majesty's Government just stumped up the cash: but students wouldn't have been left £30,000, £40,000 or £50,000 in debt as a side-effect.

Then there was the whole question of how well Labour would do in the 2015 General Election. We held Labour to a high bar, and we noticed, in local elections, by-elections and national (Scottish and Welsh) contests that the party was doing much less well than previous Oppositions that had gone on to wield actual power. We never thought that Labour would win. We thought they were overstretched, organisationally and intellectually. And we were right. Now, like everyone else clued up on the numbers, we thought that would mean that the Conservatives would be the largest party in a Hung Parliament, and be able to go on governing with the Liberal Democrats - not that there would be an outright Conservative majority. But Labour's defeat jumped out of every statistically-informed and historical look at the numbers. And so it proved.

Next there was the vexed question of Scottish independence. Here, though the ambition is a noble and admirable one, we were very worried about the economic gamble that this would represent. Hold on, we said: Scotland's economy, though richer than most, is quite narrowly focused on oil, gas, tourism, financial services, and whisky. What if one went awry? What if one was knocked away? What would happen to the value of any new currency, or to fiscal transfers within any shaky currency union cooked up with England and Wales? Well, although no-one and nothing could have allowed us to predict what did in fact happen, this happened with a vengeance when the bottom fell out of the oil market from exactly the moment of the referendum, with oil prices more than halving since the autumn of 2014. This meant that the Scottish people, in voting to stay part of the UK, avoided a potentially catastrophic implosion of their welfare state - of which all British citizens are (for now) rightly proud - and massive cuts to all types of social provision. What did we say then?
Because North Sea oil and gas prices have been falling - even further and faster since this referendum campaign began. Were we to experience an oil price shock downwards on the scale of the mid-1980s, Scotland would be in deep trouble indeed. And although estimates of reserves quite properly vary (and therefore the tax take will be different depending on who you listen to) the key point to take away is that this is a highly unstable and moving target.
Exactly, to the letter, what did then happen, which would necessitate £6bn of government cuts just for an independent Scotland to stay still as against any rump UK's (rather better) fiscal position. We can't really claim foresight here with too much confidence, because we were just pointing at a balance of risks, but when the risk explodes right at the moment you write it up, it's something to have at least said that the danger was there.

Oh yes, and today of all days, let's just remember: we said back in July that the Conservative Government's cuts to working tax credits could turn into a political disaster. Thank you very much, yes, that was quite prescient, wasn't it?

Now it's not always been seer-like accuracy. We thought that Greece would leave the Euro, and we thought that the United States Presidential election of 2012 was going to be a bit closer than it actually turned out to be (though, again, we predicted the winner fairly accurately, if just going along with the best commentators and statistics gurus can really be called 'predicting'). Even here, though, we learned something. In the first instance, we learned that even Leftist Greeks, when it really came down to it, weren't prepared to leave the Euro and re-establish their own currency. They would rather wait for a very unclear and half-promised further debt writedown than gamble everything on busting out of 'austerity', that great but over-used watchword of the Twitter commentariat. For they knew that an even greater austerity might await if they did leave the Euro, and lost all support for their banks and re-issued Drachma. And in the US? Well, we learned that the chaff fired off by those who questioned the polls showing President Obama narrowly ahead was just that - obfuscation and wishful thinking. In the end, disassembling what you see in the samples and then rebuilding it all to suit your own worldview is not a good look. Not at all.

The lessons? From both success and setback, when we tried to look ahead? Take the long view. Use data. Follow your evidence, rather than your prejudices. Look at what policies have and haven't worked in the past. Think about risk. Be cautious. Inch forwards, rather than leaping in the dark. In short? Don't forget your policy history - a view we're going to continue to write for and speak for, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Britain's housing crisis: we need new ideas

If you're a regular reader of Public Policy and the Past, you'll know that we think Britain faces a housing emergency. It doesn't build nearly enough dwellings to meet demand: it's that simple, and that clear. Everything else - high prices, higher and higher rents, homelessness, the UK's long hours and hardscrabble pay culture, even the inequity of vast inheritances that have nothing to do with skill or effort - stem from this one brute fact. The value of the UK's housing stock? Oh, only £5.75 trillion, a figure probably about four times larger than its mere Gross Domestic Product.

That's why we see rents, now, following prices and spiraling out of control - at least in London and the South East, and a few other attractive and desirable southern cities. That's why footballers have to allow squatters to stay in their properties for the winter. That's why the number of rough sleepers is mounting, after years in abeyance as a widespread, acute social problem. That's why young people are crushed in with their parents, and one of the reasons wealth inequality (if not income inequality) is growing. 

It's housing. It's always been housing, of course, in the property-obsessed badlands of England's vast suburbs, quiet terraces and airless cul-de-sacs. Who expects anything else in an English conversation - at the school gate, at the dinner table, in the pub? For a people with no religion but a rather watery and declining Anglicanism, no politics beyond 'the Conservatives are businessmen, Labour will blow my money and muck everything up', and no ambition beyond making their fortress homes ever more secure, what else could there be?

So we've said, again and again and again. What we really need is a wartime sense of fair shares and joint endeavour, all the better to help everyone's children. What we need is a tough, energetic, ambitious (and perhaps cynical and self-interested) Minister such as Harold Macmillan, willing to smash through any and all obstacles to just get the damn things built. In their hundreds of thousands. What we require is the spirit of the Victorians, not to say 'no, we can't', but 'yes we can', every single time there's a planning objection or a not-in-my-back-yard hand stuck up in objection from some older citizen with a one million pound property that might be threatened. We need entirely new cities and towns, along the lines of the Edwardian garden cities and the post-Second World War New Towns, with freestanding Corporations set up on green field sites to bulldoze opposition out of the way.

All this we know. It's as plain as Britain's desperate need for better labour productivity, an infrastructure strategy, a proper immigration policy (that leaves students out of the numbers), more help for the young rather than the old, a more confident sense of the UK's place in Europe and the world, and above all a feeling of purpose beyond just cutting the deficit - a grey, tired old target that probably isn't going to be reached, and hasn't in the past been reached, on time anyway. 

But that's the macroscope. The big picture. How will the extra homes be delivered in detail? It's a given that we probably need to double our housing output, after a long recession which laid off many building workers, burdened by volume housebuilders who aren't particularly efficient or vigorous, soaring land prices where we need the homes, and a lack of skills and imagination in the construction industry, All of that holds back many new or innovative solutions.

So it's going to be tough. We're burdened at the moment by two main political parties who are particularly hard of thinking. The Conservatives in office are forcing local authorities to sell off their 'high value' properties without adequate compensation to councils themselves, further restricting the supply of social housing. At the same time, they have bullied Housing Associations into a 'right to buy' scheme that may be a little less crazed than the original series of threats issued during the General Election, but which nonetheless will make it more difficult for Associations to borrow money and build (since their stock and capital is now probably going to leak away). On the Labour side, the new Corbynite leadership of the Opposition has so far promised only private-sector rent controls - which, if implemented in any crude form, would probably dry up housing supply in a private rental market the lack of which was a missing fourth leg of housing supply throughout the post-Second World War era. It's a popular idea, as rents skyrocket. It's also a terrible one, much better supplanted in practice for the more Milibandite concept of granting more rights to existing tenants - a compromise that would slow and regulate, but not calcify, the movement of rental prices.

Anyway. So much for our little-vaunted and (let's face it) pitiful leaders. Public policy experts are on our own. And here there are some new ideas, for instance floated by Andrew Adonis, who recently decided to sit as a crossbencher in the House and Lords and to take up the chair of the Government's new-old Infrastructure Commission. As Adonis points out, there are plenty of landowners in the state and third sectors who could be encouraged or cajoled to open up sites for development. Take London. Transport for London owns perhaps 5,800 acres of that city, a larger resource than the entire surface area of the Borough of Camden. Much of that's in use as tracks or the like, of course, but much of it is not - and, although there is no central register of London land owned by Network Rail, they are probably in possession of just as much land themselves. Why not allow them to borrow to build on that land? Above stations, sinking platforms underground? At their termini? Allowing them to float bonds or to borrow specifically for housing, then ploughing back the profits into operations? It's a thought, and a start. 

Next up: why don't we reform or abolish Stamp Duty, levied on house sales, and Council Tax, raised on housing value but with bands that stop at an absurdly low level? If we abolished the former, and announced a whole load of new bands on top of the latter to help pay for the change, we could make sure that they didn't encourage people to stay in their big houses as they age, or their children leave. That'd help pass houses down the chain of owners and ages much more quickly than they can be sold and bought today.

And then there's the vexed question of the Green Belt. Much of this land is not green, not used for amenity, and not even that useful for farming. It's just sitting there, idle, pushing up weeds. We could push great big wedges of development into our big cities on that territory, as some of the most successful cities in the world have in fact done (hello, Copenhagen). We could allow the new devolved city governments of (say) South Yorkshire and Manchester to marshal and profit from those changes. Central government could announce these new housing zones zero-rated for Capital Gains Tax, or pay the council tax there for a period, or introduce special infrastructure incentives in those areas. It's eventually worked in East London and at Canary Wharf. It could unleash the potential in our cities starting right now, if it's just all given a chance. It'd be popular (opens as PDF), overall. But - and this is still more important - it'd be right.

Britain's housing market is swallowing hopes, dreams, cash and energy. If we let it, it could swallow our economy too, in yet another credit-filled binge on bricks and mortar. Our political parties have abdicated from real leadership in this field as in so many others, perhaps for some years to come. We're going to have to press for change ourselves. City governments, academics, planners, homeowners, citizens: we're on our own. Are you up for it?

Monday, 12 October 2015

Belonging and voting in the age of uncertainty

…Now, where we are? Oh yes, that’s right: listening. Really listening. On that note, let’s look again at the themes that emerged from the last General Election, and what they might tell us about the results of the next one.

Here we’ve got a mass of quantitative data, but that’s not really listening to people in all their multifarious guises, is it? And, let’s face it: it can be dull. We know from the opinion polling where Labour lost out last time. It had a leader who no-one could see in No. 10 Downing Street; its economic policies were thought to lack credibility; it was still blamed (in some ways fairly) for the Great Recession of 2008-2010. We don’t need to trawl around all that ground again.

But what we can rake over is some of the qualitative evidence from that contest – some of the language, intuitive understanding, ways of seeing and speaking that are far more important to General Elections (and all political identity) than mere policies and manifestos. Here we’ve got some help, because there’s a welter of focus group evidence from May’s marginal seats to help us explore how real voters perceived the world as they actually saw it. The summarized musings of Lord Ashcroft’s focus groups, published just a couple of weeks ago under the title Pay Me Forty Quid and I’ll Tell You (above), is on its own voluminous. None of it makes comfortable reading for Labour, especially in its new guise as a Left party akin to Syriza, Podemos or Der Linke.

In January, voters from Brighton Kemptown and Solihull (both won by the Conservatives) met and reported the following about Labour’s professed ‘love’ of the National Health Service: ‘they care about it deep down and they would try to do more, but they’re a bit stupid with the money’. When asked about the Greek financial crisis, citizens in Sutton and Elmet expressly did not draw the same lesson as the Left, namely that international bankers and ‘neo-liberal’ governments had strangled a popular political uprising. Instead, they said that the lessons were: ‘don’t borrow too much’ and ‘don’t listen to fake promises’. As Left campaigners discerned a shift in the public mood towards them, swing voters were gathering around David Cameron, a beacon of solidity in what seemed increasingly like a dangerous world of debt and overspending. Instead of looking to Scotland for some sort of left-wing lesson in governance, these English voters felt only resentment, cleverly and nastily tapped into by the Conservatives’ campaign guru, Lynton Crosby. The question they asked was this: ‘why is Scotland so bloody special? Their kids get university for free, they get free prescriptions, and they’re still moaning’.

We could go on. Voters in Loughborough and Sheffield Hallam (Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg’s seat) summed up Labour’s economic pledges with the extremely succinct: ‘where will they get the money from?’ Halesowen and Taunton voters were keen to report their neighbours for benefit fraud, or indeed for receiving ‘more than their due’ (whatever that meant), rather than worrying about the negative impacts of austerity. Both seats voted Conservative. In Stevenage and Southampton Itchen (both, again, won by the Conservatives) voters thought that Ed Miliband’s pitch was ‘all very well, but it doesn’t work like that… Cameron communicates at a number of levels, but with Miliband it’s all up here, talking in theories’. The insecurity of the times helped the Conservatives, not Labour, because it created in voters a desire to hold on to what they had, rather than see it threatened by higher spending and taxes.

What did swing voters in Northampton and Cardiff North think, deep into March? That Mr Miliband ‘wants to appeal to the lowest common denominator. If someone gets something because they work hard, he wants to take if off them and give it to someone else’. And here’s some killer blows to Mr Miliband from Newquay and Plymouth Moor View (both eventual Conservative gains) in April: ‘he’s about spending more money. He’ll run us into debt again’; ‘he doesn’t say how he’s going to pay for it’; ‘they left that note, “there’s no money in the pot”. I saw it on Facebook’.

And what do we read now, when we check in on focus groups chatting about the resurgence of ‘energy’ and membership that Labour people like to boast about? Exactly the same views. Identical stuff. Interest in the apparently untutored, new, rather ragged and somehow authentic person Labour members and supporters have elevated to the office of Leader of the Opposition. And fascination with some ideas that most voters have never heard of – People’s Quantitative Easing, for instance (though that seems now to have been comprehensively binned). But what we can also see is deep, deep concern about the policies that lurk beneath – high spending, economic controls, profligacy with other people’s money, lack of contrition, and behind it all – most fatally, most devastatingly – a sense that Labour’s values (even more than the Conservatives’) somehow do not chime with what it is to be British and to love Britain.

We leave it up to you to imagine how these absolutely crucial voters will have regarded recent controversies about Trident, the anthem, the monarchy, the Privy Council, the Labour leader and Shadow Chancellor’s role in the publication of terrorist-supporting periodicals, and some of the scenes outside the Conservative Party Conference. Or what they might have thought of the idea of a magic money tree sprouting resources for better public services. Or what they probably felt about higher taxes rather than spending cuts serving as the main arm of austerity – which, under John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor, would now hit them rather than the elderly, the weak and the poor. We don’t need to write too much about this. It’s pretty clear by now how they will perceive the whole thing. Labour will have further accentuated its reputation for fiscal incontinence and incoherence, yes, but (much more importantly) also have further undermined their very identity as trustworthy, competent, credible and even authentically ‘British’ in any way most voters understand it.

That’s an absolutely terrible look to set before any group. To feel as if you want to be part of a collective, to pay into any shared fund, to stand together with others, you have to feel like you’re part of something. Together with other people (or peoples) in a shared endeavour. That’s often what the European Union lacks, and why it totters when it comes to the real crunch moments of decision (think of Greece this past spring and summer). And that sense of fellow feeling is what Labour, with every passing week and each disastrous headline, is walking away from. George Orwell well understood these instincts: the most powerful and persuasive Labour writer of all detested the aridity and theorizing of Left academics for just this reason. Clement Attlee, one of the last men out of Gallipoli, felt this instinctively. The late and lamented Denis Healey, beachmaster at Anzio, knew this. Ernie Bevin and George Brown, union activists who had helped organize Britain for war and peace, felt this in their bones. James Callaghan, a Navy man who never lost what he saw as that Service’s sense of discipline and order, had this carved all the way through him. Michael Foot, warrior against Appeasement, fought in vain against the unfair and malicious claim that he was in some way less than a patriot.

But over the last few weeks, the fatal virus of ‘un-Britishness’ has been splattered all over the name of Labour itself. Entirely unfairly in many ways of course, as we on this blog have taken care to say. Many millions of Britons don’t much care for the National Anthem. Some don’t like the monarchy – and other politicians have treated the Privy Council with far more carelessness than Jeremy Corbyn. But you know what? In case you haven’t noticed, life isn’t fair. To fail to turn this story off, to fail to fight back, is one of the engaging mysteries of politics today. It’s almost as if Labour doesn’t care. Or wants to revel in its unpopularity. Because there may well be millions of people who don’t much like the anthem or the monarch. But there are many, many more (opens as PDF, with figures at the end) for whom these are touchstones of identity, of caring, of sharing, of identity – and, by the way, of their Labourness.

It might even be the case that this ‘new’ Labour Party is not interested in winning elections – or at least not for a long time. As was the case with the Left challenge in the 1970s and 1980s, capturing the commanding heights of party and trade union might be enough. Certainly that’s what recent pronouncements by some trade union leaders, making clear that they were ‘almost’ happy about losing the last General Election, would lead us to think. That’s what the marshalling of parties-within-parties, such as the Left’s Momentum movement and the rumours about mergers or co-operation between the more centrist Labour First and Progress, also portends. Capture the party first, despite the electoral damage; put Leftist views to the electorate; get rejected again and again; but at least conserve ideological purity and the virtues of your own self and your own opinions. And preserve key parts of that agenda for a potential and imagined victory – in the far future. Fair enough, in a way: although it must already have begun to dawn on Labour MPs and activists that this agenda would actually be well served by losing lots of seats next time, removing from the equation many Labour politicians who actually have to speak to middle-of-the-road voters in places such as Slough, Luton or Exeter. If Labour does get pulverized, the Party will be left with only between 130 and 150 MPs: all the better to launch a really hard Left agenda, among elected Labour Members who will then only represent Britain’s inner urban centres and radical university towns.

Let’s face it: Britain could well be coming apart anyway. In the years to come, Labour’s new masters will probably be ambivalent about the European Union, perhaps hastening the UK’s departure from that Union. Scotland will then undoubtedly depart from the UK and join the EU – and, given the size of her fiscal deficit and her need for currency stability, probably the Euro as well. England and Wales will be left floundering in a global world of renewed danger, without berth and without many allies – and without a Labour Party to give popular, patriotic and above all national voice to those who will suffer the most. And why? In part, and tragically, because Labour has stopped listening.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Why don't you try listening to someone else for a change?

Academics aren't always very good at listening. They're used to broadcasting: to saying how it is, how it should be, how it might be. And they're often rule-governed achievers, who in their youth jumped over schooling hurdle after schooling hurdle until they were awarded their PhD, only to look around and say, puzzled: 'now what?' Coming top of lots of classes, lots of times, will do that to you.

But now the broadcasting virus seems to have got out of hand in our political life as well. Everywhere there are people shouting. Shouting on Twitter about 'Red Tories', or telling you to 'go and join the Tories if that's what you think' (many will). Shouting in the street, treating journalists at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester as if Conservatives were some sort of separate race to everyone else, rather than the UK's most successful political party (above). Spitting at people. Issuing threats. Wearing Guy Fawkes masks and pigs' heads in a kind of adolescent shove-it-up-them jamboree. Wondering whether they should follow or even interact with 'Blairites' or 'Tories' online.

Now don't get us wrong. Most of the protests on the edge of the Conservatives' conference were a real credit to Britain - a family day out that showed the depth of feeling in communities feeling deeply, deeply battered, dissauded and angry. There's plenty of nasty stuff going in the other direction as well. And the policies of this present Conservative administration have driven many to an understandable fury. The cruel and unnecessary Work Capability Assessments, benefits sanctions, Bedroom Tax and now Tax Credits cuts, along with the chaos surrounding Personal Independence Payments, have driven many Britons to the brink (or over the brink) of despair. Perhaps a bit of anger - or a lot of anger - is in order. No-one's chronicled those changes or their painful consequences more than we have, thank you very much

But this level of rage - and partisanship, reflected in the falling number of really marginal seats and the increasing divide between young and old Britons' voting choices - seems rather new. Hatred of the political 'other side', exhibited in a silly but telling way by all those 'Never Kissed a Tory' t-shirts. Hatred of the old. Hatred of the young. Hatred of the press. Our remedy? Listening, rather than talking.

Listening is critical for any organisation. But you have to do it right. You have to make time and space for it - to decide to do it. This is called active listening in the jargon. It doesn't just need silence and a bit of time. It needs positive encouragement - architecture, background noise, social will, different words and language - to really take a hold. The BBC has a whole series of programmes designed to demonstrate what this sounds like, if you're interested. The main thing you need? The ability truly to empathise with the person who you're talking with, rather than just to seek confirmation of what you think - or what you once might have done or thought - in their words. It's easy to come back with 'oh, that once happened to me', or 'I used to think that', or something along those lines. It's an attempt to show fellow feeling, to demonstrate a connection. But it's not listening. 

What listening is actually like is clear from a recent and heartfelt blogpost by the elections expert Ian Warren, who once worked as a consultant for the United Kingdom Independence Party before working on Labour's 2015 General Election campaign. This is what he says about one of the main threats Labour is facing at the moment: 

Labour needs to understand the threat it faces from UKIP. The first phase in doing so is to look past yourself and your pre-conceived views on how UKIP supporters see the world and just... listen. Get humble, disarm the situation and listen. Get out of your own way, quieten down, and make an effort to understand what they say to you. See the world through their eyes. Understand how and why they're angry. Come to peace with the FACT that the vast, vast majority of them are NOT racists. They are making largely rational decisions with the best information they have. I have been asking people to be prepared to have the door thrown in their face. It means they are reluctant to do this work. I completely understand. But until you disarm the context you are NEVER going to engage. This 'disarming' is not a fancy-ass theory, it's a human being making a simple effort to understand. I say 'It might not work but please try'.

So instead of shouting (say) at Conservatives or UKIP, why don't you go out and have a coffee with someone who voted Conservative in 2015? Why don't you have lunch with a Ukipper? Why don't you have a beer with a Liberal Democrat? Conservatives, why don't you get hold of a Corbynite and have a good old chinwag with them over a latte? If you're a Liz Kendall fan, why don't you invite a Corbynite over for dinner? It's got to be worth a try. Let's imagine for a moment that you're attached to Labour, and you don't like this government's nasty record on benefit 'reform'. Wouldn't you want Welfare Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to listen to and empathise with real people? You would? Well, don't then bully and berate Conservative activists and voters who may agree with you (the data suggests that many do). Listening, really listening, and only then talking is more likely to lead to a meeting or a changing of minds than shouting at people - or blocking them on Twitter. As the comedian Robert Webb, of Peep Show fame, put it over the summer: 'I don't think that people who voted Tory last time are bad people. They're your mum, your granddad'. They're pretty likely to go on voting Conservative if they're screamed at for their troubles, that's for sure. And remember: jeer and abuse fellow democrats if you will. If you push them further Rightwards, or get them torn down and replaced, there are plenty of even less democratic people waiting in the wings to take their place.

Bottom line: if you don't listen, no-one will listen to you. More and more people will think that policymakers and politicians don't speak their language (eye-wateringly, painfully high numbers of Britons think this of Labour at the moment). You'll go on spouting nonsense such as the non-voter myth, that young and marginal voters could swing the next General Election (they can't). You'll go on talking in your own echo chamber. To yourself. Remember the pain of 10.01pm on 7 May 2015, Labour people? That was the last echo chamber being torn apart. The next time, it'll feel worse if you go on like this.

And the worst thing, the most damaging thing? It's that the ranters and haters are doing themselves more damage than they are frightening the ranted against and hated. The latter suffer only puzzlement, and perhaps a passing frisson of fear; the former imbibe a great big draught of narcissism, self-loathing and negativity right into their very core.

If we want to avoid that as a country, and as a people, we could all start listening to each other for a change.