Sep 062012
 
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Interesting and perceptive paragraph, this one, from an interesting and perceptive article in the Guardian today (the bold is mine):

More and more voters, therefore, will be worrying about jobs, benefits, rents, and debt interest rates, not about the value of houses, pensions or shares. The neoliberal attempt to create mass capitalism has hit the buffers. Political parties that stand on what has been called “the centre ground” for the past three decades can afford to abandon it. If the left parties can develop a coherent economic alternative, they will find an increasingly receptive audience who, in the words of Franklin Roosevelt, have nothing to fear but fear itself.

That, in fact, is what has happened.  And so now I understand why it all went so awfully belly-up.  People like Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher maybe did after all believe in a capitalism of the masses – blinded as they were by their terrible convictions to the reality that capitalism, by its very essence, only ever feeds off the masses, even as it never properly or efficiently can all of them feed.

Capitalism requires hierarchy; capitalism requires owners and owned; capitalism requires both the downtrodden and those who do the treading.  It’s a chimera, that we can all get to the top.  For if we all got to the top, the armies that make up the capitalist battlefield would have no cannon fodder to throw at the enemy.

And that would never do.

If Blair is over, so are Thatcher and Cameron.

If Blair is over, so is that illusion of branded social democracy, of late and sentimental capitalism, that was the neoliberalism of little-people shareholdings.  A manifest piece of marketing in any case.

In hindsight, after all, it really does beggar belief.  Did we really – truly – believe them when they encouraged us to place our hard-won nest eggs precisely in those baskets they then proceeded to throw at the markets with the most violence, lack of foresight and absence of sensibility they could unprofessionally muster?

Save all your life to throw it away on an idea?  Is that what Blairism, Thatcherism and that tiny little tail of Cameronism has finally succeeded in delivering to the masses?

And they talk about the irrelevance of ideology to modern politics.

This isn’t the age of aspiration any more.

This is the age of survival.

We don’t need salesmen and women to lead us out of these darknesses – but survivalists who understand what’s it like not to know where the next poverty-engendering job will come from.  We need people and communities who understand that life isn’t about concentrating wealth but – instead -  about sharing it out as wide as possible.

Not spreading it thinly but spreading it broadly.

There’s a difference.

Wealth needs to revolve to benefit society.  Sitting on wealth and watching it grow coldly and uncreatively is the sickest act a rich civilisation can encourage its citizens to prize.

If Blair really is over, and Thatcher and Cameron too, let’s not let slip faint praise or murmur ashamedly to ourselves.  Rest in peace for a job well done?

THEY FAILED FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!  On their own terms, on ours, on behalf of generations to come; on behalf of generations who can now only look to the future with fear.  This, my dear friends, is what failure – unmitigated, unruly, unpredictable, uncontrollable – actually looks like.  Anything they now say will sound only of a vague and stupid puffery.  They’ll squabble amongst themselves, of course, as they discuss their awfully complex issues: disagreeing here, disagreeing there, “agendas ladies”, “points of order gentlemen”.  But in truth there is nothing they can do to charm us again with their stage-managed and effervescently careful whispers.

If only they were able to face up to the brutal reality: whilst the voters are too ignorant to properly understand what has happened, these very same voters are nevertheless obliged – duty-bound, in fact – to unknowingly suffer the consequences.

So it is that Blair and Thatcher and Cameron’s law and order, the Magna Carta itself, has broken up completely – right down the middle; a total disintegration of that formerly fair and just balance between doing and being done to.

Where Great Britain and Northern Ireland was once a land where the connection between rights and responsibilities ruled, now it’s becoming all too patently obvious that the truth we live is really quite another: too stupid to have the right to an opinion, we must even so swallow the medicine.

The real failure of neoliberalism – of Blair, Thatcher and Cameron?  It’s NOT the economy, stupids!  It’s utterly – and entirely – a morality play.

A broken-backed morality play for our time, that is.

A borked broken-backed morality play – if that sounds more in line with the register I’m using.

But I’m not looking to re-establish 19th century mores.

No.

That’s not what I’m saying at all.

All I’m wondering, out loud, and with an ever-growing lack of spirit, is how it was possible for these two intelligent men and that one intelligent woman to contemplate creating a whole civilisation based on greed, something-for-nothing financial transactions and a survival of the fittest which even the basest creatures on our planet may choose to avoid.

If Blair, Thatcher and Cameron really are over, and we are now in the anteroom of another kinder and more humanly recognisable age, I can only proclaim: “Hallelujah!”

If they – and we – are not, I can only suggest you prepare your cardboard boxes, your tins of beans, your camping cutlery – and, perhaps, a prayer or two just in case.

For if it’s survival time, we’ll only really manage by sincerely and honestly pulling together as – maybe – never before.

Whilst if that’s not going to be on the agenda, and this tragically ugly and neoliberal Darwinian capitalism – which destroys so many lives, families, people and aspirations – is truly going to be all that’s left us … well, I really do not see a future peace for anyone to rest in.

Whatever standing history cares to assign them.

Whatever their official reputation may finally turn out to be.


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Apr 012012
 
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If you’ve been paying attention over the past year or so – or even just over the past week or so – you’ll realise British politics is about as bizarre and foolish as it can get.  It’s possible that for politically tribal reasons you will find resistible the idea that New Labour laid the foundations in its Intercept Modernisation Programme – but the fact that on April Fools’ Day this story on the so-called Communications Capabilities Development Programme is published everywhere shows how resistant to irony bureaucracy can become.  The plan – in a nutshell – is for all email, website and general Internet usage in the UK to be accessible in realtime to GCHQ, the government’s electromagnetic listening arm.

A bit of history, then, from Open Rights Group’s wiki on the subject:

In the original Coalition Agreement(12th May 2010), this statement appears on page 11:

“We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.”

And Nick Clegg reiterated this in a speech a week later(19th May 2010) when he said:

“We won’t hold your internet and email records when there is just no reason to do so.”

However, on 19th October 2010, hidden in the depths of the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review was this statement:

“We will introduce a programme to preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain communication data and to intercept communications within the appropriate legal framework … We will put in place the necessary regulations and safeguards to ensure that our response to this technology challenge is compatible with the government’s approach to information storage and civil liberties.”

The revival of the IMP is being spearheaded by the Home Office, which in fact as early as July 2010, planned to revive IMP, as revealed in a largely unnoticed document.

One can only read this as a revival of the Intercept Modernisation Programme. This is despite staunch opposition to the programme by both the Lib Dems and the Tories while they weren’t in government, and their original Coalition Agreement(mentioned above).

GCHQ were revealed to be installing a system for collecting the data required by the IMP in 2009, and are continuing to install this programme despite the suspected opposition of the new coalition. Tories at the time opposed doing this on the sly. Baroness Neville-Jones wanted it to be done only if it was passed as law by Parliament. Baroness Neville-Jones is now the coalition’s security minister and she will have to stick to her guns if the public is to ever see such an important development debated by their elected representatives.

On the 27th October 2010, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge Dr Julian Huppert asked the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s Question Time:

“Can the Prime Minister reassure the House that the Government have no plans to revive Labour’s intercept modernisation programme, whether in name or in function, and that he remains fully committed to the pledge in the coalition agreement to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and to roll back state intrusion?”

The Prime Minister had this to say:

The Prime Minister: “I would argue that we have made good progress on rolling back state intrusion in terms of getting rid of ID cards and in terms of the right to enter a person’s home. We are not considering a central Government database to store all communications information, and we shall be working with the Information Commissioner’s Office on anything we do in that area.”

Notice how he doesn’t say they won’t be extending the requirements for CSPs to retain communications data. Is this another hint that IMP will be adopted by the Coalition, just without the centralised database?

So what is the pattern since the Tory-led Coalition got into power?  First, it’s started by putting into place long-term strategies to both disempower and anger the following groups in society:

  • women
  • the unemployed
  • the disabled
  • the sick
  • those in need of legal support
  • those who live anywhere but Tory heartlands
  • the so-called squeezed middle
  • small businesses
  • evidence-based professionals such as doctors and lawyers
  • scientists
  • teachers
  • pensioners

Meanwhile, it’s kept onside the managing elites in:

  • higher education (eg the tuition fees hike)
  • corporations and those ideologically related to the Coalition itself, including those involved in health and education provision (eg the NHS bill, the free schools agenda, HMRC tax liabilities and so on)

And in general, it’s been sympathetic to the lifestyles and interests of:

  • the rich and wealthy (eg the recently announced 50p to 45p reduction in the top rate of income tax)

Now, after all the above, and building on New Labour security plans from as far back as 2006, it suddenly discovers (or suddenly reveals – not quite the same thing I think you’ll agree) that it needs a ferocious plan of thought control to defend us from … exactly what?

In years past, in Tony Blair’s time for example, we had the War Against Terrorism to conceptually deal with.  Even I gave him the benefit of the doubt whilst it still looked like the situation in Iraq was as he pitched it – though I did find evermore unhappy the company he was keeping.  But that War Against Terrorism, whilst always an ongoing matter of some preoccupation, can hardly be seen as the real justification for what is proposed now.

No.

On a day that David Cameron’s approval ratings go through the floor, the real enemy our state needs to be defended from is that long list I described above of those voters this government has chosen to disempower and anger.

And the real reason it needs to be defended is because whilst New Labour took ten years to reach the levels of hubris and disconnect from reality which led to its necessary downfall, the Coalition has managed to achieve all of this in less than twenty-four months.  In a blink of a political eye, the Coalition has committed the massive and always inevitable error of all governments past and future: identify completely the broader interests of the nation with the individual interests of each and every politician who forms a part of its inner circles.

Whilst seriously enough the voters and their families are losing in droves their trust in this Tory-led Coalition, far more dangerously for the wider population is the fact that the individuals at the top of the Coalition have lost all trust in the voters.

The announcement today that it’s time to potentially put the whole nation under continuous government surveillance is a blanket recognition that we as subjects cannot be trusted to run our own lives in collaboration and consonance with the state.

And I would agree.  It, the state that is, is right to be worried.  Essentially because the state itself, under this Tory-led Coalition, has converted itself into the nightmare New Labour was always accused of aiming to become.

Through Cameron it is now clear that Thatcher’s legacy of a land fit for the small shopkeeper has been finally destroyed.  This is not Thatcher’s doing that we see on our TV and computer screens but Blair’s very own twist on the elitist’s approach to micro-managing ordinary people’s lives.

Through Cameron we see Blair finally breaking away from his inspiration and revealing what another decade of New Labour would have meant.

Through Cameron, this government is in the process of breaking very sacred contracts.   And it knows on the inside far better than the rest of us on the out exactly what measures of control it is going to require.

Meanwhile, as we try and comprehend how matters got to such a point, all we can do is battle to remain sane in the face of such insanity.  There is no political beast more dangerous than he or she that is wounded – especially when they believe such attacks have happened and been effected not just through a rank betrayal from their own side of the House but also well before their longer sell-by date could normally have justified.

We would do well to remember this as we witness the April foolishness that is British politics today.

And as we bemoan the real unravelling of that complex travesty of misguided justice: that once-glorious Blairism of the Noughties.


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Mar 282012
 
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Whilst unions announce today the serious possibility that our education system will, by 2015, follow the NHS and Legal Aid down the financialisation and commercialisation routes of private self-enrichment on the part of our professional politicos and their business sponsors, it surely becomes evermore clearer – without a shadow of a doubt in fact – what the government is really up to.

They care not a jot about winning the next election; not a jot about currying favour with all the voters; not a jot about creating a society and set of nation states fit for all our peoples.  Only one thing motivates them: the establishment of an unshakeable regime whose reversal will become so unappealingly expensive that – no matter who gets into power at the next general election – the legacy of five long years of anti-socialist ambush will be maintained and sustained for several generations to come.

Perhaps forever.

Labour is falling into a trap, I have to say.  It is fighting a losing but honourable battle on so many simultaneous fronts of political shock and awe that it’s hardly surprising it is allowing itself to be ambushed in this way.  But it needs to come to its senses: the government has done enough for even the least politically scientific amongst us to be able to realise its true trajectory and destination.  British socialism has a long and efficient tradition – the NHS and Legal Aid being two of its major achievements.  Where efficiency is ignored and discarded outright by supposedly businesslike politicos, it’s clear they are not caring to be evidence-based professionals but, rather, aim to act out of prejudice.  And by acting out of prejudice we can conclude they are acting out of personal self-interest.

What’s so bad about all of this is not that these Tories at the top under Cameron’s rule have managed to hijack their own party – which they clearly have; nor that they have hijacked the democratic system as whole – which they did back in 2010 and will do so until 2015; nor, even, that they betray their business roots by doing what they want rather than what is empirically accurate – something which all of us can now surely see.  What’s so really bad about all of this is that we’re all falling into their trap: focussing on discrete policy battles instead of being brave enough to fashion and forge a counter-narrative.

The government say they are looking to reduce the inefficient state.  We should say they are looking to enrich and expand the inefficient private sector of bad business cronyism.  The government say they are looking to reduce the deficit.  We should say they are looking to transfer its impact from a strong nation to helpless individuals.  The government say they are looking to create an environment of opportunity and empowerment.  We should say they are looking to restrict opportunity and empowerment to the already wealthy.

As I said some months ago now, the bad capitalist blame game works as follows:

  1. When large corporations and the people who own them set themselves up in business, they limit their responsibility if everything goes belly-up to the very minimum they can manage to get away with;
  2. When everything goes belly-up, which it almost always does at least once in the history of such companies, the ones at the very top manage to hide behind Chinese walls that reduce their legal responsibility to a very minimum;
  3. When companies’ profits do not achieve expectations, the fault is first and foremost due to the costs of labour – the term “labour” being understood to mean those at the most humble levels in a company and not the (mainly) ever-so-red-blooded gentlemen at the top;
  4. If companies suffer excessively from declining profit margins, people at the top get paid enormous amounts of money to take immediate decisions to fire massive percentages of their workforces – even where such decisions show absolutely no degree of imagination or added value;
  5. If the wider economy falls completely apart, the taxpayer will be obliged to bail out the failing private sector but compelled to destroy the public;
  6. When the wider economy stops functioning in any meaningful way, the workers who lose their jobs will carry both the moral and economic can for not wanting to find new jobs – even where these new jobs don’t exist;
  7. When the economy finally recovers, the workers will have to continue to accept wage cuts for two reasons: firstly, automation might price them out of the market if they don’t watch their demands; secondly, only the rich work harder for more money – the poor, on the other hand, tend to slacken off their labour when not sufficiently terrified;

These are the things we need to be underlining; these are the things we need for our counter-narrative.

In fact, if truth be told, we need – also – to point out to our nation states and our peoples the degree to which a good socialism ruled our waves.  Only when we can shrug off the instincts to be stealthy about our achievements can we begin to generate a different way of opposition: socialism was always a heartfelt instinct of the British.  In the past we called it fair play.

Perhaps, then, we need to resurrect that idea and begin to call ourselves the Fair Play Party.  A Fair Play Party for a fair play society.

As British as you ever could get.

Whatever your nation.


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Mar 162012
 
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One does begin to wonder if the deficit is the kind of bogeyman parents of yore summoned up to terrify their children into an unhappy slumber.  As Duncan has just tweeted:

It seems that both Coalition parties have become rather bored of the whole ‘deficit reduction’ thing and are now focussed on tax cuts.

Which does make me wonder, perhaps in a show of rather bad faith, if they weren’t actually focussed on the tax cuts in question from the very start.

Playing the game of chess does, after all, require one to hide the true purpose of one’s end-game.  Is it really too foolish or conspiratorial on my part to suggest that the purpose of wailing on so much about the deficit was a very simple twofold?  How so?  Well, thus:

  1. Firstly, force through massive shifts in control over public-sector resources, management and culture to the big bad capitalism of self-serving transnational organisations – therefore helping to enrich further the government’s corporate sponsors and keep their power onside;
  2. Secondly, even whilst doing this, fail to keep the deficit under control so that the real end-game – a return to an intellectually disavowed trickle-down economics leading to a long-harboured policy of tax cuts for the rich – would be accepted out of total desperation and general societal weariness;

After all, the Big Society of protest which Cameron’s regime has engendered must surely one day encounter a point of fatigue where yet another petition to sign will be just one petition too far.

Especially if the public begins to perceive that their governors give not a toss about being reasonable or listening.

Personally, I find myself absolutely fed up of asking politely any more.  So if you want me to sign another petition to try and save what used to be a green and pleasant land, a green and pleasant land which is fast becoming a blue and ugly carbuncle, then you’ll just have to couch its terms quite differently: time to demand, not ask politely; time to impose, not suggest meekly.

Only the problem really is that when they have all the levers of power in their hands, when the spirit of the law is no longer the guiding principle of our politics, when what you can get away with is what you end up doing, how can any of us law-abiding folk demand anything of or impose anything on absolutely anyone in charge?

For this isn’t the land of fair play any more.

This is now the land of the rich.


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Jul 132011
 
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Osbert Lancaster has asked a good friend of mine the following series of questions on Twitter this evening:

@Paul0Evans1 Hmm. Why would entrepreneurs set up new media outlets? Why might I invest in them? Is my blog a media outlet? NGO newsltr?

I’m fascinated in particular by the first two questions.  One, for linguistic reasons.  Two, for quite practical ones.

The first can be interpreted in two slightly different – but important – ways.  “Why would entrepreneurs set up new media outlets?” doesn’t mean quite the same as “Why would entrepreneurs set up new media outlets?”  And knowing the difference between the two and understanding the implications of such a difference might, in turn, very well help to answer the second of the four questions in this lovely 140-character summary of what may now excitingly face us in the aftermath of Rupert Murdoch’s humiliating – though possibly tactical – climbdown over BSkyB.  As another tweet not a few minutes ago pointed out with cautious wisdom:

Nice to see Murdoch humiliated, but too early to gloat. This is a guy whose childhood sled was called ‘Crush All Enemies Without Hesitation’

Anyhow – back to the subject of this post.  Real entrepreneurs – those who challenge existing ways of thinking – absolutely thrive in markets which tend more towards freedom than monopoly.  Indeed, one of the basic functions of entrepreneurs in what we might term a wider society is to ensure that monopolistic competition – towards which all modern capitalism seems to wish to tend – is given a salutary jolt every so often.

If Mr Lancaster wants a good reason to invest in either new media outlets or new media outlets, post-Rupert Murdoch as has been, then the above reason could one of the first he might wish to consider: for only in a society where communication is free and considered can business be conducted in the kind of radical and constructive ways that these true entrepreneurs I talk about seem to prefer to avail themselves of.  It is in all businesses’ interests then – all businesses, that is, which care to conduct their business ethically (or would prefer to) – for the media to operate with transparency; for the media in our country to reflect, to argue with and to challenge our shakers and makers in such a way that true dialogue – and not a simply sterile set of occasional consultations – becomes par for the course in our society.

“Why might I invest in them?”  Why, indeed …  Because, essentially, for particularly businesslike reasons, it would lay the foundations for a better business culture.  When the Fourth and Fifth Estates communicate adult-like and with genuine interest in the issues at hand, so the businesspeople who will generate our wealth will know far more clearly that the ground rules are going to be grown-up and sincere.

And they will know that when they go into business, they can expect to be treated with coherence and understanding.

If the pact between our politicians and the media can convert itself in something rather more transparent and outgoing, it won’t only be the voters who’ll be able to heave a sigh of relief:

Do we now need to re-evaluate the House of Commons? Has it finally redeemed itself after MPs’ expenses? #hackgate #bskyb

It’ll also be our businesspeople who’ll know there’ll be one less thing to worry about – that is to say, the ever-present and bedevilled choice between a moral exchange on the one hand and underhandedness on the other will become far less problematic when we are able to create a society which visibly rejects the antics of the spivs and fly-by-nights.

What is really facing us, as we contemplate the rack and ruin which Rupert Murdoch’s methods will surely end up bringing to the investors in News Corp, is an opportunity to refashion a society.  After the dictatorship of cultural life which News International has effected on British society – that “spell which is now broken” as I think Ed Miliband was reported as having said in a Spectator interview today – there is now a clear opportunity to decide how we can proceed: an illuminating and liberating opportunity, in fact, to start constructively at some kind of “year zero”.

What we really want from our media is that ability to engage at a peer-to-peer level – a dialogue between equals; a conversation where politics is no longer an evil game but, rather, an enabling device to improve the lot of everyone.  And if we are to achieve this, then starting from scratch – realising in time that we actually do have that opportunity to wipe the slate clean and redo our media landscape – is about the most important thing we may yet be able to understand in the next six months to a year.


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Jul 022011
 
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I just posted on the subject of our blessed high street’s current critical state.  Then this article from the Guardian yesterday came my way via Paul Birch’s Twitter feed:

And Blair has also written a new introduction to his book. In it, he more or less says that our political system is knackered.

He has spoken before about his frustrations with the way Westminster operates, but I’ve never heard him deliver such a comprehensive indictment. He really does seem to think that western democracies are failing. By my count, he identifies six key problems. Here they are:

And the article then goes on to list them all most coherently.  And they make for useful reading.

I’m a little bemused by the overview provided though.  Blair, as a solutions’ merchant extraordinaire (I mean it in the nicest possible way), when he damns the dysfunctionality of political parties, most curiously here doesn’t really provide any convincing ones.  As David Miliband did on a separate topic the other day at the Royal Geographical Society event, an appropriate analysis is made but the wrong conclusion is drawn.  Here, it seems to me that Blair is trying to justify an environment most suited to the kind of politicking which would make him feel able to return to the political arena.  It’s human to want something in our own image.  But democratically acceptable, I think not.

Both Miliband the Elder and now Blair, perhaps his progenitor, need to step back from their intellectual dancing – of which I have to count myself an admirer – and work out exactly how to make that final step towards a courageously accurate taking of their political-bulls-by-the-horns: in Blair’s case – yes, politics in Britain, and in other countries, is essentially knackered.  But the solution doesn’t lie in fashioning new systems which allow clever individuals to acquire even more power than they were able to under existing constructs.  Rather, as I argued in my previous post is currently the case in the high street, we need to look to how the Internet has extracted the very best of historical offline practice – and then managed, through a judicious combination of mathematics, human intervention and other structures, to make us feel we’re all in charge of what we do online.

And so, as with the high street, politics too needs to go back to its roots of engagement with local individuals.  Such a “nichification” of politics, these days, can – paradoxically – only take place through the use of Internet technologies.  Not to broadcast massively the drip-fed corporate messages of old but, rather, to create an incessant circle of dialogue, action and review which allows those most affected by modern decision-making to influence – at source – the direction such actions take.

We thus need the Internet not to replace traditional politics but, instead, recreate everything that – once – was good about its grassroots elements.

Not use the Internet to supplant, then, at all – but use it, instead, to regenerate.


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Dec 122010
 
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This is sad because it was so promising.

A lot of people have taken great delight in the savage irony inscribed by this video and its content.

The conclusion I draw is less happy.  British political behaviours are clearly not up to the challenge of the new politics.  None of us, whether in power or opposition, can draw any sense of comfort from the trail of broken promises that this video exhibits and represents.

This isn’t something that should make us laugh.

Watching it, we should – instead – all want to bow our heads in shame.

Surely we can do better than this.


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Oct 112010
 
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In my previous post, I wonder if Alan Johnson’s appointment as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer signals a real desire on the part of Ed Miliband to widen the terms of our economic debate.  And as I observe, if this is the case, I’m definitely all for it.

Meanwhile, perhaps George Osborne’s abiding achievement to date has been his attempt to reduce the responsibilities of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to those purely fiscal ones of yore. 

Gordon Brown used them as tools to engineer a different society -  a society where the poor were taken into account. 

George Osborne, however, and quite unfortunately it would appear, sees them more as mechanisms to convert us back into being servile tools of our tools. 

In Gordon Brown’s day, you got the feeling – however incompletely – that the poor had a place at the table of debate.  I’m pretty sure that Mr Osborne, conversely, sees us all as simple extensions of the market.  We are there to to be mastered, not as masters.

His is a conversion, as befits his training and education, to the dogma of economics – rather than, more kindly, its practice.  And therein the trajectory we will all shortly be obliged to witness.


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Jun 082010
 
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It’s probably not the best time to try and answer a question like this.  A general election has been lost.  A Labour leadership election has yet to catch the imagination of the wider voting public.  Arguably, it has yet to catch the imagination of those Labour Party members who have the right to vote.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has the surreal idea of crowdsourcing the deficit cuts.  An idea so surreal I’m inclined to believe I should get involved.

Meanwhile, I wonder what good – in reality – I can do.

Don’t you ever ask yourself this question? 

Being on the losing side of politics or business reminds one of how Darwinian real life can really be.  No excuses.  No pardon.

I suppose that’s why, of late, I can’t help going back to the thought that tools such as tax credits were a mighty distraction.  Instead of effecting a redistributive policy which would engender an organic change in the way we do things here in Britain, they encouraged a society to live with a situation poorly ameliorated and – in the event – just a tad psychologically unhappy.

Out of a desire to speedily remedy rank injustice, New Labour used sticking-plaster economic policy.  A sticking-plaster economic policy which – with a change of government – could just as easily become unstuck.

So I come back to my original question: why should I get involved?

I’m on the losing side, in both politics and business. 

It’s not my turn.

It’s not my time.


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May 252010
 
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From Snowflake5, a paradox: this is how hard the Tory/Lib Dem coalition is going to be hitting the private sector:

From what has been announced, two sectors will be really hit – local government will expecience a 7.4% cut in grants, which they will need to make up either by council tax rises or cuts.

The other sector to be hit is the private sector, as Stephanie Flanders points out in her blog. They will be bearing 27% of all the cuts announced today by Laws and Osborne. They are getting screwed in multiple ways, from having contracts cancelled to taxi drivers losing business. All of this will impact those sectors’ revenue, profits and the tax receipts the govt gets from them.

And there is more:

A lot of ideological anti-state people simply don’t realise how intertwined the private sector is with the state. This is not 1979 when the state directly employed everyone who did anything with public money. The Labour government tended to hire private contractors whenever they needed stuff done.

The Coalition really does not understand the implications of what it is going to now do.   Britain, post-New Labour, has a completely different set of economic relationships to those it had pre-Thatcher’s time.  We truly have been working in partnership.  And working in partnership is a much better way.

For that revolution, liked by few and disliked by many, did nevertheless allow a government like Brown’s to realise it had the tools to hand to contemplate a relatively soft landing from an encroaching depression – as decisions carefully taken on government spending plans impacted constructively on that “intertwined” private/public habitat.

Now that a government far more ideological than Blair’s has decided to take on that entire infrastructure, unnecessary destruction of partnership behaviours – as well as their corresponding benefits – will lead to the extinction of whole economic species.

And we will all unnecessarily become the poorer for it.

More from Snowflake5 here, in an excellent post which deserves to be fully and widely read.


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May 122010
 
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It’s all questions at the moment.  Fixed terms is fine – though I’d prefer four-year terms to five-year plans.  But raising the “no confidence” threshold?  What’s that about?

Ramifications here:

MPs will not be able to throw out the government unless at least 55% of them vote to do so, under plans agreed by the Conservatives and Lib Dems.

The move would protect David Cameron from losing power even if the coalition partners decided to split up.

Expert response here:

Constitutional expert Peter Hennessy, of Queen Mary University of London University, told BBC News: “Fifty-five per cent of MPs needed for a government to lose a confidence vote – I am not sure that’s a very sensible change.

“The tradition is that one [vote] is enough and I wouldn’t tinker with that. I would leave that well alone. It looks as if you are priming the pitch, doctoring it a bit. Not good. It’s meant to be a different politics, new politics.”

So what message is that intended to send out?

No, Mr Cameron.  This is not good.  Shame on you, in fact.

This is no better than the expenses scandal.  Parliament looking after its own all over again.  And we’re only on Day 1 of this new government.

Reminds me so very much of Silvio Berlusconi’s recent passing of a law which makes it impossible to take him to court if he can show he’s too busy.

Any old pretext, in fact.  This isn’t new politics at all.  This is the same old politics that has disengaged voters for decades.
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Further reading: Northern Heckler does an almighty piece of dissection on this subject here.  Well worth a visit.


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May 112010
 
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Yes.  Quite.  It seems, somehow, wrong that in times of complex crisis a country should turn to inexperienced youth.  It is – perhaps – a sign of our obsession with such youth that enough of us think we are doing the right thing … by doing just that.

Instead, we’re all going to suffer, aren’t we?

And we know it.

And we’re all afraid now.  Frightened even.

No.  That’s not quite right.  Some of us, the lucky few, will benefit from this obsession with youth, will benefit grandly – but at the expense of the rest.  Gordon Brown knew that this would happen and tried to bed down constructively a future fair for all.  He did his best.  It wasn’t enough.  In part, that was because he couldn’t explain himself better.  In part, that was because we didn’t care to listen better.

There’s blame on all sides.

And the coalition politics I really despise is that which makes so unhappily unworkable those unwieldy broad churches of monolithic political parties – so unworkable and unbelievable that people lose faith in that very tool which should inspire them to understand each other better.

Politics.

He dedicated a good part of his life to it.

I remember a Twitter user tweet in the last days of the election that if he had to vote for the man it would be Gordon Brown he voted for – not Labour itself, no, but, curiously enough, Brown yes. 

In the end, I think most of us believed that he had tried to do his level best. 

Sometimes, though, the ability to see it all makes more enemies than friends.  And in the cloven-footed practice of politics, in the dark side, in the side that drives you to embrace your demons, you need a fair-to-middling supply of friends to keep you on the right side of unhappiness.

In the end, then, we can assume, Gordon Brown had more enemies than friends.  But perhaps only amongst people who believe they count.  For the rest of us, we suddenly realised we had indeed found a brother – and friend.

So now, in the cold light of this saddest of days, I’m not happy to see Gordon Brown go.

I do, however, wish him every happiness and joy.


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May 082010
 
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Inevitable really.  That the Tory infighting should begin.  This (from the newspaper which, tactically speaking, got it completely wrong). (More also here on the very same subject.)

Meanwhile, I’ve just heard on Twitter that Clegg has told Brown he must resign.  Surely that’s up to Brown to decide.  Just as easily, Brown could demand that Clegg did the same – after the Lib Dem vote failed to hold back the Tories.

“Just as easily”, I say of course – accustomed as I am to the destructive parameters and quality of debate and discourse that a parliamentary system such as ours encourages.

For the real problem we have is that our politicians were never made for this kind of dynamic.  They have been so used to tossing verbal hand grenades back and forth for so many years that – when it comes to actually sitting down and sensibly talking something over – they’re just not up to the job.

Getting on with each other productively is something British politicians simply weren’t built to do.

Or, at least, so I fear.

Well, they’re going to have to get used to it now.

The British people want something different.  This tweet from Next Left indicates as much:

51% support for Labour-LibDem coalition deal, says Times poll http://bit.ly/azXRLo

More detail here:

Public for Tory min+LD 53-47; for Lab+LD coalition 51-45; against Tory+LD coalition 46-52; agin Tory min+DUP 29-52 http://bit.ly/azXRLo

Really unsure why a senior Lib Dem figure should say the following though:

“The electorate have invented an instrument of excruciating torture for the Liberal Democrats.”

Isn’t that what their blessed experience in grassroots politics tells them a better national politics should all be about?  Surely they didn’t expect the electorate to vote for them so that Labour could be substituted out of existence.  Surely the whole point of three-party politics was so the electorate could get that upper hand …

Two-party politics was, after all, anathema to Clegg and his party for so many years.  Must we now begin to question the motivations behind such a distaste?


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May 082010
 
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I wonder why we can’t simply assign each party its MPs based entirely on the simple percentages of popular vote they achieve – and, in the absence of clear local ties for the MPs as individuals that such a system would lead to, we could simply strengthen and empower the local responsibilities of councils and their representatives.  In this way, MPs would spend their time in London dealing with national and international issues (which is what they seem to prefer to do anyway) and local issues would be dealt with at a local level.

There would, of course, have to be some regular interface between national and local representatives – but such forums would not be difficult to organise.

Or am I now falling into the trap of spouting Tory libertarian “Big Society” doublespeak?  Not out of a desire to confuse or distract, I assure you.  Not in my case.  I’m not saying it to cut back on the state’s involvement in people’s wellbeing.  I’m saying it – I think – to improve that involvement.

Am I just following a misguided line of thought then?

So is anyone able to tell me why the above would be such a bad idea?
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Update to this post: Paul’s just posted some wishful thinking over at Never Trust a Hippy.  Nice ideas.


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May 082010
 
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An apposite observation perhaps: as we desperately try and search for alternative hows of voting, it is principally because we find the whats so dispiriting.  As Andrew observes on Facebook:

I’m finding myself defending FPTP: not so much because I think it’s a superior system, more because the vast majority of critics seem to misunderstand and misrepresent it. Probably one of the best arguments is what happened in East Belfast. With a list-based system Peter Robinson would have been elected top, in evident defiance of popular opinion, while someone further down the list would have paid the price. By contrast, in an individual-based system like FPTP, *anyone* can win if they really mobilise and enthuse people (which the Lib Dems failed to do), even in ‘safe’ seats. and *anyone* can be subject to the ultimate scrutiny, and beaten. Alternative systems transfer this power to the parties. There’ll be ups and downs, but there’ll never be *shocks*. That’s very bad.

My response as follows:

I suppose it really depends on whether your overriding objective is to re-engage the general voting public in politics or ensure strong but unrepresentative government. From what I’ve read, STV doesn’t actually foreground the party so much as other systems might. Quite the opposite (see the second comment on Paul’s original post).

FPTP – where it produces “strong” government – does, in my mind, offer a longer-term and more drawn out experience of shock as policy-making swings violently between one approach and another. All the achievements by one party in power must be undone by the following, instead of a more consensual approach being followed on the larger issues of the day.

As the local council results seem to indicate, where politicians rule, the public generally seeks change.  This is a curious and unhappy circumstance – a damning indictment of an entire profession.

Or maybe a damning indictment of the system in which these essentially good and sincere individuals have to find a way of working.

The truth of the matter is that we can’t do both things at once.  If we wish to improve voter-engagement in politics, we must – in some sense – let be the desire for branded strength to decline. 

After all the scandals of recent times, it is surely time for the former to be prioritised over the latter.  If we wish to re-engage real voters, we have to be relevant.  And relevant means listening to people in their homes, schools and places of work.

Voting reform is required.

A different dynamic must be contemplated.

The local must now be allowed to walk hand-in-hand with the national.


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