Oct 112014

Four tweets, two situations, one thought.  That’s how I see the world this morning.

The first two tweets are on how our governing coalition of Tories and Liberal Democrats has presumably, quite suddenly, recovered its appreciation of the National Health Service, as it frantically casts assurances to the wind and our evermore cynical ears:

In the light of #Ebola, can we now expect the govt to stop trashing the #NHS whilst it needs the voters to feel protected & safe? #TheIrony

I dunno. Bloody awful stuff, this. #PublicHealth needs a healthy public, which means sustainable health for *all* at point of use. #NHS

And then shortly afterwards, I tweeted this other couplet:

Meanwhile, in one of our northern towns, an offspring of mine has front motorbike brakes cut whilst bike was parked outside their uni. >>

<< Is this normal behaviour in large cities these days? Isn’t cutting brakes about as evil as it can get? What’s happened to normalise it?

And the single thought?

It’s probably a cheap thought.  But leadership, of any kind, anywhere you look, can do little more than set the general tone – if it can do anything useful at all.  Now don’t misunderstand me.  Setting the tone is an important matter.  Our relatively free economies still operate on the basis of a generalised confidence.  That soft element to hard thinking will never be without meaning or place.

And maybe this is where I’m thinking not hard but cheaply – as I’ve been already bound to suggest.  But if we spend four long years listening to politicians who use obfuscation particularly profoundly – who claim no top-down reorganisations of health, and then proceed to reorganise top-down; who claim no processes of privatisation, and then privatise inefficiently and to astonishing gain for their financial sponsors; who suggest a society of the inclusive, and then exclude the poorest, the most disabled, the most needy from public respect – who can expect anything more than the evil of cutting my offspring’s front motorcycle brakes?

There is, of course, no connection between the two events.  But the prevalence of the former set of obfuscations sets the tone, defines the leadership and puts the ship of our supposedly shared state on a certain direction that only makes casual brake-cutting idiocy more likely.

So.  Cameron & Co are clearly not to blame for the criminal activity in one of large northern cities.

But they are to blame for the kind of leadership they’ve chosen to exemplify – the kind that makes acting in bad faith clever, acceptable and normal.

Aug 082014

Dan Hodges suggests the following:

There’s only one thing worse then the US being the world’s policeman. And that’s the US not being the world’s policeman.

I’d take issue with the use of the monolithic singular (no state, however useful, is ever that monolithic – nor should be in a modern liberal democracy) and the exclusive gender – policeman (though my linguistic side understands why he’s felt obliged to use the idiomatic phrase this way).  But more importantly, I’d take issue with stuff he’s written previously on quite separate subjects.  This, for example:

Unfortunately, that’s just about all they came up with. Ed Miliband will say: “Clearly the next Labour government will face massive fiscal challenges, including having to cut spending.” But that’s just one of those tick-box phrases he likes to sneak into his tick-box speeches. He has this little throwaway line about cuts, but if anyone actually asks him what cuts he’s contemplating he refuses to answer. That’s because he doesn’t really mean it, and he secretly wants everyone to know he doesn’t really mean it.

Now, I don’t necessarily take issue with the ideas Hodges sardonically communicates – apart from anything else, he does sardonic very well.  But when coupled with today’s tweet, I do object to the underlying assumption that 40,000 Iraqis on the point of being butchered can be policed and rescued – should be policed and rescued – by Big Government and the Big State when the very same Big State and Government must not – is unable to – continue its historically ameliorating business at home in the UK and US.

Especially when the plans of some of Hodges’ fellow travellers seem to include brutal cuts to the aforementioned public sector which will lead to a drop in headcount of forty percent:

The biggest cull of public sector jobs for at least 50 years will see vulnerable parts of the state endure reductions in headcount of up to 40%, Britain’s leading tax and spending thinktank said today.

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the reductions planned as part of the coalition’s deficit reduction programme would hit the poorest parts of Britain hardest, and warned they would prove “challenging” for those parts of government bearing the brunt of austerity.

Piling misery upon misery for the most unprotected in our societies.

So let’s try and be a little bit more coherent, shall we?  If Big Government and the Big State are still cool enough ideas to save the developing world from encroaching dictatorship and the cruelty of the backward (though I suspect the motives behind such strategies have more to do with a Western self-interest of wanting to keep political contamination well at bay in distant dirty countries, quite a la Ebola, than a truly pure perception of right and wrong), let us also accept that we in the West – ordinary people who live in Europe, North America, the Antipodes etc – have the very same right to be treated, by our own Big States and Governments, in the humanitarian way those currently suffering in Syria, Iraq, Gaza and Israel also merit and clearly deserve.

Jul 282014

Bit of a serious title today – but I think the topic is serious too.

Gordon Brown finished off an interesting article the other day with this phrase:

Girls should be able to study in a classroom, free of fear and without the need to demonstrate on the streets. This is a basic right; ensuring that it is respected cannot come soon enough.

The article was about the dreadful mass-kidnapping of girls in Nigeria by extremists.  It describes a situation which in no way is comparable to the UK.  However, even so, I am minded to remember these stories on the Big Society and compare and contrast in the following way.

For starters, when in 2012 David Cameron said the arrival of food banks proved the Big Society was putting its best foot forward – “First of all let me echo what he said about volunteers and people who work hard in communities, part of what I call the ‘Big Society’, to help those in need” (further observations six months later from the Guardian here) – I don’t suppose those he imagined to be in such desperate need were going to be his political and business sponsors and cronies.  But exactly this, so it turns out, would now seem to have been the case all along:

An investigation has begun into the use of taxpayer-funded grants by the charity set up to lead David Cameron’s “big society” initiative.

The Charity Commission was examining whether funding for a childhood obesity project was used to pay the debts of a linked company, the Independent reported on Saturday. The commission was also seeking more information on payments allegedly made for consultancy services to two directors of the Big Society Network (BSN) and its chair, Martyn Rose, a Conservative Party donor.

News of the investigation comes days after a public spending watchdog issued a critical report about how National Lottery and government funds were handed over to and used by the BSN.

I have to say I was suspicious of the Big Society idea and its concrete implementation from quite early on.  As long ago as 2010, I suggested that:

Meanwhile, as a secondary question to the thrust of this post’s thesis but of obvious relevance nevertheless, if it does rather more eagerly include the retired and semi-retired – curiously enough, those generally most conservative in outlook and interests – the question then will be why?

Thirdly, because any institution, community or nexus of people will lose its ability to stay free of corruption and its resulting inefficiencies, the more similar and alike its component parts become – something all of us should surely wish to avoid.  Yet, the profile – or ratio – of inclusion versus exclusion as described above would seem to suggest that the Conservatives do not anticipate giving everyone an equal handle on the levers of power.  And this is why I suggest the big society idea may lead to what I also called the Mediterraneanisation of our communities – where families and personal contacts are far more important and far more highly prized in the governance of our society than those transparent, and supposedly more objective, processes and procedures that belong to a more technocratic way of doing things.

So to come back to my initial question and add a second: is there evidence that the big society idea aims to exclude?  I would suggest that it is beginning to appear – would seem to be evermore patent, in fact, as the big society idea’s definition and coalescing inevitably allows us to better understand the ambush of ideas it has involved.

As a by-the-by, then, and in bloody irritating hindsight, it would seem that the aforementioned “ambush of ideas” – designed not only to forestall fears of the abandonment of compassion by the state and all its works (and that many of us suspected would be the case from 2010 onwards) but also to proactively fill the deep pockets of Cameron & Co’s ideological partners with the public dosh thus leveraged – was indeed sprung on us, for a precious four years during which the Tory right have operated with a calculated impunity.

Yet what is most galling about the whole process is that precisely this clicktivist activation of our democracy – from the efficient and hugely competent organisation of food banks to online petitions to virtual communities of mums, the disabled and the poorest in society, quite unwilling to take all this rubbish lying down – has been advertised by Cameron & Co as a demonstration of everything they’ve been looking to unleash in the British character.

Yes.  Despite the #gagginglaw, the #bedroomtax, the destruction of so many disabled support mechanisms, #DRIP’s appalling process and colluded agreement, the scapegoating of immigration, benefit recipients and the poorer in society in general, the destroying of the NHS, Legal Aid and other parts of the welfare state, the fiddling of unemployment figures and economic data and so much more … despite all of this, what’s been and what’s to come, we’re all supposedly so much freer than we were before because – precisely by the art of Coalition magic – we’ve all become incredibly engaged with the very essence of what it is to be a democratic citizen.  That is to say, the very fact that we’re demonstrating day after day is proof of the Coalition’s pudding of ideological wisdom and strategic ingenuity. 

And this proof I describe?  Where does it lie?

In the levels of activity that manifestly exist, of course.



This brings me back to Gordon Brown’s conclusion that I quoted at the top of today’s post.  And here I paraphrase and amend slightly:

Democratic citizens should be able to participate in a society, free of fear and without the need to demonstrate on the streets. This is a basic right; ensuring that it is respected cannot come soon enough.

For that, dear reader, is where we stand right now.  There are levels of activity and levels of activity.  What Cameron & Co have done to our democracy is not to democratise, free up or unleash a natural instinct to participation.  If only that had happened, we wouldn’t be in the mess we currently find ourselves in.

No.  What Cameron & Co have done is transfer to a wider society, impose upon a broader citizenry and implement aggressively the destructive dynamics that all Westminster’s politicians eventually become accustomed to.  And whilst I’m sure Ed Miliband’s heart is in the right place when he suggests that people are bussed to Parliament to take regular part in a carefully controlled PMQs, created (I suppose) for the acceptable face of the voting populace and plebs out there, he really does need to go much farther than that: it’s not the people who should be allowed gingerly into Parliament but Parliament which needs rapidly to understand the noxious effect its traditions are having on a nation of once already sincerely participative and constructive subjects – people brought up to believe in collaboration, and who’ve been retrained in a sadly Pavlovian way to use “social-media screech” as a placebo for true political involvement and consensus.

Our democracy is not healthy at the moment, simply because so many of us are screaming our pain.  It will, however, of this I am sure, one day revert to a rude and welcome wellbeing when, finally, we get the political class we deserve – that class, I mean, which comes ultimately from the people themselves, and understands – from personal experience – that noise and communication are not things we should ever carelessly confuse.

Jul 232014

The Guardian reported around a day ago that:

Two leading Westminster civil liberties campaigners, David Davis and Tom Watson, are to mount a high court legal challenge to the government’s new “emergency” surveillance law, which was rushed through parliament last week.

The application for a judicial review of the new legislation, which was passed with support from the three main parties, is to be mounted by the human rights organisation Liberty on behalf of the two backbench MPs.

However, David Allen Green notes on Twitter that:

I understand the @libertyhq challenge to #DRIP is actually only to section 1 – and *not* the entire Act: https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/news/press-releases/liberty-represents-mps-david-davis-and-tom-watson-legal-challenge-government%E2%80%99s- …

Going on to explain that:

In other words, despite the news coverage, the Tom Watson/David Davis legal challenge is not to entire #DRIP Act but to one section of it,

It appears not one of the news reports on Davis/Watson legal challenge have noted that the challenge is not actually to entire #DRIP Act.

Meanwhile, yesterday I suggested that:

It’s a mistake to start by protesting about the content of #DRIP – far more important, and firstly, the really shocking part was process.

I’d love to have the money to take political leaders to court for undermining democracy, process and procedure. #DRIP

Truth is, whilst Gaza, Ukraine and other awful parts of the news have occupied the front pages over the past two weeks or so, and whilst Labour cheerleaders are happy to leave their human rights credentials to the dustbin of history, passing quickly onto other far more important issues such as internal Party unity, a serious matter is clearly not being fully aired here.  As I said in a previous post (the bold is mine today):

#DRIP, as a process, for me, is just one drop too far.  Politics, if it is anything meaningful in liberal society, is process.  But if the process is no longer liberal, the society is just bald dictatorship.  And that is precisely what we are getting here.  Government diktat in the absence of proper scrutiny:

And when even committed libertarians (libertarians in their own ways, that is true – but libertarians all the same) such as Watson and Davis limit themselves to challenging only a part of the result of dictatorship – obviating a rigorous analysis of the process they participated in (even if unwillingly, I am sure) – then the bald dictatorship I talk of is not just beginning to kick in: clearly, in an ultimate analysis, it is simply proceeding to re-establish itself.

Make no mistake about it, dear readers: this is a full-throated attack on the integrity of democratic communication, dialogue and consensus.  We need to see it as such; we need to deal with it as such; we need to understand that from the so-called #gaggingbill onwards, the final intentions of the political elite – not just the Coalition I insist; not just the Tories or the Lib Dems – is to revert all political activity into the ever-developing injustice that is parliamentary procedure.

From the immorality of Thatcher’s times to the hand-holding hand-in-glove behaviours of our latterday political elite, it’s time we started shouting from the rooftops of all our democracies: “STOP NAYSAYING OUR HUMAN RIGHTS!”

For that, exactly that, is what they are doing.  And that, exactly that, is what they now need to step back from.

Jul 182014

Imagine the script, if you will.

“Diktat 2015″

Part II – 2014

Scene I – February – #caredata

The British government claims to have had a very bright idea: release all NHS patient medical records in England for use by the life-science industry to improve patient outcomes and research opportunities.  The system will involve an automatic opt-in – only if a patient wishes to opt out will any paperwork need filling in.

Unfortunately, it then transpires that data has already been wildly made available – and what’s more, tons of other interested parties have had/are having/will have access to such juicy datasets.

The reaction, ultimately, from the confused population is so strong that the plans are put on hold for a few months – which isn’t to say, of course, that institutions and companies various won’t continue to dig around your medical records.

Scene II – July – #DRIP

It takes the British body politic only three days to pass wide-ranging legislation which allows the state to keep a record (no one knows if rolling or not) of up to twelve months of voters’ private communications, web interactions and other assorted digital records.

That people may be unhappy to have this legislation passed without even a vote in the House of Lords really doesn’t seem to worry the legislators an iota.  The state (and the aforementioned wider body politic, of course) has clearly learnt from the #caredata imbroglio – when in doubt about your ability to persuade the voters and bring them round to accepting a ridiculous undermining of their human rights, just ignore them.

Part III – 2015

Scene I – May – #GE2015

Unable to see the difference between any of the main political parties, insignificant and unimportant voters like myself began some months before to shear off from their traditional allegiances.

This only benefits the Tories, who proceed to win the 2015 general election outright.  Recriminations are multiple on the left of the political spectrum – in truth, the fact is that in what used to be the humane, open-minded and liberal part of our previously shared civilisation we now have general agreement amongst the political parties that process is secondary to expediency.

What’s more, there is also broad acceptance in the political classes that an elitist perception of what people need hits the issues far more accurately on the head than consultation, dialogue and representation ever can.  As we begin to realise that this is what our representatives think, we the voters realise and conclude that there really is no bloody point any more.

Scene II – October – #NewEnglandOldTories

Events not entirely under Cameron’s control lead England to end up giving in to the Scottish Declaration of Independence.  This looks like a defeat, but defeats are unpredictable beasts.  In truth, the Tories now have total freedom to remake England in their image.  The #caredata project is resurrected – perhaps resuscitated would be more accurate – and so it is that no NHS England patient will be given the right to opt out of the scheme unless, that is, they choose to opt out of public sector medicine altogether.  The plan to fully monetise patient data is extended to allow access by any company or organisation which can demonstrate it is a duly registered data controller and user with a financial interest in any of our (ie the voters’) behaviours which might be affected by any medical conditions we have.  These parties include insurance companies, potential employers and local councils.

The #DRIP project will also be revised: the data collected will not now be limited to the last twelve months, but, far more importantly, will be similarly monetised to improve the voter experience.  The details around who will be able to purchase the information are unclear in the month the legislation will become law, but in the totally unexpected and entirely unrelated announcement of a merger between Google and Facebook (dependent, of course, on the relevant tax breaks and other bespoke emollients) there is a footnote to the documentation which indicates they have been in talks with Number 10 for quite some months now.  (It’s even been suggested that the two companies are preparing to install massive server farms on prime greenbelt land around Chipping Norton, fuelled via the fracking of land under a number of local homesteads – land which, incidentally, is currently used to hide potentially embarrassing copies of hundreds of thousands of ministerial SMS texts and unofficial emails of many fascinatingly compromising kinds.)

Scene III – November – #EOP #sofaengland

As government now operates without due consultation or scrutiny, five years of Parliament are finished off in a month.  The #EOP (or, more laboriously, #EndOfParliament) hashtag does the rounds, as it must – but this safety valve was only to be expected.

So it is that the Prime Minister, MPs, support staff and Her Majesty’s Official Opposition suddenly run out of things to even apparently do.  In order to justify their salaries for the next four years and seven months – and out of a residual sense of twisted responsibility, I suppose – they collectively decide to retire to the countryside and spend their days hunting foxes, shooting pigeons, evicting the disabled, cleaning moats, building duck islands, flipping mortgages, gassing badgers and closing down any food banks which have the temerity to set up stall in their constituencies.

In the meantime, the state runs itself very nicely, thank you.  Some weird people protest; get blackmailed into silence, probably via carelessly administered #caredata and #DRIP intel; ultimately accept their lot; and, quite understandably, find themselves dying in front of their goggle boxes Google boxes when their time ineludibly comes.

Jul 022014

The Guardian reports this morning that:

Facebook is being investigated to assess whether an experiment in which it manipulated users’ news feeds to study the effect it had on moods might have broken data protection laws, it has been reported.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is said to be looking into the experiment carried out by the social network and two US universities in which almost 700,000 users had their news feeds secretly altered to study the impact of “emotional contagion”.

Meanwhile, the original Cornell press release which let on to the experiment has also been altered.  Where it originally asserted the Army had co-funded the adventure, it now says (scroll down to the bottom of the page):

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the study was funded in part by the James S. McDonnell Foundation and the Army Research Office. In fact, the study received no external funding.

Perhaps, in the event, it would be churlish of us to complain.  As Paul has ironically pointed out, the T&Cs we signed up to on becoming Facebook users (more and more the 21st century equivalent of passing over to the dark side of a club membership you can never leave once entered) are pretty broad-ranging and may allow for such abuse.

Even so, the situation is sufficiently serious for institutions like Cornell to follow up with these kind of assertions (the bold is mine):

ITHACA, N.Y. – Cornell University Professor of Communication and Information Science Jeffrey Hancock and Jamie Guillory, a Cornell doctoral student at the time (now at University of California San Francisco) analyzed results from previously conducted research by Facebook into emotional contagion among its users. Professor Hancock and Dr. Guillory did not participate in data collection and did not have access to user data. Their work was limited to initial discussions, analyzing the research results and working with colleagues from Facebook to prepare the peer-reviewed paper “Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks,” published online June 2 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science-Social Science.

Because the research was conducted independently by Facebook and Professor Hancock had access only to results – and not to any individual, identifiable data at any time – Cornell University’s Institutional Review Board concluded that he was not directly engaged in human research and that no review by the Cornell Human Research Protection Program was required.

So, then, it’s OK to use research that has been obtained without permission from any source whatsoever, as long as one cannot identify the victims unwilling participants social network users in question – creatures, incidentally, who occupy the lowest of all low strata in the 21st century litany of unobserved rights and excessive obligations.

Which doesn’t half me remind me of another constituency out there.  Indeed, it would probably be rather unfair to criticise Facebook for following on from where certain British political representatives have gone before.

Before #FacebookExperiment, surely we have had #CoalitionExperiment – a deliberate process of emotional manipulation of both the most defenceless in society as well as, in the event, the most determined not to see their rights trampled on.

And if the ICO feels that data protection laws may have been broken when Facebook experimented on the way that people reacted to negative and positive stories, without asking their permission first and even though they’d signed up to a wide-ranging set of T&Cs, who is to say this Coalition government didn’t similarly break human rights laws when they decided to experiment on how a nation might react to a barrage of false stories about immigrants “nicking” jobs, the “scrounging” poor, the “feckless” disabled and a well-packaged myriad of other lies, distortions and half-truths?

If Facebook is to be investigated by the ICO, or perhaps even a select committee which feels particularly (and rightly) aggrieved about the situation, who will have the guts to investigate entire governments such as ours?  And given the close ties between the aforementioned social network and the security arms of the latter everywhere, doesn’t it make you wonder whether in fact this story is little more than a softening-up of public opinion as we await ultimate revelations from the Snowden cache of documents?

Is the #FacebookExperiment an isolated example of an always-slightly-maverick social network going out on a limb – or, more likely, does Facebook simply reflect what others, less visible, are now doing all the time?  And does Facebook do what it needs to sustain a business model – or is it more a question of doing the bidding of those who most need to structure people’s feelings in times of unrelenting crisis?

That is to say, our unrepresentative, undemocratic, inefficient and incompetent political leaders various … excellent reasons all, in the light of the above, to investigate much more profoundly how our body politic is doing a Facebook.

Jun 212014

I’m a little puzzled; have been for a while.  Why is austerity so good at keeping a sharing culture at bay?

One thing’s for certain – we all love sharing.  And even where we don’t love it, we’ve simply had to get used to it.  Whether it’s biometric passports or fingerprinted schoolchildren or monetised NHS patients … it’s all kicking off.

So sharing has become the default mode in the 21st century.  You’d expect, then, it’d be far easier for those political parties and movements in favour of a post-austerity world to gain traction for their ideas.  But it doesn’t seem to be.  Why is that?  One reason may be the chilling effect of a continually adjusting and self-applied censorship, as described in the Democratic Audit UK article linked to above:

Surveillance can create an environment which teaches young people to self-regulate constantly, instead of having freedom of expression or the space to test out new ideas and opinions. It’s eroding the freedom to get things wrong as well, that it’s OK to make mistakes, that you can be a child, that you can mess about and have jokes and all these types of things. The disciplinary power within these surveillance technologies is so strong. Are we really allowing the kids the space just to be kids?

But if it were just the kids, we’d be talking about a future some years down the line.  What’s astonishing about the last six years – since the banking crises and scandals which gathered speed and impact from 2008 onwards – is that whilst the Occupy and Los Indignados movements have made a very particular noise, and have certainly brought together like-minded souls in common protest, mainstream politics – that which occupies our TVs, radios and newspapers, and which speaks, even now, to the vast majority of UK citizens – has circumvented our otherwise profound and developing instincts to compart ideas, resources and voices.  It’s almost as if democracy’s basic instincts have slewed off into the online corporatised software which marshals our occurrences these days, and in so participating, we care very little about applying the same lessons, instincts or behaviours to a real democratic experience.

This sharing culture is pervasive for a wider societal and narrower one-to-one discourse, it’s true – but not all that available for political communication and policymaking.  And most attempts to shoehorn enabling and facilitating impulses into and onto the current structures of our body politic sound mainly, and largely, laughable.

So then.  If most of our day is spent sharing stuff so freely with our friends, families and strangers we may shortly meet out there, why aren’t we doing the same with our economic policy?  Why isn’t sharing becoming a fundamental part of that economy?  How has economic policy managed so successfully to keep that sharingness at a distance?

A clever conspiracy?


A flocking and coinciding self-interest on many interested sides?


The question I ask is, essentially, whether this must continue to be inevitable.  Must sharing continue to be kept at bay in our economic structures?  After all, Cameron’s Big Idea, right at the beginning, was the piebald Big Society.  This may or may not have been a ruse – I no longer know very clearly how to tell.  It fell by the wayside, that’s for sure.  It had to, of course – after several attempts at resurrection, Cameron failed to flesh it out convincingly on any occasion.

Which brings me back to conspiracy.  Maybe the Big Society didn’t fail because we, the people, didn’t warm to it.  Maybe the Big Society failed because people far more powerful and in the know than ourselves just didn’t like the implications or consequences of truly implementing its potential philosophies.  Where would the TTIP be now, for example, in an economy where the sharing and supportive behaviours which the Big Society seemed to promise finally ended up firmly being put in place and practised?  Imagine a groundswell of public opinion, led over the last four years by leaders like Cameron and Miliband both, where the sharing cultures and instincts of Facebook, Twitter et al infiltrated the very essence and fundamentals of economic infrastructures and institutions.


Seen in this way, we lost a lot when we lost the alternative of the Big Society – far far more than we ever imagined.  We lost the freedom and option of transmuting selfish capitalism into something quite different, quite challenging and quite disruptive.  Disruptive in a positive way I would argue, but disruptive all the same.

Conspiracy, then?  Conspiracy is for potheads, surely.  Well.  Maybe so.  But in a post-Snowden world, perhaps we all have a right to think and act like potheads.

Certainly it’s some considerable and communal madness that in a world where ninety percent of most people’s free time is spent on sharing the minutiae of every waking moment, what really runs society should be evermore tight-fisted, closed off, ring-fenced and anti-democratic.

Jun 192014

In UK politics, from the dawn of the 2010 Coalition onwards (but probably in Blair’s time too – nothing ever comes from nothing, now does it?), welfare has become a very bad fare.  Now we get stories such as these, where people who describe themselves as progressives couch the debate in the following terms (the bold is mine):

Yes, the left should always push back against the demonisation of people on benefits , but equally important is to remember that a life on benefits is a huge waste of a person’s potential. There is absolutely nothing left-wing about that.

The reason why I disagree so fiercely today with James, generally coherent and quite matter-of-fact as he is on such stuff, is that someone of his journalistic calibre should want to take issue with the words we’re obviously choosing to use to define the debate.

Something he doesn’t really do.

Of course a life on benefits is a huge waste of a person’s potential; so is a life on the meek living wage that some organisations are proposing – or even lukewarmly implementing.  Until small power – ie the power held by small people (and here I don’t for example mean powerless toddlers – except in that figurative sense modern liberal democracy makes of us all!) – is allowed to knit itself cogently and productively into much bigger power (bigger in the sense of getting important things done), the alternatives people like Rick propose – large corporate organisation, transnationally structured – will never bring any benefit to the fore which doesn’t have its collateral antidemocratic instincts integrated into the DNA of its very being.

So when Rick argues …

The thing about big power is that it gets stuff done. The organisation and concentration of resources is what made rich countries rich (which is why places with lots of very small companies are poor). The countervailing power of unions and other social movements made the owners of these concentrated resources agree to share the fruits with everyone else.

… he’s using arguments which are clearly easily evidenced but lead to the very situations of dependence James decries in the context of the welfare state.  Are we therefore saying big is great for private industry (and here I mean industry in both its fundamental meanings: structure and outputs) but not in any way for the counterbalancing of nation-state government?  And where we accept government should be big, are we arguing that it should only serve in its immensity to service its counterparts in the business sectors?

I suppose what I’m really suggesting is that we haven’t moved – in politics or business – from any of the primal medieval hierarchies.  We are as old-fashioned as they come; and this couldn’t be a sadder reality in a century which claims to be the most technological in history.

Advanced in our physical tools; meanwhile, as backward and primitive in social and organisational tools as ever.  I don’t know about you, but this is not what I expected of the post-millennial age.

Three final links; three final sadnesses.  This involves the British Coalition government, supposed bastion of intellectual and cultural freedom, dismantling the last vestiges of our sense of physical and personal privacies and integrities.  Whilst this describes a parallel destruction of nation-state rights by secretive treaty-making.  And in the middle of these two fronts, even our Internet communications continue to be retained against overarching legal judgment.

As already – and frequently – expressed, then, my overriding responses are ones of sadness.  I can see the point of view of people like Rick, and I am sure many others who read and appreciate his finely-wrought blogposts, that big problems need big organisations.  And I can accept the opinion of James on the waste that it is a life on benefits, even when I sincerely disagree with the justice and fairness and intellectual accuracy of using the language and focus he employs.  (Just as much a waste it is to spend a life under the yoke of wage slavery, after all.)  And, in fact, I can even see the need to track Internet usage, and trawl what bad people do – although our privacies may suffer at the hands of such behaviours.

But, at least in my eyes, it would seem that as leaders have got used to collateral damage in a residual kind of warfare (residual in the sense that whilst drones in some places consistently bomb the hell out of people, the consumer markets and environments which freely occupy the planet elsewhere continue to easily generate their useful activity), so they have become accustomed to the idea of collateral damage very much at home.  That people on benefits should be punished with even more wasted and terrified lives – instead of someone intelligently managing the change they really need – has become such a given that even people like James and Rick give the impression of generally accepting it.

And this is where we must surely part ways.  That UK politics is destroying our homeland instincts to kindliness, generosity and consultation, and that global biz is performing the same role all over, is really not difficult to take onboard – at least conceptually, at least from the point of view of perceiving the processes taking place.

What is difficult to take onboard, however, is that progressives like James and Rick are consistently failing to see the things they advocate as part of the problems we have; and part of the reasons we’re all now desperately flailing not only to find but, more importantly, impose radical solutions.

For this is where I really am sad: those who believe they already have such solutions – in UK politics and global biz both – are demanding of everyone who occupies any square metres on this earth a total submission seen rarely in previous times of democratic engagement.  Tying up loose ends frantically as they are – via international treaties, door-to-door inspections and extralegal where not illegal data retention practices – they’re covering all their bases in a quite fearful way: fearful because it indicates they’re as afraid of the future as we should now also be.

And fear of the future always brings out the worst in this wonderful, frustrating and complex species we call the human being.

Jun 152014

I haven’t read Tony Blair’s intervention on the subject of going back to blowing up pieces of Iraq.  I should do but I haven’t.  The very idea is painfully tortuous: a medieval rack for the eyes one might argue.  An “eye rack” in fact.

It’s not a joke either – even as it makes out it’s a pun.  In a world where so much information is now being distributed visually, our poor old windows on the soul are being mercilessly pummelled.

I’ve always considered myself a reader of certain understanding; always felt I was generally good at detecting a hollow thought or an empty lie.  But latterly I’ve begun to lose faith in what I considered my former ability to discern the wheat from the chaff.  Now, whilst doing so, I feel I’ve begun to keep the chaff closer to hand.  The wheat is becoming for others to value; maybe, in the end, for none of us to care about.

Where Blair has been right all along is to draw our attention to the dangers of a post-modernist relativism.  Where he’s been utterly wrong, meanwhile, is in his solutions to this issue.  Solutions which range from faith schools to US presidential colonialist adventures to an anti-democratically stratospheric body politic.  Yet, in a parallel universe, a man of his talents and intelligence and abilities to synthesise complex informations could so easily have – maybe would so easily have – decanted for an evidence-based approach to life, society and the future.

But perhaps in our universe this is just one simple step too far.  How much easier it is to stand on the ceremony of prejudice; how much easier it is to act out of historical tablets of received opinion – an opinion as tidily written by one’s compatriots and supporters as any self-serving professional could hope for; how much easier it is to side with an opinion that never gets down amongst the dirty dirty of death, pools of violent blood, maimed limbs, war rape – and endlessly long queues of detachedly, hardly walking, eye-racked human beings.

It’s daft to repeat the obvious any more.  But here I go, right ahead, doing it anyway.  Politicians have a job; they see this clearly as their job; their job is to do and act out and perform what no one would ever do if they themselves had to get down amongst that dirty dirty.  The job of politicians (as seen by the politicians, as seen by those who act as their hangers-on, by those who live by what politicians do, by those who make a living from the actions that emerge from political discourse) is to take decisions that – always, everywhere and every time – are directly designed to damage a huge minority of the people (where not more successfully an actual majority) in the interests of an idea of some idiotic sort or other.

Ideas are such powerful diamond-like things to be turned around in the light.  They glitter and shine like daggers to the heart-like parts of humanity.  In a sense, then, politics involves the simply enabling of pain: dressing up pain, that is, in calm and collected speechifying in order that those who may suffer the consequences – generally that huge minority I mention above (where not the actual majority I also refer to) – understand, appreciate and more importantly resignedly accept the inevitability of the processes put into place.

Democracy isn’t just an “eye rack” any more; democracy isn’t just a standing on the ceremony of prejudice either.  Democracy is a cruel stamping on the everyday bunions of all those low-waged, unwaged, poorly-employed and under-employed people who no longer – even where it was ever the case (which I doubt) – find themselves in possession of the time to properly participate in society.

“Eye rack” is no longer just a dagger to the heart of international relations.  “Eye rack” is also what the brutalising effect of sanctioning the legal killing of so many men, women and children in far away places has had on our wider political class and the politicians who form a part of it.  When it finally becomes easy – and if not easy then certainly commonplace – to order from thousands of miles away the killing of collaterally innocent people, in the future (though highly unpredictable) interests of supposedly “better” societies, who wouldn’t find it far less of a tiresome chore to commit his or her own people to the simply corrosive violence of austerity?

Attacking the disabled is but one example of this: an example of where a generation of foreign violence has impacted the moral compass of a whole class of political operators to the extent that – as people are forced to take to food banks in their millions – these professional makers and shakers bat not an eyelid when they find themselves in government and with the power to affect circumstance; meanwhile, in opposition – as the counterparts of the first coldly allow such suffering citizens to be used as long-term strategic cannon fodder in two-, three- or even (now) four-way battles – the parties across the floor find themselves similarly unwilling to question the fundamental assumptions that led us here.

Life, humanity and societies are closed systems.  It’s mathematical, Mr Blair & Co.  And by Mr Blair & Co I mean all politicians, whatever their hue or cry.  You push and hurt those at this end; you’ll end up being equally pushed and hurt at the other.

In the end, violence begets violence.  Though sometimes the violent at the top of the pyramid get away with it long enough for the history books to end up truly loving them, cementing their positions in such a way that we are reminded more of the splayed hands of Hollywood stars than the concrete boots they’d formerly deserve.

That’s been the lesson of “eye rack” all along.  But in what they’ve called an information revolution, nothing has really changed at all.

Well, one thing has.

Violence has now become acceptable for the sophisticated.

Violence has now become a tool for the cosmopolitan.

Violence doesn’t make you bad any more.

Violence just makes you expediently efficient.

And what’s more, violence of all kinds and types and classes has ended up part and parcel of good governance in a way that was never the case before.

Certainly, never the case before this Coalition came along.

This Coalition, you understand, of the Willing Gagging.

Oct 132013

I tweeted this idly yesterday:

So what’s the punishment for corporate blackmail? Or is it simply not illegal, like so much out there? #EnergyPriceFreeze #BlackoutThreat

Essentially it would seem that, as a first horrible step, some of the energy companies themselves, and now their political nominees the Tories, are doing for the energy industry what the bankers have achieved for financial services: make latterday greed and laziness overtake a former efficiency and ingenuity.  By threatening the nation with energy blackouts down the line, they are committing serious and life-threatening blackmail on an industrial scale.  “If you don’t agree to higher prices as per our demands, we will guarantee that blackouts take place.”  No spirit of striving to do better against the odds; just promises to scrounge even more out of rapidly emptying pockets.  This luxury is not allowed for the sick, disabled and generally struggling: whilst the energy corporations can continue to run their cash cows, the rest of us have to use our natural nous – nous they would claim not to have – to battle our individual ways out of very individual miseries.

As Peter Tatchell reminded us a few hours ago:

UK national minimum wage up by 75% since 1998 but gas cost up 175%, bread up 146%. Poor being squeezed @UKuncut

And that is the cost of living crisis Ed Miliband’s Labour is now foregrounding.  That is the reason this energy blackmail is so disgraceful.  For, in truth, these cash-rich suppliers – even if right about possible blackouts – care zero, zilch, in no way at all about those individual families already forced to black out their homes due to the horrendous increases in the cost of basic needs such as food, housing and energy in particular.

Just like the Tories, this.  Just like the Tories of old.  Just as a spiralling private debt makes the levels of public debt less unacceptable, so permitting an ever-increasing private suffering through the food versus fuel dilemma makes public acknowledgement – ie mainstream-visible recognition - less necessary, less likely and less possible.

To summarise, then: those energy companies of a mind to be this cruel, and those Tories in political cahoots with such unkindnesses, terrify the defenceless with the thought of blacked-out freezing winters, where all of us must share – in the unavoidably public domain! – seasons of national discontent.  They demand, in exchange for secure supplies, exorbitant prices which, by the by, maintain their equally cash-rich shareholders happy.  They deliberately forget, ignore and brush under so many living-room carpets the fact that hundreds of thousands of families – maybe millions! – are already being forced to turn off the heating.

You idiots!  There’s little point in guaranteeing energy supplies to a wider public if too many of them simply cannot pay what you prefer to charge.  What kind of service is that?  What kind of economy does this?  Managing demand through pricing policies instead of strategically meeting supply?  Is that what we’re now at – even here?  Even in basic sectors such as fuel?  Even when people’s lives are at stake?

Let’s change the frame.  Let’s change the focus.  If the disabled have to make do with far less than is humanely reasonable, and even then must still battle fiercely not to tip over into poverty, despair and suicide, let us make it clear to the energy corporations that they must now equally use their ingenuity to protect our futures.

You’re not telling me, surely, that what a disabled person must strive to achieve in Cameron’s Britain is beyond the capability of a mighty British corporate organisation …  Oh.  But I forgot.  Not all of the energy companies are actually British.  Nor would they behave in exactly the same way in their own countries of origin.

Funny that, eh?  Bloody ROFL time.

Sep 292013

I recently wrote a post on the paradox whereby liberal democracy can carry within it the seeds of its own destruction.  The example quoted, from Paul over at Never Trust a Hippy, went thus:

Paul says these interesting things in his latest post:

I’ve often been asked about what happens when a new electoral process results in an illiberal government. I’ve been told that “if you promote liberal democracy, for example, in many countries in the Middle East, you create a situation whereby a totalitarian-ish Islamist party can take power”.

Surely this presents us with a paradox?

Well… no it doesn’t. If you hold an election, and the resulting constitutional settlement allows the winner to abolish, or rig, subsequent elections, then the election was not part of a process that could be described as ‘liberal democratic’ in the first place.

I remember the above, once more, as the Muppet Tory Party hold their annual hatefest in Manchester this week.  When, for example, I read stuff about David Cameron and Chris Grayling saying they’re looking to repeal the Human Rights’ Act, I am reminded of how challenging such broad-ranging measures are to our liberal sense of freedoms.  If historical Conservatism has any virtue at all, it is in its instinct to move cautiously when amending the fundamentals of any complex system.  You can never fully appreciate the long-term impact on anything when you rush fairly headlong into the matter.  Witness, if you will, New Labour’s initial steps towards NHS privatisation which have tragically laid the crazy-paving path of disaster the Tories are currently marching along and extending.

Using the law to undermine the law is a dangerous precedent of those who would forge and refashion worlds.  If politicians of this ilk like to criticise publishers such as the Murdochs and Assanges of our time for the megalomania they exhibit to ordinary people’s points of view, they might also care to examine their own impulses and attempts to change the terrible basics of human conflict and existence.

Politicians of this kind are little more than megalomaniacs of lever-pulling rule.  Only they believe – and this is the worst of it – that they do it, in the end, for our benefit.

For it is quite one matter when political parties like New Labour overwhelm us with legislation which builds on and furthers existing moralities.  We may agree with them or not; but they are existing, all the same.  In this, I think we can see that the beast was far more truly conservative than these current Tories.

It’s quite a separate matter, though, when you aim to upturn received opinion; when you look to drive a country down the alleyways of prejudice where its unkindest instincts lie.

And when you use the law to undermine  such received opinion, I honestly – sadly frankly – believe we are talking about little more than a de facto takeover of liberal democracy by those who would destroy its essence.

I can only repeat what I wrote in the piece I opened with this morning, where I rewrote my beloved Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

Let’s rewrite them, then, but this time specifically in order to define how liberal democracy must defend human beings:

  1. Liberal democracy may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. Liberal democracy must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. Liberal democracy must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Or, alternatively, and perhaps equally revealingly, to define how human beings should defend liberal democracy:

  1. A human being may not injure liberal democracy or, through inaction, allow liberal democracy to come to harm.
  2. A human being must obey the orders given to them by liberal democracy, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A human being must protect their own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

If only some of the puppets peopling Tory Party Conference this year would take note of the importance of defending those basic principles of freedom – principles we should hold far more dearly than we do – perhaps, then, we could reach some kind of productive consensus in our broken politics.

For that, in truth, is now where we’re at.  Some of our politicians, who represent us from election to election (but don’t seem really to represent anyone except themselves), see the rest of us through a prism of broken politics: for them, it is our society which is broken and their responsibility to sort it.  But in reality what’s broken is Westminster itself.  It’s not us they need to mend but their own sorry front door.

It’s not us who have burgled the House of State at all.  It’s some of these society-reforming busybodies who have forgotten the very English concept of taking people with you when you propose change.

It’s some of these politicians who believe the law’s primary purpose is to abruptly upend everything that came before, instead of building on good practice and better beliefs.

Using the law to undermine the law is anything but good politics, business or governance.  And in the end, it comes back to bite you in the backside.  But in the meantime, before it does, very many ordinary citizens will suffer the awful consequences.

That is the real tragedy of this dreadful Muppet Show.  That is the real tragedy of incompetent governors like Cameron & Co.  We suffer, they don’t – and all the while, the United Kingdom no longer will be.

Roll on One Nation is all I can say.  Even where this will only mean I can contemplate a tidy little England for myself.

Sep 082013

Here we have a Coalition which is anything but a partner with its people.  And do you wanna know exactly how easy it is to know what the Coalition’s playing at?  This easy!  Just listen carefully to what it accuses others of doing – and then you’ll find an example of government doing the same.

When it looks to smash the indignant feelings of an oppressed poor by accusing it of scrounging off the state, it quite happily services the needs of its political sponsors in large financial corporations to scrounge their way to profitability again.

And when it looks, brazenly, to eliminate extra-parliamentary protest, it acts, brazenly, to conduct the biggest campaign of government-sponsored extra-parliamentary governance in Britain’s history.

Well, I haven’t doublechecked all of Britain’s history – but, at least, the history I’ve lived in my lifetime.

From the latter link, this is what I said just over a year ago:

It seems to me that, more and more, supposedly democratically-elected governments are getting the dirty work of less than transparent policy-making carried out on their behalf by private industry.  This is, in a sense, a strategy of de facto governance where democracy is absented from the process.  It works in the following way: in exchange for negative publicity which, in any case, legions of legal departments can generally vanish into relative thin air, private industries of transnational sizes are awarded humongous public-sector contracts.  And as this is a business-to-business relationship – thick-skinned government to hard-sold corporate – public opinion is pretty irrelevant to either party.  A perfect way of removing the need for approval from irritatingly well-informed and tech-savvy end-consumers, who were in any case beginning to make the business of corporate capitalism so very complicated and unpredictable.

Instead of selling to end-users who pick and choose, the most foresighted corporations are now choosing to focus their attentions on governments which – for various untransparent reasons – prefer to pick and stick.

The corporates get stability in long-term contracts despite the voter flak.  The governments get to blame the corporates if anything too unpleasant comes to light.

A perfect exchange of complementary interests.

Which brings me to what I ended up saying then – sadly predicting the conditions for this ugly story, which rears its ugly head via Boing Boing just this Friday.  First, Boing Boing’s report (the bold is mine):

The only way to stop Internet users from accessing “bad” websites is to spy on all their Internet traffic (you have to look at all their traffic in order to interdict the forbidden sites). So it follows that any censorship system must also ban any privacy/security tools. The UK is raising a generation of Internet users who are told that “security” requires them to make their sensitive, personal information available to anyone who is listening in on the network, because otherwise they might see sexually explicit material. Instead of teaching kids how to stay safe online, the official UK Internet safety policy requires them to be totally naked in all their online communications.

In order to achieve this goal, the following is happening:

UK mobile providers, including O2 and its reseller GiffGaff, are blocking commercial VPN providers that help to secure sensitive communications from criminals, hackers and government spies. […]

You may ask what this really has to do with government.  After all, surely O2 and GiffGaff are sovereign bodies.  Well.  In the light of my post already quoted above, I’m not absolutely sure that this is the case.  As I concluded in August 2012 (the bold is mine today):

[…] We have a recent story on how mobile phone access to the Internet is controlled extra-judicially by the private sector here (from the Open Rights Group of which I am a member) as well as a story from my own archive on how copyright owners can quite literally – and quite easily – make websites invisible to all sensible intents and purposes.

In conclusion, the case of ATOS – and the issues its behaviours and processes apparently raise – are not really attributable to the company itself.  It is, rather, the government – deliberately employing it as a shield to hide public services from a proper democratic oversight – which is mostly to blame and which should be brought to book.

And by focussing our attention on crucifying a supplier – a supplier which, admittedly, appears to have substituted the disabled as direct customer of this sorry cohort of political actors we call the Coalition – we may be ignoring the much wider reality: that in disabled services, in welfare and health, in Internet freedoms, in law and order, communications and social media more generally, allegedly democratic governments across the world are working out how to circumvent democratic controls by using private-sector firewalls.

This is a new kind of anti-democratic governance.

A de facto governance.

A governance which our cowardly leaders have cleverly put together outside the democratic process – in order that trusting voters and citizens ignore the real reasons for their despair.

I wrote that just over a year ago – I think it, and much much more, still stands.

To catch a thief, no one better than a thief of course.  In that sense, there’s an argument that an immoral government knows best how to channel an immoral populace.

Not that there aren’t other problems this raises.

Who’s to argue the populace is essentially immoral, for starters?

But far better for modern governments is simply refuse to sign on the dotted line.  If parliamentary democracy – and representative democracy elsewhere – is becoming such an impossible task for governments to work efficiently with, why not place the responsibility for policy- and law-making on the shoulders of unelected bodies such as corporations?  For the government of the day, no legal flak; no media persecution; no irritating sessions examining the fine print of so much legal to-and-fro.

Just issue a populist edict via friendly media (anti-terrorism, anti-paedophilia, anti-porn in general) – and get rid of a whole raft of measures and consequent inspection regimes from the framework that should be Parliament.

The only problem with respect to the Internet in particular, of course, is that Cameron has recently been going on about Britain being the sixth-largest economy.

And I’m really not sure how long that’s going to last when companies and their customers realise all their communications must be naked.


Further reading: this .pdf file from Open Rights Group and the LSE makes for unhappily prescient reading.  Please read it and inform yourself.  Before it’s too late.

Even as it may already be.

Sep 072013

“Lavadora” is the Spanish word for “washing-machine”.  I’ve just woken up from a siesta, so it was the Spanish word which first came to mind when I read this story from the Guardian this afternoon:

One million of Britain’s lowest paid employees will be classed as “not working enough” and could find themselves pushed with the threat of sanctions to find more income under radical changes to benefits, the Department for Work and Pensions has said.

DWP internal documents seen by the Guardian reveal that people earning between £330 and around £950 a month – just under the rate of the national minimum wage for a 35-hour week – could be mandated to attend jobcentre meetings where their working habits will be examined as part of the universal credit programme.

Some of those deemed to be “not working enough” could also be instructed to take on extra training – and if they fail to complete tasks they could be stripped of their UC benefits in a move which departmental insiders conceded is controversial.

Now the above, I feel most strongly, is one of the wildest and most juggernauting examples of this government’s spin we’ve yet to witness in this Parliament.  Let’s examine, quickly, what it’s really aiming to do.

The government, rightly or wrongly, feels that it’s paying too much benefit to too many people.  It’d like to reduce what it pays out from month to month.  Imagine, however, the uproar it’d raise – even, perhaps, amongst its own supporters – if it suggested that anyone earning above 330 quid should have their rights, in the round, to access state benefits summarily withdrawn from their (“grasping/undeserving”) fingers.  Even those who’ve been fortunate enough never to experience rank poverty would find a headline figure like 330 difficult to stomach.  That’s a nice round number which easily matches a nasty filmic hovel of a renting experience – a hovel anyone, however rich or poor, could internalise in their consumerist mindscapes.

Then, of course, there’s the battle some are waging around not only not giving up on the minimum wage but – even – proposing the introduction of a “living” one.

Or, horror of horrors, do away with benefits altogether – and, instead, issue a flat-rate “citizen’s wage” for everyone who lives here, whatever their age or circumstance.

So how does the spin session – the “lavadora Britain” stratum (for it’s not just the government who’s choosing to play this game) – deal with this complex little conundrum?  Well, not much which the government hasn’t already done in the last three years.

Something go wrong with IT procurement?  Blame everyone and anything – but blame not oneself.  Parents feeding their children stuff which they really should know better not to?  Blame the parents, their lazy habits, their inability to care for their offspring properly – anything and everything, that is, except those who spend billions deliberately moulding our impulses.  Families not earning enough to get to the end of the month without state support?  Blame not their employers for paying too little; blame not the landlords for charging too much; blame not the food suppliers, the banks, the petrol companies nor the utility corporations for ripping off the British consumer (and all this, year after bloody toilsome year …).

No.  Let’s just think about it carefully.  Let’s just be a teensy-weensy bit cleverer than that.

What can we do instead of looking to re-establish some kind of properly free-market equilibrium?  What should we do instead of making capitalism something half-decent again?

[And so he hears himself laugh in a hollow and finally futile way.]

How about blaming the workers for their own penury?  Instead of aiming to fix capitalism so it’s no longer a licence to destroy ordinary people, instead of returning to some kind of honest baseline the sacred exchange of goods and services, how about we blame the workers – even more than before – for the rip-off Britain we’re all still struggling to value and abide by?

Great Britain, Mr Cameron?  You do bloody well have to be joking, right?

Washing-machine Britain, more like.  Washing-machine Cameron, in fact.  Now spinning at a disgraceful 2015 rpm.

Aug 232013

Trotsky is quoted as having argued:

A means can be justified only by its end.

There is a less well-known second half to this quote, though:

But the end in its turn needs to be justified.

Under Trotsky’s rationale, then, the ends justified the means – but the ends still needed debating first.  Under the Coalition’s, however, it would appear the means serve to justify the ends.  And so the ends, themselves, need no discussing at all.

Take, if you will, the case of the NHS.  As the service weights more and more patient needs towards a crumbling A&E provision, the government is privatising ever-greater swathes of the institution.  And whilst one might – for ideological reasons or otherwise – be for or against such a programme of privatisation, what no one can be happy with is the Coalition’s deliberate obfuscation of a direct line of ultimate responsibility (the bold is mine:)

“Reading headlines last week, such as ‘Struggling A&E units to get £500m bailout’ and ‘NHS managers to get price comparison website’, one might be forgiven for thinking that the current coalition government views the NHS as a failing bank or business,” [the Lancet, one of Britain’s most prestigious medical journals] said.

“This stance is one of the most cynical, and at the same time cunning, ways by which the government abdicates all responsibilities for running a healthcare system that has patient care and safety at its heart.”

The journal, which has been publishing on medical matters for almost 200 years, said the coalition’s NHS reforms meant the health secretary “no longer has a duty to provide comprehensive health services”, having handed over responsibility to a “complex system of organisations”.

“The exact responsibilities are at best complex, not easily understood, and at worst deliberately obfuscated. Who exactly is leading and to what end is even less clear,” it said.

Couple all the above with the realities of very real, grave and upsetting parliamentary conflicts-of-interest, and it becomes clear what we’re having to deal with here: essentially, the means – private ownership of everything from health to postal delivery to education to democracy itself – now justify the ends.  That the ends equal everything from increasing waiting-lists to the reintroduction of Section 28 in schools to the loss of the public right to demonstrate – in an extra-parliamentary manner – any disagreement with parliamentary behaviours, tendencies and legislation … well, this really does not matter in this post-Trotsky world: by making the means equivalent to the ends themselves, a substitute and replacement, we forge a perfect and invincible political circle.

Trotsky only knew the half of it.  He was too good a soul to believe the ends should remain unquestioned.  Cameron, on the other hand, is about as devilish as they come: he’s removed all requirements to even define or track them.


So.  There you have it.

On the day the European Union has set aside to remind us of the deaths on our continent under the regimes of Stalin and Hitler, perhaps we ought to be reminding ourselves more constantly of more recent history.

There’s tons of it about, at the moment.  And as we’ve now all become publishers and potentially visible presences on the web, we’ve now all become potential threats to be seen with grand and terrifying suspicion.  So the moneyed and wealthy turn in on themselves, and replace societal intelligence with a profound belief in individualistic and self-rewarding process.

Was this always going to be the destiny of democracy?  Could even Trotsky have imagined where freedom’s instincts might lead us?

From fracking to national security, all they care about is the dosh.  Absolutely no politician in power right now cares about what the dosh does.  And that, my dear friends and virtual colleagues, is more than a matter of indubitable interest: it’s a tragedy of democratic integrity and representation, writ humongously large.

Aug 202013

Wow!  A pretty miserable panorama.  Three stories I pick at random (not).  First, from 2010, the tying up of the House of Commons:

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 is part of plans agreed by the two parties to introduce five-year fixed-term parliaments.

An expert reaction at the time ran as follows:

Constitutional expert Peter Hennessy, of Queen Mary University of London University, told BBC News: “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.”

Under the deal with the Conservatives, Lib Dem MPs would be expected to vote with the government.

Second, from Sunday, the proposed banning – and perhaps even criminalisation – of organised extra-parliamentary action:

How will this gag work? At present the law restricts the spending of non-party groups on election campaigning. But the proposed law goes from providing reasonable rules to keep big money out of politics into a chilling attack on free speech.

Even informal local groups will be caught up in the new rules. Concerned about fracking in your village? Worried about proposals to close a hospital or build a road? Be very careful, you only have a limited ration of dissent in each constituency, and if you get overdrawn or even lose some receipts then you could face a police investigation. Are you a community group that organises a series of hustings but chooses to exclude extremist party candidates? Sorry, you are now considered to be election campaigners.

The bill, then, redefines what counts as electioneering. At present only materials and activities obviously targeted at shifting votes are capped. But anything that might change the mind of a voter will count as election campaigning in future. If you are critical of a government policy in the year before an election, that will count as election campaigning. If you are active against racism then you could be campaigning against far-right parties. Staff time will be included, so the wages of anyone who works on writing a critique of a policy or sends it to the media will count.

Finally, from today, Groklaw describes how the site can no longer continue under the unceasing revelations of permanent government surveillance (the bold is mine):

I hope that makes it clear why I can’t continue. There is now no shield from forced exposure. Nothing in that parenthetical thought list is terrorism-related, but no one can feel protected enough from forced exposure any more to say anything the least bit like that to anyone in an email, particularly from the US out or to the US in, but really anywhere. You don’t expect a stranger to read your private communications to a friend. And once you know they can, what is there to say? Constricted and distracted. That’s it exactly. That’s how I feel.

So. There we are. The foundation of Groklaw is over. I can’t do Groklaw without your input. I was never exaggerating about that when we won awards. It really was a collaborative effort, and there is now no private way, evidently, to collaborate.

I’m really sorry that it’s so. I loved doing Groklaw, and I believe we really made a significant contribution. But even that turns out to be less than we thought, or less than I hoped for, anyway. My hope was always to show you that there is beauty and safety in the rule of law, that civilization actually depends on it. How quaint.

As I sadly concluded only yesterday:

Yes.  This is indeed a police state.  A state which forgets so many of the lessons of the Nuremberg Trials.  A state which no longer believes in right and wrong but, instead, in legal and illegal.  […]


When a Home Office spokesperson says it’s the police who must decide, and not Parliament nor appropriate individuals with the corresponding obligation to oversee what the police are doing, we know what – inside the Home Office – people really think.

And what they think is we already live a de facto police state.

This is, as I say above, a profound betrayal of what once could have been a secularism of real and ennobling choice.  But in the absence of that God who might look over and remind us of what we should do, we have this overriding anti-Nuremberg remittance to the concepts of legal and illegal above all.

We’ve forgotten entirely about those universal human rights.  Right and wrong have been substituted everywhere with very poor hand-me-down cousins.

Universal doesn’t exist any more.

So what does this game, set and Coalition match really consist of?  Well.  As far as I can see, several stages spread out over time:

  1. Ensure they have the House of Commons (ie ourselves) by the balls, by rewriting the rules in the strictest terms possible.
  2. Ensure our resulting urge to extra-parliamentary action in the offline world can only be conducted in terms of parliamentary rules, now rewritten.
  3. Ensure, through several means and tools (from virtual porn filters which knock out blogs like my own to libel actions that chill a wider population into a distracted self-censoring half-silence), that extra-parliamentary action in the online world is so controlled by government and state-security apparatuses as to make it virtually impossible to speak your mind without feeling you might, by association, incriminate your readers, commenters, friends and followers.

That’s it, isn’t it?  The beginning of the end.  You have no representation in Parliament worth talking about; your right to organise outside Parliament is to likely be criminalised; and, finally, even your late-night and oft-disparaged blogged meanderings must eventually be discouraged in one way or another.

For it’s quite clear, as I also suggested yesterday, that a democracy which spreads crap liberally around is anything but a liberal democracy.

We used to strive so hard to be the latter.  These days, we do little more than suppurate as the former.

In so many ways and at so many levels, this is a direct and premeditated attack on 21st century participatory instincts and environments.  An attack on the natural direction of history.  An attack on everything our universally educated population was led to expect.  And if this is to be game, set and Coalition match, by its very nature we can equally see it’s going to be anything but cricket.

Jun 062013

On the subject of welfare, I have the following to say:

  1. When a system breaks down because the wealthy have buggered up, you don’t have the right to blame the system’s victims.
  2. Demonising poor, sick and disabled people is evil under all circumstances.
  3. Lying about statistics is an act of intellectual criminality.
  4. Manifesting incompetence in the face of severe socioeconomic crisis is an act of unaffordable luxury.
  5. Not being honest about one’s failings is stupidity squared – and infuses in absolutely no one the otherwise necessary confidence which our society needs to properly function.

To blame welfare for the crisis we’re suffering from – as well as arguing it needs to be controlled in order to recover a semblance of economic normality – is like saying you can have an overdraft facility, which, by the by, they charge you for, exactly when you don’t want it, and then withdrawing it precisely at the moment you go overdrawn.

(This, by the way, once happened to me.  I shall never forget the moment.  I shall always remember, from that moment on, how it coloured my view of life – and banks in particular.)

But then that is how politicians, business leaders and hangers-on various – who don’t do or need welfare personally at all – all prefer to see the lie of the land.

We’ll charge you for welfare until and unless you actually need it.  And then, particularly if it is our fault, we will take away what is becoming in our eyes a disproportionate right to access it.

Never mind that the suffering is more than equal to its disproportionate access.  Never mind that disproportionate access is symptomatic of terrible suffering.

To cap it all, let’s go and cap welfare.  Sounds much less painful – don’t you think? – than capping people.

Yes.  Kind of like capping the knees of the most defenceless.  And whoever needed to care at all when those that hobbled were the least vocal in society?