Aug 012013
 
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I’ve noticed over the past couple of weeks a growing cynicism in my public expressions.  I’m currently on holiday, so you’d hardly expect it.  That Cameron wishes to limit our access to the Internet even as his mates in the security services are increasing theirs may have nothing – or everything – to do with it.

This morning, however, I felt I outdid even my most recent outpourings in this radically unhappy tweet:

So fracker corps will end up poisoning our water table in order that water corps may hike the price of the bottled stuff. #symbiosis

What’s behind such gross bad faith on my part?  What drives me to make such wearisome connections?  Where’s the good in even trying?

Interesting questions, all.

And I am reminded of an experience I had a couple of years before I left the banking corporation I previously worked for.  In 2008, it was forcibly taken over by another banking corporation of similar size, as a result of the broader financial crisis which assailed us all that year.  Whilst our corporation had spent a lot of time and energy implementing the concept of leadership at all levels, the one which took us over had a far more traditionally American view (as I think befitted its CEO of the time) of how hierarchies should be organised.  In this case, the index they used to measure employee satisfaction was termed “engagement”.

Essentially, how closely identified employees were with everything the company allegedly stood for.

So it was that engagement surveys became the flavour of the quarter.  Everyone had to do them.  In some cases (not my department’s I hasten to add), it was said that bosses looked over employee shoulders to ensure the right answers were given.  In other cases (yes, here my department was guilty), chocolate bars were strategically located next to the workstations in question in order to encourage buen rollo.  Of course, the reason for all this dysfunctional behaviour was because the results of the surveys were tied to our bosses’ KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) – and therefore, inevitably, to their yearly bonuses.  Who wouldn’t, under such circumstances, try to influence the aforementioned surveys?

Bosses, after all, are only human.

Even where mere Level 1 workers must strive (robotically) not to be.

Anyhow, in the first year or so of the new regime’s existence, engagement ratings went quickly through the roof.  Whilst the trades unions transmitted one kind of message from the grapevine and grassroots, management got quite another impression of what was happening.  They, quite naturally, were delighted with their data – and promptly proceeded to ignore the perceptions of the unions.

It took another year or so before the misfit between survey-land and reality became even moderately clear to the executives.

So why do I mention all the above today?  Because it’s a clear example of the slow but sure extinction of engagement.  And it’s a dangerous extinction to boot.  Partly because the people best placed to resolve the issues are the people most blind to them.  Partly because the damage done to worker morale, trust and good faith is so difficult and costly to repair.

Looked at more widely, then, it seems to me that our society is going through a similar process.  While popular acquiescence to government diktat and corporate imposition makes those at the top believe they can get away with anything, and whilst sales figures and opinion polls show little dramatic change, deep down under the surface of public perception, not even publicly commented on any more, a desultory resignation is taking hold.

A huge and destructively long-term process of disengagement has been initiated.  Only an omniscient figure of economically God-like proportions can predict, right now, where it will lead us in the end.

I am not that figure.

But I can tell you, right now, that if banking corporations are anything to go by, society’s spying on the answers we give on the one hand and the cheeky provision of branded bribes on the other can only lead our shakers and makers to a place of massive misunderstanding.

The slow but sure extinction of engagement leaves behind it little DNA to recover the species.

Engagement isn’t a woolly mammoth but, rather, a thoughtful and fragile indicator of human interaction.

And no amount of chocolate bars will make such interaction any more real – even as they may serve, for a while, to soften the sorry blow of societal deception.


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May 102013
 
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This report from the Independent today shows us just how far we have come.  Whilst Tory Euro-sceptics continue to plot final disavowal of that evil anti-British entity that we all know and love as the European Union, we get these choice phrases on the corruption Britain is finally now exhibiting all on its lonesome:

Yet recent British scandals can compete with the best Europe can offer. Besides MPs fiddling their expenses and Jimmy Savile’s history of paedophilia, racing has been hit by Frankie Dettori’s six-month drugs ban, we’ve seen London-based banks Barclays and UBS embarrassed by the Libor rate-fixing scandal, and BAE Systems has been investigated over its arms deals.

And yet it gets worse, as goalposts are continuously moved:

[...] “There is no real accountability of these guys coming in—the cops don’t really investigate them,” says Mark Hollingsworth, co-author of Londongrad, a 2009 book about the Russian invasion. “They see the capital as the most secure, fairest, most honest place to park their cash, and the judges here would never extradite them.”

Meanwhile, with respect to the paedophilia scandals, the desire of power to overwhelm through the abuse of sex just gets worse (more here):

A prominent barrister specialising in reproductive rights has called for the age of consent to be lowered to 13.

Barbara Hewson told online magazine Spiked that the move was necessary in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal to end the “persecution of old men”.

Now in a short Twitter exchange this morning it was brought to my attention that the problem isn’t immorality.  In fact, the problem may not even be corruption as such.  Rather, so much of what we do in both large and small corporate organisations is done with a transcendental amorality.  We are circumscribed by process and procedure – and we assume the bigger view is not ours to own.  We assume that those who set up process and procedure knew what they were doing when they trained us.

Yet this very amorality, this unquestioning behaviour, this inability to think from scratch and try and perceive – on a rolling basis – a broader set of consequences from our acts, leads to outcomes which are anything but amoral.  We ourselves are not immoral – most of us are truly not corrupt – but the accumulation of all our individual tasks does seem to lead more and more to utterly unjust outcomes.

Is it then a systemic question as the Independent reports it might be?  Or is it a question of people-culture?  After all, you can have any number of protective processes and procedures in place but if the people who are supposed to operate them are of a mind to, any and all may quite easily – and eventually – be circumvented.

The battlecry for the anti-Europeans is that Europe is a dirty patchwork of vile and corrupt marshes we need to retreat from.  And yet recent attempts to drag us out of such fields only makes me wonder if the true powers-that-be are looking more to defend their own rights to perpetuate a very British corruption from international law and wider socially-inspired movements than to revert what was apparently once an honest public life to a semblance of modest functionality.

Corrupt or “just” amoral?  Does it really matter in the final analysis?  The evidence of the impact of widespread corruption – that is to say, inefficient and ineffective socioeconomic systems – is all around us.  You don’t need to drill down into that individual or the other to know that the inefficiency and ineffectiveness I mention must be inspired by something seriously wrong.

Solutions?  Lord, I really don’t know.  I really don’t know where to start.  But perhaps we should take a lesson from the best corporate organisations: when you struggle to know the true extent of the bigger picture, start with bitesized pieces.  And maybe, just maybe, attempt to comprehend that just as those poor workers were trapped and died in the rubble of a Bangladeshi building, so too many people here in the West – whilst not losing their lives – are wasting their existences in systems which also, in a way, serve to entrap them.

Just because you act in an amoral fashion doesn’t make you immoral.  Even as, perhaps, the results of your actions are.

There’s a lesson to be drawn there, then, about how we see, consult and work with others.

Maybe it’s time we thought the best of our fellow workers.  And acted in consequence.


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Feb 272013
 
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Time to be totally honest about this.  I’m officially diagnosed – have been for most of my life – both epileptic and paranoid schizophrenic.  I’m not quite sure about the second diagnosis – my doctor refuses politely to revisit it any more.  But I have been – and still am – dependent on expensive medication in order that I might function.

Without it, I would at the very least be having multiple fits every day of my life.

This, therefore, has profoundly shocked me – not only shocked me but revolted and disgusted me:

[In Greece, hundreds] of drugs are in short supply and the situation is getting worse, according to the Greek drug regulator. The government has drawn up a list of more than 50 pharmaceutical companies it accuses of halting or planning to halt supplies because of low prices in the country.

More than 200 medicinal products are affected, including treatments for arthritis, hepatitis C and hypertension, cholesterol-lowering agents, antipsychotics, antibiotics, anaesthetics and immunomodulators used to treat bowel disease.

The Guardian goes on to report that:

Chemists in Athens describe chaotic scenes with desperate customers going from pharmacy to pharmacy to look for prescription drugs that hospitals could no longer dispense.

The government list includes some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca. Pfizer, Roche and Sanofi all said a few products had been withheld. GSK and AstraZeneca denied the claims.

So why are the drugs being withheld?  It would appear that traders as well as wider corporate greed are both, once more, at the heart of our problems:

“Companies are ceasing these supplies because Greece is not profitable for them and they are worried that their products will be exported by traders to other richer countries through parallel trade as Greece has the lowest medicine prices in Europe,” said Professor Yannis Tountas, the president of the Greek drug regulator, the National Organisation for Medicines.

I’m truly sorry for the language I’m about to use here but I see no other way of expressing my rage.

On second thoughts, nothing in the English language fully expresses the way I feel right now.

*

Of course, you’ll be thinking, and I bet you are, Greece is one of those reasonably faraway countries we like to nastily describe as PIGS.  Which, in truth, says far more about ourselves than any unfortunate object of our prejudices.

Only, quite interestingly, this acronym has been expanded on two occasions – and can occasionally be now seen even as PIIGGS.  Yes.  Great Britain is joining the band of merry men and women whose sociopolitical and economic environments do unpleasant things to their peoples in the name of financial probity.  Looking for examples?  Try this one, again from the Guardian tonight:

The acrimonious debate over soaring energy bills and mounting fuel poverty reignited when British Gas – the biggest energy supplier in the UK – unveiled an 11% increase in profits and its parent group, Centrica, promised a £1.3bn handout to its shareholders just months after pushing through an increase in household bills.

Campaign groups warned that 160,000 children had been dragged into fuel poverty by the actions of the big six energy suppliers since 2010, while trade union bosses accused energy chiefs of “creaming off” profits. Dividends of more than £3.5bn have now been paid out by Centrica over the last five years. Anger was exacerbated by confirmation that Phil Bentley, British Gas’s managing director, will stand down with a combined pay and pension package worth more than £10m.

Curious, isn’t it?  After the credit-crunch years, and as all those little shareholders of people’s-capitalism fame found their investments slipping like sand through their once expectant and optimistic fingers, so the big corporate blue chip companies – riding out the storm – have begun to handsomely reward not only their managerialist executives but also their cleverly deep-pocketed gargantuan corporate investors.

As people’s capitalism went into reverse gear, so the corporates learnt to bide their time.

As people’s capitalism lost the support of the people, so the brutal corporations remembered how to keep their resources ever closer to their (war) chests.

And all of the above on the backs of 160,000 children.

All of the above on the backs of the most poverty-stricken.

Brute corporate force, exerted brutally – is this really what we deserve?

Transnational pharmaceutical companies which hold cancer patients, schizophrenics, heart-condition sufferers and people with depression to the kind of ransoms only bastard kings would ever consider.

Energy conglomerates which pile the pain on every winter as they force the poor and elderly to choose between food and fuel.

Where the HELL is your HUMANITY, for Christ’s sake?  Where the HELL is your SHAME?  Where the HELL did you leave your CHARITY?

Where the HELL do you THINK this will LEAD you in the end?

Or IS this HELL we already inhabit?


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Feb 092013
 
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The Observer reports tonight on a story which will no doubt run and run (in an equine sense if no other):

Sources close to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Food Standards Agency said it appeared that the contamination of beefurgers, lasagne and other products [with horsemeat] was the result of fraud that had an “international dimension”.

Substitute some of the actors with our friends in the financial services community – even the Financial Services Authority shares the same TLA with the Food Standards Agency – and you’ll see why I’m beginning to get the feeling that horsemeat DNA on a criminal scale bears an uncanny resemblance to Libor fixing on a criminal scale.  In both cases, it would seem that insiders have been stuffing outsiders – and the outsiders have been suffering the consequences, generally unknowingly.  A mafia is a mafia, however genteel or besuited it may show itself to be.  We are, it would appear, in the grip of such mafias.

In fact, to state – as the Observer does in its headline – that the “Horsemeat scandal [is] blamed on international fraud by mafia gangs” is just a tad disingenuous: it may be true, of course, but a) it doesn’t half let the government and the regulatory authorities off the hook of ultimate responsibility and b) it doesn’t half beg the question why whoever’s doing the blaming didn’t realise this any earlier.

The process and sequence of events is exactly the same as that which assailed us during the 2008 credit crunch.  All of it essentially down to light-touch regulatory mindsets which believe stupidly in the magical powers of utterly unleashed corporate environments: environments which start out – in our hopeful and ever-optimistic politico-economic models – as virtuous circles of efficient business, only to end up being populated with dysfunctionally greedy individuals, systemic failures no one could have predicted or even – as in this case – Eastern European mafias.

The all-too-predictable result of a hands-off and responsibility-abdicating approach to the business of government and governance.

By trusting the market to run itself, by not inspecting the opportunities for greed and irresponsible behaviours, by believing that organised crime won’t care to get involved in the daily operation of customer choice, these latterday governments of ours are destroying the very integrity of our economic checks and balances.

And that their mentality should argue that customers vote freely with their purchases every day of the blessed week is appalling in the extreme: whilst we cannot take our own personal DNA testers to every prepared meal, and prick them and poke them before every purchase, we are at the mercy of those processes we should surely have every right to trust.

The Independent concludes in the following way its report on the obfuscation currently at play:

‘Bute’ aside, the unlabelled horse may indeed be safe to eat. But that’s not to say that people wanted to eat it, nor, more importantly, that anyone in the food supply system was aware of the existence of what seems to have been a massive undetected fraud.

It was just the presence of an unknown substance –  prions that caused BSE (and the ensuing complacency and cover-up) – that led to a collapse in confidence in British farming.

Judging by the events and attitudes of the last few weeks, the lessons have not been learnt.

Not learnt indeed.  That is all too clear.

But what’s even more clear to me tonight is that business today, whether white collar or abattoir, needs a massive kick up the backside from about as fearsome and heavy-touch legislative and inspection regimes as we can possibly manage to invent and devise.

If for no other reason than to guarantee the safety of hapless human beings in a complex and interdependent century – human beings who still don’t come complete or supplied with their own portable laboratories.

A market for cheap and easy-to-use DNA testers then?

Perhaps the need is wider than that.  Maybe the market that’s really waiting to be exploited is for an algorithmic comparer of prices and products, which automatically suggests the potential presence of fraudulent behaviours in any supply chain.

For until we as consumers get far more access to information about what goes on behind the scenes in such B2B transactions, there is little we can do but to resign ourselves to further and ever-increasing fraud in banking, technology and food products various.


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Nov 282012
 
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I saw two documentaries on BBC Four last night.  One was on the subject of how the Dark Ages weren’t – and boy, how they weren’t!

The other was on the subject of the two Park Avenues to be found in New York:

740 Park Avenue – an exclusive apartment building in Manhattan – is currently home to more billionaires than any other building in the United States. Less than five miles to the north is another Park Avenue in the South Bronx, where almost 40 per cent live in poverty and life prospects are less promising for those stuck at the bottom of the American pile. As international attention focuses on the US elections, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney looks at inequality in the US through the prism of these two, near-adjacent places, to ask if America is still the land of opportunity.

“There’s always been a gap between the wealthiest in our society and everyone else, but in the last 30 years something changed: that gap became the Grand Canyon,” says Gibney. Through the story of the two Park Avenues, he argues that the extreme wealth of a few has been used to impose their ideas on the rest of America. By focusing on the residents of 740 Park, he asks questions about the influence of CEOs in Washington in return for tax policies that favour the ultra-rich. What chances do those at the bottom of the ladder have for upward mobility? Can someone who starts life on Park Avenue in the South Bronx end up living on Park Avenue in Manhattan?

Through archive and interviews with academics, political scientists, psychologists, former lobbyists and even a former doorman at 740 Park, Gibney’s film is a polemical look at the socio-economic political landscape of contemporary USA.

Whilst the former documentary left a wonderful taste in my mouth, the latter only served to savagely depress me.  Mainly because it showed me exactly how the 740 Park Avenue dilemma is destroying our belief in what – in other circumstances – would clearly be seen as a tool for all our futures.

Human beings are social beings.  More than anything, we love, and operate at our best when, working with masses of other people like ourselves; masses of people we can spark off; masses of people we can rub up against in productive cultural dissonance.  In the light of such a reality, corporations would in any parallel universe we might inhabit be our very best and happy friends.  As it is, their virtues have been terribly corrupted by their medieval and pyramidal structures – and by those who have managed to ensure there are only greasy poles to climb.  Atop what could be innovative and civilisation-rescuing environments, we have the kind of immoral and stupidly selfish short-term grafters of capitalist idiocies such as those the 740 Park Avenue documentary describes.

But don’t take my word for it.  Watch it on BBC iPlayer whilst you still can.  And then you’ll see exactly what I mean.

The grand and massive virtues and potentials of corporate organisation at its very best – the ability of institutions with hundreds of thousands of workers to generate positive outcomes for a wider society – are all being destroyed by corrupting behaviours at the very highest levels.  It’s not the idea of corporations that should terrify us: the future of humanity should, in fact, be corporate.  No.  It’s their implementation that is making our lives a real misery.

In my very humble opinion, it’s time we recovered corporations for our own – that is to say, humanity’s – rather longer-term purposes and needs.

I suppose the only question, really, is whether it’s now just too late.

Can we channel the corruption and save the body societal?  Or is the corruption an inevitable consequence of what it is to be a corporation?

Personally, I don’t think so.

Personally, I think corporations – at their best – can be marvellous mechanisms to behold.

Personally, I hope it’ll be possible to rescue from their terrible terrible leaders the bodies of knowledge which corporate organisations everywhere – which is to say, ordinary people like you and me – strive to implement for the betterment of their teams, objectives, wider goals and – maybe – even moral imperatives.

Personally, I do believe the future of humanity could still be corporate.

But only if we resolve the 740 Park Avenue dilemma.

And Lord only knows how we might do that.


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Oct 122012
 
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That’s what the BBC used to say.  I might even a hazard a guess that it’s what Britain as a country used to say.

But there’s a tradition out there – or perhaps I should say behind the scenes – whereby what we say and do on our drives and front gardens, and in full view of our next-door neighbours, is quite different to what we do and say when hidden away behind closed doors.

A story from the Guardian this evening on the Jimmy Savile scandal – which now threatens to engulf not only the aforementioned BBC but the government itself – reminds me of such a contradiction.  Thus – domino-like – our most hallowed institutions fall: some of our MPs; some of our ministers; some of our governments; some of our best-selling newspapers; some people in our public service broadcasting corporation; some of our police forces; some people in our security services … as well as far too much of that innocence and moral superiority we used to believe our birthright – in particular, as that incorruptible island off a terribly foreign and wicked continent.

So as a nation we were careful to speak peace unto nations – even as we looked down our moral noses at their inability to really get democracy.

Just look at us now.  From the Guardian piece linked to above:

Liz Dux, a partner at Russell Jones & Walker in London and an expert in personal injury and child abuse cases, revealed on Friday that she was acting for a number of woman who want to sue the BBC and Stoke Mandeville hospital on the grounds of vicarious liability. With 340 lines of inquiry, the threat of legal action is expected to spread to other institutions where Savile made official charity visits.

Dux said it could also reach the government: “The government is not immune in civil litigation. It would absolutely be no different to sue the government.”

Health ministers and civil servants are hastily trying to establish the management structures at the hospital between 1959, when the one-time Victorian prison became part of the NHS under the Mental Health Act of that year, and 2001, when the government no longer had direct responsibility for its running.

In fact, you’d have thought at such a stage that health ministers and civil servants would be more focussed on hastily trying to establish where and when the alleged abusive acts took place than in looking to work out how to minimise their masters’ responsibilities.  But maybe that’s exactly part of the problem of corporate structures in general.

More on this in a minute.

*

Some, of course, I’m sure, are looking to take advantage of the revelations to beat the BBC more generally into a corner.  It does beg the question why those best-selling newspapers which were clearly hacking into celebrities’ phones and computers over the past two decades didn’t choose to reveal any of Savile’s alleged abuse earlier.  Quite the opposite in fact: he was always praised highly for his charity work.

But the lesson I’d mainly care to draw is how very inefficient pyramidal structures are proving to be in almost all areas of human activity: from Rupert Murdoch’s charismatic leadership where awful things were to happen without him being told a single thing to financial-sector institutions which tumbled simultaneously to the ground as risky investments overtook billions of dollars of alleged assets.  No wonder those politicians of ours who model themselves on such similar ways of doing are finding it so difficult to lead us out of the wilderness thus created.

What’s really going wrong is all this hierarchy.

Take note, if you don’t believe me, of the following litany of recent crimes – alleged or otherwise:

  1. Ninety-six football fans dying in a stadium and spending decades suffering at the hands of injustice
  2. MPs stealing from the taxpayer via their expenses’ claims
  3. Banking systems collapsing around us whilst those responsible escape punishment almost without exception
  4. Police receiving bribes in exchange for information
  5. Police offering bribes in exchange for information
  6. Newspaper employees destroying people’s right to privacy
  7. Unreported sexual abuse spreading throughout corporate structures and under the noses of government authorities
  8. Revolving doors sending ministers and MPs into private industry and private industry into government
  9. Privatisation by the back door of huge swathes of the public sector taking place in full view of an aghast public

And we could go on, couldn’t we? Yes, we could.

So what ties all the above together then?  Well, I’d argue it was that compartmentalisation of responsibilities which allows individual culpability to be diluted in a multitude of shared acts and lines of command.  That corporate mindset which says we must limit ourselves to our immediate circle of tasks and processes and not question anything else which takes place above us.

From banking to government to sex abuse to the media, pyramidal institutions are killing our society, our morality and our entire body politic.

How much more damage will we let them inflict on us – these throwbacks to medieval times – before we finally accept enough is enough?  Before we properly look to organise ourselves in more efficient, and more characteristically, 21st century ways?  Before we understand there are far better ways to run corporate structures than this heavy-handed – and rankly inefficient – positioning of silver-tongued salespeople atop all these unstable relationships?

*

“Nation shall speak peace unto nation.”  Not just a BBC motto.  A British way of thinking.

And I agree, it’s the best way; it’s one of the prime goals we should aim to achieve.

But before a nation can speak peace unto another in all honesty, it must first know how to speak the truth to itself.

And quite clearly, right now, in the United Kingdom of David Cameron, the truth is evermore beyond our hapless reach.  For once, I don’t blame him.  For once, it’s not all his fault.  For once, it’s a whole culture – an almost bacterial culture of evil growth – which finds itself under the microscope of terrible indignation.

But where we can choose to rightly blame him is in his growing incapacity to identify the gravity and pattern of our situation; the reasons why.  To paraphrase a recent slogan, we really can’t go on like this.

The process we need to follow?  Accept, first, the awfulness of our current position.  Accept the immoral inefficiency of our structures.  Accept the need to change how we do things across the whole of society and business.

And accept the need to build from an absolute sense of truth – because only from truth will reconciliation ever follow.


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Aug 172012
 
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There’s a fascinating interview in the Guardian today with the screenwriter and director of the latest Bourne film.  This is the paragraph that really catches my eye on what the auteur in question really thinks on the subject of corporations (the bold is mine):

“It’s not good for landlords to not live in the neighbourhood. That’s the problem with corporations – there’s no one home. You have this shell that is unaccountable. And yet at the same time there is somebody that sits in a dispatch office and says: I know that truckload of products is defective but I have to meet my quota.’ That’s the moment when the human leakage sets in. I’m not sure we’re evolutionarily ready to have corporations; I’m not sure they’re a weapon we deserve.

This is an extraordinary take on the problems we’re all having with the figure of corporate bodies – whether, that is, we work in them, work under them, work despite them or work against them.

Is perhaps the problem here that 21st century corporate figures will become, shortly down the line, the next Darwinian level up from human beings themselves?  And are we currently suffering from the anteroom of that gear shift – where corporations are creating themselves on the backs of human beings, despite the latter’s congenital inability to be moral in moments of great temptation?

That is to say, it’s not corporate bodies which pose the greatest problems; it’s not even systemic abuse caused by environments which predispose us to doing evil.  Rather, it’s our own humanity which leads us to take an unjustifiable and inappropriate advantage of the grand power that corporations are in theory able to afford us.

The corporations aren’t blundering elephantine destroyers, after all.  Instead, it is ourselves who find we are not up to the challenges of working together with another species: a species which has come to replace us in all its organisational flair.

Maybe the best corporations are the ants of this century: equipped with a merciless ability to disregard all personal consequences alongside an organic capacity to learn from individual mistakes.

So will we end up being replaced by automated corporates which replace our sinful selves with algorithms and computed exchanges?  It’s a possibility, I’m sure.  But it would be a negation of what it is to be human. The right to make mistakes; the liberty to pick and choose.  This is what makes us what we have been.

Curious, then, how we all feared that a dehumanisation as mentioned above would finally come from the mid-20th century Communist states – only for corporate capitalism to demonstrate that it is far more suited to the task of gutting our most precious freedoms.

Evolution doesn’t always mean life gets better.

Certainly not for the species being replaced.

And anyone who tries to tell you that survival of the fittest is the way forward probably has a very good reason for doing so.

Very good, that is, in the sense of very bad.


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May 112012
 
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I’ve been helping my son revise one of his history exams recently.  One of the subjects covered less efficiently by his school has been the time of Henry VII – the so-called administrative king.  I say less efficiently because the coursebook chosen has no revision materials from any of the conventional publishers to cover the period in question.

I had to phone up the school late last week and insist that they bought expensive photocopiable materials my son managed, after an extended search, to unearth on the Internet – in order that at least something may be saved of the year.

So, sadly, that is why my son hates that part of the history course this year – and is determined not to continue through to A-levels next year.  Even though he is consistently getting a B in his AS-level mock exam results.

And even though the civil rights’ movement and Stalin is something that truly fascinates him, and would clearly engage him intellectually throughout the second half of the course.

And it’s really sad, because as I helped him through his densely written revision notes it seemed to me that a lot of the behaviours in Henry VII’s reign are reflected in latterday politics.  This, for example:

Although Henry can be credited with the restoration of political stability in England, and a number of commendable administrative, economic and diplomatic initiatives, the latter part of his reign was characterised by a financial rapacity which stretched the bounds of legality. According to the contemporary historianPolydore Vergil, simple “greed” in large part underscored the means by which royal control was over-asserted in Henry’s final years.[1]

In a sense, then, the achievement of this current Coalition government of ours is to avoid the commendable stuff mentioned above and go straight to self-enrichment as a reason for all they do.  They have, in two short years, conflated the natural cycle of political rise-and-fall to a simple hubris of monumental proportions – a hubris none of us could have anticipated.

It may, after all, be true that this government is no more corrupt than previous governments.  Yet why we truly resent their corruption lies in the fact that even as they enrich themselves in much the same way as modern managerialists do so the world over, they fail to deliver the minimum of wider improvements for a society now cast in the role of street beggars.

The social compact is utterly shredded.

“Live and let live” as a guiding philosophy for class interaction a mere chimera on the horizon of a foolish abdication of all sense of propriety.

Perhaps the instinct was there at some time in the past, as these wannabe greasy-pole-climbing businesspeople fashioned themselves in the image of professional politicos – but the flesh, being so very weak, has dampened their enthusiasm for true, honest and radical change.

Yes.

I am inclined to believe we now do resent this government its corruption much more than any other government in the past – mostly and precisely because we receive nothing in exchange.  Their corruption is so excluding that our corruption has no chance.  The bribing of vast sectors of the voting public by one or the other of the major political parties has reached a political cul-de-sac  – as those who are currently on top realise they need bribe no one any more who does not already belong to their circle.

So it is we receive that nothing-in-exchange – except, of course, the misery of a future entirely without hope.

Which is surely what now is to await those citizens who believed in and practised the conditional politics our society so depended on.  In a sense, it was our fault for allowing them to implement the mechanisms of pork-barrel politics in the first place.  If we had spent the last thirty years voting with an adult sense of efficiency and probity, we would have got a body politic of the same characteristics.  As it is, we have allowed the corrupting business classes (not all the business classes by any means, of course) to become so politically powerful these days that jettisoning the baggage which is voter opinion has become a quite practical and attractive option.

“No longer do British politicians need to suck up to their electorates.”  A fair enough epitaph for all our political gravestones perhaps?


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Mar 262012
 
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I’ve just received an email from 38 Degrees called “Dinner with David Cameron”.  For a bizarre moment, I thought it was an invite to yours truly, an old almost-Witney boy himself, to cuddle up to the flavour of the political month.

It wasn’t though.

The email itself, amongst other things, pointed out the following:

Dear Miljenko,

Yesterday, we got yet another glimpse of how corrupt our political system is. The co-treasurer of the Conservatives was filmed giving a rare honest account of how lobbying can work. Donate enough money and you get to have dinner with the Prime Minister.[1]

That’s probably not most people’s idea of a great night out, but the Tory treasurer was in no doubt it would pay off. “It’ll be awesome for your business”, he said.

A ban on secret lobbying would help weed out this kind of sleaze. New rules could force politicians to reveal who they’re meeting and what they talked about. That’s why 38 Degrees members have been campaigning to bring in these rules for ages.

After the MP expenses scandal, public pressure pushed all the parties to make big promises about tackling lobbying. But now it’s time to write the new rules, Cameron has come up with weak rules that won’t solve the problem.[2]

If we speak up together now, we can push him to go much further and bring in a real ban, not just a token gesture. Can you take 30 seconds to sign a petition demanding a ban on secret lobbying?

I think they’ve all got it wrong, though.  In fact, I think the Tories got it wrong when Francis Maude was made a sacrificial lamb to their cause.  They should have called on Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Workfare and Old-Aged Misery – I’m sure it would have been easier for him to argue the whole wretched affair was a wizard wheeze to give practical experience in entrepreneurship to those who might need it.

The truth of the matter – and here, I’m going to be absolutely even-handed – is that entrepreneurship and politics really should not be mixed.  As I pointed out recently, in Roosevelt’s opinion doing precisely this was tantamount to the creation of a fascist state.  An accusation which, in the context of 20th century history, we should not be inclined to make lightly.

In reality, the problem is neither party funding nor corrupt politicians.  The problem is that our politicians and our businesspeople are now indistinguishable the one from the other.  Anyone who is placed in the condition of judge and jury both – of prosecution and defence, one might say – is bound to find it difficult to understand the markers in the sand.

Which is why I am inclined to appeal to anyone who cares to listen:

  • if you’re a politician, please consider your bounden and lifetime duty to be limited to enabling the correct functioning of our body politic;
  • and if you’re a businessperson, please consider your bounden and lifetime duty to be limited to enabling the correct functioning of our competitive marketplace and your place in it;

This should not be a question of passing discrete rules which those in power who have the power will inevitably sideslip.  No.  We need much much more than another set of spurious regulations: we need for people, for real individuals and their colleagues, to want to create and fashion an entirely brand new culture of behaviours.

It’s our culture that has collapsed around us – not our legislative instincts.  You cannot simply force the kind of casual corruption which is contaminating our politicking and business out of existence: once implanted, it’s generally a cancer which escapes all clean excision.

Rather, we need a twofold process of education coupled with that aforementioned hygiene: only then can we revert to a set of relationships which, long-term, might serve to benefit not only democratic discourse but also the sustainability of business behaviours.  What might be good for our democracy might, after all, conceivably be good for our economy.

In a 21st century environment where collaboration is becoming just as important as competition, our instincts should lead us just as much to a re-education of society’s members as a very 19th century dispatching of summary excommunication.

I’m not looking for a witch hunt here but, instead, a process whereby understanding is reached around how we might generate a broader society of constructive instincts; an environment or ecosystem of adult relationships.

Is this too much to ask of this interface between politics and business?

I sincerely hope it might not be.


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Mar 262012
 
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In relation to my previous post, I do wonder this morning if the broad defensive measures put in place by the Tory Party immediately after the revelations in question aren’t indicators that the stink it has generated was more widely known about by those who run and operate the Conservative hierarchy.

Firstly, we have David Cameron getting all hot under the collar, saying how disgraceful the whole episode is.  Then he refuses to reveal who he invited to Number 10 as guests – because this is a private matter.

As if any gentleman who has got into power precisely because of our votes should have the right to keep secret the kinds of people he invites to his official residence.

This morning, however, on various news outlets the Tories (well, mainly Francis Maude) have been gathering to defend their party.  They remind me of a football team whose attack has lost its shine and which now depends excessively on protecting their goalkeeper and captain – in this case, Mr Cameron himself – from further ignominy.

They are, in fact, playing the game in that way we might characterise as that beloved of the Italians of yesteryear: one forward gear, five reverse.  Mr Berlusconi comes to mind, in fact, as I pursue thoughts in bad faith about how resistance is the best form of attack.  Both Mr Berlusconi and Mr Cameron come from media-related backgrounds, by the way.

What have the Tories got, then, to hide?

As Paul has just tweeted:

Cameron wouldn’t risk appearing dishonest over disclosing who he’s dined with unless he had something that looks really bad to hide #R4Today

And, as already underlined, Francis Maude wouldn’t be hauled out to defend to the hilt unless there was something quite terrible to defend:

Cabinet Minister Francis Maude has told ITV’s Daybreak that Peter Cruddas’ cash for access claims are “embarrassing and wrong, and not true. ”

“That’s not the way we do business and raise money, and we’re very clear about that.”

Even as he suggests that if it were, it’s all Labour’s fault:

He says that five years ago cross-party talks got “so close” to agreeing on an individual donation cap but were “frustrated at the very last minute” by Labour.

So where do we stand then?  Who is doing what?  Why is Cameron refusing to reveal who he has spoken to in private within the walls of his official residence – a residence paid for and assigned by the voters to a man we expect to lead and represent the whole nation?

Could this, in fact, be becoming such a clever piece of spin that what’s actually being defended is the dismantling of the NHS and Legal Aid?  A short-term hit on an issue whose waters can be easily muddied with the thesis that politicians are all the same, even as something will clearly be done about at a wider level in several weeks – leading to a long-term gain as the NHS and Legal Aid bills begin to sink on the horizons of activist and petition fatigue and get forgotten about in the artificially generated hullabaloo of government business?

I do wonder.  Don’t you?

For I presume and assume that none of you would disagree that Cameron’s admen mindset is capable of twisted and evil ways of thinking such as these.


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Jan 172012
 
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I argued back in December that Ed Miliband was not his own man – but, rather, ours, through a dedication and affinity to the democratic cause.  Then later the same month, I posted this:

[...] I think most politicians and commentators in modern politics are actually jealous of Ed Miliband.  That he has got so far without owing anything to the media of one sort or another must really frustrate them in their own carefully marketed strait-jackets of thought.

Which is why I do say: “Ed, you still have my vote.  The power you can take advantage of, channel and mould is as yet largely untested, untried and unseen.  But if you manage your opportunities well and effectively from now on in, if you manage to see them exactly for what they are before the rest of us are able to even sense their wisdom, you will be marking out a new territory: a new territory which will change British politics forever.

“It’s now your only alternative.

“It’s now our only option.

“So understand it for what it is – and take it whilst you still can.”

Today, Éoin suggests Ed Balls’ blinking in the face of an immoral confluence of financial interests – that is to say, being pig-headedly decisive instead of continuing with thoughtfully patient – is just about the best and most important thing Ed Miliband has sanctioned in his short reign:

You do not have to get people to like you in order to respect you and sometimes when everyone agrees with you it means you are doing the wrong thing. By accepting cuts and pay freezes Ed Miliband has done precisely what the Tories had prayed he would never do. By picking a fight with the Unions Ed Miliband has caused Cameron headaches because it makes the ‘red Ed’ label harder to pin.  Likewise, the ‘bandwagon’ jibes from the PM and PMQs will now fall flat as Ed grows into his role as leader of the Labour Party. Ed now understands the number 1 rule of politics; always do what your enemy would least like you to do. The media is once more listening to the Labour leader and voters will now take notice. If the price for that was some daft equivocation using Tory language it will have been well worth it.

And so, once again, politics becomes just as sleazy as well as downright unlikeable as – in reality – we always knew it to be. 

So let’s drag out the emotional and medical metaphors – tough love, respect, economic medicine, diagnosis – and go down that damn awful route of people at the top deciding things on the trot without communicating, consulting, listening or engaging with the ordinary people (that is to say, the non-politicians amongst us) who they are supposed to serve, for goodness sake.

No matter that it’s wrong, immoral and unjust.

Such words matter not a jot in the helter-skelter race to get to the top.

Problem is if you get used to trampling on the people when in opposition, because you judge – perhaps, in political terms, quite rightly – this to be the only practical alternative, how on earth will anyone manage to believe that you will resist the temptation to behave in the same manner when you actually have you hands on the real levers of power?

The battle to win power almost inevitably makes you unfit for the office.  Ed Miliband and Éoin, I am sad to say, are now showing us exactly how.


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