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.

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.

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.

Sep 062013

Here’s the real David Cameron playing the part of Hugh Grant.


Compare and contrast with the real Hugh Grant playing the Prime Minister Cameron could once really have been.

So let’s just go through the first video and Cameron’s rendering of Hugh Grant, one more time – in this case, with some suitably comparing and contrasting links:

[...] “We have been told that the Russians absolutely deny making the remark that [the UK was a small island to which no one listened], and certainly no one’s made it to me. But let me be clear – Britain may be a small island, but I would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a bigger heart or greater resilience.

“Britain is an island that has helped to clear the European continent of fascism and was resolute in doing that throughout the second world war. Britain is an island that helped to abolish slavery, that has invented most of the things worth inventing, including every sport currently played around the world, that still today is responsible for art, literature and music that delights the entire world.

“We are very proud of everything we do as a small island – a small island that has the sixth-largest economy, the fourth best-funded military, some of the most effective diplomats, the proudest history, one of the best records for art and literature and contribution to philosophy and world civilisation.”

He added: “For the people who live in Northern Ireland, I should say we are not just an island we are a collection of islands. I don’t want anyone in Shetland or Orkney to feel left out by this.”

I’ve seen it claimed that David Cameron playing the part of Hugh Grant playing the part of British Prime Minister is a combination of the heartfelt, if fanciful.

That is to say, at least we can accept his heart is in the right place.

But like so much of this Coalition, this lying Coalition, whilst its prejudiced view of the United Kingdom is beautiful in theory, it covers up a raft of unhappy unpleasantries and realities not even Cameron’s PR can paper over any more.

As Mark suggests:

Don’t question the Law or the Lawmakers in Government, much like you shouldn’t question your God in religion.

If Cameron’s little speech, if his “Love Actually” fit of pique, is actually an example of Britain’s diplomatic engine firing on all four cylinders, I think – more probably than not – Vladimir Putin’s unnamed adviser was right.

Or, at least, almost right.

When he (or she) supposedly suggested that “the UK was a small island to which no one listened”, he (or she) should (lovey) actually have observed that we were dealing with “the UK, whose small-minded government listens to no one …”.

‘Cos, from where I’m sitting and reading, and after agreeing most fulsomely on how truly rich our traditions have made us, I can’t help feeling that – in three short years – David Cameron & Co have made it possible for us to wonder if the Russians mightn’t be right.

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 212013

The German magazine Spiegel Online truly held up a mirror to Cameron-land yesterday, when it titled its main news item thus:

Cameron und der Geheimdienst-Skandal: Im Land der schwarzen Helikopter

This is a reference to something I’m sure you’ve already read, contained in this report on recent events by the Guardian‘s editor, Alan Rusbridger:

[...] And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.

But whilst we could assume this is simply banter, even if of a rather macabre kind, in the light of David Miranda’s recent detention I’m inclined to think we’re actually witnessing the moment the British intelligence services really took social networks and media by the scruff of the neck.

You do stuff like this with journalists; you know it’ll eventually come out.  Some thoughts from this evening’s tweets to remind us all where we might now be ending up:

#QforGCHQ: why ask for #Miranda’s passwords if #MasteringTheInternet already masters the web? Or did you just need us to know you had them?

Funny, this turning public all previously private behaviour. Even stages, content & acts of interrogation become public. So, no act neutral.

Those conducting interrogations, these days, know they will become public. Manner conducted deliberately shaped to achieve maximum effect.

Our civil servants have learned from theatre of hate. They know private acts will seep into public consciousness, & acquire greater reality.

A game with reality: like films feel more real for being poorly shot, so acts against freedom of speech gain power when emerge bit by bit.

It’s not even “We don’t care if you find out”. Rather, it’s “We’re doing this in the full knowledge you’ll find out in *our* time”.

Curious how “web” was always historically associated with entrapment. And yet in the last decade we’ve launched ourselves onto it merrily.

@latentexistence I’m more interested in psychology of interrogation theatre: doing such stuff in private, knowing it’ll hit public domain.

@latentexistence The nature of the detention, its details, its phases, was effected in full knowledge we would all find out about it.

@latentexistence Greenwald & Miranda kinda got it wrong. They weren’t the people authorities were trying to frighten. It’s the rest of us.

Black-helicopter land?  You think I’m exaggerating?  Well, maybe I am.  Maybe I’m a little sensitive to such stuff.  As another sequence of tweets serves to explain:

Not looking forward to crossing the border into my own country. How did we ever reach a situation where the UK does that to its subjects?

@MILivesey Well quite. Used to go every summer to Communist Yugoslavia. Crossing the border was a nightmare. Country infused with paranoia.

@MILivesey Thinking about it *very* carefully, what Britain has become today is beginning to be cut from the same emotional cloth.

In essence, what I suggest is really happening here is that our authorities are learning hand over fist.  Whilst tying up Parliament and the offline world is pretty much par for the course – plenty of previous cases of similar instincts I’m sure we could find – the web is a far more slippery beast.  But controlling a beast doesn’t necessarily involve putting your dirty paws on it: sometimes, mind games, fear and shadow-boxing from afar achieve much much more.

This latter approach, then, I think is manifesting itself in the following ways:

  1. “Black-helicopter” humour – so beautifully quotable – is bound to seep out and frame the social networks: in this case, it’s even framed the mainstream.
  2. Stories about passwords being demanded with menaces – when it’s perfectly obvious GCHQ doesn’t need them to access the data it needs to save lives – simply serve to objectify and make closer to our own daily experiences the dangers of stepping out of line.
  3. Publicising for free in this way the wide-ranging powers of the police to hold individuals without explanation, and without rapid access to a lawyer, has done for the power of the instincts of the repressive state what would otherwise have cost the taxpayers in government advertising campaigns millions to get across.
  4. William Hague’s declarations a couple of months ago form part of this strategy: if you’re “law-abiding” (ie you follow the law, made by an evermore unrepresentative government, on behalf of its evermore tightly-defined interests), “you have nothing to fear”.  If, on the other hand, you don’t think like the government, you’re already a suspicious being – and, more likely than not, going to find yourself figuring on its active list.  And even if you’re not, the seeds of doubt are properly sown: the wariness, the hesitations of self-censorship, the having to live a normal life which requires you to keep your head down … all this means the government takes control again of public spaces and discourse.

One final tweet as a thought to be going away with:

Why do clever people act like bullies? ‘Cos their intelligence tells them they’re:
a) weak & wrong
b) running out of time
Voters take note.

Are you gonna take note then?

Shall we decide, battle and – ultimately – vote to reclaim our sovereign right, as subjects of a liberal democracy, to see each other treated with the respect we deserve?

To reclaim the public?

To not see borders as barricades put up by ministers and civil servants, incapable any longer of correctly serving?

To not be made to fear coming home any more?

Jul 062013

There are a number of views on what’s happening in the Labour Party at the moment.  Chris Dillow says this; Eric Joyce argues the following; Tom Watson decided to resign thus.  Three choice paragraphs, one from each respectively.  First, Chris:

[...] Unions are lousy at hegemonic strategies. The rhetoric of “fighting” and “demands” makes them seem a tiresome sectional interest rather than a group whose interests are the national interest. And of course the media – including the ever-neutral BBC – reinforces this. Whereas bosses are often invited to give a “neutral” and “expert” opinion on the economy, working people rarely are. “What’s good for GM is good for America” was long a plausible slogan. The slogan “What’s good for Unite is good for Britain” has never even been tried. Perhaps, therefore, unions themselves are partly to blame for their political marginalization.

Second, Joyce:

Over the years, trade unions have used their putative power sensibly. They’ve understood that party rules create the possibility of serious dysfunction if they choose to overexert their potential muscle. In Falkirk I’ve found them to be a stabilising influence in partnership with the Labour party. Until now.

Third, Watson:

Having resigned a couple of times before, I know how puckish lobby hacks might choose to misconstrue the departure. So to make it harder for them let me say this: I’m proud of your Buddha-like qualities of patience, deep thought, compassion and resolve. I remain your loyal servant. I’ll always be on hand to help you if you need me. I just don’t think you need me in the Shadow Cabinet any more. After nearly thirty years of this, I feel like I’ve seen the merry-go-round turn too many times. Whereas the Shadow Cabinet’s for people who still want to get dizzy.

I love that line of Watson’s about Miliband’s “Buddha-like qualities”, don’t you?  And what’s more, it makes me realise why breaking the link between trades unions and Labour could be good for both trades unions and Labour.

Let me explain.  I am an associate member of a TUC-affiliated trades union.  I no longer work for the sector they operate in, but I value the work they do, the added-value services they offer even associate members and their whole approach to trades unionism.  Interestingly you might say, for a Labour Party member like myself, they have chosen – however – not to affiliate with the Party.

I could’ve joined Unite at the time I joined the aforementioned organisation.  I chose not to.  The union I joined is a small, focussed trades union, with a personal approach I appreciate.  I also worked for it, for a while, without glory or much effectiveness, as a rep.  But that would be a story for another post.

This trades union I talk about did get a little overwhelmed by events when its policy of engagement was swept away by a new regime as a result of an enforced takeover.  It took time to find its feet again.  But then we all did, in 2008, when the world turned all our worlds upside down.

However, the problem I had with both my union and Unite – a (now) necessarily powerful union in times when capitalism is far more global, brutal, aggressive and clearly lacking in some of its former (perhaps very temporary and hardly heartfelt) virtues of dialogue and HR-driven employer comms – is that they didn’t half find themselves obliged to behave like their competition: that is to say, company management.  They say you should be very careful who you choose as your competition – you will always end up mirroring its behaviours.  Never a truer word was spoken in the case of modern corporate-interfacing trades unionism: torn between wanting to communicate openly with members on the one hand and required to conduct back-room negotiations on redundancies and business change on the other, with the legal framework of Stock Exchange communication tying down both company and employee representatives, it soon became clear to me that open and honest conversation was an HR – where not PR – chimera of humongous proportions.

In many ways then, and not just in the attitude that “he who pays the piper calls the tune”, trades unions and hedge-fund managers find themselves in absolute agreement.

“If I pay you, you do what I need.”  A conditional and conditioned relationship as old as the hills.

Labour and the trades unions, both, have rightly striven to take the high ground with respect to the more than 50 percent of Tory Party funding which proceeds from the financial-services sector.  But Labour and the trades unions, both, are currently handicapped because a) the latter are not free to construct the political wing their members need; and b) the former has grown from a party of the considerably deprived to an organisation which aspires to put a benevolent face on a capitalism it doesn’t really want to undermine for a significant minority.

And maybe it’s right in this: maybe there are many people who don’t find representation in the Tories but do want a capitalism-supporting political party which looks to ameliorate rather than revolutionise.  Those people have a right to find that representation.  Labour, equally, has a right to argue democratically, internally, that this constituency should be where it – ultimately – chooses to situate itself.

You can’t, however, continue to hold the high ground on party funding if dysfunctional process enters the link between Labour and the trades unions.

As Joyce suggests, you’ve got to know how far to flex your muscles – and know not to flex them too far.  Though I know nothing of the ins and outs of the Falkirk case itself, it does seem apparent that the creative tension which has sustained for quite a while both “sides” of the labour movement’s argument – worker representation on the one hand, middle-class representation on the other – appears now to be on the point of snapping.

And that is why I think it should.  Labour should be free to choose to represent the deprived without the hand of trades unionism being perceived as its main driver.  Trades unions should be free to choose any constituency which pays its dues correctly and loyally without the hand of so much managerialist interaction tainting our view of its motives.

Trades unions need to revert in both perception and reality to competing for membership and support through the daily labour (never better said!) of personal interaction, coupled with the strategic long-term freedom to wage the proactive battles we need them – we need ourselves – to wage.

Labour may choose to follow such a path too – but if it doesn’t, let another political wing be created in its absence.  Properly conceived for 21st century relationships – relationships which avoid the dysfunctionality hedge funds generate in the Tories, just as much as complex labour-movement relationships may have done in Falkirk et al – let us allow new political wings to grow organically out of new conditions, ways of seeing and doing.

Downsides?  Money, of course.  Party funding.  None of these problems – on any side of the political equation – would exist if “he who pays the piper” wasn’t looking to call the tune.

Labour, Tories, Lib Dems, Unite, trades unionism in general … this all, in the end, comes down to the question of money.  If Unite and the wider movement of trades unions had the dosh to set up a fully-funded political party, and if Labour had the resource to pay its own way, none of the above would cause grief to anyone.  Even Mr Cameron, free of the weighty implications of City money galore, could have been the Prime Minister he must once have dreamed of becoming.

It’s clear to me, anyhow – even if not to you.  The sooner trades unions and Labour lead the way, the sooner we could bring a moral imperative to bear on the other parties.

Right now, though, we’re stuck in a very 21st century hypocrisy of our own fabrication.

And we do need the freedom, the intellectual space and the absence of roller-coaster pressure to finally think more clearly on this one.

Something along the lines of the subtext of Tom Watson’s resignation letter?

Something a bit more Buddha-like, in fact?

Contemplation?  Resolve?  And final action, perhaps?


Whilst we do so value thinking fast these days, thinking slow is also said to have its virtues

May 082013

This piece from Ian Birrell in the Guardian this morning says mostly what can be sensibly said about our body politic’s shared attitudes to the immigration “issue”:

The overall tone is clear: foreigners are flooding over here and taking our jobs, our benefits, our houses. This is, of course, a panicky response to the rise of Ukip – but it is one utterly wrong on commercial, economic and even the narrowest of party political grounds, pandering to ill-informed prejudice rather than putting the interests of the country first. Already the immigration cap is undermining higher education, one of our few world-beating sectors. Yet Labour, going through its own masochistic contortions on this issue, is unlikely to offer resistance; shamefully, it seems determined to outflank from the right.

Meanwhile, this is what Nigel Farage is responding right now to the Coalition’s programme on immigration for the next parliamentary session:

“The immigration measures in the Queen’s speech don’t tackle important issues on exploitation and illegal immigration.

“We support many of the measures promised though of course we will scrutinise the detail, but it appears their impact will be limited.

“The Government is still not tackling the exploitation of foreign workers leading to the undercutting of local workers. There is nothing to improve enforcement of the national minimum wage, no action on agencies recruiting only from abroad, nothing to improve training for local workers for sectors recruiting heavily from abroad, no action to extend the Gangmasters licensing legislation, and nothing to deal with slum landlords using overcrowded housing to recoup labour costs.

“The Government is also missing the opportunity to tackle illegal immigration which has got worse on their watch. There’s nothing to deal with the failure at the Home Office to deport bogus student cases, nothing to deal with loopholes in student visitor visas, and nothing to give UKBA officers who inspect colleges and workplaces the power of arrest.

“Immigration is important for Britain and needs to be controlled and managed so it is fair for all. That is why the impact on the labour market and the problem of illegal immigration need to be addressed.”

Did I say Nigel Farage?  I did, of course, mean Yvette Cooper.

The problem of course is this “One Nation” terminology.  For starters, it’s manifestly untrue: there are probably hundreds of nations of people who live their lives in latterday Britain.  So what I want to know is why they chose the phrase “One Nation“.  Why not “One State” or “One Country” – or “One Place” even?  Why focus, as they have, on an emotive word such as “nation” with all its historical, colonising and excluding baggage?

Unless, of course, that’s what you mean to do.  Unless, of course, you’d already analysed quite a way back that in a disintegrating social environment, and come 2015, the dynamics of the immigration “issue” would be far more important than the traditional old battle between left and right.

Is there any chance, any chance at all, that the Labour Party’s strategists have just been waiting for UKIP to rear its ugly head?  That the “One Nation Labour” language was never intended to allow Labour to wrest power from the Tories come election time but, rather, more predictably, deal with what would almost certainly be the real opposition five years down the line: those ideas and dynamics, those fascist instincts for personal survival over societal support, which UKIP – and other groupings like it – best exemplifies.

Is there any chance that Labour – with its “One Nation” mantra – has all along been triangulating not for a David Cameron (II) at all but, instead, for a UKIP – in one potentially unhappy shape or another?

The resulting plan being to convince all us progressive souls to continue voting as we were – on the understanding that Labour will keep slyly hidden from the rest of the electorate until after the next election its true instincts and values.

Ingenious approach, right?  Even – in the light of disagreeable 20th century history – intelligently, usefully and wisely prescient.

So just forget Cameron & Co, and hope this is the case: that One Nation Labour was always designed with a UKIP in mind.

Because if this isn’t the plan, if this isn’t the explanation for the outflanking wearily quoted in full above, I really do wonder how anyone in my dearly beloved movement expects us to believe that One Nation Labour won’t itself become that UKIP we all fear – but all on its triangulatory and ingenious lonesome.

May 052013

This has to be the shittiest government website in the world – the worst, biggest and bitterest digital abyss you’ll ever experience, in fact.  And it’s all here in Cameron’s England for the delectation and delight of those with the right to claim Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and Overseas State Pension.

No.  Not those websites.  Those are pretty decent; informative and easy to read.  No.  I’m talking about the website behind this Inquirer story.  The website you are supposed to use to claim the benefits the former websites so informatively inform you about.  Read it and be prepared to be absolutely flabbergasted by IT-shite of the very highest (ie the very lowest) order.  This is how it starts out, at least at the time of writing this post:

About this service

You can only use this service for:

  • Attendance Allowance (AA)
  • Disability Living Allowance (DLA adult and child)
  • Overseas State Pension – if you are a non-UK resident (including Channel Islands).

Rather ominously, it then goes on to say:

This service doesn’t work with some modern browsers and operating systems. Tell me more

We are considering how best to provide this service in future.

You may want to claim in another way.

Here then are “some modern browsers and operating systems” which this online piece of bollocks doesn’t work with:

Operating systems and browsers

The service does not work properly with Macs or other Unix-based systems even though you may be able to input information.

You are likely to have problems if you use Internet Explorer 7, 8, 9 and 10, Windows Vista or a smartphone. Clearing temporary internet files may help but you may wish to claim in another way.

There is also a high risk that if you use browsers not listed below, including Chrome, Safari or Firefox, the service will not display all the questions you need to answer. This is likely to prevent you from successfully completing or submitting the form. You may wish to claim in another way.

OK.  So let’s see what systems it does manage to negotiate:

What the service was designed to work with

The service was designed to work with the following operating systems and browsers. Many of these are no longer available.

Microsoft Windows 98:

  • Internet Explorer versions 5.0.1, 5.5 and 6.0
  • Netscape 7.2

Microsoft Windows ME

  • Internet Explorer version 5.5 and 6.0
  • Netscape 7.2

Microsoft Windows 2000

  • Internet Explorer version 5.0.1, 5.5 and 6.0
  • Netscape 7.2
  • Firefox 1.0.3
  • Mozilla 1.7.7

Microsoft Windows XP

  • Internet Explorer 6.0
  • Netscape 7.2
  • Firefox1.0.3
  • Mozilla 1.7.7

What?  You do have to be joking, right?

“Many of these are no longer available.”

What the fuck (pardon my French) is the Department for Work and Pensions playing at?

What the hell makes it think it has the right to implement/perpetuate such a frightful piece of web estate in order that the disabled, those in need of care and pensioners various can access online services and exert their solemn rights, via insecure (not to say unobtainable) software such as Windows 98 and Netscape?

For Christ’s sake, this has to be the most unpleasant piece of casual government cruelty to those least advantaged, to those least able to defend themselves, in many a cold-comfort moon.

This is a shocking disgrace.

Words are literally failing me.

Words … are … literally … failing … me.

Mar 282013

I wrote quite a bit, whilst it was still a buzzword worth buzzing about, on the subject of the blessed Big Society.  I even suggested at one point that it had been deliberately conceptualised to favour one self-interested section of society – those semi-retired white males and females of independent means who always seem to appear on parish and local councils – over the rest of us.

The strategy would go as follows: devolve all sorts of powers down to the localities themselves, and then make it impossible for anyone who had a life to live to be able to participate in the sudden flowering of democracy.  How easy would it then be for a certain profile of local people (a profile which, quite coincidentally, would just happen to coincide with that of Tory voters) to take charge of all things local.  How easy would it then be for them to introduce a certain ideological colour of blue to our erstwhile pleasant and very green land.

But that, now, is all behind us.  No one speaks any more of the Big Society.  It is dead.  And probably just as well.  Except that, today, I’m looking to resurrect it.

Rick writes consistently on the subject of the peak state.  This from the other day, and this from about a year ago, bear witness to the fact that the state is not the expanding universe we assumed to be the case: in this, human experience does not mimic science.  (Perhaps shortly we will discover that, in fact, our physical theories of life and everything will also need to be revisited.  Fred Hoyle may yet have the opportunity to dance joyfully on his own grave.)

Now I have no professional criteria to be able to decide if Rick is right or not – but his arguments and his evidence are hardly counter-intuitive; especially in a world where they force us to see countries as credit cards.  So for the purposes of this post, let’s assume the state has, indeed, peaked.  What, then, can we do about it?  Can we do anything at all?

Cameron is a bit of a wally, to be honest – a pretty sad man who’s managed to single-handedly misspend the tremendous trust his party placed in him just about as much as his own Chancellor has single-handedly misspent our national goodwill.

A PM, in fact, who has rapidly ended up at the fag end of his days far sooner than any of us expected.  Not so much a PM of afternoon glow as an AM of early morning hangover.

And yet for all of that, there is still something of his project which remains in my mind and makes me sad.  The Big Society’s conceptualisation was diffuse and uncertain, that is true.  But his task was almost certainly impossible, for what it would have really required to properly work would have been a revolution of a quite unconservative cut.  This is how I suggest it could have gone, in seven (possibly fascinating; definitely revealing) steps:

  1. Give everyone a basic income, as per these kinds of ideas (a kind of universal credit, in fact).
  2. Encourage people to voluntarily form local community groups around existing organs (NHS trusts; local councils; CABs etc), especially in areas of practice where they had existing knowhow or interest.
  3. In a first instance, identify roles which could be “outsourced” to citizens easily.
  4. Put into place a massive person-by-person training scheme to train people up in training others, especially in the activities to be initially “outsourced” and especially in their areas of existing knowledge.
  5. Get those with knowledge to train those with less.
  6. Suggest, with all of the above, that everyone could learn something from everyone – and everyone could teach something to everyone.
  7. Finally, call it the Big Society, as – simultaneously – you make appeals to Britain’s wartime spirit; the fact that we’re all in this together; and a mountain of other inspiring markers in the sand/soundbites/platitudes.

Any of the above ring any bells of any sort?  Well, they do to me – even though, right now, the bells toll for thee and me.

Imagine, if you will, that Cameron in particular had embarked on a far more radical plan to change the nature of the state.  If instead of just aiming to fill the pockets of his corporate sponsors by contracting its public size – with all the bitter legacy of citizen suicide, poverty, homelessness, human misery and accusations of corporate graft he’ll now be leaving behind him – he had chosen for his legacy to circulate around contracting out its services to the very people themselves.

In such a scenario, even IDS himself would be a people’s hero of very 21st century instincts, as the state was wound down, wound up and – finally – handed over to the people whom it would both begin to serve and be directly served by.

What empowering instincts these would have been.  What devolving environments these Tories would have left behind them.

And yes.  Cameron’s initial instincts (in some small way, at least; in some very private and honest place) were almost certainly these, as he fumbled, flipped and flopped with a flagship policy which utterly failed to convince absolutely anyone, precisely because his ambitions – whilst astonishing – were nowhere matched by a corresponding competence.  The Big Society could have been a far more revolutionary, lasting, One-Nation-like and truly prime ministerial narrative – capable, that is, of assuring Cameron’s place in history – than any cruel, toff-engendered, class war off Eton’s playing-fields, conducted against the lazy, shirking, chav-like inhabitants of this hoodie- and immigrant-infested land of criminal prejudice.

Almost three years after the event, we could all be in such a better place, couldn’t we?  A place of a wonderful new politics.

As it is, Cameron’s blown it – for him, of course, without a doubt; but more importantly, for the rest of us too.

A self-inflicted sucker punch of the most collateral kind.

And what’s more, not only unneeded but also gratuitously unnecessary.

So what next?  Time to get really radical?  Time to turn this world they’ve turned upside down, upside down all over again?

In a pretty unavoidable way, I think any government which follows Cameron’s (as, indeed, Rick clearly shows us) will have no alternative but to consider such alternatives.  Social-democratic and neoliberal evolution have, seriously, lost their way.  And the only choice left us, a historical Hobson’s choice if there ever was one, will be that revolution (of some kind) I allude to.

Time not to ameliorate where we can, but disrupt where we need to.

Only using very 21st century tools and mindsets to do so.

Mar 112013

Paul Burgin asked an intriguing question this afternoon.  I retweeted it and answered it thus (for those of you not familiar with Twitter’s syntax, you have to read the second part first and the first part second):

What Ed M is doing right now? Rock boat, but not too much. RT @Paul_Burgin: What does it take to ensure that Cameron remains PM until 2015?

Is it, in fact, time that the leader of the Labour opposition, Ed Miliband, gave David Cameron, the Tory Prime Minister, the helping hand it would appear he so desperately needs?  After all, this judgement of Cameron’s efficacy and historical potential is biting – and eye-opening:

My friend writes:

“I’m struggling to get the incredulity of the commentariat regarding leadership threats to Cameron. Why should anyone expect that a Party leader who failed to win an unlosable General Election, did nothing with being PM, and apparently has no chance of winning the next General Election would survive unchallenged?”

Ouch. And, as he points out, it is often forgotten that later this year Cameron will have been leader for eight years.

“Eight years after becoming Conservative Party Leader … Thatcher had got inflation from 22 per cent to 4 per cent and beaten the Argies. Heath had joined the EU. Churchill had won World War Two. Baldwin had seen off the General Strike and the Great Depression and broken both the Liberal and Labour parties, utterly. (No other Conservative leader lasted eight years post World War One). Cameron, on the other hand has … well, there’s … umm …”

Now I’m not entirely sure that in that poverty-stricken “umm” everything is necessarily lost.  Blair’s abiding achievement, after all, was a bloody conflict in Iraq.  It may have been the case that history was cruel to him – but the energy, resource, financial weight and body count which the conflict in question required of us leads me to wonder if a cipher of Blair wasn’t exactly what we were looking for in Cameron.  So did Cameron really fail to win an “unlosable General Election” – or was it, rather, that he instinctively comprehended the British people’s need to tether just a bit more definitively their next leader to their evermore parochial kennel?

Sometimes, the closed system that is politics has its own karma.  You give up a country’s sense of itself to a foreign power such as the US, however apparently justified at the time the deal may have appeared to be – and the next leader but one who comes along has no alternative but to reverse the ship of state.  No more foreign adventures for the moment – no more Falklands, no more Kosovos, no more Iraqi conflagrations.  If you must lie to the people, then divide the country cruelly up into deserving and non-deserving; get your communications paid for by the viewers via the TV licence fee; and tell those huge lies as hugely as you can, whilst history – or at the least the next general election – remains firmly on your side.

But whether Cameron is the cipher we needed or not, I think it’s pretty clear we in the Labour Party now need him to remain.  We need his frantic straddling of supposedly detoxified Toryism on the one hand and the lurching to the right which UKIP’s current bounce presages on the other to continue for as long as it might.

And it is in Paul Burgin’s original question and in Iain Martin’s perspicacious friend that I think I finally discover the reasons behind the modest approach which, to date, Labour’s Ed Miliband has taken.  Miliband has had Cameron’s measure since the very beginning.  After all, Miliband was an MP under Blair – had the opportunity to observe at close quarters the very man Cameron has surely modelled himself on.

In both Cameron’s strengths as a professional obfuscator and his manifest weaknesses as a professional salesman, Miliband will have seen it all before.

Miliband knows Cameron’s laying his own traps.  He just has to be there for him – with the kind of helping hand all enemies proffer.

Enough rope to keep him hanging on.

Not too much to hang him.

Not yet.

Feb 052013

The BBC reports that:

MPs have approved legislation for same-sex marriage in England and Wales, despite the opposition of dozens of Conservative MPs.

The Commons voted in favour of the The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, by 400 to 175, a majority of 225, at the end of a full day’s debate on the bill.

This is clearly a good thing – one we can all be happy about.  The article goes on to tell us that:

Prime Minister David Cameron has described the move as “an important step forward” that strengthens society.

And I think he’s right.  My questions today, however, circle around how he reached his conclusions.  Was his desire – a very personal one it seems – to ensure this legislation was passed driven entirely by honest conviction or, alternatively, was there more than a pinch of old-fashioned triangulation behind the horse and cart he’s smashed through his party?  After all, as the BBC also indicates:

Former children’s minister and Conservative MP Tim Loughton told the BBC that he believed “140 or so” of his party colleagues had voted against the plans, along with “a small rump of Labour MPs” and “four Lib Dem MPs”.

He added: “Apparently there are 132 Conservative MPs who voted in favour, so I think what we’re going to see is that more Conservative MPs voted against this legislation than for it.”

The Lib Dem leaders are, of course, clearly delighted with the measure – it allows them to go back to their faithful with a truly liberal concept on the table.  But, as is perhaps too often the case, I am suspicious of the motivations.  And it begins to make me wonder if the name-calling that situates Clegg on the conservative (where not Conservative) right of the spectrum is encouraging us to simplify what it is happening in British politics.  Perhaps, indeed, for our own traditionally located interests.

As Clegg drags – in a complex but certain manner – his political party to the first taste of real government in generations, so Cameron may be aiming to hollow out in some constructive way the noisy and nasty party that is the Tories.  We on the left have looked to (maybe) simplistically paint the Lib Dems as just hanging onto the coattails of an unpleasantly irrelevant and Etonite England.  But (maybe) the process is a tad more engineered than that.

If we see the Coalition of Cameron’s Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems in terms of a corporate merger between a large and untidily ancient behemoth of contradictory decisions and a small and guerilla-like company of instant advantage-taking – the former perhaps an IBM before it reinvented itself, whilst the latter perhaps an Amstrad in its awfully excitable heyday – then the massive adventure which the two leaders have embarked on, both its downsides and upsides, both its potential risks and paybacks, becomes far far clearer.  Here we could argue that it’s the Alan Sugar/Nick Clegg-type pick-and-mix opportunists who visibly have the vision and agility of perceptions, even where they do not have the distribution network and other infrastructures various.  Meanwhile, the transnational corporate/David Cameron-led thinkers, dinosaur-like and history-riven as they are, have all of the infrastructures and contacts, even as they are unable any longer to provide the “market” with exactly what it needs.

Maybe the Equal Marriage bill was driven by conviction.  But I truly wonder if it wasn’t part of a much greater and broader understanding to revise and restructure the populist centre ground in, at the very least, England and Wales.  And that could mean just as much allowing the rancid Tory right to destroy themselves in their echo chambers as it could mean dragging a traditionally reflective and thoughtful strand of often principled political thought into the unhappy but (maybe) necessary glare of rather cruel 21st century government.

With these words, I’m not saying I agree at all with the vast majority of policies that have resulted from this process.

But I do wonder, honestly wonder, whether the nexus of Cameron and Clegg – and its implications – is as easy to accurately describe and define as we sometimes seem to assume.

Especially for those of us on the left of political activity.  But possibly – with the exception of the two men in question – for almost everyone else as well.

Jan 312013

This tweet by yours truly got a number of retweets just now, for which I am pleasantly surprised, grateful and sad in equal measure:

If people with spare rooms are liable for #bedroomtax, do people in overcrowded housing get #taxrebates? #QuestionForGideon

It shows, I think, how very unhappy many people are getting about this issue.  That social housing and housing benefit are at a premium right now is obviously a symptom of a wider absence of available and cost-effective accommodation.  Most of us wouldn’t need to resort to such systems if the private sector wasn’t so expensive, unreliable and plain unpredictable.

Not that social housing is any kind of panacea.  Let me tell you our story as an example.

I’m epileptic and suffered a considerably disabling mid-life crisis when I came back to Britain in 2003 looking for work.  (I am British born and bred, just in case you were wondering.  My family is entirely Spanish.) This meant that for a while my economic activity didn’t match my previous CV.

Which is why it wasn’t the best or most productive time of my life – though I have, in general, recovered a broader equilibrium since then.

My wife and children followed me over some months later, and for the first year and a half we stayed with my parents in their reasonably spacious three-bedroom house.  That was, even so, seven people in three bedrooms.

Some eighteen months later we managed to get a foothold in a small first-floor maisonette managed by our local housing trust.  They gave us a small amount of money to redecorate it – which I did; a member of my family gave us financial support to get it carpeted – though the carpet had to be laid over breaking Bakelite-type floor tiles.  I was so naive about such housing at the time that when I saw the gas and central-heating pipes running round the rooms on the outside of the walls I asked in my ignorance if this was a temporary measure, and when they would be finally buried inside the walls.

We didn’t intend, of course, to stay in such tiny accommodation for too long.  Firstly, it was – and is – plagued with recurring mould.  Secondly, our two (now grown-up) sons had to study for GCSEs and A-levels in a shared room with barely enough space for two beds, never mind accompanying wardrobes and desks.  Thirdly, whilst convenient for our children’s schools (for those of you who don’t have children, this is a massive factor in deciding where you need to continue living), the rent did seem to increase rather exponentially.

Now let it be understood: we are eternally grateful for the humble roof over our head.  We appreciate there are many others who are suffering a hell on earth.  And, in fact, I do know a (very) little about what it is like to be homeless – even though this was only for about five days in London.

Nevertheless, from 2007 onwards – two and a half years after entering the maisonette – we have been officially defined as overcrowded.  This was when our eldest reached the age of sixteen and was supposed to have the right to a room to pursue his school studies in private.

And this is where the real nightmare kicked in.  If there was ever a latterday Catch-22 situation, it was this.  Because we were overcrowded, and because our eldest was now sixteen, both the online and offline application systems automatically kicked us out of any application for a three-bedroom house.  A house, of course, would’ve been far better for our needs: a parlour could’ve been converted into another room; a sofa bed could’ve been installed in a back room.  But no.  The only houses we were allowed to apply for by then were four-bedroom houses – of which there are damn few in Chester.


In any suburb.

So although we were officially classed as overcrowded, and although moving into a house – whatever the nominal number of bedrooms – would have made us far less overcrowded, the system as it stood – and as I believe it still stands – ensured and preferred we remained more overcrowded than a perspicacious and sensitive eye would have cared to allow.

Now you may say to me: why don’t you just move into private accommodation?  (In fact, in response to a query of mine in relation to this issue, the local housing trust recently suggested our solution lay precisely in vacating their property.)  And believe me, we’ve thought about it.  Especially because of the persistent mould.  But it’s just not financially possible.  Not in the area where our children still go to school.  Not on the income we earn at the moment.  (We don’t claim housing benefit, by the way – nor care to either.  But that is perhaps something we should throw in no one’s faces.  We are lucky we can make that choice.  Many people frankly cannot.)  (Incidentally, this was, in fact, something else the housing trust recently suggested we access.)

Now we certainly hope to improve our financial standing shortly – especially as new sources of Internet-related income appear to be coming on stream in my case.  And if this does take place, and life does look up again, we will be the first to want to move away from social housing.

For anyone who has always lived in their own home cannot appreciate what it is like to live in someone else’s.  Especially when the landlord refuses – or is simply physically unable – to resolve long-running deficiencies.

So get this, please – and consider it carefully: few people are going to choose to live in the kind of social housing we’ve been living in.

But the worst of this matter is the subject we started out with: Cameron and Osborne’s blessed bedroom tax.  If there ever was a paradox, it’s the repeating pattern of behaviours that Tory opposition politicians perpetuate when they finally come to power.  Whilst able only to flail wordily about as they complain of Big Brother attitudes amongst the socialists, when it actually comes to their turn to intervene in people’s daily lives … well, instead of following consequentially on from the positions they held whilst in the wilderness of politics, they end up sticking their noses into people’s affairs even more unpleasantly and disagreeably than their left-wing counterparts ever managed to do.

Can you imagine it?  A supposedly freedom-loving government taxing an autistic person out of his settled seven-year relationship with his surroundings.

Is there a problem which needs attending in how social housing and housing benefit are distributed?  Of course there is.  But using a surrogate taxation system to terrify and impoverish people into homelessness is not the best solution by any means.

In fact, it would be far better to apply the taxation system to the wealthy in society in order to build more social housing of the kind which would help – in quantity, quality and outright attractiveness – to provide the competitive edge our civilisation needs to ensure neither private- nor public-sector landlords get away with capitalising on a miserable second best.

Just as Cameron’s food chain is the kind of place where poor people eat horsemeat dressed up as beef, so Cameron’s housing policy is the kind of place where even the social landlords may aim to build those inadequately configured business empires – empires which begin to tumble precisely when the much-needed quality accommodation we all have a right to should really be their only, and abiding, objective.

The real problem isn’t spare bedrooms, for goodness sake.  The real problem is a supremely overpriced housing market which, once again, serves the interests of the rich over the permanently poor – and forces the latter to breathe in, day after day, lungful after lungful, the results of far too many examples of substandard living conditions which the Camerons of this world simply know nothing about.

Jan 042013

Difficult for many of us to assume, but let’s carry out the thought experiment all the same.  Let’s give Mr Cameron the benefit of any remaining doubt.  Let’s pretend – or imagine – that back in the halcyon days of 2010, when that Rose Garden-burnished laughter and good humour seemed to bring the pleasant prospect of cooperative and coalition governance to our country once more, that Mr David Cameron in particular started out with the very best of intentions.  Yes.  He wanted to undo a lot of what New Labour had engineered – but this was mainly because he had a quite different vision of how he wanted people to behave.  He wanted to engender a world where spin and lobbyists didn’t rule; he wanted honesty and sincerely hard work to come to the fore.  He wanted to recover a sense of what Britain can do best.  He wanted to release the good intentions of a generation of people accustomed to a well-meaning government intrusiveness – but an intrusiveness all the same.

Fast-forward to early 2013 – and what do you get?  Not what you see, that’s for sure.

Today, via Twitter, comes this data from the TUC.  The key findings as per the image below.

Never did a government permit misconceptions to rule so fiercely, nor bulldoze away from all policymaking process any sense or sensibility that otherwise might have remained.


Did I mention getting away from intrusiveness and government control?  Well, it’s not been all bad news.  Some, yes.  But not all.  Here’s Paul to remind us of both the successes and failures of the past year.  Meanwhile, my own far darker thoughts on double standards in obesity, as per my post from yesterday, only serves to remind us that politicians when in power acquire utterly different ways of acting from their opposition moments of glory.

“So what about austerity?” you say.  Well, this is a biggie.  Really seems like it’s failing all round.  And even though there are plenty out there who are coming to the same conclusion, Labour – out of fear, it would seem, of the widely-held misconceptions the TUC dutifully highlights above – continues to sign up to its miserable discourse.

Instead of aiming far more reasonably to correct such misconceptions.

But let’s just say David Cameron’s not to blame for even the latter.  Let’s just say he really did start out with the very best will in the world.  Let’s say he probably thought he was telling porkies – but let’s also say that he did it because he truly felt it was for our own good as a nation of the clever and willing: a nation of spiky and creative souls in drastic need of a change of governmental scenery.

A liar, yes.  But a liar with the very best of intentions.

Only intentions really aren’t enough, are they?

Where do we go from here or here, for example?  If benefits are to be cut in order to re-establish a certain order of entrepreneurial activity whilst basic food costs for ordinary families are going through the roof, what benefit of the doubt should we continue to offer our Prime Minister?  (Especially as Mr Cameron’s friends bet on the futures markets of breakfast cereals galore – and reveal themselves as the real reason behind increasing pressures on people’s budgets.)

As Rick points out here:

The OECD reckons that public services play a significant role in reducing inequality – more so in Britain than in many other countries.

Social spending in the UK relies more on public services (such as education, health etc.) than on cash transfers: spending on services amounts to over 15.4% of GDP while spending on cash transfers is some 10%. These services reduce inequality more than almost anywhere else, and this impact has increased over the 2000s.

In other words, a lot of services that people pay for in many parts of the world are subsidised or free in the UK. And, of course, spending on all these services is being cut. Even those which are supposedly ring-fenced are facing de facto cuts. Over the next few years, a lot of things that used to be free or subsidised won’t be. As the state reduces or abandons the provision of some services, the redistributive effect of Britain’s public sector will almost certainly be reduced over the next few years.

So what am I trying to argue in all of this?  There is hardly any way that Mr Cameron can have any good intentions left.  His road to hell – and therefore our road too – is well paved already.  Any original and privately expressed aim to change Britain for the better is turning into a nightmare on UK street for us ordinary souls.

To summarise, here are three ways our life is about to collapse as a direct result of those perhaps well-meaning lies the Rose Garden exemplified:

  1. Our standard of living is being cut via a reduction in benefits.
  2. Our standard of living will shortly be slashed by cuts in redistributing public services of a very British nature.
  3. Our standard of living will eventually collapse through existing hikes in energy prices and encroaching hikes in fundamental foodstuffs.

The first two are clearly as a result of massive misconceptions this government has shamelessly spun.  But the last item is still within the scope of interventionist government.

And if Cameron’s government is anything at all, it is about as interventionist as any government in British political history.  In a matter of two and a half years it has managed to dismantle huge elements of Legal Aid, swathes of assumptions around the NHS, basic principles underlying the disabled and their right to independent lives, the beliefs and practice of the teaching profession and even how the police can and should be privatised.

So if I am to commit the foolhardiness of extending – even now, even after all the above – to Cameron and his ilk a complicatedly understanding hand, we need to ask of him and his government the following question: “Assuming you still have the British people’s interests at heart, are you prepared to use your interventionist style not only to cut benefits in the public sector but also profiteering in the private sector?”

If the answer is “Yes, I am”, we can assume that where Cameron fails us, it is because he is incompetent but not malevolent.  There is hope still up there in them thar hills.

If the answer is “No, I’m not”, however, there is nothing left for us to do but bemoan a lost opportunity on all sides (and perhaps also slide into the hate of a kind of substitute civil war).  This lost opportunity?  To defend the British people and democracy from a financial injustice – a pecuniary cancer, in fact – that does not/did not need to take place.  So what if Cameron & Co want to re-engineer British society?  That is their democratic right.  If by reducing our dependence on benefits they achieve this, there may be little we on the left can do to stop it.  But this democratic right should surely lead them to want to protect the nation not only from the excesses of New Labour’s micro-managing instincts but also from the growth of evermore transnational moneymaking rackets which have accompanied all Western economic growth and societies over the past three decades.

Yes.  I’m still prepared to give Mr Cameron the benefit of the doubt if in the next few months he not only continues the re-engineering of a society via benefit withdrawal but also proceeds to substantially reduce the cost of living by stamping down on his profiteering friends in corporate-land.

If he succeeded in being even-handed in this way, if he made Britain a much cheaper place for us all to live in, if he managed to reduce the cost of living so that the state found active intervention in people’s daily lives simply and totally unnecessary, we could I am sure, whatever our politics, all find it in ourselves to admire him in some way or other.

Maybe we might approve of a benefits society or not – but to excise the cancerous profiteers from the heart of a modern democracy like Britain’s would truly be a historic achievement for this extraordinarily complex Tory moderniser to take away as his indisputable 21st century legacy.

On the other hand …

On the other hand …

If his good intentions are now limited to unleashing a savage impoverishment onto millions, this extraordinarily complex Tory moderniser will have shown himself to be nothing but an extraordinarily simple sham.