Oct 282014
 
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I suggested the following about eighteen months ago:

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.

And in the hands of competent political operators (ie the sort of people I don’t ever find it easy to agree with or condone), this is exactly what could have happened.  But, unfortunately, the reality is that uncorking bottles of evil-smelling liquids generally lets off uncontrollable gases – gases which then proceed to do all sorts of horrible things to the environment.  As I concluded in that piece:

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.

Meanwhile, today I’d like to go a bit further.  In suggesting that One Nation Labour was aimed at preventing UKIP, even as it would become UKIP instead, I think there was something I got wrong.  Ed Miliband, early on, rightly won all kinds of plaudits for calling out bravely on the big issues which frightened everyone else into a poverty-stricken silence.  From phone-hacking to energy prices, what he said right at the beginning shortly became received opinion.  And so his populism – for that is the right term – developed a measured and comfortable streak few populists have managed to achieve.

Unfortunately, this also laid the building blocks for a successful UKIP-ism: that is to say, whilst One Nation Labour was designed from the ground up not only to vanquish Cameron (II) but also keep the miserable elements of the United Kingdom’s unconverted prejudiced sides at bay, it was always going to be a highly risky project from start to end: triangulating into the murky waters of Farage’s primeval soup (he’d call it beer – but let me assure you that Farage’s favourite tipple comes more out of a cauldron than a cask) was always going to mean that attention once drawn could not necessarily be safely marshalled.

However, the problem for Miliband isn’t only the uncorked genie.  It’s also that however hard he tries, his once measured populism will become tainted with overtones of UKIP-ism.  Any populism, in fact, of any kind at all, will now only serve to draw us inexorably back, magnetised as we are, to the compass of the next few months that is Our Mate Nigel.  Not only has Miliband failed to use One Nation Labour to do what it was meant to do (ie make of Labour a natural channel of potential UKIP support), he’s allowed the resulting failure to squeeze him out of the only discourse which unequivocally set him apart from all the politicians around him – not only past and present but inevitably, in the light of such failure, the future too.

The discourse in question being?  The measured and comfortable – where not comforting – populism of a decently reconverted social democracy’s tinkering.

A reconverted tinkering aimed at a lot more than just the edges of the once allegedly permissible.

The once allegedly permissible which now, as it stands, in the face of terrible austerity multiplying, is manifestly insufficient.

Miliband’s blown it, I’m sorry to say.  And not because he was the wrong man for the job; rather, because he didn’t carry it through as he initially perceived it.


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Oct 212014
 
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This came my way via Phil on Twitter just now (the bold is mine):

As the Greens have gained more media attention, Bennett has thought seriously about post-election possibilities, and what role her party might play in supporting a Tory- or Labour-led government. “I can’t imagine circumstances in which we would prop up a Tory government,” she says. “Our first inclination would be a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement, rather than a coalition, because it means you provide stable government – you don’t get the ministerial cars but you keep your conscience and you don’t have to vote for tuition fees, for example.”

As I tweeted in response:

@philbc3 To be fair, does seem to express lukewarm preference for Labour. But not good keeping conscience is more important than ownership.

@philbc3 Seems the Greens may be made of the same political instincts as other party groupings. Our body politic refusing to regenerate!

Representative democracy is, in fact, a bit of a bugger.  At the moment there are moves to bring about the legal figure of recall to parliamentary constituencies.  I suppose what this means is that if a sufficient number of voters are unhappy with what an MP is doing, he or she can be forced to stand again mid-term.  Its opponents will argue this will lead to a ridiculous knee-jerk body politic where currently there isn’t one; its proponents will argue knee-jerk instincts couldn’t get worse than they already are.

The bugger that such a democracy becomes, with or without recall as a shiny bolt-on, is that we agree with the idea of moderately autonomous MPs when they stop barbaric – even as possibly popular – impulses to reintroduce the death penalty but we refuse to countenance such structures when their autonomy leads to the horrors the Coalition has committed over the past four years in the name of a negotiated politics.

Or, rather, it’s not so much their autonomy of us we refuse to accept as their often blind and unquestioning attachment to their political groupings.

This leads to the stuff we’ve spoken about at length; it also means no one – or very few, at any rate – cares to question underlying fundamentals.

For example, why is the only alternative to a rapacious corporate capitalism supposed to be a heavy-handed, unresponsive, dead weight of a state?  And why is the former so easily sold to and bought by us as representing a fleet-of-foot operating efficiency when any objective assessment would judge its efficiencies to be – at the very most – limited mainly to the needs and desires of executive classes and shareholders various?

I’m not arguing that corporate capitalism doesn’t have its virtues.  At its best, it collates and shares the living and breathing knowledge of maybe hundreds and thousands of employees.  But that’s at its best.  And we do, surely, have to accept that in its battle with the equally corporate state, it has grown up in a shadow many of its companies have clearly emulated.  That the Tories should go onto the attack from 2010 onwards – having identified the prime weakness of their business sponsors as their inability to stand on their own two commercial feet without the succour of Mother State; instead, putting the spotlight on the poor, disabled and equally state-dependent disempowered – is just one indication of where the truth really lies: that is to say, by telling a small truth about one defenceless portion of society, we tell a damning lie about one hugely powerful – yet potentially vulnerable (ie in need of permanent political protection) – top of the pyramid.

Even so, there is another way: there always has to be.  As democratic socialists – or perhaps wistful social democrats – it could be our task to regenerate this narrative completely: in the face of a relatively efficient – although often ineffective – corporate capitalism, we shouldn’t posit the only alternative as being the aforementioned, inevitably less efficient Mother State.*

For the problem now appears to be that business – corporate capitalism I mean – has been so successful at burrowing its way into our societal mindsets that we are utterly unable to conceptualise a different set of working structures, tools, assumptions or wider ways of seeing.  Just as we struggle to conceive of a business which isn’t corporate, so we struggle to conceive of a state which could be anything else.

In fact, in much the same way as we now assume business has to be corporate capitalism, so we assume the state could only be a less efficient version of the same.

Yet the technology, ideas, mentalities and moods are surely out there for another kind of representative democracy, society and commercial environment.  Isn’t it time we stopped assuming there only existed a singular duopoly in our society – time we started believing there must be far more than just one best way?

____________________

* That corporate capitalism’s “kicking when down” of the state – which it nevertheless receives so much benefit from – mirrors the Tories’ “kicking when down” of, for example, the European Union for purely political reasons – of a, nevertheless, commercially incoherent nature – shouldn’t go unnoticed as a tactic which is spreading too far and fast for any progressive’s liking.


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Aug 102014
 
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A story from the Guardian/Observer website today got me thinking.  It’s headlined:

Rising Ukip star on Roma in the UK, vaccines and racist gardeners

and it’s introduced:

Rotherham is a Ukip target in next year’s general election. Jane Collins tells how she hopes to unseat Labour by being ‘different’

Notice the adjectives “rising” and “different”.  A prominent article in a notable newspaper of liberal leanings for a party with no MPs, no policies – and one narrative which, whether we like it or not, would surely lead to a business cataclysm and upheaval of unpredictable proportions.  A similar thing, though on a separate part of the political spectrum, is taking place in Spain with the movement (I respectfully resist calling it a party for the moment) Podemos.  Plenty of free media attention for something creating interest, it is true – but not with the credentials a careful democracy should perhaps require.

However, let’s try and focus on these dynamics from an apolitical stance.  I’m fascinated by the fact – it’s undeniable – that practically all our media, whatever its political opinion, is drawn magnetically to change: in such an environment, it’s hardly surprising that an up-and-down approach to communication should be the rule.  Whilst the peaks and troughs of idiotic statements capture the headlines day after day (no longer simple soundbites – more often unruly video exchanges designed to move us, almost assign us, emotionally from one monolithic bloc to the other), alongside the oft-quoted “he said, she said” journalism defining what they think we should think, it’s no wonder the careful, timely and intelligent chugging away of good practice ends up in the sewers of our perceptions.

Change, its aforementioned magnetic effect and practically all our media … yes!  This is what captures the agendas of daily politicking.  But it’s not only bad for the human race that constancy gets no publicity; it’s bad for those who enter the public sphere with the idea of working via evidence and humane values.  In the end, their initial desire to “make a difference by focussing on the universal” gets consumed by all these up-and-down appeals to “listen to me and what I’ve got brand new to say” – which, in any case, is rarely ever even moderately new in an objective and historical sense.

They say that change is inevitable – so get used to it.  What they don’t like to admit is change is not monolithic – nor, indeed, as inevitable as they suggest.  Our instinct to popularise, promulgate and propagandise around change is extremely common, that is true (as is our habit of arguing that it’s always an opportunity) – but the universal needs of a society of social beings like those of us who form this humanity I describe don’t change half as much as the change merchants would have us believe.  And if this we are to change at all in the near future, we need our media – that is to say, at least a substantial minority – to recognise that the chugging away of good practice I mention above is far more useful for that future than unceasingly spurious calls to perceive as positive, and to go ahead and opportunise, all dynamics of so-called change.

Just because it moves doesn’t necessarily mean it’s progress.  And just because it’s stable (that is to say, doing its stuff silently behind the media veneers) doesn’t necessarily mean we should proceed to ignore its true worth.

And I don’t just mean within the fields of established politics, where plenty of examples tumble out on a daily basis.  I mean also the new guys who claim – this time! – to be making a “real” difference.

Right UKIP, Podemos et al?


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Aug 092014
 
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Some thoughts I just brainstormed via Twitter:

#Globalisation promised progress from the well-off to the poor. TBH, it increasingly delivers pockets of poverty to the formerly well-off.

#Globalisation’s making us poorer: s’times literally, as water loses its status as human right; s’times, just a simple poverty of spirit.

The more our leaders (we too) get used to remote-controlled fixes, the less #globalisation leads to a coming-together of minds/their ideas.

Maybe the Interwebs have driven this tendency: being able to access it all from one’s own workstation leads to stationary attitudes to work.

For a particular tech-based mindset, the web is simply the beginning. But what if eventually it turns out to be distortion? A blip? A fork?

What if our future doesn’t equal remote-controlled fixing? What if a different disruption – instant travel, say – makes this web irrelevant?

Instant travel would make face-to-face skills & expectations as important as they ever were; but more importantly, democratically available.

The best of the web – instant access – without the worst: that distancing of physical everyone from everyone, which makes us so suspicious.

Those thoughts cheer me up, in an Asimov way. Imagine a world, where anyone could visit anywhere – in a second. #disruptiveinnovationforsure

Mind you, thinking less airily, more grounded in reality, the following issues do arise.  As per 3D printing, the ability to digitally whisk stuff across currently sovereign frontiers does kind of explain the rush and haste governments across the world, whatever their political colours, are all exhibiting: the borders of the future will not be sealed at all, if not sealed virtually.  Now whilst it’s true that instantaneous travel from anywhere to anywhere, and (more importantly) from anyone to anyone, could serve to liberate democratic citizens – and societies like our own, clearly struggling at the moment to be democratic – in a way no human being would ever have experienced before, as well as lead us back to the good old times when people thrashed out their problems through dialogue and at round tables of equal communication (or at least, when in Arthurian mode, so we’d allow ourselves to believe), in all probability the “dangers” of a humanity getting to know a humanity would not be underestimated by those running the serious risk of losing their privilege.  The darndest thing about democracy, of course, being that people don’t always vote the way you would like them to.  Just imagine, then, the problem of a society totally unmediated by content industries; totally informed by real, cheap, instantaneous opportunities to witness situations on the ground in first person.

Whenever anyone wanted.

Wherever anyone cared.

They’d have to invent a whole host of new reasons to make instantaneous travel a danger worthy of a surveillance state.

Ah well.  I’m sure they could, and would.

Until then, and whilst the new “computer companies” still had time to do their disruptive worst best, we could perhaps recover some semblance of the freedoms we once enjoyed on the Internet – and, more specifically, the worldwide web.

If, I suppose, those freedoms ever really existed.

Anyhow.  As I suggested in my final tweet above, I do feel kind of cheerful at the moment – thinking as I am of the Internet and what may lie beyond.  The wonder and excitement, for me, of that adolescent time when I read huge amounts of sci-fi books and short stories – admittedly a time when I was most impressionable about what I perceived, and when I was quite the least critical of the life unfolding around me – does right now make me smile as I believe that maybe the future can be rescued through technology after all.

The right sort of technology, of course.

The kind that makes democracy, not breaks it.


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Aug 032014
 
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This was the tweet which I finally put together this evening, after a long time of not knowing how to put my finger on what I felt.  A tweet which finally clarified things for me: on a whole host of conflicted feelings about colonial pasts, victimhood, racism and cultural confusion:

At heart, we’re racist. We expect non-Westerners to bomb the hell out of each other; we don’t expect liberal democracies to do the same. :-(

Now as I’ve already suggested on these pages, the supreme dangers of a very real – that is to say, of a latent but all the same rapidly manifesting and evermore visible – anti-Semitism cannot be underestimated in the current context.  And so I’ve been writing to understand my own responses; almost certainly disappointing, to date, many of those who still read this little blog – especially from the context of the left of the British political spectrum.

Many terrible things have been written and posted over the past couple of weeks.  The pictures and words which impose a continuing sense of violence on those of us who are utterly impotent and yet terrifyingly, permanently, engaged with all the horrors that first troop, then stumble and ultimately totter, break and collapse before us … well, such a sequence of photographic and verbal imagery can be quite unbearable.

Today, I have even read – written in the register of a bitter lifestyle choice – a piece on whether genocide is right for you.

And so it is – after much cogitation – I finally understand my reticence; I finally taste in all its glory the bitter pill I’m having to swallow.  I am part Spanish Jew; a very little part it is true, but a part I wish to recognise and be proud of.  How then – after the terrible times of the Holocaust, of the legacy my European side must never, nor should ever, forget nor obviate – can I continue to feel a sense of severe unhappiness with the part that Israel is playing in this conflict?  How can I be … well … so disloyal – after all the suffering that Jews have undergone?

I suppose, if truth be told, the tweet is right: I, like many of my compatriots, many of my fellow Europeans, am racist: we ignore the vast empty toothless neighbourhoods of destruction where Arabs have committed evil against Arabs, and only concentrate on what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians.  Or, indeed (far more occasionally I guess the Israeli government would say), on what the Palestinians are doing to Israel.

Only I also wonder if this is really, or solely, racism on my part.  For sure we do guard a strong sense of anti-Semitism, and things like the past month do serve to add a frisson of  “There, I told you so!” to our daily interactions.  But I’m not absolutely sure, as I dare to explore this train of thought further, whether the real battle is one of racism or ideologies.

The current Israeli government’s position doesn’t half seem to mimic our own government’s behaviour around the time of Iraq when Tony Blair led Labour.  The “Arab/Muslim/terrorist threat in general” meme – which has served to coalesce so many positions and postures into singular monocultural points of view – is clearly being used, with evidence from the battlefield I agree, to justify all manner of war crimes in Gaza.  But I’m beginning to suspect that, in truth, what certain ideologues are doing – on our side of the walls being built, mind – is to use that meme to hide from the public a more complex reality: that in Arab societies it would be as easy to find people who from our liberal perspectives we could get along with, who we could build bridges towards, who we could engage with at social and cultural levels in order to create shared future, as it would be to find them in countries like Israel.  And similarly (perhaps far more importantly, this), that people as ideologically fanatical – as fundamentalist in their world views, I mean – as Hamas or ISIS clearly are can be encountered in positions of power in our European and North American contexts, as well as in Israel itself.

Bombing people and places to smithereens is nothing like allowing the disabled to slowly die as support systems are suddenly removed – but in the black-and-white nature of the worldviews in question, certain conceptual elements are shared.  The “I am right, you are wrong” mentality; the “No gain without pain” attitudes (as long as we understand the pain will be yours, not mine); the “If I’m at the top and you’re at the bottom, there’s got to be a God-given reason” assumptions … these are shared by so many of those currently running austerity the world over.

And there’s little difference for these distanced stratospheric makers and shakers – makers and shakers who’ve neither suffered a shrapnel wound in their lives nor had to witness a baby’s blood spatter the concrete before them – between the poverty of action that allows them to gaily crunch spun statistics whilst people starve at the doors of hundreds of food banks, and the poverty of thought that allows governments who say their enemies mix military and hospitals packed to the defibrillators with utterly defenceless human beings, to go ahead and destroy the lives of hundreds of terrified persons.

In truth, we do expect Israel, as a Western democracy, to do better.  And in truth, we do expect Arab countries, as non-Western regimes, to do their worst.  And in truth, this is highly racist.  And in truth, we shouldn’t think like this.

But it’s also – kind of – just as racist to believe that Western democracy means just one thing.  And what’s more, one inevitably good thing.  At the end of this lovely review in the Financial Times two days ago, on the subject of the Guardian journalist Nick Davies’ new book about the wider pursuit of the recent phone-hacking stories, Davies is criticised for ranting on about neoliberalism.  I haven’t read the book, so can’t comment if it’s a rant or not.  But I imagine if he does rant, it’s because it’s all too easy for him to fall into the trap of doing so.  So much of what we understand to be a latterday Western democracy seems to have been handed over, lock, stock and pork barrel, to those who have professional time on their hands to take over completely the “representative” in “representative democracy”.

I am sure, in the end, that so many of us have more in common with good people of a liberal inclination in many Arab countries, wherever they may find themselves, than we do with some of the right-wing austerity fanatics in the UK – in particular, that bit of the UK we call Westminster!  This is not to say that fundamentalism in the Middle East isn’t a threat to be taken seriously.  But it does mean that a liberal view of democracy must begin to fight more vigorously to be heard – if for no other reason than to let it be known that good people are to be found everywhere in the world.

And more importantly, as I’ve already indicated, that real poverty of thought may also be found on many of our own doorsteps.

For we are not one in anything – but, rather, multitudes.

As someone far better than me once pointed out …


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Jul 282014
 
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Bit of a serious title today – but I think the topic is serious too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this proof I describe?  Where does it lie?

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

No?

Well.

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

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

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

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

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


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Jul 232014
 
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The Guardian reported around a day ago that:

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

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

However, David Allen Green notes on Twitter that:

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

Going on to explain that:

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

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

Meanwhile, yesterday I suggested that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Jul 222014
 
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A couple of articles I’ve read this morning.  The first, from Labour List, documents how Labour has achieved magnificent unity at the weekend – coinciding, coincidentally, with my decision to leave the Party after ten years’ membership as a result of the cack-handed and antidemocratic #DRIP process (more here).  (At least I can draw the conclusion that I’ve finally done something right in my political trajectory – the Party must be well-pleased with my disappearance!)  The Labour List post says things like this:

It is completely without precedent in the history of the party. You can write a history of Labour that is all about its internal squabbles. Morrison vs Bevin. Bevan vs Gaitskell. Castle vs Callaghan. Benn vs Healey. Kinnock vs Militant. Blair vs Brown. There is no Ed Miliband vs anyone narrative. The only people he is vs are the Tories.

Credit also needs to go to the people who could have started a fight. Whether trade unions angry about party reform, Blairites hankering for the lost leader over the water, or party lefties nostalgic for a rerun of the 1980s, they all deserve praise for resisting the urge to have a scrap.

The importance of this cannot be underestimated. Labour in 2010 was in a very weakened, fragile condition. A bout of infighting and recrimination such as we saw every previous time we lost office, in 1931, 1951, 1970 and 1979 might have killed us off as a potential government for a generation, or for ever.

To conclude as follows:

Ed Miliband has shown incredible political skill in leading a united party into an election year at the same time as assembling a battery of appealing and radical policies. If he shows this degree of skill in uniting the country he will make a very great Prime Minister.

(The sort of stuff, incidentally, I was saying myself quite a while ago.)

Then we get quite another sort of post which defines Tony Blair’s achievements in the context of moon-landing deniers:

That’s not, of course, to say that Blair did not wrong and that is every decision was faultless. Certainly there were problems, at home as well as abroad, although different people from different political traditions will disagree as to what those were. But it seems to me that to focus on Mr Blair’s mistakes is to be like those cranks from Nowhere, Alabama, desperately pointing at Neil Armstrong and looking for signs of studio lights.

And, of course.  Yes.  Blair did indeed pick up Thatcher’s spilt milk – putting roofs back on schools etc – and of that, there is no doubt; but by so doing also stored up disasters for our present.  And I don’t just mean via his mistakes.  I also mean via his outright successes: for in order to counter the cruel neoliberalism of Thatcher – read more of the above for an excellently measured summary of the latter – Blair committed the foolish expediency of PFI and other short cuts to future prosperity.  The short cuts were necessary, desperate measures; the country, after Thatcher, was falling apart physically (and now, it seems, morally too).  But whilst Thatcher’s achievements were, in retrospect, clearly minimal – and Blair’s achievements were clearly, in retrospect, a counterweight the whole country needed – the aforementioned good also contained the seeds of the bad.

It wasn’t just the decisions on Iraq that brought conflict to our country.  It was also the decisions on matters such as tuition fees – seen by some as rank social engineering and by others as a necessary financial tool to lever access to higher education – which now, even on their own neoliberal terms, have clearly begun to fall apart at the seams.

And so I would suspect that here history is repeating itself, as it so often must.  Unity forged of the tribal – characteristic of Blair whilst he held the reins charismatically over the Party – and manifested quite differently with the Ed Miliband of the Labour List commentary; manifested differently but manifested all the same.

It may lead to a competent election result (though without wishing to be an aguafiestas, I’m not sure – even now – that this will happen as much as one might hope) but what is clear, at least to me, is that the very tribalism that political parties – of any political denomination – need to generate in order to have half a chance of getting into power is precisely that moment, time and place where the seeds of their our downfall are created.

If only our body politic were able to function on the basis of healthy disagreement, debate and well-fleshed consensus.  It’s not even as if it operates on agreement either.  Instead, when it happens, it’s a question of people like myself leaving the party in question – at the same time as people like those depicted in the two articles I’ve linked to today end up demonstrating a greater faith, fewer compunctions or negligible principles with respect to our no-longer-terribly-prized democratic process.

People who ultimately find themselves learning how to shut up for the short-term benefit of the tribe.

That the political left can only be acting as cheerleaders for internal Labour Party unity, less than a week after Parliament behaved disgracefully with the agreement, collusion and collaboration (in the World War II sense of the word, that is) of the man they are now saying will become an excellent Prime Minister … well, it bodes little positive, when his time comes, for his command of and fidelity to parliamentary process.

The elite is in charge, unity is the calling-card – and it’s time for the faithful, who often happily criticise the otherwise religious, to blindly believe in their broad church once again.


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Jul 182014
 
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I’m a member of Open Rights Group, the Fabians and Labour.  I also remain an associate member of the small trades union Accord.  The latter is more out of sentiment than practicality.  I no longer work in the sector where it operates, but the people who run it treated me well.  The add-on legal and travel services are also good value-for-money factors in my membership.

When I return to Britain after my working holiday here in Spain, I have decided – today – to curtail my membership of both Labour and the Fabians.  I shall continue to pay my dues to ORG.  This open letter to the current UK Home Secretary is the reason why:

Dear Theresa, see you in court

Parliament has a done a terrible thing. They’ve ignored a court judgment and shoved complex law through a legislative mincer in just three days.

But in doing so they won’t have had the final word. You’re already shown them the growing public opposition to mass surveillance. There was incredible action from supporters: 4458 of you wrote to your MPs with even more phoning up on the day of the vote.  Together we helped 49 MPs rebel against the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill. It may have passed, but thanks to you they know that we do not agree.

Help us challenge DRIP: Join now

Meanwhile, my own political party was rolled in ways I never expected possible.  And the process that was #DRIP, as described above in ORG’s letter, showed that:

When they’re of a mind, the political class is just that: a class, quite separate from the voters who vote for it. Able to decide anything.

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

Tom Watson MP described the process as “democratic banditry, resonant of a rogue state. The people who put this shady deal together should be ashamed.”

The fact is that they are neither ashamed of what they are doing nor dislike the idea of giving other rogue states a lead.  And I know exactly what I am talking about.

Eleven years ago, almost to the day, I was hospitalised for believing the state was tracking me for my political beliefs.  I was hospitalised for a month, informed in their clinical judgement that I would be unable to work for more than two hours unpaid work a week on being released – only to then start, after a month’s poking and prodding, a full twenty-hour shift in a fast-food restaurant in Chester.

What did I believe was happening to me?

  1. My Windows computer was being intervened.
  2. My mobile phone was being hacked.
  3. My landline was being interfered with.
  4. My email was being intercepted.

I was – as a result – terrified, of course; my illness was manifest and real.  But the causes were not so clear, especially in retrospect.

The killer question I was asked at the time (in particular by the psychiatrist who insisted on interviewing me at 5 am in the morning, in the presence of an abusive family member and their doctor friend, but never in consultation with my wife – either before or after) ran as follows:

If all these things are happening to you, what have you done for them to happen?  Why are you important enough for anyone to want to do any of the above?

I now fast-forward to today, to #DRIP’s passing and what it really means.  #DRIP sanctions and makes real for us all what happened to me eleven years ago.  For it’s not just, as Paul Bernal has suggested, the normalising of surveillance worldwide that is so terrible (clearly the case here, it is true; clearly a reality which would have made that killer question, which destroyed my moral resistance at the time, entirely unreasonable).  It’s also the normalising of their absence of shame.  The fact that they don’t care we see them all as so undemocratic; the fact that they don’t care other truly rogue states now fully enjoy the cloak of precedence that #DRIP’s process provides; the fact that the trampling of democracy doesn’t make them bewildered in any way … all of this and so much more is the real and quite terrifying normalisation which is taking place.

Yes.  The example will be repeated.  But I can promise you, for many unimportant people like myself, at a personal level only satisfaction emerges from the shenanigans that is the current British body politic.  What happened to me, what I suffered for and had to make my family suffer too, was happening to you as well I am sure.  It’s just that you didn’t perceive or understand it.

And so now I enjoin you to become an associate member of the paranoid.  Don’t worry.  It won’t mean you’re ill.  It’ll just mean you understand what’s happening.  Whatever we are, do or think in our lives will now be important enough to be tracked, exchanged and intercepted by the state.

For as paranoia, it is manifestly no longer the case.  That is exactly how personal it gets.


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Oct 092013
 
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Compare and contrast.  Read this first (I’ve linked to it before) from Open Democracy on how the BBC – the British public service broadcasting organisation paid for by every TV owner in the country through a licence fee – has consistently ignored the ramifications and reality of a stealthy privatisation of the National Health Service in the two years following the Coalition government’s power grab in 2010.

Now study the BBC‘s six public purposes as currently outlined here:

Sustaining citizenship and civil society
The BBC provides high-quality news, current affairs and factual programming to engage its viewers, listeners and users in important current and political issues.

Promoting education and learning
The support of formal education in schools and colleges and informal knowledge and skills building.

Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence
Encouraging interest, engagement and participation in cultural, creative and sporting activities across the UK.

Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities
BBC viewers, listeners and users can rely on the BBC to reflect the many communities that exist in the UK.

Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK
The BBC will build a global understanding of international issues and broaden UK audiences’ experience of different cultures.

Delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services
Assisting UK residents to get the best out of emerging media technologies now and in the future.

Now we could, of course, as per each of our very personal and political prejudices, fisk the above till the cows come home.  But it’s not the purpose of this post to do that.  I have my own view – fairly jaundiced by now – of what the BBC has become.  There is evidence to support my view too – Open Democracy’s piece being only perhaps the most impactful and carefully argued of a raft of recent critiques on what was once a binder of nations and peoples.

To be honest, the BBC‘s decline and fall in the eyes of many was perhaps inevitable: it reigned unopposed in years and decades when the ruling classes had a pretty unique hold on the airwaves.  The virtual ethers didn’t even exist at the time; the ever-suppurating pollution of such singular discourses simply didn’t take place.  At least not publicly.  What counted, in those days, as rebellion involved sexy young people singing their way into our consciences as, simultaneously, they preached revolution by perpetuating – at a personal level at least – the capitalist dream.

Hardly a revolution likely to bring down anyone, or indeed anything, of a traditional bent.

Public service broadcasting today, then.  How does it stand?  How should we conceptualise it?  A broadcasting which serves the public via Parliament’s – ie the Coalition and the wider establishment’s – view of what we as a represented and mediated public need, deserve and can be allowed?  Or a broadcasting which serves the public through a software constitution created behind closed doors by a private company’s software engineers to generate long-term content that can be duly monetised for the benefit of eager shareholders?

You may suggest that for all its faults, the BBC‘s Charter and relationship with Parliament guarantees a closer fit with the needs of the British people than an American corporation of broadly libertarian philosophies, where anything and everything very publicly goes.

Well.  Maybe so.  And maybe not quite so.  Lately, I think, I’m beginning to conclude that if you’re looking for a truly 21st century equivalent of the very 20th century public service ethos the BBC once seemed to enshrine, you’d be better off looking to Twitter et al – even as their very American façades do make us pale on occasions in the face of their terribly gung-ho enthusiasms.  All of the six purposes the BBC supposedly espouses – in its very 20th century “let me do it for you” way – I have seen generated on Twitter over the past couple of years, by the careful drawing up and development of an online constitution which permits people to communicate and fashion their environment directly and through their own voices.

Downsides?  Many, of course.  The biggest being the monetisation process.  We are, it is true, the product and not the client.  Our data, our thought patterns, our attitudes and reactions, are being number-crunched and made money of time and time again.  But is this any different – or, at least, any worse – than a public service broadcasting corporation like the BBC which has not only permitted in its notably halcyon days a paedophilia of dreadful proportions but has also – in what we might term its moment of greatest decline and fall – exhibited a rank partiality to a government of barely democratic means which has shown itself emotionally incapable of leading a country as one?

Never mind via evidence-based mindsets.

It’s not that the BBC no longer serves the public.

It’s rather that, through its political taskmasters, it serves itself of the public.  No difference, in truth, between the shareholding monetisers of American social networks and the allegedly cuddlier nationalities of our islands.

If that is to be our destiny, if that is to be our end, surely better that it should be perpetrated with even a scanty veneer of direct empowerment than this Coalition-sponsored daily thrashing and bashing of stats which BBC journalism and a wider current affairs have now become.

Me?  Even right now?  Even as I withdraw myself slowly from the web?  I’d still far rather mutely follow the occurrences of the crowd on Twitter than turn on the tele and engage in rubber-brick-throwing at the privileged elites.


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Oct 082013
 
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This is how John Lennon saw it.


http://youtu.be/L832Jj7C0DA

This is how I’m seeing it:

Hello #Twitter. Was in virtual world, training people to communicate this morn; in outside world, helping wife to disconnect esta tarde.

Good to take a break and re-evaluate. And stepping back is fine (as long as you don’t step back into an abyss, of course!!!).

So I wonder why it’s so untraumatic slowly retiring from blogging and social media. And I honestly think it has to do with this #NSA stuff.

Sharing one’s thoughts has become the biggest Hobson’s choice there ever was.  You can do it with the virtual swathes of people out there and – at the same time – give your heart, soul and everything up to Big Government and its minions; or you can begin to stop dropping pebbles into the wishing-well that is the worldwide web and start keeping them to yourself – on occasions, perhaps, your nearest friends and family too.

But the problem here – and it’s a serious one I assure you – is that spying Big Government hates it when its people’s behaviours get into grinding gear – when its people’s behaviours begin to unpredictably change.  There’s nothing less frightening than a mass of easily satisfied consumers who sit gaily clutching their gadgets galore; nothing more scary than a horde of unsatisfied voters who want to think things properly through.

So even as I wonder at myself – after seven years of more or less continuous blogging and after two or three years of 35,000-odd tweets (or maybe that’s 35,000 odd tweets!) and even as I find this cold turkey I am hardly suffering from leads me to a week without Facebook, a few days here and there without blogging, as well as a highly cursory tweeting and the like – I cannot really believe, even now, how unpainful it is all being.

What’s the reason?  I suppose it’s very simple: I don’t believe the worldwide web is the best place to share any more.  I don’t think, now, it was any place to share.  Perhaps, at the very beginning, there was an ickle chance it could have been.  But this ickle chance was soon swallowed up by far greater interests who understood the historical sweep with far greater clarity.

I’m beginning to realise it was a place where people in power sold a donkey to those who would finally keep them there: consumers; end-users; the creative sorts who loved to show off their wisdoms (me included in this last lot; perhaps me included in all three) … all of these people and so many more out there were assigned the role of sustaining a modulated form of the status quo.

Breadcrumbs is all we were finally allowed.

Breadcrumbs is all we could perceive.  The trail was ours, I don’t deny that – but the trail led only to the legs of the highest tables at which the powerful today, especially today, swaggeringly continue to sit.

Cold turkey is now easy for me because I see the lie on which this whole Internet was built.  And perhaps that’s exactly the conclusion the NSA, GCHQ and its multifarious hangers-on want us to come to: there’s no point in continuing with such a fundamentally corrupted beast.

Which is why I have to say they’re probably right.  In this, I mean.  Not in doing what they’ve done.

Lord, no.  Not that.  Not in a thousand years.

To undermine so fundamentally our fabric of free speech, to make us feel we have a Hobson’s choice of an empty web of hole-ridden cloth on the one hand or a shutting up shop and a silently reserving our democracy for family and friends on the other, is truly a golpe de estado of terrible proportions.  I mean really, what’s the point of such a democracy if voters are tracked so utterly?  Where is free will?  Where is secular liberty?  Where have all the liberal concepts we once treasured so much gone and ended up?

Freedom of choice?  It won’t exist.  We will find ourselves “pre-imprisoned”, in one way or another, for our own “safety” and for the “security” of our communities.  Algorithms and maths will decide our destinies in an absolutist way, much as omens and heathen religions did in other supposedly darker ages.  DNA, genetic analysis … all this science and so much more will be put to an end which rational thought would in other centuries hardly ever have countenanced: the removal of all fraternity and liberty from the sphere that is human thought and act.

Yet maybe in all of this rather sad landscape I paint a solution could exist.  Maybe the Hobson’s choice I describe is even grander than I describe.  Maybe, just maybe, we might decide that the NSA & Co have actually done us all a favour: in their obvious, perverse and deliberate destruction of the idealism of a perfectly communicating web, they have really brought it down to earth.  And we, as human beings, need the down-to-earth to function well.  We, as human beings, need such challenges as these in order to keep up the fight.

In the frame of a perfectly – and easily – communicating web, we were becoming lazy gadget-consuming materialistic beings.  So perhaps, now, in the snapshot that is an NSA-perforated Internet we can become, once again, the sincere altruistic thinkers and doers of those beautiful decades ago.

Those thinkers and doers who – all those decades ago – brought about the original Internet, and thus raised our joyous hopes.

____________________

Update to this post: via Adam Fish, this warning tale for all of us who would like to sound clever when nattering about Internet discourse.  Evgeny Morozov on the fallacy of, amongst other things, cuddling up far too happily to the enemy.


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Aug 252013
 
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I’ve been wondering the same.  We’re criticising and slamming and dunking with clever words this state we believe is a police state already.

Or not quite yet, as the case may be.

Yet this tweet encapsulates something I’ve also been pondering:

If you can publish an article in a national newspaper comparing your country to a police state, it probably isn’t anywhere near one.

The question, however, I think is quite different.  What – if like so many post-modern moments – this is now a post-modern police state, where the rules of the game have been utterly reconverted?

A new kind of state which has learned from previous manifestations.  Yes.  I’ve seen a tweet describe how Ceaușescu’s regime registered all the typewriters in the country in order to be able to doublecheck the origins of any communication – with the inference that such behaviours were a precursor to what we have on the table now; I’ve seen other comments appear to compare the American NSA with the East German Stasi – comments which let it be understood the Stasi were small beer compared with today.

But I’m beginning to think that the new contract drawn up – even as it has been drawn up without our cognisance – is not exactly, not quite, the police state we’re assuming it must be.

A police state it is – don’t get me wrong.  A police state where everyone is under suspicion.  But a police state which has learnt to allow social networks an important role in keeping the lid on dreadful circumstance.  In any other time, a government which allowed thousands of disabled people to die as a direct result of its policy adjustments would be massacred at the polls; in the media that cared to report it; in the parishes and grapevines that used to populate our country.

Now it would seem that people can become homeless as a result of the “bedroom tax”; the homeless can end up crushed in wheelie bins as a result of their poverty; and the poor who have nothing to eat can get sentenced to prison for stealing a sausage roll.  And nothing happens.  That is to say, nobody at government level cares to reconsider anything they are.

Anything they are, think or do.

This, then, is the new kind of state I describe above.  A state where democracy no longer pretends its main objective is to represent the will of the people through the ballot box: the function of the ballot box, instead, is to legitimise the actions of a minority.  As John Prescott describes today in a gently analogous process:

As Deputy Prime Minister I was asked by GCHQ to sign phone tap orders in order to trace the terrorists behind Omagh. I later discovered GCHQ had been tracking these individuals for weeks and my ­signature simply legitimised this State-backed phone hacking.

Writ larger, this is what has happened to representative democracy.  What politicians are going to do, like corporations and their blessed succession-planning procedures, is already well laid-out way before an election takes place.  We simply serve to rubber-stamp wealth’s instincts, justifications and objectives.  And if we don’t always act according to the unwritten script, something else happens to impulse other actions; something else happens to cloak the reality in the inevitability of a sadly-tough political medicine – a medicine which aims to make us believe our political leaders, and their sponsors, have their hands just as sadly tied.

What’s really new about this police state is it’s actually morphed into a policed state: everything we are, do or think is getting to the point where it’s liable to be recorded and copied by someone.  From CCTV in train toilets to Internet logs which register every website we go to … you know, it’s actually quite astonishing in a world where copyright law imprisons people for decades for the accessible crime of copying content in its digital form that, at least in security and marketing contexts, the very stuff of our own flesh-and-blood lives is quite easily the most broadly-copied and widely-shared sequence of events on the planet.

And I really do not hear anyone shouting out loud that our intellectual property rights over our existences are being deliberately and summarily violated.

Do you?

I didn’t think you did.

Anyhow.  Notwithstanding my intellectual bleating, this new kind of state has clearly shifted the onus of democratic representation onto the social networks.  As it has become easier to complain virtually, so representative democracy has moved away from giving space to such complaints.  Where we social-network users thought our acts made democracy better, it’s quite possible that our lords, masters and mistresses have actually invented/taken advantage of a way of venting off further requirements to respond – in any politically meaningful way – to any kind of societal dissatisfaction at all.

This is a police state which doesn’t – as a general rule – put people in prison, so much as construct virtual prisons within which we all are now living our lives.

It’s almost as if we’ve moved from being battery chickens to being their free-range cousins; from inhabiting caged zoos to inhabiting safari-parked enclosures.  The frame looks so big and beautiful now – yet frame it continues to be.

And so they’ve imprisoned all of us, and so it is true – just as wild animals and pets become domesticated in what were once very English castles.  And in this new kind of post-modern police state of ours theirs, we they no longer need to incarcerate anyone.

We’re already, most of us, more or less cheerfully behind bars.

The only possible upside being maybe one day – just maybe – we’ll be on the outside looking in.


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Aug 212013
 
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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?


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Aug 182013
 
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Most of my readers probably consider me an excessively rhetorical soul, given to dancing verbally around subjects instead of providing hard evidence.  Today, I’ll provide hard evidence for the following assertion: our democracy has been gamed from within – and needs to be ungamed about as sharpish as we can.

The evidence first.  A couple of years ago I already reported on ministerial bed-hopping:

It was bad enough in New Labour times.  Something I picked up via False Economy in August (background here) made that pretty patent and clear enough for all of us to see.  Amongst the many unhappy truths, conflicted interests and abuses of power in such times, this one is perhaps one of the most vigorously anti-democratic:

“The number of former ministers ‘revolving out’ raised particular concern in Parliament and the press in 2008, when the list for the previous two years revealed that no fewer than 28 former ministers had taken jobs in the private sector. Of these, thirteen were still MPs. Paul Flynn, a member of the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), commented that ‘he could not remember ministers hopping into the private sector like this……It is a way of buying access.’ This number of 28 compares with a total of 31 in the list published in March 2011, which covered the previous twelve months. A smooth transition to the private sector could now be said to be the normal expectation for a government minister.”

Now – it would appear, however – that as in everything in this world, Cameron & Co are looking to outdo even more of the less salubrious “achievements” of our previous governors.  As the Telegraph reports today:

The bosses of some of the biggest companies in Britain, including BP, Shell and Jaguar Land Rover, are to be given hotlines to ministers to boost the economy.

To be honest, here I’d be inclined to want to argue the toss – and make one very small but important amendment to that sentence:

The bosses of some of the biggest companies in Britain, including BP, Shell and Jaguar Land Rover, are to be given hotlines to ministers to boost their economy.

Yesterday, meanwhile, the Guardian provided us with some important data in relation to who is really represented at party political conferences:

Lobbyists and executives from companies and charities make up a third of the people at the Conservative autumn conference, it has emerged.

The Tory party’s commercial brochure shows just 38% of delegates at the party’s annual meeting are members, while 36% are from companies, charities and other “exhibitors”. Around 20% of attendees were from the media.

If you asked me to compare that figure of 36 percent with how general elections are won and lost, how decisions are taken after election day and who, essentially, our representative democracies truly represent these days, I’d find it difficult to take issue with that figure.  If anything, I’d be inclined to argue it underestimates the influence of moneyed constructors of public opinion and discourse.

Clearly, then, our democracy has been gamed from within.  Political parties which can no longer depend on individual members to sustain their narratives resort to big donors whose interests lie quite elsewhere.  The big push that a general election campaign used to presuppose – where once interpreted as a massively positive referendum on past actions as well as on the potential integrity of future promises – has been positioned as a perfect objective for the Dark Arts of political marketing and spin to focus their actions and massage our opinions.

And so most of us understand a democracy gamed just as clearly needs ungaming.  Which brings me to this fascinating suggestion by Tim, worth reading in full for its measured portrayal of a beautiful alternative to the mess we currently find ourselves in – democracy without general elections:

In short, general elections seem like a good idea and we’re used to choosing governments that way, but they allow a lot of room for undemocratic manipulation.

But surely, to have democracy you need general elections?

He goes on to explain how a rolling process of weekly elections – not without its possible downsides but nevertheless worth considering in the light of its democracy-infusing and grassroots-empowering advantages – might help wrest power from the centralisers and return it to the people without requiring any profound reorganisation of Parliament itself:

[...] Its main features are:

  • No general elections.
  • Instead, elect five MPs per fortnight. With 650 MPs, this takes five years to get through them all. So each MP is elected for a five-year term, and you vote every five years, when it’s your constituency’s turn to vote.
  • On arrival in parliament, each MP casts their vote for who should be Prime Minister, using a numbered preference system. That vote remains in force throughout that MP’s time in parliament or until they decide to change it (maybe subject to limits about how frequently or under what circumstances this can happen).
  • The Prime Minister remains Prime Minister for as long as the recorded votes of current MPs indicate that they are still acceptable to the majority. (That is: if the recorded votes were cast in an AV-style ballot, the Prime Minister would still win.)
  • To avoid a situation where a Prime Minister goes in and out of office every fortnight as new MPs replace old ones, there’s either a threshold number of votes above 50% that someone has to pass in order to gain office, or they have to be the winner for a specified length of time.

The biggest upsides I can see are twofold: firstly, since it would appear the traditional party political structure is now about as corrupted by Big Money as could possibly be the case (remember that 36 percent of lobbyist representation mentioned in the Guardian article), taking away the right of parties to structure their political persuasion and marketing around big events held every five years would, in fact, take it away from the lobbyists too.  Secondly, no party, however well-funded, could possibly run weekly elections without the true enthusiasm and collaboration of grassroots volunteers everywhere.  Suggestions made to democratise internal democracy in relation to policy generation and planning in particular would rapidly gain traction as a result.

And not just for Labour.

This idea deserves further and wider consideration than simply by my humble blogsite.  If you do stumble across this post, please consider retweeting on Twitter, liking on Facebook or linking to and writing about its thesis.

I do think we need it more than many professionals in the field are prepared to acknowledge for the moment.  But as simple voters who know what it’s like to be on the crappy end of a process, it may be up to us to make them understand their tardiness – before we all lose faith entirely in the glories of what we once called a liberal democracy.

No?


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Aug 172013
 
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At the very end of this BBC report on youth unemployment, we get this astonishing quote (the bold is mine):

Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said David Cameron’s government had “comprehensively failed young people”.

“The Work Programme has missed every single one of its performance targets. The Youth Contract is on course to miss its targets by 92%.

“Ministers need to act now to introduce a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee to get any young person out of work for more than a year into a paying job – one they would be required to take.”

So let me get this straight.  In a “free-market” capitalism, in a supposedly “liberal” democracy, people who’ve had no blame for their condition as long-term unemployed should be obliged to take on a job – with the only condition that it might be paid.  And paid, minimally one assumes, by that very layer of society which has brought us close to the financial ruin currently afflicting us.

First, what a notable colleague of yours, Tom Watson, has just said in separately distinctive declarations:

The more important part is what Watson says about the economy:

“There was huge market failure in the finance and banking sector – everyone knows that – and we’ve not robustly said so. The truth is that in government we didn’t sufficiently map out the contours of the mixed economy and put stakes in the ground about where the market can’t go. We were frightened of dealing with some of those so-called great Thatcherite legacies, like liberalisation of the City, so we let the City grow out of control. And I don’t know why we don’t just say that. Why don’t we just say that?” Might it be to do with protecting Ed Balls’ reputation? “I don’t know,” he says, but doesn’t sound entirely convincing. “I didn’t do the economy, I was the coordinator.”

Watson fears Labour’s unwillingness to admit they let the financial markets get out of control has cost them their economic credibility. “If we don’t explain that properly, how can we argue that it’s the reason the crisis took place in 2008? Our problem is that, in the absence of that explanation, people blame the 2008 crash on our profligate spending.”

Once Labour has admitted the reason for the crash, it could then offer a “distinctive economic programme” of investment to create jobs. “It’s all about jobs. Not taking risks is not an option.” Does Labour’s current economic policy takes too few risks? “Yes, definitely. The country is in a crisis. If Labour’s not going to give the bold solution, then who is?”

So basically what we’re talking about here is a Labour Party which, at least according to Watson’s assessment, is still unable to see itself re-regulating anything at least a shade close to the real reasons for our socioeconomic misery.

Oh.  But look who’s here (more here).  I’d almost forgotten this detail from Labour’s complex and as yet undefined present.

Rewind time, I think.  A Labour Party, then, unable to see itself re-regulating anything significant – except the labour market our dear Liam Byrne is responsible for shadowing; that labour market where jobs must be accepted by the youth of our nation on pain of state excommunication.

By a youth which has played absolutely no part in the economic trials and tribulations our financial-services whizz-kids have been allowed to impose on us.

Whatever happened to liberal democracy, Liam?  Whatever happened to justifying capitalism’s imperfections through the imperfect but honourable effort of reasonably free men and women?  Whatever happened to those reasonably free men and women being reasonably equal before the law of the land?

As I tweeted just now:

Why must voters submit themselves to Compulsory Jobs Guarantees, whilst politicos & biz leaders can move their money & influence whenever?

And as I concluded minutes later:

We’re no longer equals before the law because the law is twisted by those who would prefer to be more equal. Now, the law brays cruelly.

The law does indeed bray cruelly.  And those in power, or those who look to have it shortly, see no problem any longer with its becoming an ass in the eyes of a wider populace.

I would like to know, though, what happened to this grand idea of liberal democracy.  You know, the free market of capital and labour, where people – at the very least – were able to aspire to ideals of choice and liberty.

If Labour wants to sort itself out in the real world, it has to learn how to be even-handed with everyone.  To remind us how it was fashioned in an environment of justice for all.  To make us recall its nicer side; its kinder side; its more efficient and simultaneously humane side.

Alternatively, if it wants to continue down Byrne’s nasty road of compulsion, it’s got a helluva lot of explaining to do in order to convince the rest of us why compulsion can only be used on the young.  Why compulsion is fine on the poor, disadvantaged and sick – but not on the wealthy who’ve brought us to the edge of this incoherent abyss.  Why compulsion is correct and sensible for those who suffer – but not for those who continue to privilege themselves infamously.

Because I tell you one thing: if capitalism no longer offers even minimally even-handed freedoms of liberal democracy as an upside, and not even our Labour Party is there to even-handedly defend them, there’s bloody little else convincing me to stay on the path of the figurative straight and narrow.

Bloody little else convincing me the rule of law is anything, any more, but the rule of loreReptiles being the creatures to hand here.  Reptiles of the coldest-blooded kind.


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Aug 062013
 
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Democracy only makes any sense if we believe that human beings, in their natural state and left to their own only slightly moderated devices, operate generally in good faith.  The concept of progress soppy democrat-types have always associated with Western civilisation can only work properly if we assume we are fundamentally of a progressive bent.  If we see the bad and the violent which takes place in all societies as aberrations of an otherwise sensible species, then democracy as a goal, tool and strategy makes inevitable and continuing sense.

But what if we assume human beings are not essentially sensible?  Or what if we discover that once we may have been – and now we are not?

What if we begin to perceive a different profile emerging?

What if neoliberalism’s last few decades have actually changed the essence of what it is to be of our species?

Can a certain economics, deliberation and environment wreak primal alterations to how we behave; to our instincts and impulses; to our way of relating not only to other people but also to other beings, existences and ecosystems?

Has neoliberalism’s worldwide laboratory actually affected the result?

Chris suggested as much the other day:

[...] herein lies a danger. The neoliberal priority of individuals over community networks can be performative; it doesn’t just describe the world, but shapes it too.  Having given us a society of isolated individuals, neoliberalism also gives Wonga more chance of out-competing credit unions.

So back to my initial train of thought: if democracy as we understand it involves the idea of Western progress, and requires the presence of a generally progressive weight of behaviours, assumptions and mindsets from its participants in order that it might not betray its very substance, what happens to its future integrity when the weight of such behaviours is deliberately rebalanced so that it becomes impossible to coincide with traditional perceptions of advancement?

Under such circumstances, doesn’t democracy become irrelevant?  I don’t mean, as I’ve said quite incessantly (quite irritatingly) on these pages, that it finds itself peppered with corrupting acts of revolving doors, the self-interested privileges of top-down hierarchies and corporate and political grafts various.  No.  I mean something much more fundamental and game-changing than that.

What if neoliberalism’s thirty- or forty-year march – coupled with the corporate infiltration and shaping of everything we are, do and hanker after (I am reminded of a tweet I read this morning which said something along the lines of: “We’ve become a society of Shakespeares, all writing like monkeys”) – has actually made the vast majority of us basically unsuited to the concepts of traditional democracy I’ve outlined above?

If this is the case, it’s not just that democracy has turned into a farce where the powerful rubber-stamp their power with the laughably occasional will of the people.  If this was all it was, there would still be space for a degree of hope.  No.  The game-changing nature of what’s happened over the past half a century is that we, as human beings, have evolved in mere generations into something quite different from our grandparents.  A consumer society where money demands to be heard; a gadget-driven world where we love tools and use people; an impatient relationship with input and outcome; an absolute inability to step back from thinking and reacting fast.  All of this, and far more, now separates us dramatically from only a couple of generations ago.

The people of a couple of generations ago – as well as the democratic expectations of a couple of generations ago.

Just think about it.

We haven’t destroyed democracy from within.

We’ve simply moved on from its principles.

We’ve evolved astonishingly quickly, to the point where we are probably becoming fairly unrecognisable.  Though to ourselves, wrapped up in ourselves, as always, we will perceive little of this.

Evolved, yes.  Progressed, not necessarily.

For there’s always the chance that this isn’t just the end of the line for democracy.

There’s always the chance – sooner rather than later – it’s the end of the line for the species.

Neoliberalism, the map.

And we, foolish and lazy beings that we are, have taken the wrong fork in the road.


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