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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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.


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Jun 212014
 
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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?

Maybe.

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

Certainly.

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.

Yes.

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.


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Jun 212014
 
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The issue I’ve always had with Ed Miliband can be summarised thus: we don’t want the traditional CEO badly pyramidal type of top-down politicians as leaders, because that sort of leadership is based on the medieval dynamics which have served to destroy ordinary people’s economies over the past six years.  From transnational banking institutions which didn’t know – or didn’t bother to care – about the fate of billions of small people’s wealth to large corporate employers which regroup in times of such crisis, throwing millions of innocent workers out of the roles their lives, families and future hopes so desperately depend on, the kind of structures we’re using in business right now are clearly not the model an enabling body politic needs any more.

We need other ways; more imaginative ways; more carefully-wrought and considered ways.

Ed Miliband always seemed to promise these ways – though it may be, in an ultimate analysis, that he simply allowed some of us to project on him our hopes and clever wonkinesses, without ever actually promising anything.  As I said in my “Psycho” piece from 2011, linked to at the top of this post (the bold is mine today):

Now I’m not saying Ed Miliband has succeeded where Hitchcock did decades before: transgression is not quite where most British politicians are to be found these days.  But I do think, in an analogous way, that – in his recent speech at Party Conference – Ed Miliband was at least attempting to break certain moulds in quite a courageous manner.  The very fact that many people felt obliged to criticise his delivery – and not see his register as conversational rather than traditionally declamatory – does make me wonder if this poor man doesn’t have the hardest job in politics: to sell grassroots collaboration to a political party wary of, and thus resistant to, all such similar promises.

A political party which claims to be the very essence of grassroots politics – and then consistently finds itself in search of yet another charismatic group of fixers.

Which brings us precisely to the real issue we should have with Ed Miliband’s leadership – or perceived lack of at the moment.  It’s not simply a question of whether he can out-CEO the Camerons, Blairs and historically charismatic leaders various that Western politics has preferred to occasionally throw our way.  In fact, if we’re really wanting to be on the ball, that is precisely the dynamic we should not be asking Miliband to deliver.  No.  We need to ask something quite different of Miliband: he needs to finally show us he can choose to throw of the mantle of a probable personal insecurity; an insecurity which rears its ugly head when traditional media and political orgs – using heavily hierarchical command and control structures themselves – demand that in Labour and for the country he does exactly the same: that he follows their model and practice to the letter.

So this is it Ed: you have to decide.  You have to decide if you want – or do not want – to be a Victorian father of awful strictness and distance to what could otherwise be our multifarious nation: a Gove-clone; a Cameron-copy; an Osborne out-doer; an IDS instigator … in effect, an authoritarian decider of terrible throwback.

And, in truth, what you really have to accept is even if you wanted the above, you’d never be able to deliver.

Given this is the case, accept your destiny, instead, as enabler and facilitator of our nations – and work to convince the voters that this, precisely this, is where you will be able to add the very most value.  Where, indeed, in a 21st century environment, most value needs to be added.

Don’t suddenly, now, in the time we have left till the next election, try to out-CEO the authoritarians.  It just won’t work.  It won’t work because we won’t believe you have it in you – and this is partly because you don’t.  But it also won’t work because it hasn’t worked in the wider economic landscape either, and evidence of that we all have more than enough.

Your time has come – if only you realised it.

Not us.

You.

Time to define – and by so doing, accept you need to take onboard the very real risk of losing everything you treasure right now.

For that, in the end, is the only possible way to enable the victory of almost everyone.

British politics has been run for far too long as a highly hierarchical national outfit.  You, Labour and the rest of us out here have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change all of that.

So don’t follow the past.  Wreak the future!  (In the kindest possible way, of course …)


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Oct 042013
 
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I think I was crunching the occasional snail underfoot as I walked past the old zoo entrance, practically home.  It was almost eleven o’clock; I’d set off for Liverpool at just after four.  I’d got to the event’s location crazily early, but I was never one for wanting to arrive late.  The event was at the Devonshire House Hotel.  And Red Billy was right: if you’re in the Labour Party, and count yourself as in, what separates you from your journeymen and women is a shade of difference, not a chasm.

This was an evening of fulsome agreement on occasions, modest agreement on others, gently expressed disagreement in some cases – but no displeasure nor unkindness of any kind.

So can politicians ever exert any kind of real influence?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps not.  But what they can do, what Ed Miliband clearly exudes, is a tone of decent everyman we could all do well to emulate.

And in a world of Goves, Osbornes and Hunts, this is not a small matter at all.

The noose of choice is beginning to tighten.  Politics was ever thus.  No.  Politics isn’t war converted into rhetorical tussle.  More exactly, politics is a kind of civil war, converted into very real pain.  The stories behind the pain the Tories are causing us, recounted at this evening’s Q&A with Ed Miliband, made themselves manifestly apparent: from LGBT prejudice of a dreadful nature to a story about the absence of clearly defined disabled care for an adolescent with autism, we could see laid out plain for all to see the results of a Tory nation-state where each person must tussle alone with their very private sadnesses.  From street musicians who understand by their very travelling the importance of preserving – and restoring – our municipal spaces to those who admire the theorising of Miliband’s father, and yet simultaneously appreciate his son’s distancing from such theory (“My father had a very different job from mine” is about as clear as any disavowal can get, staying as it must within the confines of family love), here we had yet another demonstration of how Labour is becoming a community not of slavish agreement but, rather, of intelligent discussion around the trains of thought that Miliband (Ed) is bringing to British politics.

For this is what is happening: Ed Miliband is tremendously ambitious.  Not for himself (except inasmuch as this allows him to lever his goals); instead, for a country he clearly does anything but hate.  And in order to realise this degree of ambition, he has had to think his way through how he might reweave the very fabric of everything we do in Britain.  He is not looking to turn the world upside down in his pursuit of change; his is not a wild Goveian brandishing of insults.  Rather, he is aiming to restore a natural balance which decades of neoliberal hedge-funded tax-havened offshoring has deliberately fought to upset.

It has become so natural for us to believe there is no money to be had that we have swallowed hook, line and share offering the entire lying tale utterly whole.  But just think back to post-war Britain: think back to the constraints of that time.  Think back to how a very different Labour government reconstructed a severely damaged but still not bowed nation-state.

If it was possible then, why not be equally ambitious now?  After three destructive years, both to body and human spirit, there is no reason at all to believe we can’t be.

And so to my final question: is Ed Miliband the right leader?

Absolutely not.  And neither do his clever trains of thought take him in that direction.

The right enabler then?  Maybe, just maybe, he is.  For if I am right in my analysis, as that political noose I mention tightens evermore hurtfully, it could now just be our turn to take up a very different slack: the slack of the spaces where our contributions as members, registered supporters and general sympathisers can make Miliband (the enabler) exactly what an old body politic needs.

Evidence this could already be happening?  Maybe this: one of the most sympathetic and reaching-out of interventions came from a modern trades union representative who called for collaboration between the Party and trades unions to share the cost – both intellectual and financial – of developing materials to get Labour’s messages across.  The idea was phrased cooperatively; the tone was understanding; the intention was clearly to talk positions through.

This is the new Labour of Miliband (the enabler).  A community of sincerely thoughtful souls who are looking to forge a decent Britain.  The One Nation idea may not fit quite perfectly with other movements in our fraughtly disuniting kingdom but as a metaphor for Miliband’s new Labour, if today’s event is anything to go by, the fit could not be more productive.

Maybe parties, like governments, can never do anything more useful than set a tone.  But if that is the case, the enabling Labour on show in Liverpool this evening has shown us it is already half the way to its more than admirable goal.

The eagerness of the righteous, translated into a latterday speech the 21st century understands.

And that, in the end, is the level of ambition Ed Miliband believes in.

The question now is: do you also dare to hope again?


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Oct 022013
 
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Love is a complex emotion.  At my happiest, I have been profoundly in love.  At my saddest, I have been rejected in such love.

The last three years of Coalition government, for me at least anyhow, have encompassed such a rejection.  Like a suitor displaced, like a lover disgraced, my prejudices around the wisdoms of consensus politics have been bitterly cracked by the experience of what Cameron and Clegg have cooked up between themselves – often behind the backs of their very own party members and the latter’s profoundest beliefs.

This is not a good advertisement for equal marriage at all.

Sad that the two Cs can only preach what they would like us to do; practising being quite beyond their ken.

And so I saw this video this morning.  Watch it to the end if you have not already done so; it is an unseemly moment in our public life.


http://youtu.be/2CJsBdAqStM

Meanwhile, this is what us vs th3m make manifest to us all: difference is what the Mail fears most – things and thoughts which mix and match, which combine anew, which make us puzzled and curious.  Stuff which makes us wonder.  God forbid that we should wonder.  God forbid that we should question an existing environment of failing industrial models; an existing environment of a capitalism which prefers to blame those who suffer its weaknesses so much more than those who have clearly caused them; an existing environment of one-concept ponies way out of reach of that intelligence which most ennobles us.

Hated by the Daily Mail

In attacking Ralph Miliband for his attachment to a broader socialism, however, I think the Mail is looking to knock the idea from last week’s Labour Party Conference that socialism as per its very English post-war examples – the NHS, Legal Aid, free education, social care – is actually an essential part of a very English conservatism.  Not the alleged conservatism of this terrible Coalition, where the only road is “One Best Way” corporate capitalism.  No.  A quite different conservatism which, perhaps, in hindsight, Blue Labour was attempting to make our own.

In truth, at its best Labour’s grandest post-war achievement was to pick from the disaster of Communist oppression, even under a terrible umbrella of Cold War fear, the idea that working together as a society – in a planned and constructive way – could create a better world for a much grander number of people than would otherwise be the case.

There was a time when so many of us looked to the non-aligned Communism of Yugoslavia and its ilk for a way forward to a better place than rampant capitalism was providing.  But such ways, such planned economies, were way before their time: we didn’t have the algorithms, we didn’t have the maths, we didn’t have the simple computing power to crunch complex economic systems to an organised and productive effect.  Now we do.  Now we have a corporate capitalism as centrally planned as any 20th century one-party Communism.  Apple’s mountain of cash is far bigger than many nation-states which struggle liberally disorganisedly out there.  The question is this, of course: if Apple and Google and Coca-Cola can centrally plan, why not see it time for political organisation to propose the same in democratic discourses such as ours?

If we need an explanation of the madness that is the current Daily Mail, we need only examine the implications of a world where corporate capitalism combines with a very humane, a very eccentric, a very conservatively English socialism of the sensible.

For what the Mail and those of its ilk really fear is not the hordes of foreign invaders imprinting Marxist uproar and confusion on our otherwise green and pleasant conurbations but, rather, quite obviously, the hordes of common sensers that gently sleep every day of the week in these islands – those who let such newspapers go so far, but one day thus far and no further.

Yes.  Perhaps we are essentially conservative.  But precisely out of the melding of an innate conservatism with the instincts of society, we managed to create a very English socialism in a world – at the time – rightly hostile to such experimentation.

The real wise and wonderful Third Way was post-war Labour’s rescuing of our right to think of others as much as we thought of ourselves.  Just imagine if now, after three years of a dog-eat-dog capitalism, Ed Miliband’s Labour Party saw itself capable of similarly rescuing socialism’s sensibilities: a commonsensical socialism of the essentially conservative.

With the analytical and predictive tools Attlee’s government could only have dreamed of, Miliband’s Labour has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set to rights the course of history.  That’s why the Mail is throwing such a wobbly.  That’s the real reason for all this rubbish.

They’re running bloody terrifyingly scared – because English socialism at its heart, at its best, is conservative to the core.  And with the conservative heart that is an Englishman or woman, we have a perfect fit of the kindest people on the planet.

That, in essence, is why I love even the England I hate.  Political DNA is of a piece: there is nothing you can extract without damaging the whole.  To meet sensitive souls who give a Cameron or a Clegg their rope is painful while it happens, of course.  But there comes a time when even such sensitivities find themselves drawing a line.

Last week, Ed Miliband vowed to bring socialism back to these shores.  And for us, he drew the line that needed drawing.

Society is back.

And English socialism too.


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Sep 252013
 
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Ed Miliband clearly, cogently and coherently defined a generation yesterday.

As Peter Oborne succinctly points out:

[...] Mr Miliband is not the leader of some virtual political party, constructed by focus group experts to appeal to the lowest common denominator. He represents a great political movement, and it is his job to speak on behalf of the underprivileged and the disenfranchised.

These words from Mr Oborne made me want to weep.  At last, I might add.  At last.

As all great leaders must, Ed Miliband’s challenge is to define generations.  To define epochs.  To define political cycles.  Through his words, through his demeanour, through his desire – and ability – to talk directly to the people, he can open up, for such a generation, a series of freedoms currently boxed in by a quite different stratum of society.

That is to say, by those Oborne’s newspaper might be suspected of supporting.

And for those Oborne describes as underprivileged and disenfranchised.

I think, with his latest speech, Mr Miliband is achieving the challenge he has set himself.  More importantly, the challenge he has set us.

We cannot doubt his sincerity – nor, indeed, his accuracy when he describes the Britain we see around us.

At least for those of us who do not live in the nicer parts of the leafy Londons of this world.

So the first step has been taken.

All that remains – the most important, the most inevitable, the most unavoidable step we must dare to take – is discovery!  Discovery as to exactly how to forge a winning majority.  And, as Spanish football writers would always underline, it’s not enough just to win.  You have to win beautifully too.

Through your words, through your demeanour, through your desire and ability to directly communicate.

The discovery in question will help define whether Mr Miliband’s generation is big enough to enfranchise the underprivileged or not.

What a wonderful goal!  What a wonderful challenge!  What a wonderful political party Miliband (Ed) is allowing to emerge!  When a Labour leader can proudly and unreservedly state what he has now revealed in public … that truly is a discovery well worth witnessing.

We have rediscovered a flag to wave.  We have rediscovered a party to fight for.  We have rediscovered we are proudly unbowed.  And that, Mr Miliband, in itself, for now anyhow, justifies your leadership a thousand times over.


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Sep 222013
 
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An Ed Miliband quote (the bold is mine):

“This next election is going to come down to the oldest questions in politics: whose side are you on and who will you fight for?”

Some more:

He said it was “wrong” that millions of people are “going out to work unable to afford to bring up their families”.

He added: “The Labour government will put it right, we will strengthen the national minimum wage, we will make work pay for the workers of Britain.

“That’s what I mean by a government that fights for you: abolishing the bedroom tax, strengthening the national minimum wage, child care there for parents who need it.

“That’s what I mean by tackling the cost of living crisis at this conference, that’s what I mean by a government that fights for you.”

Now Pope Francis (again, the bold is mine):

“Where there is no work, there is no dignity,” he said, in ad-libbed remarks after listening to three locals, including an unemployed worker who spoke of how joblessness “weakens the spirit”. But the problem went far beyond the Italian island, said Francis, who has called for wholesale reform of the financial system.

“This is not just a problem of Sardinia; it is not just a problem of Italy or of some countries in Europe,” he said. “It is the consequence of a global choice, an economic system which leads to this tragedy; an economic system which has at its centre an idol called money.”

The 76-year-old said that God had wanted men and women to be at the heart of the world. [...]

I am reminded of this phrase I quoted myself in a post a while ago (this time, both the bold and italics were mine, but then!):

[...] here’s the text of the poster below:

People were created to be loved.  Things were created to be used.  The reason the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.

Meanwhile, this is what David Cameron has recently been up to.  From the supposed king of PR, at that.

Just to review what’s been happening, then.  Whilst Cameron’s been snoozing his way through a capitalism both Pope Francis and Ed Miliband are criticising similarly, the latter has managed to get to the point where voicing a desire to return socialism to our shores is not a dirty idea.

Bloody right it shouldn’t be.

And in so doing, he is only recognising what has been happening all along: that the Tories and their American friends have been actively promoting the destruction of those sensible vestiges of a very English socialism we on this little island of ours were perfectly happy to sustain.

Quite cleverly, like Ronald Reagan before him in that quite separate sociopolitical context, Miliband (Ed) has consistently gone over the heads of the commentariat and political establishment out there to define a direct channel of communication, in this case with the British people – certainly the English I see around me – who don’t seem to be appearing in the focus groups and opinion surveys so beloved of the professionals.

But that is the job of leaders who first surprise and second manage to crystallise exactly what we thought but didn’t voice.  Their task, to define and enunciate in words and intelligences we can all understand the time, moment, sensibility and sense of the age it is their destiny to oversee.  If we are to have pyramidal politics, let the ones at the top choose to enable inclusively, as Miliband wishes (I am sure) to be the case – instead of leading leaden- and flat-footedly the humble voters to their own sorry destruction.

As Iain McNicol’s email to those of us who are not attending Party Conference today exhortingly pointed out:

 In my last conference speech, I promised that in a year’s time we would take on a hundred full-time community organisers. I’m excited to say we now have them — and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting each and every one.

These guys are the best of Britain: people who have dedicated themselves to serving our communities. By next year, our hundred organisers will be working in a hundred battleground seats, bringing neighbourhoods together and building the movement we need to beat the Tories.

And:

 Our party was built on this kind of local organising. Unlike the Tories, unlike the Liberals, we were not founded as an elite, closed club. Labour was a party in the community first — and that’s where we’re staying.

This community, this movement, this party is brilliant. [...]

From Ed’s sensible socialism to Pope Francis on the kind of social economy his beliefs drive him to promulgate, the pendulum is swinging back.  Swinging back for everyone, of course, except for poor old David Cameron.

In truth, Ed’s sense of timing is pretty damn good.  Keep quiet for a few months; keep your head firmly down; essentially listen to what is really hurting people.  And, simultaneously, make the Tories believe you’re quite out of the frame; that you’re as ineffectual as they’d prefer you were; that Labour really doesn’t know which way to jump.

Only to pick your moment powerfully: a simple soapbox in the street; face-to-face without autocues; an ordinary man with an extraordinary mission (always remembering that “extraordinary” can also mean “extra-ordinary”).

Compare and contrast, if you will: Ed’s sensible socialism, Pope Francis on capitalism – and Cameron … puffily poleaxed on a four-poster communications disaster.

You couldn’t write it more unkindly if you were a political speechwriter.

Maybe God is.


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Sep 072013
 
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There’s a most irritating bit of viral tweeting been going on today.  Even the normally judicious House of Twits has freely played along in the process of its propagation.  It involves the so-called (well, that’s what they called it) Militax.  There’s even a website called stopthemilitax.com.  Now I can think of plenty of websites I would like the Tories to sponsor: stopIDS.com; stopthewarinsyria.com; stopthebedroomtax.com; stopcullingbadgers.com; stopkillingdisabledpeople.com; stopbeingarseholes.com … but no, they’ve had to choose stopthemilitax.com.

So there you are.

Currently, the website says this of Mr Miliband:

STOP THE MILITAX

Ed Miliband has been too weak to stand up to Len McCluskey and his union paymasters – and as a result, he is now asking hardworking taxpayers to bail him out.

Ed wants YOU to pay for his spin doctors, his speechwriters, his conferences, his leaflets, and his party political broadcasts.

He’s proposed a £5,000 cap on political donations, which would mean massively increasing taxpayer funding of political parties.

We cannot let that happen. We cannot let the result of the trade union scandal be that every taxpayer in the country pays for the Labour Party.

Join the campaign to STOP THE MILITAX by signing the petition below.

And the way it’s been tweeted – at least today (I may be out of some loop or other, mind – I have been out of the country) – it gives the impression that this is quite a spontaneous outpouring of emotion in favour of freedom, liberty and all things all of us should be in favour of.

So I thought I’d take apart this spontaneous outpouring a bit.

First, the Google page you get when you search “militax 40m”.  The first listing is the Daily Mail (who’d have thunk it!); the second, a Politics Home Storytracker link (fair enough).  The Storytracker, as befits its role, is just under a week ahead of the Mail.  But then look what follows: a veritable stream of exactly the same headline, spread out across the web on often weirdly-named websites from August 24th to 25th.  Someone has clearly been buying up Internet real estate, one way or another.

Google page for the Militax

That bbb-news.com site, for example.  Wouldn’t be there to confuse the casual observer into thinking we were dealing with the BBC, by any chance?

Anyhow.  Let’s bring things up to date.  We have a figure of 40 million quid which I believe some Labour people claim – in a bit of a rabbits-in-the-headlights moment – is plucked out of thin air.  So where might that figure have been pulled from?  And with what purpose, background and intention?

Try this article from George Monbiot from late last year:

It’s a revolting spectacle: the two presidential candidates engaged in a frantic and demeaning scramble for money. By 6 November, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will each have raised more than $1bn. Other groups have already spent a further billion. Every election costs more than the one before; every election, as a result, drags the United States deeper into cronyism and corruption. Whichever candidate takes the most votes, it’s the money that wins.

The money that wins – and, of course, the money we as consumers, customers and end-users of the donating corporations end up paying out of our own pockets.  Accountable as these business contributors only are to their shareholders, the rest of us clearly have no say in such electoral carve-ups – and just about everything to lose as we sit on these evermore undemocratic sidelines, coughing up our ever-shrinking income.

But Monbiot has a solution – and I suspect this is where the Militax campaign in question was first conceived in Conservative HQ.  First, what Parliament itself suggested – not very far from the Militax which Ed Miliband’s Labour is now being accused of:

The solutions proposed by parliament would make our system a little less rotten. At the end of last year, the committee on standards in public life proposed that donations should be capped at an annual £10,000, the limits on campaign spending should be reduced, and public funding for political parties should be raised. Parties, it says, should receive a state subsidy based on the size of their vote at the last election.

Then Monbiot’s highly elegant alternative:

[...] This, I think, is what a democratic funding system would look like: each party would be able to charge the same, modest fee for membership (perhaps £50). It would then receive matching funding from the state, as a multiple of its membership receipts. There would be no other sources of income. (This formula would make brokerage by trade unions redundant.)

This system, I believe, would not only clean up politics, it would also force parties to re-engage with the public. It would oblige them to be more entrepreneurial in raising their membership, and therefore their democratic legitimacy. It creates an incentive for voters to join a party and to begin, once more, to participate in politics.

The cost to the public would be perhaps £50m a year, or a little more than £1 per elector: three times the price of a telephone vote on The X Factor. This, on the scale of state expenditure, is microscopic.

So instead of Gove’s £40 million Militax, we have Monbiot’s £50 million alternative.  Even more difficult for an austerity-riven public to swallow?  Well.  I don’t know.  Two things which make me think otherwise:

  1. If unchecked, and as per the trend sweeping in from across the Atlantic, more and more of our goods and services will have the cost of political sponsorship built in to their prices.  From the millions we currently pay for without representation, it’s not inconceivable that in what Cameron has so recently described as the world’s sixth-biggest economy, aspirations to shifting up a gear and buying billions of political influence won’t be far behind.  Our choice as consumers and voters, then?  Be ready to pay outside the umbrella of democracy – or be ready to pay within it.  I know which I’d prefer.  (I also know – as I’m sure you do – that there’s no such thing out there as a free lunch.)
  2. The British people are already quite accustomed to spending wasting, say, £34 million on quixotic projects without an apparent end-date.  If IDS can reserve for himself the right to burn the taxpayers’ fingers as he does, why not run the risk of trying to fix – with a degree of intelligent foresight – our whole body politic?  Before, that is, it goes much further down the road of shitty American plutocracy.  You never know, it might even work!

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Aug 182013
 
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This is going to be a tricky post to write.  I’m a complete outsider to Labour politics.  I’m a complete outsider to politics in general.  This means you won’t ever be coming here to hear the latest gossip.  My idea of latest gossip consists of reading Peter Watt two years after the event.

So what can I add to the stories we are suffering at the moment?  Not much, you might be inclined to say – especially when powerfully interested parties seem to bed-hop into the papers’ agendas:

Lord Prescott, a former deputy prime minister, and Lord Glasman, a Labour policy guru, are the latest grandees to demand stronger leadership from Miliband if the party is to win the next election.

In separate attacks, they criticised Labour’s absence from political debate over the summer and warned it needs to start scoring more points against the coalition.

It is Prescott, in fact, who seems to think what’s missing from Labour is more top-down militaristic precision:

On the same day, Prescott laid into his party for failing to set agendas over the summer, attacking its lack of organisation compared with the Tories and Labour under Tony Blair.

What’s more, the Guardian happily summarises Miliband’s woes thus:

A string of Labour MPs, including George Mudie and Graham Stringer, have bemoaned the party’s lack of policies and failure to counter the Tories’ arguments. But the most high-profile figure to issue a warning in the past week has been Andy Burnham. The shadow health secretary, told the Guardian that Labour must shout louder over the next few months or risk election defeat. Tom Watson, Miliband’s former general election campaign co-ordinator, also laid into the party’s response to the Falkirk vote-rigging allegations, accusing it of creating an unnecessary storm in a tea cup.

Personally, I’d prefer to place a different frame around all of this.  Instead of arguing that Miliband (or perhaps we should say his “team” – as always, political knives are positioned with surgical accuracy) has failed to fulfil his role of Cameron’s opposite, I’d like to think – from my entirely unprivileged observer status – that grassroots stuff like this is being done and prepared behind the traditional pyramidal scenes:

Cards on the table, then.  I’m not a happy Labour bunny.

This, however, does attract my attention.  And this, in particular, makes me smile:

“It’s not just about winning elections,” says Mr Miliband. “It’s about constructing a real political movement. It’s a change from machine politics to grassroots politics.”

Perhaps there is time, even now, to do much more than simply win another election on the backs of frustrations, fears and hatreds.  Perhaps there is time to think – at this time – of kindness, humility, mercy and forgiveness.  A politics made for people rather than a politics made for politicians.  Politicians, finally, as enablers then – instead of pin-headed CEO-types perched atop pyramidal structures?

Now with all the above, I’m not saying Ed is a perfect soul.  But as I said a long time ago, he’s definitely not a typical CEO-type perched atop pyramidal structures.  Cameron, Osborne, IDS and Hunt – meanwhile – most definitely are.

Is that what we want then?  More of the same – only wearing a different uniform?

I don’t think so.

Yes.  Ed does need to prove to us shortly that grassroots politics can replace the machine – but one thing, for sure, is that it takes two to grassroots.  There is only so much he can do to get us involved with redefining the machine.  If we don’t take up the challenge and participate and volunteer, it is true he will be left high and dry.

Then, with all their virtues and downsides, we might indeed get the replacement that people like Miliband’s brother might represent: people intimately involved in the ways and means of pin-headed CEO-types – just the stuff that the Coalition is wrought from.

Not so much because of their politics though.  Far more importantly, because of their ways of conceiving socioeconomic relationships.  Brought up in the environments of corporate organisations everywhere – and here I mean charities just as much as I mean companies and transnationals – they cannot even contemplate, even imagine, ways of doing that do not imply reverting – at some point – to severe hierarchy and clear command and control.

It’s just not in their DNA or work experience to see the world through a perspective which is not a multimillionaire’s imposing skyscraper somewhere on the planet.  And that kind of politician knows nothing about the kind of world I want.

My grain of sand.  My very little shout in favour of what Ed might yet be.  Maybe you’ll all prove me wrong – but of course you’re bound to achieve such a goal, if you choose to decant once again for the very top-down non-participatory politics you’re currently knocking Cameron & Co for sustaining.

Sometimes, we do find it so hard to see the world as it might be.

For whilst your question may be “Why the vacuum in Labour?”, you really should be asking yourself “Why have I missed this opportunity?”.

So don’t blame Ed – at least not for everything; instead, just a little, blame yourself!

And then, when you finally reflect on what you truly want, be honest about Cameron & Co.  In politics it’s not just what you do; it’s also how you do it.  Do you want Labour to be a mirror image of the Tories?  On the left side of the reflection – but a reflection all the same?  Or do you want a different kind of politics – a politics which doesn’t depend on the kind of declamatory speakers and makers of yore?

What I’m suggesting here is a politics which provides ordinary people with the kind of hands-on relationships that could offer them real power in this country – the real power which lobbyists, corporations and society’s well-connected individuals currently enjoy to the continuing detriment of the disadvantaged.

I know what I’d prefer.  To settle for anything less would be a crime after the last three years.

And I jolly well don’t want my Labour to lazily default to Cameron & Co’s mirror image.

Do you?


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Jul 282013
 
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About a decade ago my wife and I were looking to innovate ourselves out of unemployment.  It didn’t happen for a number of reasons, some of which I’ve already documented on these pages.

Partly, it didn’t happen because – in the face of fierce opposition from the editorial environment I wanted to work in – I wasn’t ruthless enough.

Last year, I tried again.  I attempted to publish an excellent political pamphlet on the subject of striving towards all kinds of independence, both social and political.  I attempted to publish this with the help of some friends in the country I’m writing these words from.  That is to say, the country of Spain.

Again, it didn’t happen because – in the face of a couched disavowal of the value of the project in question – I wasn’t ruthless enough.

A pattern repeating, right?

Perhaps so.

This year, not a week ago now, we arrived in Spain to a curious document from the local town council.  It described how the local chamber of commerce had apparently been attempting to prevent the setting-up of a business/science park which the council – a right-wing council, let it be understood – had promised, in its recent election manifesto, to develop and promote.

Its avowed aim being to create the conditions of incubator for new and innovative industries on the economic and technological horizon.

I assume I received this letter because, from all those years ago, I was still on the mailing-list of those who had attempted to innovate in such corners of Spain.

This conflict between established business on the one hand and wider economic interests on the other is beautifully documented in a recent post by Galludor.  In it, he makes these choice observations:

A story in today’s FT illustrates something I have been thinking about recently. Policies which are good for business are not normally good for the economy. Too often governments present their business friendly measures as boosting the economy. Policies to promote business usually serve the interests of the incumbents. The upstarts and the new businesses which economy friendly policies would encourage have no voice, because they don’t yet exist.

This distinction between business-friendly policies (ie friendly to incumbent biz) and economy-friendly policies is key, because – in establishing, observing and underlining the difference – Galludor has seen a highly competent way forward on the economy for the British Labour Party:

[...] My reasons for thinking about the subject have more to do with British politics. The Conservatives are firmly in the camp of business friendly policies. This should open an opportunity for Labour to position itself as pro-economy not pro-incumbent. Sadly it seems that this opportunity is being missed. I would argue, for example, that the BIS department [more here] should become the department for economic development. I favour a dynamic economy of change, challenging the monopoly power of incumbents, removing barriers to entry, facilitating the access of upstarts and mavericks and increasing consumer power in the market.

Maybe in this repositioning opportunity of becoming a pro-economy party, Ed Miliband’s Labour could shrug off its probably more broadly counter-productive anti-business labels (all that stuff about predatory capitalism and so forth), without leaving what should be its natural constituency behind.

How constructive politically – even plainly cool – would it be for Miliband to focus on “facilitating the access of upstarts and mavericks and increasing consumer power in the market”, just as the Tories sank into a stinking corporate mire of hedge-fund sustained politics, incumbently pork-barrelling all those nastily-corrupting revolving doors.

Any takers?  Any future?  Any hope?

Any chance?


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Jul 092013
 
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Ed Miliband’s latest speech was clearly designed for a teleprompter.  Or maybe that’s a highly politicised reading-between-the-lines approach: for sure, there are plenty of lines in the speech as per the Labour Party’s current own web-rendering of the beast.  So for those of you who haven’t yet read it, here’s my own re-rendering, with proper paragraphs I hope might make it a little easier on the brain.  On, and by-the-by, I like it very much.  Presses hopeful buttons.  As a start, it’s really not bad at all.

Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party, said:

Let me start by saying how pleased I am to be here at the St Bride’s Foundation.  Only a few hundred yards from where the Labour Party was founded over a century ago.

And especially to be here with so many community organisers and Labour Party members from right across the country.

I am here today to talk about how we can build a different kind of politics.  A politics which is truly rooted in every community of the country.  And reaches out to people across every walk of life.  That is what I mean by One Nation.  A country where everyone plays their part.  And a politics where they can.

It is about a politics that is open.  Transparent.  And trusted.  Exactly the opposite of the politics we’ve recently seen in Falkirk.  A politics that was closed.  A politics of the machine.  A politics that is rightly hated.

What we saw in Falkirk is part of the death-throes of the old politics.  And the reason why Falkirk is so damaging is because it comes against growing mistrust in politics.  People thinking politicians are in it for themselves.  Not to be trusted.  Not to be believed.  And every time something like Falkirk happens, it confirms people’s worst suspicions.  And as the Labour Party – the party of working people – we have a special responsibility to stand for a better politics.

So I want to build a better Labour Party.  A better politics for Britain.  And that is what we will do.  And we will do so by shaping a Party appropriate for the twenty-first century not the twentieth century in which we were founded.  Understanding we live in a world where individuals rightly demand a voice.  Where parties need to reach out far beyond their membership.  And where our Party always looks like the diverse country we seek to serve.  Representing the national interest.  Building a better politics starts by building a Party that is truly rooted in every community and every walk of life.

A hundred years ago the Trade Unions helped found the Labour Party.  Decade by decade, from Neil Kinnock to John Smith to Tony Blair, we have been changing that relationship.  And in this generation, to build the new politics, we need to do more, not less, to make individual Trade Union members part of our Party.  The three million shopworkers, nurses, engineers, bus drivers, construction workers, people from public and private sector.

The problem is not that these ordinary working men and women dominate the Labour Party.  The problem is that they are not properly part of all that we do.  The vast majority are not members of local parties.  Not active in our campaigns.  We have to turn that round.  Working people should be right at the heart of our Party.  Our relationship with individual Trade Union members needs to change.

Trade Unions have political funds for all kinds of campaigns and activities as they choose.  These funds are governed by law, passed in the 1980s, and there are arrangements where their members can opt-out from that fund if they do not want their money spent on political activities.  Activities covering a whole range of campaigning issues.  We do not need to change that law on the right of Trade Unions to have political funds.  But I do want to change the way individual Trade Unionists are affiliated to the Labour Party through these funds.  At the moment, they are often affiliated automatically.   I do not want any individual to be paying money to the Labour Party in affiliation fees unless they have deliberately chosen to do so.  Individual Trade Union members should choose to join Labour through the affiliation fee, not be automatically affiliated.   In the twenty-first century, it just doesn’t make sense for anyone to be affiliated to a political party unless they have chosen to do so.  Men and women in Trade Unions should be able to make a more active, individual choice on whether they become part of our Party.  That would be better for these individuals and better for our Party.  It could grow our membership from 200,000 to a far higher number.  Genuinely rooting us in the life of more of the people of our country.

I have a message to the millions of Trade Union members currently affiliated to the Labour Party: with this change I invite you to be at the centre of what this Party does, day in day out, at local level.  Together, let’s change our communities and change our country.  Moving to this system has big and historic implications for both the Trade Unions and the Labour Party.  And they need to be worked through.  But I am clear about the direction in which we must go.  I have asked Ray Collins, former General Secretary of the Labour Party, to lead work on how to make this a reality.  And he will look at the other Party reforms I am proposing today as well.

So a new politics starts with the vibrancy of our Party.  And it also needs candidates for election who are properly chosen and truly representative of our country.  That is what we are doing as a Party.  It is why we have taken steps over the last few years to seek more candidates from backgrounds that are under-represented.  It is why I have put an emphasis on also getting more ordinary working people as candidates.  It is why we have All Women Shortlists which have transformed the representation of women among MPs, now at 33% Labour and rising.  I am incredibly proud of so many brilliant candidates who have been selected for the Labour Party.  Those who have served in our armed forces, our health service, successful entrepreneurs, school teachers, shop workers, all selected for the next election to represent Labour.  People from almost every walk of life.

But we need to make sure that every selection process happens in the fairest way.  That’s not what we saw in Falkirk.  So we will have a new code of conduct for those seeking parliamentary selection.  Observing this code of conduct in the selection process will be a condition for moving forward to being a parliamentary candidate for our Party.

Also as a Party which believes so strongly in equal opportunity, we cannot have any part of the Party being able to stack the odds in favour of one candidate over another simply by the spending of money.  We will not allow this to happen.  That is why we will also urgently agree new spending limits for Parliamentary selections to include for the first time all spending by outside organisations.  And the same goes for future selections to the European Parliament and future leadership contests.

So a new politics involves a diversity of candidates, from all backgrounds, selected in a fair way.  It also involves ensuring trust in Members of Parliament.  Just as I am proud of our new candidates, so I am proud of our Members of Parliament.  All of them serve their local parties.  All of them owe their allegiance to their constituents and to our country.  That is the way they behave.

Many constituency Labour parties also have agreements with Trade Unions.  These agreements help local parties campaign on issues that really matter to local, working people.  I want it to be absolutely clear that there is a proper place for agreements like these.  Enabling people to campaign locally from everything from violence against shopworkers to promoting apprenticeships.  They help keep our Party connected to the needs of working people.   What a contrast to the Conservative Party that stands for a few out of touch people at the top.  But these agreements need to be properly regulated.  So henceforth, the Labour Party will establish standard constituency agreements with each trade union so that nobody can allege that individuals are being put under pressure at local level.

And there is another issue that all parties must confront if we are to rebuild trust in politics.  And it is time we talked about it again.  That is the pursuit of second outside jobs, sometimes paying higher salaries than the job of an MP itself.  Decades ago being an MP was often seen to be a second job.  The hours of Parliament starting in the afternoon, so people could do other jobs in the morning.  We have changed that.  But there remains a problem, as recent episodes involving lobbying and outside interests have shown.  The vast majority of all MPs have performed their duties properly within the rules.  And raising this issue casts no doubt upon that.  But we should question the rules.  The question of MPs second outside jobs has been discussed but not properly addressed for a generation.  The British people expect their MPs to be representing them and the country not anyone else.  They understand that Members of Parliament need to keep connected to the world beyond Westminster and will always write articles and give speeches.  But can it be right that the rules allow MPs to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds from private legal practice while they are supposed to be an MP?  Or from outside corporations without any real form of regulation?  We will change things in the next Parliament.  That is why I believe that at the very least there should be new limits on outside earnings, like they have in other countries.  And new rules on conflict of interests too.  The British people must be reassured that their MPs are working for them.  Being an MP should not be a sideline.  It’s a privilege and a duty.  And the rules must reflect that.

And I urge other party leaders to respond to this call for changing the system.

So we will do everything we can to have diverse local parties, candidates selected in a fair way, and we will make clear that MPs’ allegiance always being to their constituents and our country.  But as we make these changes, we must also recognise that a new politics must always reach out to more people.  We live in a totally different era than when the Labour Party was founded.  People in Britain today are less likely to join political parties.  They are more likely to focus on single issues.  And they are rightly demanding an open rather than a closed politics.  That is why Labour is increasingly becoming a community organisation.  Leading and participating in individual campaigns, from the living wage to library closures to campaigns against legal loan sharks.  I know so many of you here today are pioneering that work and I applaud you for it.  As we reshape our Party for the future, we must always value the role of Party members.  And I do.

But valuing Party members cannot be an excuse for excluding the voice of the wider public.  Since I became Labour leader, we have opened up our policy making process and opened up the Party to registered supporters.  People who do not want to join Labour but share our aims.  But I want to go further.  If we are to restore faith in our politics, we must do more to involve members of the public in our decision making.  We must do more to open up our politics.

So I propose for the next London Mayoral election Labour will have a primary for our candidate selection.  Any Londoner should be eligible to vote and all they will need to do is to register as a supporter of the Labour Party at any time up to the ballot.  And Ray Collins will examine how to pioneer this idea elsewhere too.  Such as in future Parliamentary selections where a sitting MP is retiring and where the local party has dwindled, and a primary could make for a more properly representative selection process.  I want to hear what local Labour parties think about this idea.  Because we all know there are parts of the country where our Party could be reenergised as a result.

To build trust, we also need to change the way that our country’s politics is funded.  I repeat my offer that as part of a comprehensive set of changes we should set a cap on donations from individuals, businesses and Trade Unions.  I urge the other party leaders to reopen talks on how we can clean up the way we finance our politics.  And if they won’t, the next Labour government will start that process anew.

What I have proposed today are big changes in the way we do our politics.  There is no place in our Party for bad practices wherever they come from.  I am determined that we have a Labour Party that operates in a fair, open, transparent manner.  I am determined we uphold the integrity of our Party.  And that reaches out to the country.

These reforms though are not just putting right what has gone wrong in our Party.  It is about much more.  Political parties are too often seen as remote from people’s lives.  As somebody who deeply believes that the Labour Party can be a force for good, we must change that.  We must change it with a Party not of 200,000 but of many, many more.  We must change it with candidates from diverse backgrounds, accountable to their constituents.  And we must change it by reaching out at every opportunity to the people of Britain, including through primaries.

These changes are about making it possible for us to change Britain for the better.  All of our history shows that change does not come just from a few people at the top.  It comes when good people come together to demand change.  But to make that happen we need those people in our Party.  And we need to reach out to others outside our Party too.  To genuinely build a movement again.  A movement that makes change happen in communities across the country.  And a movement that changes Britain.

That is what I believe.  That’s what the founders of our Party knew.  That is what these reforms are about.  That is the Party I want us to build.  That is how we will make Britain One Nation again.


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Jul 062013
 
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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?

Well.

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


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May 232013
 
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Kath has an interesting piece over at Speaker’s Chair.  In it she says:

Just two years before a general election, and already Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ mantra whiffs of failure. It’s not hard to see why. As a slogan, it doesn’t have the oomph of a car insurance advert, let alone the ‘va va voom’ Labour needs to win.

She adds that:

Tony Blair’s New Labour re-branding in 1994 was a success because it meant something. With one short word, he told Britain that the old Labour Party – the party of wildcat strikes, crippling taxation and high unemployment – was gone forever. One Nation Labour tells us nothing. It certainly isn’t going to contribute to a landslide victory in 2015.

Now I can understand where she’s coming from, but I’m not sure I agree.  The renaming process of “New Labour” spoke most powerfully about the thus-banished behaviours of the Party itself.  One Nation Labour, meanwhile, may be trying to do something far more revolutionary.  Even as she argues …

How are voters meant to grasp something so essentially elitist? And why would they bother trying?

… I respond with this comment:

Hmm. I agree that One Nation doesn’t mean much now, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Imagine, if you will, two years down the line, a country finally riven by the cuts which have still barely begun to bite. Imagine how people will feel, what they’ll be really desperate for. Togetherness perhaps? A oneness of nationhood? A society which helps all its members? Is that really beyond belief? Can’t the kind of political rhetoric One Nation rhetoric represents be filled out and made clear for a change by the people, instead of by the politicians?

This is why I think Ed Miliband may have thought this through much more from a strategic point of view than from a marketing point of view. Yes. Like a good Ibsen play, the real action is taking place offstage, in the community in question, amongst the people themselves. In my mind, at least, One Nation may be a political bath just waiting to be filled by the people themselves. And using the multitude of babies (Legal Aid, the NHS, education, social care, disabled support etc) which the Tories have clearly been looking to dispose of.

We’ve been here before, of course – specifically, Party Conference 2011 and Miliband’s famous curiosity of a speech.  It wouldn’t, after all, be the first time he has had people misunderstanding/underestimating what he is up to:

[...] But I do think, in an analogous way, that – in his recent speech at Party Conference – Ed Miliband was at least attempting to break certain moulds in quite a courageous manner.  The very fact that many people felt obliged to criticise his delivery – and not see his register as conversational rather than traditionally declamatory – does make me wonder if this poor man doesn’t have the hardest job in politics: to sell grassroots collaboration to a political party wary of, and thus resistant to, all such similar promises.

A political party which claims to be the very essence of grassroots politics – and then consistently finds itself in search of yet another charismatic group of fixers.

[...]

Is Ed Miliband’s speech going to be a Hitchcockian achievement [as per Hitchcock's "Psycho"]?  Misunderstood on its first outing by those who claim to know – yet generally, in the future, to be well received by those who can only vote?  Battling against those “vested interests” which make economies in their own image and for their own purposes is an issue he is courageous to raise.  In a sense, then, perhaps we could say – with his conversation – that Miliband proposes nothing more nor less than that neo-New Labour I was unhappy with the other day: but in a better and far more constructive register; that is to say, all the unfinished business which New Labour was never brave enough to get round to effecting.

This, then, in a very Reaganite way, could be how revolutionary One Nation Labour might become.  Miliband looking only to place a conceptual framework around the people; not, in any significant way, to play the commentariat game of telling the people what to think and do.  It’s not without its own risks, of course.  As Ben suggests over at Labour Uncut:

One Nation: the slogan that just will not budge. Still being drummed home to death. We may have tired of it but we’re not going to forget it. The mark of a successful slogan? Not really. I still don’t understand what it means. Or more accurately, what we’re meant to do with it. Alone, it’s meaningless: Labour has broad appeal? It will unite the whole of Britain?

But, all parties profess to do this. Besides, One Nation fails the “elevator pitch:” able to be summarised in one elevator ride. Which isn’t 100% accurate as I’ve just summed it up in a sentence. Unfortunately, the summary alone is so vague it requires several more elevator rides. Heck, it might be easier just to get in one, hit the emergency alarm, and hope the rescue takes several hours.

Yet I see other things which Labour, in the ordinary communities it must win, is doing to create a different feeling.  Maybe Miliband isn’t doing as well as he could to flesh out One Nation Labour to the mass media.  On the other hand, maybe he’s still holding back as he looks to allow the people to start taking part and doing that job of definition themselves: through the acts he encourages them to take ownership for and in the time and space he is giving the Party in order that it might grow.

This, for example, which I – in sudden partisan-like mood – blogged about thus.  In itself, then, a small event – but multiply it up by hundreds of others, multiply it up by the time Miliband is taking, multiply it up so that the members and supporters do really begin to get the feeling that something might be slowly changing inside Labour’s perception of both its activists and voters … multiply up all of that as I suggest and maybe, just maybe, a revolution of sorts could be enabled in the end.

It’s an alternative interpretation, anyhow – worth a shot, surely.

A disaster about to befall us or a revolution in British politics in the making?  As I conclude in my comment to Kath’s piece:

[...] This working-at-the-heart of people’s lives, being there to engineer good times and not just complain about the bad, is surely something we should proceed with – and maybe something that can rescue One Nation from the oblivion you all seem to think it may already be destined for.

Perhaps, also, for a traditionally national political party like Labour, Miliband has succeeded in realising – even learning from the Lib Dems in this sense – the importance of all things local to get one’s message across.

Especially in a social media and peer-to-peer networked age.

And even as some observers may find themselves at a loss to understand the true nature of the dynamics in play.


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May 182013
 
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UKIP’s been getting itself a pretty unpleasant name of late.  Holocaust deniers, equal marriage haters, out-and-out racists – the accusations have come thick and fast.  Now much of the political debate, for Labour at least, has centred around how far it needs to triangulate to the right of the British political spectrum.  Especially in the light of political shocks such as this.

There comes a time when principle must come first, however.

However hard the decisions might be, however unfavourable the polls might seem, however tempting that triangulation becomes, however risky sticking with the values of a wider movement may be perceived, UKIP’s success is precisely the reason why Labour should firmly ignore the pressure-cooker venting of political prejudice clearly going on at the moment.

UKIP is, in fact, a perfect opportunity to paint the Tory right with the broad brush of rancid ideology.  The more the rather private British right becomes unavoidably associated with the public witterings of such figures, the more the difference between what we need Labour to be and what the right is becoming revealed as will become clear in the public mind.

It’s time we saw UKIP not primarily as a threat to Labour’s heartlands but as a perfect weapon to sully the Tories’ own attempts at detoxification.  It’s not the Labour Party which should be worried about losing its voters but the Tory Party its room for manoeuvre.  We need to make that happen.  We need to ensure it does.

The good people will come back to a Labour Party which remains firm on this one.

The sad people will bury the Tories one way or another in overbearing prejudices of UKIP’s making.  It’s not Labour’s job to make the sad people happy but make the good people realise they were right all along.

Remember that, Ed.  Remember that, please.


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Apr 192013
 
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Last night, I posted rather dispiritedly on the future of representative democracy:

This would appear not to be only morally wrong but also economically and socially disastrous.  So are we saying that an equilibrium of forces in democracy is bad for society?  The legislative log-jams you get in the US would seem to indicate, at an anecdotal level, that this might be the case.  But if the paper I quote from above correctly supports Kath’s assessment of the dynamics behind 1970s’ British politics – that is to say, an example of appeasement pure and simple – it’s a pretty poor road and destination ahead for the idea of trying to represent anyone.  In a more fractured and niche-like age, if we aim for a responsive environment, then we will only get pulled in separate directions – with the results Kath’s 1970s brought us; with the results that latterday American governance generates.  Meanwhile, if we aim for a more prescriptive environment, little more than an encroaching fascism of private largesse will emerge – a private largesse where powerful centres of control and understanding impose their will aggressively on the multitudes.  In much the same way as is happening right now.

I thought about this post for about twenty-four hours, but only wrote it after a local branch AGM and nomination meeting to vote for our preferred candidates to go forward in the Chester Labour Constituency Party prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) election process.  I suppose I felt obliged not to describe the details of the meeting itself, and instead spoke about my wider thoughts on the apparent futility of current representative democracy.

Not that the latter reflects my feelings of the evening with any degree of accuracy.  I am thinking more widely now, and found myself with a desire to write something yesterday.

Positively, however, one of the candidates who did get nominated brought my attention to the video below.  It’s about the forgotten wealth creators of Britain, and is obviously – why not? – a Labour Party broadcast.  Watch it first, and then we’ll discuss my reactions below.


http://youtu.be/i6j27pG4M-8

My reactions then?  It has a tonality and photography, a mise en scène, which so reminds me of so many series about World War II.  You can almost breathe the cream-coloured walls, the greens and browns of khaki-uniformed soldiers, the smell of working sweat – and the oppression of a Colditz-informed injustice, as powerful forces impose their will on ordinary working-people caught up in a wider conflict they barely – even now – comprehend.

If this is One Nation Labour, it’s a concept of nationhood which is beginning to be understood through the dynamics of war – perhaps, in particular, those dynamics of Fifth Column activists: the enemy at home clearly being the Tory Party and its hangers-on.  Or more accurately still, the Tory Party’s paymasters on whom the venerable organisation so clearly depends: for its funding, for its policies and – ultimately – for its soul.

And although I still find culturally two-dimensional, where not entirely inaccurate, the idea of a One Nation Labour which aims to contain all the nations of our islands, I can also see the potential power of the message: this video is just one element of the process, as the idea of the societal value of ordinary people working together gathers an undeniable weight through the presentation of undeniable evidence.

This is Ed Miliband’s Labour doing an updated Ronald Reagan: speaking to the people directly over the heads of the unrepresentative opinion-formers, in a language which does not simplify or reduce but – simply – uses the sophisticated visual markers which in a televisual age we are all used to and understand.

Good stuff.

Like it very much.

More please, along these lines.


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