Mar 142014

For just over seven years, I wrote this blog quite blindly.  I was reactive, puzzled, thrashing about where many (most) had already thrashed.  I sometimes wondered if it was infirmity which drove me on.  But in just over seven years, I was incapable of ever writing down – in a minute or two – the common denominators that drove me in so many of my posts.

Today, on the occasion of Tony Benn’s sad death, Brian Moylan sent my way this video.  In less than two minutes, it encapsulates everything (I now realise) that made me write for seven quite helter-skelter years.  Watch it – and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

No.  I’m not unmothballing this blog quite yet.  I’m writing over at and quite happily right now – the former with relative interest from my readers, the latter with very little interest for anyone except me.


But hey-ho, that’s the life on the open seas.

And with that celebration of a life sincerely lived, I burrow my way back into the anonymity from which I have temporarily emerged.

Oct 042013

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?

Oct 022013

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.

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.

Sep 252013

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.

Sep 222013

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.


 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.

Sep 192013

Just received a mass email from Angela Eagle, via the Labour Party.  Far more effective than they usually are.  Poses a real reason to communicate.  This is how part of the email goes:

Hi Miljenko,

I joined the Labour Party more than three decades ago because I was angry at the injustice around me.

My parents weren’t given the chance of a good education because they were from the wrong class. I was told I couldn’t play chess against boys because girls’ brains were smaller! I wanted to fight against an unfair, unequal society where people didn’t reach their potential simply because they didn’t have the money.

That’s why I share the values of this party — and I want to know why you do too. Tell us now:

Then a link takes you here and invites you to frame your reply in a tweet.  But, as has generally been the case in the last seven years, I’ve always needed more space than that.

So whilst I still give myself time to top and tail my writing, here’s why I’m – even now – still Labour:

  1. My English grandparents were Labour when poverty was a common bond, and the end of the month signalled fear and hunger.  Sometimes not just the end of the month.
  2. My parents were never primarily anything as far as I know.  But my father’s father was always a dedicated internationalist, an Esperantist and an incorrigible writer of Labour Party newsletters.  I figure if I’ve blogged anything useful over the past few years, it has always – both consciously and otherwise – been out of that tradition.  Labour, then, as a progressive force has – paradoxically for me – been a grand tradition too.
  3. Labour for me – at its best and most politically lovable – has been a necessarily powerful bulwark against the abuses of violent capitalism.  When it has disappointed me, which is often, I remember its most lovable moments instead.  When you really appreciate some individual or some institution, you should always measure your appreciation in terms of the best sides they have shown to the world, well outside their rather bitterer conflicts.  We all have unpleasant and internecine sides – let us not use them to define the worth or value of anything.
  4. Whilst Labour has not always been the natural place for free-thinkers, as a self-defined free-thinker I far prefer to “contaminate” its broad church with my thinking than look to less kindly souls.  Yes.  At its best (always remembering it at its best), Labour is packed to the gills with kindly souls.  Kindness is in short supply today – to strive to be good to such an extent almost assigns a religious air to the beast.
  5. Finally, that is why I am Labour.  Even after Iraq, even after the rank social-engineering of debt-engendering tuition fees, even after PFI, even after the groundwork legislation that has allowed the Tories to dismantle the NHS, there are still enough people of good minds, of bright intellects, of humane behaviours in the Party … people from the right side of politics, where – here – the right side means the honourable side.  And in that, in a world I can only now be secular, I find myself the closest I will ever find myself to that sense of religion I suspect I continue to need; that sense of religion I suspect I will always need.

That is why I am Labour: a tradition of progressives, a sometimes pesky community of the always thoughtful, a massive weight – but sometimes a revelation – of contradictory behaviours … and – at its best (always at its best) – an undogmatic religion which allows both the manifestly secular and those believers of so many other faiths to find some productive and constructive point of encounter in a wider desire to disentangle society.

To disentangle society – and, in the end, ourselves – from that web of underprivilege currently afflicting us.

Why am I Labour?  Not because of the Tories.  Not because of the Lib Dems.  Not because of the Coalition’s evil man-made austerity policies – for man-made, essentially, they always will be (it is, after all, the men of the world who frequently manage to damage us the most).

No.  Rather, I am Labour yesterday, today and tomorrow because I choose – out of all the options available to me – the one I still feel like fighting for.

In my own ineffectual way.

But in my own way, all the same.


You will have your own reasons, of course – of that I am absolutely sure.

But these, in much more than an impossibly small tweet, are where I stand today.  And I hope you can stand next to me.

Aug 182013

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?

Aug 172013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I tweeted just now:

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

And as I concluded minutes later:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug 052013

There’s a lot of rubbish going down at the moment.  Three cases just to show you what I mean.

First, the Tories convince Obama’s campaign manager to switch sides and mosey on down to fascist-land.  That is to say, either switch sides or – simply – continue as he was.  It all depends on how you see Obama these days.

Second, from Spain, a story (in Spanish here; robot English here) on how Iberdrola (these days, Scottish Power’s owner I believe) has managed to get the governing party to include in the latest energy law a fine of up to €60 million for anyone who dares to install solar panels for their own personal use, without duly registering the installation and paying the corresponding duty to the utility behemoth.

Finally, a painful overview for anyone who thought England the mother of all democracies: wealth inequality hits an absolutely immoral rock bottom.  And it may indeed still be that mother – except that those she protects and represents are a rather more partial selection of the quite undeserving privileged.

“Three different cases,” you may say.  “So what are they doing in the same post?”  Well.  I suppose in all three cases we see the absolute dominance of the market – with money as the quantifier and definer of success or failure.  Results are not measured in terms of their moral end – even as some argue this should not be the case anyway.

The fact that the same man may now be simultaneously responsible for the destiny of both the Tory Party and US Democrats just cements our perception of how money is putrefying the ideological positioning one used to have decide upon before moving forward in political circles.

The fact that far-sighted and environmentally-minded citizens, simply looking to generate their own sustainable electricity, may now be summarily obliged to pay a canon to a centralised utility and self-perpetuating cash cow of transnational proportions (linked in turn via high-powered lobbyists to national governments across the globe) just goes to show how contrary to the interests of consumers everywhere Big Monelitics now operates.

Meanwhile, and most tragically, the fact that those who once thought that the fear of being found guilty of shameful behaviours would inoculate the vast majority of political creatures to the crimes we are now witnessing just demonstrates how morally low our political and business classes have fallen.

I saw a tweet this morning flit casually past my field of view.  It accused the British Labour Party of always digging out policies which cost money.  For many in the Party this kind of comment is to be avoided at all costs.  It leads, then, quite tragically, to the triangulation which disappoints so many savagely suffering voters right now.  What’s curious about most mainstream narratives is whilst Labour continues to get slagged off for economic incompetence – an economic incompetence which any clear assessment of the facts will disprove – little is consistently said about the real pain and suffering, the suicides and deaths, directly caused by government policies.

We have plenty of indices and political language to measure and brave the difficulties of “taking economic medicine”, “making the right decisions”, “balancing the budget” and so forth.  We have little which effectively expresses the waste of human resource and perishable goods that is an economy which, instead of committing itself to a wider serving of others, rapaciously serves itself of human beings.

So it seems we are reaching a tipping-point here.  It seems we are getting close to widespread citizen-agreement.  It seems that substantial minorities (where not majorities) are beginning to coalesce around views which directly oppose the establishment: views which base themselves not only on an evidence-based approach to understanding the world but also on a – long-ago discarded – moral perception of easy-to-understand concepts of right and wrong.

If not right versus wrong then good faith versus bad faith.

And as a result of this train of thought, my final question has to be thus: when so many people begin to agree, when so many coalesce against the establishment, when disengagement with accepted forms of democratic process progresses on a massively unseen scale, what has to come next?  What will come next?  Where will all these carefully considered thoughts and opinions end up leading us?

People’s assemblies of a gloriously popular bent?  Extra-parliamentary actions which evermore ramp up their intrinsic misfit with the status quo?  Trades union sabre-rattling of a highly emotional as well as politically significant tone?

But what about all those others who don’t agree with such street action – but do sincerely, honestly, fervently wish this Coalition would just bugger off?

What about them – surely a majority now of the country?

What about them – surely a considerable constituency in need of representation?

When so many people agree on what is going terribly wrong, isn’t it time we worked out a way to represent them as one?  A political party of national unity perhaps?  No.  A political party of national expression, more like.

And that’s how I’d like to see my political party progress.  Yes.  A party of national expression, where “national” means the very opposite of a chaqetero, money-grasping and wealth-destroying “sectarianism”.

We owe it not to others but to ourselves to build this party.

It’s time now to take a deep breath and plant our flag.

Time to coalesce around what we all despise.

Time, in fact, to take sides.

For others have already taken theirs.

Jul 282013

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?

Jul 092013

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.

Jul 062013

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

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

Second, Joyce:

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

Third, Watson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something a bit more Buddha-like, in fact?

Contemplation?  Resolve?  And final action, perhaps?


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

Jun 262013

I’ve just read Peter Watt’s book “Inside Out”.  I read it in just two sittings.  It’s been quite a while since I last read a book in such a short period of time.  It’s not a long book; round about the same as my favourite Fitzgerald book in length.  It’s a good read because it makes you see something you thought you knew in a different way.  Probably a completely different way.

Peter Watt has been ghost-written in this tale; but no ghost-writer was ever so true to the necessary mechanics of a story as Isabel Oakeshott.  There were no laborious diaries to rely on and the buccaneering flavour of what often plumbs the abyss of personal tragedy is accentuated by such an absence of unnecessary detail.

It reads a bit like a Jeffrey Archer bestseller – and I mean this kindly: in its exhortingly page-turning style, you cannot fail to breathe the roller-coaster atmosphere that a “good versus evil” politics of the tribe inevitably engineers.

I have never met Mr Watt but I do feel, in his manifest self-awareness, in his sometimes painful appreciation of his own foibles, he earns himself the moral right to pass judgement on others who obviously did him a severe disservice.

I am late to his “Inside Out” Labour Party – the book itself was published in 2010 – but through the awful narrative which describes the arc of destruction which the need to generate party-funding on a rolling basis clearly generates, I understand better the actions of people like Tony Blair – accumulating the millions they unhappily do, once out of the financial holes they previously sensed.  What drives men and women to work to guarantee their economic independence to such an obscene degree?  Perhaps the kind of situations Watt lived for two terribly rough-and-tumble years.

And yet, to his credit, he appears to have recovered a massive attachment to a life of sense and sensibility.  It is not right to call it a tragedy, after all – in this piece of literature, the good guy redeems himself a thousandfold.  Family, as well as a certain detachment from tribal Labour, allows him to acquire an even keel, even as the ship of an amoral state collapsed around him.  That he didn’t go down the route of vengeful politicking – unless, of course, you count this book as an example of his game – is also to his credit, underlining as it does the importance of human relationships in politics.

And this last matter is what I think I will take away with me.  Politics is a helter-skelter where the best politicians do invent it as they go along.  Yet the very best of them all – the ones who really hit the heights, the ones condemned to ultimate injury and deception – are not only off-the-cuff imagineers of the kind of dreams we would all like to believe, they are also firmly attached to ideas and opinions which only history will ever be able to decide if they finally lead to ennoblement or infamy.

What I like about “Inside Out” is that it tells a terrible tale of a terrible party machine from the point of view of someone who refuses to abandon it.  And he even likes to ensure we perceive the evil which spews forth is far more due to an ingrained dysfunctionality of structures than the people themselves.

I begin to wonder if Mr Watt mightn’t deserve – mightn’t even be harbouring thoughts of – a return to a more active role in this tribalism that is the British body politic.  But whilst the rest of us might gain, he himself – he and his loved ones – would certainly suffer the consequences.

I really wouldn’t wish it on him – or them – again.

I once came close to real despair in my own working-life, mainly due to the half-lies and half-truths of a highly dysfunctional man.  I can appreciate myself, therefore, from very particular experience, what dysfunctionality can achieve; what it can lead to; what it can break.

So for me, this book has connected on two very important levels: ten years ago, when I distrusted my own perceptions and felt the evil breath of helter-skelter.  And now, when distrust of what I see and sense is just about the last thing which occurs to me to feel.

In the end, when I put this short book down and reflect, I realise I truly like the man who allows himself to be portrayed in this way.

Fitzgerald’s book wrote it better, of course – but, even so, the words were never more precisely, nor appropriately, said.

For all of us, that is:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further … And one fine morning -

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

To sum up, “Inside Out” has its layers of anger, its layers of pain, its layers of betrayal – its layers of traditional tribalism.  But it also has a melancholy acceptance that some things can only be survived, not vanquished.

To not be bitter – or, at least, to know how to contain any remnants of bitterness – is a mighty achievement indeed.

Difficult enough in the disconnected lives of us serfs; almost impossible in stratospheric politics.

Fancy telling us your secret, Peter?  Bottle it, brand it – and you never know, there’s a new politics on the horizon.

Even, dare I say, a new Labour!

Jun 202013

I used to be involved quite heavily with local politics.  Now I just pay my dues, and very occasionally attend special meetings.  Most recently, this involved the first (serious) hustings I believe I’ve attended in my life.  Prior to this, I attended a quite different way of doing grassroots politics – and before the aforementioned, I was very kindly visited by hopefuls in the election process already alluded to.

Shoots of a different and more hopeful way of connecting perhaps; moments when politics looks as if it might become a question of enabling existing forces rather than leading the damned into the valley of death.


I do feel obliged at this point, however, to explain: my wife has never been in favour of anything at all I’ve done with politics.  She doesn’t like my writing; she sees envelope-stuffing and door-stepping as irrelevancies in a wider landscape.  She is intelligent, well read and has a clear understanding of the political situation in her own country, Spain.  We used to agree that Spain and Britain were different.  I used to suggest this was why I thought volunteering so much of my free time in exchange for nothing tangible in return was actually quite a sensible thing to do.

Recent scandals in the United Kingdom have made this latter argument impossible to sustain.

Where not impossible, certainly tricky.  For the moment, I have lost the ability to return her fire.

For I realise now that my wife may, in fact, be right in her judgement: political volunteering, anywhere in the world, is quite the biggest waste of time and emotional investment one could possibly contemplate.

And I realise the huge scale of the task facing Labour at the next election.  Not only will it involve convincing enough people to deposit their trust in it as a party of government again, it will also find itself in the challenging position of having to persuade people like my wife (though obviously not my wife herself – she is understandably a lost cause by now) that the kind of volunteer and altruistic political activity which wins elections is actually worth all the bother.

Where the word “politician” becomes a synonym of “graft”, so people like my wife – intelligent, busy, hard-working individuals who are at the age where they’ve already seen it all before – are bound to look to convince their nearest and dearest to choose a different way of participating in democracy.

These are the politics of a purely economic democracy, maybe we could argue: forget the ideas, concepts and theories that maintain the worlds of the wonks, and, instead, just earn a Darwinian living in this savagely inevitable environment as best you can – as best you can or, indeed, as best you might.

How to convince my wife – and tens of millions like her – that political activity is really worth it?

Don’t ask them to wait on the heavy-handed results of your words.

Change their worlds for the better – and change them now!

Jun 082013

During the recent Prospective Parliamentary Candidate selection process here in Chester, which ended yesterday with the election of Chris Matheson, I’ve been blessed with several visits from a number of candidates. This, for me, was positive.  I was, therefore, looking forward mightily to the result.

This is the confirmation I received via email not long ago:

To all members:

At our parliamentary selection last night, Chris Matheson was selected to represent us at the next general election.

The selection process has been a long and hard one, generating an enormous amount of work. This has been made easier by the help I have received from a large number of people – thank you if you were one of them! This same teamwork will enable us to fight a strong campaign behind Chris, who I am certain will be an excellent candidate. That campaign begins now.

Sadly, my favoured candidate didn’t win; I did preference three candidates though – and I believe all of them ended up in the top three.

It was, I think (correct me if you know better), the first hustings I’ve ever attended.  Just shows how much of a politics wonk I actually am.

One of the speakers (not a candidate) described the evening’s events as moving.  And they were.  Held in a saintly church, they brought together many members who had, I am sure, drifted away post-Iraq.  This was, in a way, an opportunity for healing to take place.

The music that was played counterpointed the process beautifully.  The first two pieces, deliberately or not, as follows.

“Come Together”

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

Presumably that Rolling Stones’ anthem reflected the sadness four of the five candidates would shortly be feeling.

Anyhow, in this saintly broad church which I hope Chester’s CLP will become under Matheson’s guidance, there is plenty of work to be done.  If Labour is to win nationally, Chester is one of the seats which must be on its hit-list.  Let’s hope, then, for the benefit of all those voters and families who are currently suffering under the violence of Tory misrule that Matheson, his team of workers and the grassroots apparatus – which Chester members and sympathisers could revert to being given half an intelligent chance – are able to wrest from the incompetents in our politics control of what should really always lie in the hands of the people.

I am, as you will see, a romantic a heart.  Perhaps the next and final song, which I heard last night in that glorious setting, at least ends up describing me the best.


Good luck to those who would enjoin this battle.  We truly, really, sincerely need them to know how to win.

And win not only one election but sustainably so – for many more.

Jun 062013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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