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.

Sep 052013

If there is something I still admire about our North American friends – I mean, the USA bit and its colonial-like ability to teach us all about what they aspire to – it is their boundless optimism that everything has a fix.  In fact, the original philosophy of this blog you’re reading right now was precisely that: if only we think hard enough – where thinking hard enough we assume is possible – a solution to any problem will always be found.

I stumbled across a wonderful blogpost by Ben Cobley yesterday, on the subject of philosophising and how Western culture is creating the very conditions for relentlessly excessive thought – the kind that people suffering from depression manifest – to become far more common.  It’s called “A few thoughts on depression, and philosophy”, and, amongst other things, it touches on the link between our latterday consumer society and the trust that used to bind us:

[…] [Alastair] Campbell wrote a little book called ‘The Happy Depressive’, exploring his own experiences and depression as a public policy issue.

I won’t go into that book in detail here because I want to take a brief look at depression from a different angle, but one quotation wouldn’t go amiss:

“In the US, trust in other people being ‘nice’ has fallen from 60 per cent to 30 per cent in fifty years. It is the same story in the UK. In 1959, 60 per cent of people felt other people could generally be trusted. It has now halved. [Professor Richard] Layard [a Labour peer] believes that decline has matched the rise of consumerism which has been accompanied by a rise in the obsession with status, and envy of those who do better than us.”

This, if true, is a dreadful state of affairs.  Whilst I have no way of corroborating the stats, at my own anecdotal level there seems little wrong with the assertions.  The rise in mental ill health in Western societies has matched the introduction of neoliberal economic and sociocultural attitudes.  That there should exist people and institutions determined to make societies work to their own particular benefit at the expense of the poor and already highly disadvantaged should clearly not surprise us.  And that these individuals and entities should cover their backs by arguing it’s a natural state of affairs mustn’t lessen our resolve to fight back.

For here is where perhaps I diverge a little from Cobley’s space.  As he explains on his About page in relation to standard perceptions of the remorseless, monolithic and unremitting Left:

What especially interests me is the censoriousness and opinion control that is so pervasive on my side of the political fence. It seems that, far from being a free-minded and free-thinking Left, we are stuck in a denuded, conformist and also rather boring rut.

I believe the Left should be generous and welcoming, open and tolerant, but also committed and ethical in the way it behaves. I am against ideologies like neoliberalism and ‘Vulgar’ Marxism, and also some of the forms that have emerged around the politics of identity, including strictly deterministic versions of feminism. Ideologies like these offer simplistic, all-encompassing explanations about the way the world is while setting different groups in society against each other.

They give people an excuse to stop seeing, hearing and thinking for themselves.

And with this, I find myself disagreeing very little.  But interestingly – or perhaps (I’m beginning to wonder) I should say even coherently, in the light of the above data on Western mental-wellbeing – he also chooses to quote from Karl Popper in the following way:

“If you know that things are bound to happen whatever you do, then you may feel free to give up the fight against them.” ~ Karl Popper



Yes.  Now, as I write, I can see why Cobley chooses this quote.  The choice and option to do something others might not understand often takes away the need to act in such a way.  To feel free to give up the fight against something quite overwhelming serves to empower us, just as freely, to continue such a fight.  On the other hand, to exhort one to fight – remorselessly, monolithically, unremittingly – often traps the person who should feel liberty is their goal in an emotional and political ambush of terrifying incoherence.

Only yesterday, Paul Cotterill tweeted thus:

Sick of Labour HQ emails telling me I must “fight” for stuff. Using a word devoid of actual meaning hinders organisation & solidarity.

And this:

Re Lab’s use of “fight”: The misuse of language in idle talk, in slogans and phrases, destroys our authentic relation to things (Heidegger)

That, I suppose, is what both Paul and Ben are getting at in their different ways – and where, perhaps, we might argue libertarians do have a point after all.  In whatever we do, we must feel free to choose.  That sense of choice – for the good and the bad – is what makes us these mysterious human beings living this mysterious life.  And the Left, if it wishes to track such behaviours, to maintain its primary connect with all the human beings it is looking to serve, must surely not forget the importance of that concept of choice.

Not just the more obvious choices such as which schools, GPs, medical treatments and social services.  No.  Far more importantly, for the persistence of vision all political groupings must maintain, is the recognition that humanity itself will inevitably tend towards one way or another of behaving.

The political question is not only identifying that way, though.

It’s also working out how to promote the way that least bends us out of natural shape.

What the neoliberals have managed is to promote ways that benefit their narrow interests – whilst claiming at the same time that these ways are inherently human.

What we need to do, as free progressives if you like, is accept that social engineering is the name of their/this game – and in this inevitable knowledge begin to understand that the pendulum of battle must swing back sooner or later.

And sooner, if we choose never to give up.

That is to say, by ignoring most of the current remorseless, monolithic and unremitting Left – and, in turn, by following Popper’s advice.  For only then shall we be truly human.

And only then shall our politics be truly accurate.

Mar 042013

Yesterday, I argued:

The Welfare State is the way to make our society less inhumane.  It’s in our grasp – but it is a choice.  We can spend considerable resource on allowing the fortunate to further concentrate their good fortune – or we can deliberately decide to give the less fortunate the consideration, charity and kindness most belief systems have tended to argue should be made forthcoming.

But what we have to accept is that, either way, it’s a choice.  If we choose to fashion a world where we must walk on the other side of the road from that homeless man who dies at the doorstep of a bungalow, we can.  We will do so, I am sure, in order that ambitious alpha men and women can – amongst the disasters they also commit – achieve what they undoubtedly do.  And this is clearly an act of socioeconomic decision-making at the highest level, committed by coherent men and women.  It is a freely-taken decision. It is an unforced decision to let some people live better at the expense of others.  It is a statistical calculation of risks that approves of achievement at the very top, even as it judges society will not rise up in arms and disintegrate as a result of the anonymous homeless dying distastefully in the streets.

If, on the other hand, we opt to help such homeless people – if our goal is to create a socioeconomic environment where this kind of action is prioritised over other, more aggressively innovative, behaviours – we may create, again entirely consciously and deliberately, a society where survival is ameliorated for a far greater number of our souls here on earth, even as achievement measured objectively loses its bleeding edges.

I repeat these words today, because – on further consideration – I believe we on the Left must accept there are upsides on both sides of the argument.

Of course, the game all politicians end up playing is TINA.  It makes the absurd seem acceptable.  It makes the ridiculous seem reasonable.  Occasionally, it voices a truth of sorts.  But only very occasionally.

The truth in our days – so where does it lie?  “Lie” as in “located” – or “lie” as in “untruth”?  Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell which process takes precedence.  If something is partially hidden from view, it may appear to be quite something else – without anyone actually saying it is.  Politicians aren’t really professional communicators.  More exactly, they are professional obfuscators.  And what’s rankly unfair is when they say we have the politicians we deserve.  We don’t.  We – the ordinary people – have busy lives to live.  We have relied on the supposed integrity of those who made it their (uncertificated and untitled) profession to run our stately affairs correctly.  We were mistaken.  We now pay the consequences for our mistakes.  But we are not deserving – in any way – of such individuals.  We are simply the very sorry victims.

There is no alternative?  Don’t believe anyone who ever says this.  There’s always an alternative – even as obfuscation and clever smoke-and-mirror tactics confuse the partially attendant voters.  The alternative today is as it stands in my quoted paragraphs above.  We can proceed with ever-greater concentrations of wealth, so that there are magnificent pockets of technological prowess in some lucky parts of the planet.  Or we can take a different fork in the path, where technological prowess has its place but where – also – people’s finite natures, which is to say their existences as perishable goods, count for something significant when we prioritise our politics and our economies.  It’s not even a fork in the path.  It’s maybe just a deliberate slowing-down of pace.  The path will be the same – it’s just the number of people you take with you that changes.  And if we leave behind us the sick, disabled and elderly as flesh-and-blood flotsam to die in solitary pain?  We will be no better than the ants.

Which is not to say being like the ants doesn’t have its upside.

This, this very point, is what the Left, what Labour in the UK, must begin to get its head round and accept.  The Right are charging on with the corporate capitalist way – and we are reacting as if there is no need to choose at all.  We can have full-throated corporates at the same time as a Welfare State.  We can launch a rocket to Mars next year and save the young children living in mould-infested social housing.  We can continue to devise evermore clever mobile phones and make the homeless a hot lunch for Christmas.

If truth be told, however, we cannot do it all.  And we have to be honest with our voting public about this: we have to be honest if we want the circles to square.  Under the Left, you won’t get everything which comes with massive concentrations of wealth.  Consultative models of organisation cost more, take longer and need more training to put into practice.  A top-down CEO-dominated hierarchy can (though not always) take key decisions remarkably quickly.  And we on the Left have to be honest about the implications.

If you vote for the Right, those of you who are fortunate to benefit will get better phones, more brand-new gadgets, cooler cars and technological wonders which will serve to turn your heads.  If you vote for the Right, you’ll get all this and more.  Holidays will be wilder; sex will be safer; lives will be longer; music will be cheaper.

The downsides?  The homeless will continue to die on the steps of bungalows.  The mould will continue to contaminate the lungs of hundreds of thousands of children.  Some people will suffer the consequences of entire lifetimes of poorly-paid work.  Some people will never know a holiday.

But that’s the choice.

And if you vote for the Left?  What will you get?  I’m not entirely sure how to answer that one.  I’m not entirely sure it’s been entirely tried.  But where it was tried most notably – at least in England – was under Tony Blair’s New Labour.  Yes.  Top-down impatience ruined its trajectory.  The Iraq War intervened and saved the Tories from imminent extinction.  And we all know and remember how we felt about certain policies – especially as the implications and consequences of public-private partnerships, and, in general, New Labour’s pick-and-mix way of engineering ideology, have now led us logically to the summary privatisation of so many good and sensible British socialist institutions.

If you vote for the Left – a certain kind of Left (perhaps a Left which could learn from the errors Blair refused to cast aside) – you might not get an iPhone as snazzy as under the Right; you might not get a car as gloriously unsustainable as full-blown and unabashed corporate capitalism might aim to provide you with; you might not even get a lifestyle as chic and as generous as your supposedly libertarian ideals of hedonistic freedoms would lead you to expect.

But what you would get, at the very least, is a Left that tried to save the homeless; that aimed to free the enslaved; that fought to give finite lives the recompense almost all belief systems believe is their right; that, in essence, chose to take not that fork in the path they’re trying to frighten us away with but – rather – that kindness which gives the seat on the train of grace-saving thoughts to as many human beings as possible.

Before they die.

That’s the Left I’m looking at, from down here in the dirty dirty.  That’s the Left I’m looking at, from a position of relative disadvantage.  That’s the Left I’m looking at – when I’m looking at the Left I want to see.

The Left which honestly recognises the upsides and downsides on both sides of the argument – and, in doing so, is able to deliberately, openly, sincerely and directly put the choice to that public whose final say will always be sovereign.

No fork on the path of progress – not this time.

Just a humane gathering-together of those whom the Right has – equally artfully – chosen in its wisdom to discard.

Sep 072012

Whilst we simply struggle to survive, and whilst our top-flight politicians argue we must – instead – aspire (more here), battling each other violently we find – in both the US and UK to an evermore similar extent – those terrible two sides of the dialectical fence.

Obama versus Romney.  Cameron versus Miliband.  The Democrats and Labour versus the Republicans and the Tories.  And in all this violently public disagreement, the rest of us – society and civilisation in general – are losing the capacity to apply rational thought to the needs and threats of our century.

These are two sides clearly blinded, not by their own ideologies – but by a terrible fear and hatred of the other’s.  No wonder they screech as they do: they do not act out of a desire and intention to gain a better life but out of an awful fear of losing the one they treasure.

How can you build a confident society on the foundations of fear?  Wouldn’t it be so much better if opposing politicians and parties were able to value their opposition – as human beings, logical thinkers and masters and mistresses of the agreed-upon possible?  Wouldn’t it be a grand improvement on everything our political classes currently bring us for voters, politicos, enablers and leaders to be able work to add to the whole world rather than keep from the majority?

This concentrating capitalism is wrong.  There is plenty to go round.  There is plenty wealth to revolve around our communities, peoples and families – if we only choose to do so.

That is our real and only enemy.

It is a concentrating capitalism we must really aim to vanquish if we are to rescue our century from the stupid.

The stupidly concentratingly self-centred and inefficient rich.

And for their brutal incompetence above any other reason or motivation.

For we, as aghast spectators, are not even mainly jealous or envious of their riches.  Rather, we are revolted by their inability to do their job well.  And that is the real motive we have for demanding profound and long-lasting change to a model which is clearly not only damaging people but also – just as manifestly – wasting sensitive and hardly infinite resource.


A curiously contrary postscript to this post: if, as I suggest, both sides do fear the other more than they value themselves, does this not mean they half-wonder and half-believe that their dreadful opposition and enemy might occasionally be right in what they argue?  And if so, does this also not mean we are losing opportunities on an industrial scale for a constructive collaboration between both?

What fear can do, even to the expensively educated … and – meanwhile – those who have most to lose (the wealthiest, I mean), lose least.

Mar 282012

I’ve just had a disagreement about the lentils I prepared today.  I used black pudding to flavour them instead of chorizo.  One member of my family was decidedly unimpressed – quite before even trying the dish.  I’d already removed the offending substance from the final presentation in anticipation of such a complaint.  It was the little pieces of black pudding that had split off from the main body – and that I’d therefore been unable to remove – which drew their immediate attention and disapprobation.

Which led me to wonder, as it does if thinking is what you do, whether the world isn’t divided up into two kinds of people: those who are hard-wired to resist any sign of difference and those who are hard-wired to embrace it.

Yes.  Just in that sentence you can see I uncover my own preferences.

I love new food; strange shapes; peculiar people; wacky opinions; unusual combinations of colour; curious furniture; patterned rugs; wallpapered walls; decorated ceilings.  People I live with, however, do not.

It’s not always easy for either side.

Translate this issue to the politics which separates us.  If our instincts are so very opposed – some of us just loving the challenge of permanent flux, others just loving the consistency of permanent perpetuation – how can we possibly even begin to construct the kind of ground we could share in order that we might successfully and productively debate?  And never mind the people who claim to be on the same part of that infamously two-dimensional political spectrum.  Surely more important and more confusing is the state of the people who manifestly occupy a space within the same political grouping and yet, all the same, appreciate difference in the different ways I have described above.

This, of course, may explain why Blairites are seen with grand suspicion by the rest of us.  Or, indeed, why so many different colours are beginning to make their solid appearance in what is rapidly becoming a coalition of rainbow-like proportions at the heart of the British Labour Party.

The question is really whether we want to reach out to people who use the same processes to think or who simply reach the same conclusions.

In my case, I have recently requested that I be allowed to join the Labour Left grouping – after assuring myself it does not aim to become a party within a party.  I am already a member of the Fabians and – outside Labour politics – a recent paid-up supporter of Open Rights Group.  I am also an associate member of the trades union Accord.  In all these cases, I suspect I have joined because they are organisations which have reached the same conclusions as myself on subjects I think are of societal importance.  But in the vast majority of these cases I honestly and sincerely suspect that very few of their representatives use the same processes to think I am most familiar and comfortable with.

Long-term, Blairism has added very little to Labour – except a thirst to win at all costs.  It also, however, thought as I would – even as the conclusions it reached were probably, in most cases, unhappy for me.  Some people who see how I write and act without clear commitment might assume that I’d be better off seeing my destination in Progress – and that anything else was just a journey.  I don’t think that’s fair, though. And I’ll explain why.

A perfect grouping for someone like myself?  Where magpie minds can freely consider all and every issue entirely on its merits and from scratch.  Where tribalism guarantees association with a grouping but does not limit the right to non-conformity.  Where brainstorming and ideas generation are part and parcel of every single day.  Where communication is not tacked on at the end but informs the whole process from the very beginning.  Where organisations do not consult or listen in one direction from the top to the bottom but aim, instead, most importantly, to engage and dialogue in multifarious and multicoloured direction.  Where a proper appreciation of the needs of volunteer supporters and their lives is clearly couched in the language of such sensitivities.

And finally, where the concept of leadership – devolved to all levels of action – constitutes enabling and facilitating over expressions and instincts of impositional frustration.

Perfection doesn’t exist, of course – but at least some of the above would be pretty welcome!

We will, of course, as time goes by, see how all this develops.

As well as, most significantly, what real and lasting impact left-leaning voters and supporters of Labour might now be able to properly engineer.

Mar 282012

Whilst unions announce today the serious possibility that our education system will, by 2015, follow the NHS and Legal Aid down the financialisation and commercialisation routes of private self-enrichment on the part of our professional politicos and their business sponsors, it surely becomes evermore clearer – without a shadow of a doubt in fact – what the government is really up to.

They care not a jot about winning the next election; not a jot about currying favour with all the voters; not a jot about creating a society and set of nation states fit for all our peoples.  Only one thing motivates them: the establishment of an unshakeable regime whose reversal will become so unappealingly expensive that – no matter who gets into power at the next general election – the legacy of five long years of anti-socialist ambush will be maintained and sustained for several generations to come.

Perhaps forever.

Labour is falling into a trap, I have to say.  It is fighting a losing but honourable battle on so many simultaneous fronts of political shock and awe that it’s hardly surprising it is allowing itself to be ambushed in this way.  But it needs to come to its senses: the government has done enough for even the least politically scientific amongst us to be able to realise its true trajectory and destination.  British socialism has a long and efficient tradition – the NHS and Legal Aid being two of its major achievements.  Where efficiency is ignored and discarded outright by supposedly businesslike politicos, it’s clear they are not caring to be evidence-based professionals but, rather, aim to act out of prejudice.  And by acting out of prejudice we can conclude they are acting out of personal self-interest.

What’s so bad about all of this is not that these Tories at the top under Cameron’s rule have managed to hijack their own party – which they clearly have; nor that they have hijacked the democratic system as whole – which they did back in 2010 and will do so until 2015; nor, even, that they betray their business roots by doing what they want rather than what is empirically accurate – something which all of us can now surely see.  What’s so really bad about all of this is that we’re all falling into their trap: focussing on discrete policy battles instead of being brave enough to fashion and forge a counter-narrative.

The government say they are looking to reduce the inefficient state.  We should say they are looking to enrich and expand the inefficient private sector of bad business cronyism.  The government say they are looking to reduce the deficit.  We should say they are looking to transfer its impact from a strong nation to helpless individuals.  The government say they are looking to create an environment of opportunity and empowerment.  We should say they are looking to restrict opportunity and empowerment to the already wealthy.

As I said some months ago now, the bad capitalist blame game works as follows:

  1. When large corporations and the people who own them set themselves up in business, they limit their responsibility if everything goes belly-up to the very minimum they can manage to get away with;
  2. When everything goes belly-up, which it almost always does at least once in the history of such companies, the ones at the very top manage to hide behind Chinese walls that reduce their legal responsibility to a very minimum;
  3. When companies’ profits do not achieve expectations, the fault is first and foremost due to the costs of labour – the term “labour” being understood to mean those at the most humble levels in a company and not the (mainly) ever-so-red-blooded gentlemen at the top;
  4. If companies suffer excessively from declining profit margins, people at the top get paid enormous amounts of money to take immediate decisions to fire massive percentages of their workforces – even where such decisions show absolutely no degree of imagination or added value;
  5. If the wider economy falls completely apart, the taxpayer will be obliged to bail out the failing private sector but compelled to destroy the public;
  6. When the wider economy stops functioning in any meaningful way, the workers who lose their jobs will carry both the moral and economic can for not wanting to find new jobs – even where these new jobs don’t exist;
  7. When the economy finally recovers, the workers will have to continue to accept wage cuts for two reasons: firstly, automation might price them out of the market if they don’t watch their demands; secondly, only the rich work harder for more money – the poor, on the other hand, tend to slacken off their labour when not sufficiently terrified;

These are the things we need to be underlining; these are the things we need for our counter-narrative.

In fact, if truth be told, we need – also – to point out to our nation states and our peoples the degree to which a good socialism ruled our waves.  Only when we can shrug off the instincts to be stealthy about our achievements can we begin to generate a different way of opposition: socialism was always a heartfelt instinct of the British.  In the past we called it fair play.

Perhaps, then, we need to resurrect that idea and begin to call ourselves the Fair Play Party.  A Fair Play Party for a fair play society.

As British as you ever could get.

Whatever your nation.

Mar 182012

Over at Labour List today, Sue argues we lefties should get a grip:

I don’t like the current Labour position on welfare, I’m almost constantly head-desking whenever they issue a press statement, I do realise they set a lot of these “reforms” up and I worry about the possibility of an election any time soon – they clearly couldn’t run drinkies-in-the-proverbial right now, but on the whole – on the whole – get a grip lefties. 

Start defending our record. Accept the bits we got wrong and move on, but for goodness sake, anyone claiming “They’re all the same/Triangulation/They’re worse than the Tories/I’ll never vote Labour again” might want to ask themselves just how long they’d like to keep this cabinet of millionaires. And just how much we’re going to allow them to get wrong before we unite and fight.

It’s funny – or perverse; whenever someone argues we should jack in political parties I find myself beginning to disagree, but whenever someone comes to me saying the primary responsibility of us lefties is to unite … well, I really can’t help reacting rather negatively.  Yes.  I agree with Sue that we should get a grip – the question is who gets to get the grip and precisely on what.

Unable, in a first instance, to answer this question, I thought I’d carry out a thought experiment to see if that would help.  A list of personal positives which I would be prepared to attribute to Labour:

  1. when I came back to Britain in 2003, I was in a serious state of mental ill health – the NHS managed in the end to help put me back together again;
  2. my children received a better education from the time they rejoined me in England than they almost certainly would have done in Spain had they stayed – they are now bilingual, the eldest is studying Mandarin Chinese and Russian at university, the middle one wants to go abroad to study film and the youngest is already considering proactively how she might get jobs once she is sixteen;
  3. my wife regained confidence in herself and her own ability as a teacher due to the then relatively buoyant labour market – little by little, she has achieved a certain degree of stability and self-respect;
  4. I have finally managed to get to a position where I can see I may be able to earn my living from writing via the Internet – something I dreamed of since 2002 and which would make my life entirely fulfilled if I achieve my goal;

These are all good, big and life-changing moments which allow me to see Labour – even New Labour – through a positive prism of perceptions.  However, I have to say that at least one of them – my mental ill health – was in part due to the lies and obfuscations which surrounded the process leading up to the Iraq War.

I lost my faith, during that time, in much of what could be reasonably expected of party politicking – I still resist, for example, at a local grassroots CLP level, to get involved with active politics.  In part I do feel it has something to do with this back story.  A story of political innocence being taken advantage of by those who know how to manipulate sincere emotions for their own personal benefit.

So many big positives for me in a little under a decade of living under New Labour – even as the primary one which brought me back to Britain was the massive negative of a questionable and bloody political process.

If I, as a relatively unpractised leftie, do need to get a grip as Sue suggests, then I might be inclined – in the light of all the above – to suggest the grip I really need to get is over a political party which doesn’t know how to communicate; doesn’t understand that consultation is nowhere near a proper dialogue of equals; and is riven with the triangulatory instincts she blithely tells us to ignore.

Here, then, is where Los Indignados can teach us more than one lesson: in order to unite around positions and policy, you first have to agree on process and procedures.  Without due agreement on the latter, no progress shall ever be sustainably made.

Do not, then, as a leftie who needs to get a grip, simply exhort me to hate the Tories and fight the good fight.  I don’t want them to define how my politics will function any more than you want them to define how the country will function.  And if we give up on truly empowering process and procedures before we’ve even really started, if we refuse to learn the lessons other groups and organisations springing up across the world can teach us, we shall remain anchored in a past that will become – by itself and not because of the Tories – evermore irrelevant, ineffective and ineffectual to a proactive and generally empowering producer-consumer society such as ours could become.

If the Tories manage to force us to limit our ambitions to creating a New Labour (II), they will have won a long-term political battle without us even having cared to engage.  Just as the terrorists of 9/11 created a generation of fearful legislation and terrified citizens, so the Tories may yet achieve their goal of turning us lefties, those of us who supposedly need to get that grip of Sue’s, into a wearisome terracotta army of conservative instincts ready to continue implementing the philosophies which Tony Blair so carefully set up and entrapped us all with.

As a Lib Dem acquaintance of mine (yes, it’s possible for a leftie like me to have one) quite rightly said to me recently, the NHS bill we’re so desperate to get dropped had its foundations laid by New Labour in 2006’s National Health Service Act.

If we really want to get the current bill dropped, and I am sure we can all agree we do, we should surely also campaign to unravel the straitjacket of philosophies which Tony Blair was directly responsible for – and which have led to Lansley’s moment of awful glory.

Meanwhile, dear Sue, we should surely remember that “getting a grip” can just as easily mean subjugation as empowerment.

And remembering thus, act accordingly.

Feb 012012

This, from a Policy Network email I’ve just received, is jolly optimistic and I’m not sure whether it corresponds to an entirely measured assessment of where the left currently finds itself – but, anyhow, as a matter of record, at this miserable time of year, the narrative it weaves is certainly eye-catching and upbeat:

Something is happening on the political left. Having spent much of 2011 adrift in the shadows of missed opportunities, social democrats are back with a new self-assurance. Gone is the fear to take on vested interest and market domination. Instead, confidence has returned in the ability of centre-left politics to change society through the power of collective action.

Barack Obama has used his State of the Union speech to target the rich and corporations with too much power; French presidential front runner François Hollande has passionately taken aim at the world of finance; and UK Labour leader Ed Miliband can claim success in shifting national political debate onto the terrain of “responsible capitalism.”

A lasting paradigm shift beyond the economic orthodoxy of the past thirty years is as yet far from evident. But positive signs are emerging. For instance, public opinion in the US, once the great bastion of unbridled competition and admiration for wealth, appears to have shifted to widespread resentment of inequalities of income and wealth. This is echoed across Europe where austerity, unemployment and low growth are taking a heavy toll on living standards.

The inability of centre-right governments to deliver adds to the sense that social democrats have a new opportunity to be heard. In particular, the ongoing sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone has opened up a new space for the centre-left to advocate a different, more credible and effective way out of the current mess. But this call for “responsible opposition”, especially in countries such as the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, France and Italy, speaks to the tightrope that all political parties must now walk: balancing long-term credibility with popular politics in straightened economic times.

The Swedish social democrats have begun the year by appointing a new leader for this tricky balancing act. 2012 will reveal whether this new found buoyancy is indeed a sign of a great awakening on the centre-left.

The same content with pertinent links can be found online at the moment here.

Jan 232012

There is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of Coalition thinking which the left is failing to clearly define; an unenunciated contradiction which – as a consequence – is serving to confuse us all.

On the one hand, Cameron & Co don’t believe in a benefits society and – instead – claim to believe in what we might term an initiative society.  On the other hand, however, their sponsors are massive corporate institutions – accustomed to a ready supply of wage slaves who know their place and are accustomed to staying put.  So whilst the government suggests in its spin we should all become entrepreneurs, the reality is that in its policy it is orientated towards making labour cheaper and more plentiful – that is to say, anything but entrepreneurial. 

If my thesis is right, the benefits mentality isn’t even primarily engendered by the state but, rather, by the millions upon millions of workers who spend their lives ensconced in a corporate cocoon of bonuses, pensions, career ladders and perks.

And if that’s not a benefits society, I really don’t know what is.

In a perfect Coalition world, what the Tories and their supporters are looking to achieve – then – is a) for no one to claim benefits; b) for the privileged to maintain their position as entrepreneurs at the top of the hierarchical pyramid; and c) for the wage slaves to earn just enough to keep them content, politically neutered and docile – as well as out of the horrified public view which some mainstream media, even under such a regime of political duplicity, are still currently prepared to contemplate.

And until the left is able to reveal this reality in a punchy and convincing way, the dissonance created by naked “do as I say, not as I do” politics – visible primarily on the right end of the spectrum but with an increasingly hearty support on the left – will continue to leave the progressives falling violently between two stools

Two stools which are allowing the Coalition to get away with ruddy murder.

Jan 032012

Paul has just posted an excellent piece called “What’s wrong with Labour?” – well worth reading in full.  I wonder as a result whether the problem with our left-wing politicians is that they are too ashamed of what they do – of the mistakes they have made and will continue, as ordinary human beings, to inevitably be responsible for.

Let’s look at it from a broader progressive perspective.  Do we go into politics to do good and make the world better?  If so, does going into politics to make the world better require us to be better people than the people who vote for us?

I note the Spanish experience.  The losing candidate in the latest Spanish general election, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, is already reappearing on Spanish radio and TV with all guns blazing.  Compare this behaviour with Gordon Brown’s post-election disappearance without a trace – and even the Shadow Cabinet’s relative restraint since then in the face of the biggest deconstruction of a body politic since World War Two – and we surely must ask ourselves why this is happening.

Is it, perhaps, because the UK Labour Party is far closer to the politicised Christian beliefs of Northern European Calvinism – and finds itself unable to accept the relief of redemption and repeated renewal which Catholicism unconsciously offers those peoples who still claim to be a part of its philosophy? 

We must, it would seem, as British progressives, pay publicly for our sins and suffer for a respectable period in silence and political mourning.

So whilst the Coalition government has been getting away with figurative murder, the Labour Party and its followers have been affording themselves the luxury of repentance – at the expense of a hugely important minority of defenceless voters who neither have a ready-made voice nor the means to fashion one.

Perhaps it is time that those who would describe themselves progressives choose whether they are in politics to do right or be good.

For it would appear that – at least for now – any attempt to act out both sides of the coin is simply incompatible with the aim of forging a generation which might one day win an election.


There is one final thought which serves only to depress me even further: whilst some might effectively choose between doing right or being good, and still manage to serve a constructive purpose on the planet, others – on a quite different moral plane – might decide quite the opposite: that is to say, choose either to do wrong or be bad. 

With the added advantage that it’s probably quite seamlessly easy to manage to do wrong and be bad at exactly the same time.