Jul 292013
 
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Even the best-lied plans of rats and men don’t always come off as you’d expect them to.  Here’s one example from an article way back in March (the bold is mine):

From the beginning of April 2013 the chances of getting help with legal bills will be slim. The Law Society estimates 650,000 cases will no longer qualify, including 20,000 employment cases and 200,000 in family law.

The report goes on to point out that:

At the moment, workers can get help with preparing for an employment tribunal and representation at an appeal tribunal. The scale of the problem is evident – 20,203 employment cases were started under the legal aid scheme during the 2011/12 tax year. A further 6,842 new employment cases and appeals were started in this one.

“All help is going to be removed in these situations with the exception of discrimination cases,” says Miller. Even then, people bringing claims will only have access to help via a phone line manned in three different offices round the country, rather than face-to-face meetings.

It’s clear, then (don’t you think?), what the government was aiming to do with its Legal Aid changes: disenfranchise ordinary citizens in the face of an evermore rampant and predatory capitalism.  Benefit the cash-cow-accustomed incumbents over the consumers, start-ups and innovators in society.  Return favours duly called from hedge-fund sponsors.

In essence, make ordinary people nakedly at the mercy of the already rich and powerful.

But it’s a curious thing, this planning for the long-term.  You can’t anticipate all the consequences.  OK.  So it looks like they’ll get their way on the NHS private-insurance scam.  But, equally, such an encouragement might lead us to consider other kinds of insurance: for example, the kind of insurance that being a member of a trades union can offer us in times such as these.

Just the massive fear of being dismissed unreasonably from work will surely lead many new members into the folds of modern trades-unionism.

In reality, all those evil Tory plans to destroy the NHS and replace it with a fragmented and privately-insured simulacrum of healthcare – with the sole intention of bolstering the power of the health corporates – will only have the reverse effect in the context of worker protection: unions will become stronger on the back of the fear the Tories intended would silence us.

This is why evil Tory plans won’t always work as intended.

This is why we should continue to be hopeful in the face of an evermore uncertain future.


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May 112013
 
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I’ve been tracking the Coalition’s war against the professions for quite a while now.  I guess you must have been too.  In these pieces, written almost a year apart, we can remind ourselves how medieval politicians are; why dequalifying the professions is a bad move; and why Cameron & Co are really no better than 21st century witch doctors.  I’ve also watched, miserable, as the Welfare State has been dismantled pillar by pillar (more here, here and here) out of rank and disagreeable prejudice.

The latest example is complex in its detail (.pdf file) but simple in its impact:

The Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA) has read the consultation on competitive price tendering (CPT) produced by the Government ‘Transforming legal aid: delivering a more credible and efficient system’ and this briefing is our initial response. A formal fuller response will be made shortly.

Here is point 1 of its response, to give you a flavour of what’s going on:

A. Why the proposals are socially divisive, dangerous and against the public interest.

1. It transforms people into mere economic units by denying them the simple human dignity of choice. These Stalinist proposals to require people to abandon their freedom of choice and to force them to be represented by a lawyer allocated by an impersonal call centre are deplorable. Winston Churchill said: “The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country’. Clients are people and if they are legally aided when accused of crime they do not cease to be such. The process of arrest and prosecution are demeaning enough without this added humiliation of denial of choice. In contrast, unlike the majority of the community, the political and wealthy elite who will of course retain the economic ability to purchase their choice of legal representation. It is a socially divisive and shameful proposal. We cannot believe that were a politician, MOJ civil servant or wealthy person accused of a crime they did not commit would be content with being represented by a solicitor randomly allocated by a call centre. But the ‘little people’ (Including low paid, the youths, the students and most people who will qualify for means tested legal aid in the Crown court) are to be denied the same choice even when as tax payers citizens will have paid through taxation for the right to be legally aided.

What’s clearly happening here is yet another example of prejudice-based governors ignoring the opinions and sidelining the intelligences of evidence-based professionals.  From teachers to GPs to nurses to lawyers, before and again now, it’s apparent that evidence-based professions pose a serious risk to the incompetent unprofessionalised politicians.  As I tweeted some minutes ago, here, here and here:

@geektrev It’s OK. I managed to get there. :-) I wrote a lot a year or so back on destruction of Legal Aid as pillar of Welfare State.

@geektrev Think it’s part of deliberate wider deprofessionalisation of society (teachers, doctors, nurses etc).

@geektrev Evidence-based professionals present a threat to prejudice-driven politicians and need to be neutralised. That’s what’s happening.

So none of this surprises me, and none of this confuses me.

A century ago, there was nothing more difficult to deal with for the professionals of learning than the self-taught man or woman with a chip on their shoulders.

Today, there is nothing more difficult to deal with for the citizens and subjects of an educated state than a self-made politico or politica with a driven belief in their own prejudices.

And that’s essentially what’s happening as we witness so many generations of structures being destroyed before our very eyes; as we witness aghast the collapse.

Anything we can properly do to halt this careering towards a 21st century Dark Ages?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps we are hardwired quite otherwise.  But, even so, even assuming there is nothing more to be realistically done, I do suggest at the very least you bear witness to what is happening – I do suggest you sign this petition:

Save UK Justice

Responsible department: Ministry of Justice

The MOJ should not proceed with their plans to reduce access to justice by depriving citizens of legal aid or the right to representation by the Solicitor of their choice.

If a government which claims to act out of a desire to create more societal freedoms finds it necessary to intervene from a prejudiced standpoint in the workings of society’s fundamentals – from the NHS to Legal Aid to social care to education – then surely we need to draw in the most vigorous terms the rest of our nation’s attention to the contradictions involved.

You cannot create a civilisation of the free based on top-down reorganisations mandated by throwbacks to foolish and primitive times – times which never existed, even as the self-interested rose-tinted spectacles claim to demonstrate they did.

You cannot create a civilisation of the free based on such prejudice – or, indeed, on such back-scratching self-enrichment.

Perhaps it’s time we realised a civilisation of the free isn’t, actually, the goal of these leaders – leaders who, in any meritorious field of endeavour, would be considered to be on the worst side of incompetent.

Puts quite a different slant on everything, once you accept that to be the case.

Don’t you think so?


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Apr 282013
 
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This is what’s happening to Legal Aid.  Essentially, citizen access to due legal process is being dramatically reduced and gamed in favour of people and organisations with loads of dosh.

This is what’s happening to the NHS.  Essentially, patient access to due medical process and the right to doctor-patient privacy is being dramatically controlled and gamed in favour of people and organisations with lots of power.

This is what’s happening to our police.  Essentially, the subjects of this green and pleasant land are becoming just another monetised calculation in the deep pockets of transnational law-and-disorder.

This is what’s happening to our education system.  Essentially, the students and teachers of England are, both, becoming part of a secretive and overbearing experiment to change the ideological bent of society in the future.

And this is what’s happening to our social cohesion.  Essentially, the government – having failed in its attempt to impose a full quiver of mean-tested benefits through its attacks on the disadvantaged – now aims to shame the elderly well-off into giving up their rights. Attempting once again, this time at the other end of the spectrum, to achieve the aforementioned objective.

Essentially, old against young; rich against poor; sick against healthy … people like Iain Duncan Smith playing their favourite game of bloody divide and rule.

Essentially, what’s happening is that legal rights, health, policing, education and the ability of our society to band together are all being pulverised by the monetising ideology of those who run the world: those who have the time, energy, knowledge and resources to fill in forms, understand documents and read executive summaries.

Which ain’t going to be you or me.  Which ain’t going to be any of those who struggle in evermore precarious lifestyles to get to the end of the month.

Essentially, what’s happening is that our blessed unwritten constitution is being radically rewritten in the most underhand of ways.  No consultation.  No public recognition of their aims.  No voter awareness that the law, patient care, justice, learning and the socialising nature of humanity are being progressively re-engineered to fit “one best way” only.

To fit just one way.

Quite covertly, these people have analysed every significant centre of human liberation, of equal opportunity and of citizen empowerment which we’ve managed to fashion in the last sixty years.

And having done so, they’ve worked out how to dismantle each and every brick which made up those walls that served to protect us so – that served to protect us from the wolves.

The wolves that have never left the doors of poverty.

The wolves that now await each and every one of us.

This is a revolution conducted by a group of people who have burrowed into the very innards of the establishment.  They have turned it inside out as a hedonist may pick away at the meat of a lobster.  Rather pink and expensively pursued by the money-mad, this is the call to independence of the corporates.

Independence of ordinary people; independence of ordinary lawyers; independence of ordinary police officers; independence of ordinary health workers; independence of ordinary educationalists … independence, that is to say, of the general desire that societies have to work together.

Sounds a bit mad of me to suggest that this might be the case?  In truth, how else can we describe it?  If someone takes over your legal, health, police and education systems – as well as attempting to detonate the ability of a people to defend themselves judiciously as one – what could we call it if not a call for someone’s savage breaking away?

A breaking away, if you like, from all that England and the United Kingdom used to mean.

No wonder some Scots are burning to escape.

Who wouldn’t want to leave such a sorry state of constitutional hijack?


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Nov 252012
 
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Last year, for some reason I never properly understood, I was invited to a number of briefings by the Law Society on the encroaching cuts in Legal Aid which this government quite unnecessarily proposed.  The Law Society produced its own suggestions which quite reasonably proposed greater savings than the Coalition thought necessary whilst simultaneously protecting citizen access to Legal Aid in many of the highly sensitive areas the government was aiming to take out of scope.  The government, running as it did – and still does – on petrol tanks of prejudice far more than the evidence-based approach which tends to guarantee equanimity, ignored those suggestions and the campaign failed.

More recently, I have heard that an American tendency to number-crunch crime statistics is under consideration here in Britain.  Predictive policing, if I understand correctly, involves analysing data in relation to what crimes and where have already been committed in a community to ensure that a police presence is maximised, refined and optimised in terms of where such crimes might take place in the future.

The crimes that generally get mentioned tend to be similar to burglary – I am unaware whether this is to soften up and ensure blind public acceptance of the technique’s potential implications or whether it lends itself especially to such activities (just as I ask myself why we couldn’t initiate our investigations with these new technologies in the fields of potential banking fraud, for example, before we deal with the petty lowlife) – but it does occur to me that perhaps such a concept could be introduced elsewhere with equally constructive results.  What if those who might commit crime – but unknowingly, through some complexity of the law and a wider general inaccessibility to the same – could access similar predictive systems which might inform them of their transgression before it actually managed to unknowingly consummate itself?

A kind of predictive Legal Aid, in fact, where the law would be democratised and made more understandable using the very same algorithms that the police are currently applying to catch criminals before they actually get to act on a “decision cycle” – but which in this case could be of very significant use to a wider population which wishes to remain law-abiding wherever they can properly understand how to.

A bemused population, in fact, which is already massively confused by the increasing number and penetration of laws into what is essentially an evermore domestic environment.

Now I do understand that in the ideal world we should still aim for, such a system of Legal Aid would never fully replace a face-to-face and sympathetic consultation.  We do not, however, live in an ideal world – and resources, they tell us, are short.  Just imagine, then, if we could harness the concept of predictive policing to help lawful citizens remain so: a preventative justice system, that is, which didn’t just help the police stop the baddies but helped the goodies proactively stop themselves from falling into the abyss of unconscious misdemeanourship.

I wondered the other day whether Twitter mightn’t do this for its own software constitution.  It’s a simple example: an automated system such as that which legal eagles, scraping the web for intellectual property infringement, might already use – but adapted to the needs of certain updateable keywords and phrases.  The tweet in question, before it was sent, would be parsed by the system and flagged up to the user if potentially libellous for a particular jurisdiction.

So just imagine a similar principle applied far more widely and comprehensively to the law: like a competent National Health Service, don’t only put the patients back together again when they fall ill but also provide them with the tools to avoid falling ill in the first place.

Too difficult to achieve?  Right.  OK.  Like putting a man on the moon was too difficult to achieve half a century ago.

The right political will can still move mountains of achievement.

*

To this moment in my essay, all well and good.  The question I now ask, with a modicum of bad faith, runs as follows: do the police and their evermore privatising colleagues – as well as lawyerly folk more generally – really want to reduce the number of crimes and misdemeanours committed or not?

Is it, in fact, in their interests to promote the prevention of crime?

Would they really like to make us all law-abiding?

Or do they actually need us to continue providing them with work – the kind of work which fills their profitable timesheets, their profit-driven prisons and their profiteering contracts for managing the underbelly of our societies?

And if you think I am being harsh, answer me this question: why start with those criminals who would wish to cause crime – and not with those who do not wish to fall foul of its consequences in the first place?

Why not start with prevention when it’s so manifestly better than the cure?


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Nov 252012
 
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Let me explain.

I’ve been away for a couple of days in a hotel room.  The hotel was fine but it wasn’t my home.  I wrote a couple of pieces whilst I was there.  The pieces were more reflective than has been my custom of late.  We need more reflection.

At least, I need more reflection.

I’ve just arrived back home and sitting back in my familiar surroundings, anything but luxurious but – even so – comforting and family-underlining, the rain pitter-pattering on the sitting-room window, the recorded football on the tele, so it is that I am reminded of the great importance of familiarity in general: because for our politicians and rulers, you see, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt but – instead – too much confidence on the part of their subjects.

To feel safe in your castle as all Englishmen and women are supposed to feel is the greatest challenge to all political rulers who aim to desegregate a tapestry of national expectations.  Whilst you fear losing the very soul of your life, you will be cowed into almost any kind of behaviour.  But if you feel your loved ones are protectable behind the four walls of your home, then almost anything may be contemplated.  I can, in this sense, understand those who argue against gun laws – not, I hastily add, because I believe in anyone bearing arms at all but, rather, essentially because I appreciate now more than ever the importance of feeling permanently in control of one’s own destiny.

Which is what I think most profoundly is behind the assertions of such a constituency.

And that sense of control is what Disability Living Allowance aimed to provide; that sense of control is what the NHS which kept the wolf from the door was looking to add; that sense of control is what many of those top-down policies of empowerment we berated New Labour for engineering simply steamed ahead and implemented, day after day, to a wider benefit of us all.

To want to eliminate all those things is, in a sense, the UK equivalent of a rampant US desire for nationwide gun control.  Our “guns” – what allowed the British to protect themselves from the elements – are inventions such as the NHS, Legal Aid and the Welfare State.

As well as a wider network of social-care instincts.

Thus we come to understand that home is a shield which rightly emboldens us all – and DLA, the NHS, Sure Start and all were astonishing extensions of those shields I allude to which allowed us to believe, precisely, in better: better ways of seeing, thinking and living.

I tweeted rather sadly this morning the following sequence of ideas:

Did civilisation get too expensive for those who rule? Is that what this Coalition is all about? Reducing the costs of Western compassion?

And to me, it doesn’t half feel as if this is the case.

They can’t, of course, say that universal education has created a mass of highly intellectualised people which perhaps in many matters knows better than our governors.  They can’t admit this because they are tied hand and foot to the concept of meritorious pyramidal organisation.  Those at the top must be better than those at the bottom, because otherwise those at the top couldn’t be at the top.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy which, if questioned, would lead to all kinds of awful potentialities: maybe, for example, an utter and total reworking of that aforementioned – and for me, quite dreaded – pyramid of often dysfunctional relationships.

And the Lord forbid that such eventualities might take place.

*

Chris has a pertinent observation today, when he says:

[...] there’s a belief that the only knowledge that matters is direct experience; Tim seems to think that only the poor can truly understand poverty.This is doubtful. And what’s even more doubtful – in fact plain wrong – is that direct experience of poverty is necessary to know which policies are best to relieve poverty.

Something which I’d be inclined to agree wholeheartedly with.  Being evidence-based is far more important to the justice and fairness one can bring to bear on a matter than whether one was born rich or poor.  Being a person of kindly outlook – with an awareness of others, an empathetic personality and the ability to actively listen – are all far more useful to one’s ability to reach out than whether or not one has suffered personally the disadvantages of deprivation.

Such disadvantages may drive one unremittingly to help others, of course.  On the other hand, they could just as easily encourage us to trample whenever the opportunity presented itself.

It is in the essence of an individual where we must judge people’s integrity – rather than in terms of the origin of the acts themselves.

And so Chris is equally interesting when he concludes with these final biting lines:

It is not the background of Cameron, Freud and Osborne that stops them making effective anti-poverty policy. It is their ignorance and ideology.

Only I wonder if it is truly ignorance and ideology.  To be honest, I think it might be the biggest and most unpleasant practical joke of latterday political times.  A humongous practical joke, in fact.

For them, we are simply buttons to be pressed.  And if you really want my opinion, whilst I admire all that New Labour achieved, I’m going to be blaming Blairism, iPods and technological gadgets equally for this unending robotisation of how a society must function.

Yes.

Social mobility means you walk the streets with your frozen hands clasping firmly a PAYG phone.

Social mobility means you can never know if your parents will ever see their grandchildren.

Social mobility means you will never live in a face-to-face community again.

Social mobility – of this kind, I mean – leads us to a desperate scrabbling for a smidgen of human warmth.

And without that warmth, we have no hearth.  And without a hearth, we have no home.  And without a home, we have no shield.  And without a shield, above all we are as defenceless as the men and women who once occupied the caves.

Oh yes.  We have running-water and central-heating, but without the wherewithal to properly purchase it, it all becomes a mirage.

Hold on to that home.

Hold on to that shield.

Embolden yourself before it’s just – infamously – too late.


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Nov 232012
 
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I have just spent a couple of days away from home, mostly away from Twitter and entirely away from blogging.  Though not entirely.

I’ve written this post whilst offline, on a Blackberry Playbook, using word-processing software provided by default. It’s an interesting experience, writing from one’s thoughts without being instantly connected to that wider intelligence which is the Internet – and its visual manifestation, the worldwide web.

I suddenly discover the only resources I have to hand, for the moment, and whilst I write, are my own very private thoughts and uncertainties.  I can check nothing, for the moment; I can only write what I am sure of.

And yet perhaps the situation I find myself in is not all that different from writing online.  Who can say that what we read and watch is ever as true as it might be?  If we cannot believe that a BBC current affairs programme of international renown is capable of usefully fact-checking its own content before it broadcasts, where and how can we ordinary people realistically check anything an honest desire to engage with democratic debate would – as a result – require us to do?

On considerable reflection, I find myself siding with Lord McAlpine’s instincts to sue those who besmirched his name.  But I do so with a desire to add the following caveats for the future.  For if the events that have surrounded his calvary are to impact positively on democracy, and if his case and this moment in our body politic are not to be seen historically as a turning-point where an unhappy and impositional establishment brutally re-establishes itself, we must do something more than acknowledge his right under current law to act as he does.

I was, you see, going to write a post about how it seemed to me that the McAlpine case, and the fury with which he was pursued in some sectors of social media, and even in what is now less accurately called mainstream media, was a case of referred anger more than a desire to do away with the reputation of a man very few people even knew existed.  This referred anger would relate to the last two years of Coalition government.  Unable – as the constituency in question was – to stem the government’s impositional instincts, this – that is to say, Twitter – has been a frustrated and figurative rattlesnake of a medium, thrashing evermore futilely away at an evermore desperate set of circumstances.

If my thesis is correct, the Lord McAlpine accusations were simply the unhappy blue touchpaper a hot and angry group of people alighted on in the absence of being able to get political satisfaction elsewhere.

Now I may be right or I may be wrong.  Either way, once Lord McAlpine has achieved his goals as per our existing laws, we need to ensure his legacy will not be that of an establishment grossly re-establishing itself but, rather, much more usefully and productively for our democracy, of a body politic and public discourse renewing itself.

And so I come to the point of this post.  The caveats I mentioned above in relation to the McAlpine case?

It’s true, as this post from the Economist indicates, that if we now live in a world where everyone can publish, we now live in a world where everyone can be sued.  But if this is the case, and legal matters are potentially to enter every sitting-room in the land, surely it would only be reasonable to expect the law itself to democratise itself – that is to say, make itself easier to be understood, complied with, used and exercised.

Whilst the real mainstream media – with its legal departments and journalistically-trained professionals – essentially interfaced with what was seen by many as the more oppressive forces in our society, as well as supposedly on our behalf, it did not seem to matter so much that the law was, for most people, an opaque and arcane matter.  But if we are all to publish now, as indeed Twitter, Facebook and blogging before them would have us do (for without the product, that is to say ourselves and our occurrences, social media would have zero business model to operate with), and if we do feel that Web 2.0 has more upsides than downsides, then we do really need to make it as easy to understand and use the law as it is to go to a supermarket and purchase a week’s worth of groceries.

If publishing is to become as easy as 140 characters and a “Send” button, or simply one retweet, and the implications of getting it wrong are to be criminal investigations by the Metropolitan police, then as a society we cannot, on the one hand, allow the honesty, sharing and the jobs and income social media generate – as well as a whole host of other upsides which such a technologically-linked world provides – to lead, on the other, to the complex and awful risks of prison sentences and prohibitive fines for its participants when forwarding on the equivalent of a simple English sentence.  We cannot allow it, that is, unless we change quite radically its framework.

And if there are malicious people out there looking to witch-hunt others, to act as lynch mobs, to pursue in industrial quantities the reputations of others, then maybe governments too – especially the current one (but not only the current one) – need to ask themselves if there’s anything they can do to make our society less unhappy, less bitter, less desirous of revenge and less violent in its discourses.

A final couple of requests, then, from and to those of us who still wish to act in good faith on behalf of a better democratic society:

  • Lawyers, as perhaps the final profession to open its doors to 21st century society, it is your turn to accept that a wider applicability and use of the law by ordinary people must lead to its democratisation: both in terms of its understandability and in terms of its accessibility.  We need to be able to comprehend it without having to go to law school and we need to be able to pay for it without taking out a loan.
  • Politicians, as perhaps the final profession to want to accede to the desire which 21st century society has to share almost everything with almost everybody, we need you to accept that the importance of conducting reasoned and properly devolved debate requires us to have a system of government and justice which allow for legal actions that do not generate the fear of bankruptcy in ordinary people looking to sustain their right to free expression.  Removing the scope of Legal Aid for so many elements of legal action, as here in England the current government has so recently decided to do, does not indicate any real wish to support democratic instincts in the civilisations we are building.  I would ask you, therefore, to rethink this approach to guaranteeing the realistic exercise and defence of of legitimate rights to free expression.
  • Social media wonks, as perhaps the final profession to care to operate through legislatures across the world, your impatience with the inability of virtually everyone else to properly understand the implications of your genial inventions and online constitutions leads you not to worry too much about the very real legal implications for your consumers of the design decisions which you take behind closed doors, every day of the week – and very much outside the scope of most parliaments and governments.  At the very least, then, I would ask of you to lobby far more firmly on behalf of transparent and less costly libel processes in those jurisdictions where you generate your not inconsiderable incomes.  And at the very most, as I have already suggested on these pages quite recently, you might wish to consider drastically redesigning your software for the needs of what – almost certainly – will become a far more libellous age.

Now whether the above reflections will help anyone out of the morass I perceive as encroaching very soon on the few civil liberties we thought we had here in England, I really cannot say.

But I do hope that someone or some institution will hear my pleas; that these pleas may be understandings which other democratic individuals might share and care to sustain; and that such persons or organisations will be sufficiently intelligent and foresighted enough to comprehend exactly what a vibrant and sustainable body politic really needs: not a long-term slide into an atmosphere of libel and reputational aggression but, rather, cogent debate, accessible public forums, proper and informed dialogue – and as little intervention by the heavy-handed laws and costs of yore as the 21st century can possibly engineer.


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May 072012
 
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Wikipedia Commons

Paul has just posted a terrifyingly measured piece over at his blog.  It describes the dangers of creating a surveillance state with the supposed justification – perhaps the essential requirement – of wanting to protect us all from terrorist attack.  A couple of salient quotes from a piece you should really read in its entirety.  First this:

[...]  In yesterday’s election in Greece, the far right Golden Dawn party gained a disturbing 7% in the elections, and held rallies that had distinct echoes of Nazi Germany.

“No one should fear me if they are a good Greek citizen. If they are traitors – I don’t know,” their leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos told the media. The words, the images – and indeed the election results – have sent shivers down a lot of spines, not just in Greece but around the world.

Then this:

[...]  It should remind us of the origins of a lot of the human rights conventions, declarations and so forth in the second half of the 20th Century: as a reaction to the atrocities of Second World War. We recognised the needs of people for protection from their own governments – because governments can’t be trusted to protect people at all times.

And finally to his conclusion:

As Bruce Schneier put it, in one of my favourite quotes:

“It’s bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to facilitate a police state”

He’s right. We shouldn’t. Those election results from Greece should remind at that most forcefully. Wake up. Smell the coffee.

We in Britain are, of course, no strangers to these dynamics.  In its desire to achieve the parliamentary power the Party had so long been excluded from, Tony Blair’s New Labour sustained and implemented more fully so many right-wing policies from Thatcher’s time that it seems impossible to contemplate that what this current Coalition government has carried out could’ve been done without the ten years of spadework which that intervening and supposedly socialist triangulation may in part represent.

In reality, the mixing up of public and private interest started off in Blairite times as a tactic to ensure the private sector and its sponsors in the media would continue to support some form of public interest.  But whilst Tony Blair & Co could probably be trusted – at least to some degree – with the NHS, our education system and the Welfare State in general, the tools they built and configured in a slew of legislative acts for one set of purposes simply made it easier for utterly untrustworthy examples such as Cameron and Osborne to turn them to the purposes of their own – as well as our – destruction.

Our Welfare State, principally the NHS and Legal Aid, has been torn asunder by the mindsets Blair used, arguably in a cowardly way, to cement in his time its medium-term future.

And so to the CCTV, online surveillance and information sharing policies we now face today: in the hands of the good guys, a whisker away from the fascist state (more here) we should always fear; in the hands of the bad guys, however, a better set of ready-made procedures and processes could not be fashioned if one wanted to.

The lesson for the future?  Don’t rely on your love of a charismatic authority or political figure to sway you from your basic principles: whether we’re talking about private involvement in the public sphere or we’re talking about surveillance strategies against terrorist threats, you cannot predict what economic crisis will do to the way people decide to vote.

After all, democracy has shown throughout history its ability to swallow its own tail and vanish entirely from the scene of the crime.

For democracy is not a steady-state theory.

Rather it is quite often a Big Bang of extreme destructiveness.

A policed state which slyly and incongruously slips into a police state simply makes it easier for the bad guys to go ahead and do their badnesses.

And it’d be mightily ironic if – after a decade of warring against terrorism – our own home-grown internal disaffected individuals, our extreme nationalists and their hangers-on, the Breiviks and EDLs and BNPs of this world, were somehow to take control of our democracies with the very tools we had insisted we acquire in order that, as democracies, we could protect ourselves from external attack.


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Apr 292012
 
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Jonathan Freedland has an interesting piece in the Guardian at the moment on whether Miliband & Co should treat and characterise Cameron & Co as useless or evil.  It’s an important point, for getting the message right in traditional megaphone pyramidal politics is just about the most important thing that you can do.  He does conclude that:

Put another way, should the opposition say this government is hopeless or heartless? The funny thing is, Labour may not even have to choose – for the government is doing its level best to be both.

And here I think we get to the nub of the issue: this Coalition government is driven by a consummate PR man – a man who believes whole worlds can be shaped through the use of well-chosen words for the broader benefit of paying company clients.  When transferred to our body politic, it’s about as conditional a view of the matter as you can get.  Cameron really should not be underestimated though, for he has never underestimated the facility cunning advertising has for turning a situation upside down.

Freedland argues that the choice is twofold: between useless or evil.  I think this government can actually be characterised with a third description: deliberately destructive.  The process used has developed thus: early on in its time, the Coalition has employed to its advantage our uncertainty as to whether it was incompetent or horrible to deconstruct our ability to focus properly on which megaphone would best be shouted through.  Our resulting uncertainty of tone has allowed them to continue being horrible whilst cloaked in apparent ineffectiveness.  Yes.  We have all been very clever on the data and content of our detailed rebuttals to almost every single policy idea the government has put forward over the past two years – but this is really not enough: the government is still firmly in place; we, meanwhile, are still occupying the role of moaning – and perhaps moderately anal – minnies.

Through the cloak of incompetence, then, the government has managed to continue with its evil intentions, the final goal being the total destruction of those sensible English socialist instincts which the NHS and Legal Aid at their best represented.  By cutting away the safety nets of both, and releasing huge private sector activities and impulses from their control, Cameron has managed to be useless, evil and – as I suggest in the title – deliberately destructive too.

For Cameron’s long-term aim is to rid this country of anything which might stand in the way of the Tory Party’s sponsors.  This is One Nation Conservatism brought firmly up to date: the Nation in question is a capitalism built around large companies; the Conservatism in question depends entirely on making it impossible for a government of a different hue to reverse any of the changes – even if it were possible to find and vote for such a government.

Not just useless.  Not just evil.

Deliberately detonating just about anything and everything that once served to counter the unimaginative, soul-destroying and – ultimately – fossilising “one best way” of corporate mindsets everywhere.

But politics – at least my vision of politics – shouldn’t be about finding ways of slotting people into a system; rather, it should be about fashioning a system around the needs of the realities of individuals.  The difference is subtle; the implications and consequences for the wellbeing of the individuals concerned immense.

We love the way that Barça plays – but the goals themselves only ever really get scored when people like Messi or Iniesta flash brilliance.

And Messi has never achieved the kind of brilliance at national level which he clearly has achieved at club level.

Systems are needed – but they need to respond to the characteristics of real people.

New Labour attempted and failed to grapple with this challenge.

Cameron & Co have simply unashamedly gone down the “one best way” road: pork-barrel politics and shock-and-awe tactics leading to a napalming of all and any other ways of seeing or doing.

So Freedland, in the piece I link to at the top of today’s post, is kind of right about useless and evil: what he gets wrong, though, is that both are actually tactics chosen intentionally, not characteristics exhibited unavoidably.

And as they lay waste to our nation in order to make it impossible for Labour to undo their evil, so a “one best way” will inevitably become a “one only possible way”.


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Mar 282012
 
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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.


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Mar 232012
 
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Fascism has had a long and truly unpleasant 20th century history.  I mentioned the concept a couple of times recently, unsure whether I had any right to do so.  Then Paul Evans shared an image on Facebook which someone else had drawn up, and which contained the following quote by Franklin D Roosevelt:

[T]he liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.

In fact, Wikipedia on the subject of corporate capitalism goes even further back in time as it adds the following reminder to Roosevelt’s quote:

Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of the United States democratic system, said “I hope we shall crush … in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country”.

Something which, in the light of so many recent events here in Britain (here, here and here for example), would appear to have in the end been quite beyond our collective ability to achieve.

So if we can accept Roosevelt’s definition as workable, and if we must admit the possibility that large corporations now not only have the ear of government but also constitute and occupy its very soul, its very essence, doesn’t this then mean modern Britain – especially as submitted to the levers of power which this Coalition is currently connecting to big business across the globe – is well on its way to becoming a fascist state?

Isn’t it time we stopped being so mealy-mouthed about this whole matter and fully recognised how devalued the currency of democracy has truly become?

*

What can we do about it though?  I don’t believe in violence – yet I see violence of all kinds being committed by those in power.  I don’t believe in the imposition of the thoughts of a minority over a majority – yet I see exactly this happening in the name of parliamentary debate.  I don’t believe in the inefficient shortcuts of excessively hierarchical organisation – yet the only alternative to Tory-led dictatorship seems to be a kind of leaping into the abyss of yet more “trust me with your all” progressive politics.

What I really find difficult to understand is if the grassroots is so large – for it is everyone who does not have real power at the moment – why, then, is it taking so long for us to find a way of effecting our potential?  It is clear of course, whether intentionally or not, that in everything it does this government of corporate capitalism is making it more and more difficult to have the time to organise alternatives.  From the Big Society concept itself right at the very beginning, designed to overload us active sorts with far too much business to do the job effectively, to the savage reduction in living standards of all kinds – tax credit cuts, DLA, minimum wage guarantees – as well as the constricting of access to support such as Legal Aid, there seems a clearly and intelligently thought-out strategy underlining this all which aims to make it simultaneously easier for the corporations to colonise our democracy and far more difficult for individuals to defend what are rapidly becoming spurious and even non-existent rights.

Perhaps fascism isn’t quite the word we should be using, as it has so many awful historical connotations which deserve to be separated from all the other crimes mankind has committed in the name of political ideology.  But the colonisation of democracy is surely something we can live with conceptually as a fair description of what is happening.

We have been colonised by a fleet of alien invaders: organisations which have the grand advantage of being relatively eternal compared to our own finite lives, which have access to high living standards and support from massive legal departments – and which aim to turn all public spaces into private spaces of conditional, as well as highly profitable, public use.

If that isn’t a colonisation – in Roosevelt’s terms a fascist colonisation at that – I really don’t know what is.

Our responsibility and duty to be hosts to barely symbiotic creatures.

Our destiny to forego all right to democratic representation.

To finish, then, with Wikipedia’s definition of corporate capitalism (the bold in the second paragraph is mine):

Corporate capitalism is a term used in social science and economics to describe a capitalist marketplace characterized by the dominance of hierarchicalbureaucratic corporations, which are legally required to pursue profit.

A large proportion of the economy and labour market falls within joint stock company or corporate control.[1] In the developed world, corporations dominate the marketplace, comprising 50 percent or more of all businesses. Those businesses which are not corporations contain the same bureaucratic structure of corporations, but there is usually a sole owner or group of owners who are liable to bankruptcy and criminal charges relating to their business. Corporations have limited liability and remain less regulated and accountable than sole proprietorships.

Hardly good – is it? – that our democracy should now be in the hands of organisations with limited liability, and which are less regulated and accountable than the “sole proprietorships” which were once in charge.

Democracies, in order that they function on behalf of ordinary people and voters, need real short-lived people running and controlling them – not faceless and indefinite transnational organisations.

A car crash of awful proportions awaits us I fear.  Roosevelt saw it coming in 1938.  Jefferson saw it coming as it started.

Now we have the privilege to bear witness to it in person.

I’m not looking forward to the experience at all.

Are you?


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Mar 182012
 
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In response to a somewhat rambling post from myself, Paul pointed out the following:

No, it’s not true that 97% of British Aid goes to tax haven domiciled equity funds. CDC is not aid, but the government’s investment arm. Formed in 1948 (as Colonial Development Coporationn, hence the dropping of the full title), it has around 3bn invested at the moment worldwide and is a fund of funds. Sarah is certainly right to say that there are major governance problems with it, and for more detail read her submission to the parliamentary enquiry http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmintdev/writev/607/m01.htm

But CDC is small compared with overseas aid overall, the operational budget for which is roughly 10bn per year. This is managed properly, and increasingly (as it should be) via developing countries’ government bodies. It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s a lot better than is made out by the right wing press.

I hope CDC and the aid budget don’t get mixed up in people’s minds.

Yesterday, at #econ99, I certainly did get the impression that people believed there was essentially very little difference between British aid and what CDC were administering.  Perhaps – as Paul clearly indicates – there are finer details which make an essential difference patent.  But I still have, as yet, to clearly understand them.

And just to clarify the point I was also trying to make.  Kathryn helpfully pointed me in the direction of this myth about donating aid:

Myth 4.   ‘Aid is useless due to corruption in the governments who receive it’

The grain of truth:

Corruption is a big problem in many developing countries and it can sometimes lead to aid money being diverted from its intended purpose.

The full picture:

While corruption can lessen the impact of aid, it is important to understand that most aid money gets to its proper destination. This is especially true for money that is not given to a foreign government, but is instead directly spent on an aid project. Even taking corruption into account, you can realistically hope to greatly improve the lives of thousands of people through your donations, especially if you donate to programs which don’t involve any valuable goods for corrupt officials to divert. Moreover, if you are particularly concerned about the effects of corruption, then you can donate to programs which fight corruption in developing countries.

The point I was making wasn’t, however, that there is a big problem of corruption in developing countries.  The point I was making was that people in developed donor countries were using instruments such as tax havens to administer government and other funds, many investors of which remained absolutely anonymous, to create massive infrastructure projects which benefited the corporations and funds involved to the long-term apparent detriment of the client countries:

  • firstly, because the funds refused to carry out sustainability and environmental impact studies – and even, in some cases, attempted to game the system (one example given was the recent construction of a huge coal-fired power station in a southern African state, whilst at the same time a small wind farm was constructed in order to allow an essentially fictitious trade in carbon emission offsets to take place; another example was a mine of some kind which paid zero corporation taxes due to its tax-havened nature and, instead, contributed a highly popular though particularly miserly donation to a local HIV hospital);
  • secondly, because of their legal figure and nature, these private equity funds exist for the lifetime of their donor projects – after this time, say five or ten years, they close down; all risk and liability is avoided; the investors withdraw their funds and profits to move on to the next project; and any issues with the essence of the project in question – pollution, quality of construction, injuries or deaths which take place in the succeeding years – then fall not on the initiators (ie the private equity funds – for they no longer exist) but on the governments of the corresponding nation states which end up having to pick up the tab for anything and everything which goes wrong;

So the problem – the problem I’m focussing on here at least – isn’t corrupt governments in foreign countries but entirely legal financial instruments which have polluted and invaded the developing global south for decades from investors in the developed world.

Investors who travel the globalised economies of the planet and own every piece of real estate they can.

Not only in the south but now in the Icelands, Greeces, Spains and Irelands of the north.

And so the circle comes full circle.  Private industry has been paying off political parties since time immemorial.  The results of New Labour’s compromises with such industry are now bearing full fruit.  From the 2006 NHS act to PFI-funding exercises everywhere, the Tory-led Coalition is only putting into practice the philosophies which New Labour helped to properly enshrine in law and UK political culture.

As I grapple inexactly with the concepts of British aid, I begin to sense that the financial chicken comes home to roost.  Whilst our own economies sustained an illusion of economic strength, we felt ourselves relatively safe from the self-interest of the rapacious tax-havened private equity funds.  But now many of the developed world economies find points of reference and similar sadness to the global south, perhaps the time is coming when the development injustices apparently imposed on struggling democracies in the south will become part and parcel of our northern European mindsets: our English NHS, Legal Aid and education systems, welfare benefits, police services and a whole raft of other taken-for-granteds we used to believe we had a right to.

For this is nothing more nor less than the total financialisation of civic society.

And as we pay homage to the benefits of driving a world economy exclusively in terms of profit margins, 99.9 percent of us will become not richer in the least but evermore poorer because of these selfish and anti-human ways of seeing and doing.


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Mar 102012
 
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It’s the classic story of referred anger: the husband beats the wife, the wife beats the child, the child beats the dog, the dog fights the cat, the cat mauls the sparrow …

So it is that I do wonder if all the recent fury against the Lib Dems and their passive enabling of the destruction of the welfare state, legal aid, social care and the NHS is taking place entirely because we’re subconsciously coming to the conclusion the Tories have become way too big to deal with.

For what we really should not forget is that the aforementioned destruction, currently laying waste to our nations, is driven first and foremost by clever and far-sighted Tory ideologues who have imported foreign ways of seeing and doing from the US and adapted them for their own self-enriching schemes and purposes.

The real enemies are the Tories – and every legal tool we have to hand which might contribute to their future fall surely needs to be contemplated in both the short- and long-term.

Even if this involves talking to and working with some of the Lib Dems whose disaffection is beginning to seriously grow.


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Mar 022012
 
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Dave complains he’s being ignored in the European Union’s summit on jobs.  Dave clearly didn’t know what it was like to be ignored.  We do.

I’m glad Dave feels he’s not being taken into account.  Perhaps a taste of the medicine he so loves to dish out will finally do him some good.

Meanwhile, ignoring me is what he’s done on the NHS, on DLA, on free schools, on Legal Aid, on welfare reform, on digital rights, on News International, on Andy Coulson, on workfare and forests (for a while), on human rights legislation (surely pretty soon) – and on more or less everything that currently preoccupies me about this unfair and unpleasant land.

Which, I suppose, in a perverse kind of way, brings me closer to Dave than ever before.

The worst of it being, of course, than I’m really not sure if this ignorance of Dave’s is unintentional or fashioned.  Politicos these days are so clever – in full marketing mode – at selling their weaknesses as virtues that any virtues you perceive out there must automatically be discounted as weaknesses hidden by the cloak of clever obfuscation.

In short, Dave’s a passive-aggressive bully – and there’s nothing a passive-aggressive hates more than to be simply ignored.

Well done, European Union.  My faith in your judgement is beginning, very slowly, to be renewed!


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Mar 012012
 
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Labour List had an interesting post yesterday from the always attuned Mark Ferguson.  In it, he suggested there was serious evidence the Lib Dems would be splitting after the 2015 general election.  I hardly think this is surprising.  Society, after all, began to splinter quite a while ago.

And I don’t mean this is a negative way: this is not broken-backed Britain we’re dealing with but a simple recognition that the united society of yore was actually, probably, in reality, a bit of a lie anyway.  The media have always loved to create perceptions which hardly correspond to ordinary people’s lives.  Journalists have deadlines to meet – and a startling angle, however inaccurate it may be, makes their jobs, editors’ jobs and newsagents’ jobs so much easier to do.

On the occasion of the recent Netroots North West event, I came to the following conclusion:

[...] Coordinating the actions of thinking people never predisposed to singular mindspeaks was never going to be an easy objective to achieve.  We are on the left precisely because we often disagree with each other.  So are we prepared, after two years of Coalition ideology, to take our principles in our hands once more and entirely trust a political party?  Or is the way forward some other different (and splintered) approach far more suited to the instincts of the 21st century?

I don’t know.

But I am inclined – if you ask me to bet on the future – that the answer for the progressive left will lie one day far more in the latter than it ever could any longer lie in the former.

So what should we do in the face of Lib Dem initiatives such as these?  Is it our responsibility to circle like vultures, looking to take advantage of easy pickings?  I think quite roundly not.  The rumblings in the Lib Dems could quite easily be interpreted as being entirely due to the strains of Coalition government.  But it would be simplistic to come to such conclusions.  Society, far more widely, for far longer, has become far more discrete and disintegrated than ever before in recent British sociocultural history.

From the strains on the Union and those calls for Scottish independence to the very fact that the Tories were quite unable to win the last general election, the vultures – if we must see them that way – which are gathering round the British body politic should not be traditional political parties looking to carve up the pie that is the British electorate.  The success of single-issue campaigning – from organisations like Avaaz.org and 38 Degrees to the recent social media-engendered movements against the Welfare, NHS and Legal Aid bills currently going through Parliament – just goes to show that getting people involved isn’t, in the future, going to be simply the old trick of putting them all in the same leaflet-delivering sack.  The old political parties will still be needed – but just like the content industries struggling to understand the Internet, they will have to change their business models, downsize their reach and learn how to work with hundreds of different interests.

Interests, incidentally, they will not be able to control in the managerialist ways they have been used to.

If the Lib Dems do split, then, it will be a sign all the other parties should take note of.  To interpret it as a weakness of Lib Dem structure would be to sadly – as well as dangerously – mistake the effect for a cause.  All parties, however well led, will soon have to face the (for them) sickening reality that there are far more ways of getting involved in politics and democracy these days than either joining or even simply supporting one of the existing political groupings.

McMenu comes to politics?  Don’t knock it.  At least, not before you properly understand its implications.

Choice is a powerful harbinger of change.  And change, from now on, is what it’s all going to be about.


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Feb 192012
 
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Last September I wrote a rather involved and ranting piece about how the government and its hangers-on were planning a several-pronged attack on a number of simultaneous fronts against the whole concept of the Welfare State.  You can find this post here.  In particular, and in relation to the subject of Legal Aid, I concluded:

The trickle-down effect in the context of the economy may now have fallen well into disrepute – just as many of capitalism’s ways of operation have recently and damningly done so.  But the trickle-down effect on people’s morale as ordinary subjects discover the fear of potential bankruptcy, brought on by the imperious need to exercise their legal rights as injured parties in the face of encroaching injustice and negligence, can only advance in leaps and bounds.  The more the population discovers that its government’s true intention is to effectively remove a safe access at point of sale to a raft of human rights (human rights which we previously had learned to take absolutely for granted), the more those who break the law will get away with doing so.  And thus the rich will get richer – and the rest of society, from the middle classes downwards, will be all the poorer in both body and mind for it.

Doesn’t half sound like what this Coalition government is doing to both the economy and the NHS.

So does no one else perceive the similarity on these three significant fronts – in vision and actions both?

Can no one else see the pattern?

Will no one else demand that this all be stopped before the circle is finally closed?

Later in the same month I also wrote on the subject of revolving doors:

It was bad enough in New Labour times.  Something I picked up via False Economy in August (background here) made that pretty patent and clear enough for all of us to see.  Amongst the many unhappy truths, conflicted interests and abuses of power in such times, this one is perhaps one of the most vigorously anti-democratic:
“The number of former ministers ‘revolving out’ raised particular concern in Parliament and the press in 2008, when the list for the previous two years revealed that no fewer than 28 former ministers had taken jobs in the private sector. Of these, thirteen were still MPs. Paul Flynn, a member of the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), commented that ‘he could not remember ministers hopping into the private sector like this……It is a way of buying access.’ This number of 28 compares with a total of 31 in the list published in March 2011, which covered the previous twelve months. A smooth transition to the private sector could now be said to be the normal expectation for a government minister.”

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

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

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

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

Today, however, we have very clear evidence which shows that pork-barrel politics has well and truly landed in Great Britain (the bold is mine):

This list represents the dire state of our democracy. The financial and vested interests of our MPs and Lords in private healthcare. Why are these people allowed to be in charge of our NHS, to vote on a bill that they clearly have something to gain from. Who cares that they have put it in the register of interests. This doesn’t excuse their interests, it merely highlights clearly why they should have no part in the privatisation of the NHS. It is privatisation, despite the media’s continued use of the word ‘reforms’. The question must be asked. Are they public servants or corporate servants?

Which makes Jim Killock’s assertion yesterday at Netroots North West that “Governments are hiding behind corporations” all the more pertinent; though, personally, I’d be inclined to go even further: it is in fact surely the case that governments are no longer hiding behind corporations but brazenly marching out hand-in-hand to the tune of “We’re In The Money”.


http://youtu.be/UJOjTNuuEVw


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Jan 222012
 
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I honestly think this is all a conspiracy of sorts.  The population is ageing dramatically; the consumers are getting grey- (or no-) haired; and potential markets in developed worlds are beginning to seize up.  Who wouldn’t, then, want to release onto the open market the massive host of products and services that is health, social care and legal support?  In this sense, everything our British government is doing right now can be seen as a way of sustaining future profits for companies which are surely worried about the end of rabid (and youthful) consumerism.  In the light of such a thesis, we could even argue that socialism in the UK was spreading not because New Labour made it stealthily so but – rather – simply because as you get older you are going to be more inclined – out of understandable self-interest – towards a society which cares.

And so we come to the subject of this post: the complex and astonishing choreography behind the calls – in the midst of economic crisis – for a new yacht for our dearly beloved Queen.  Or, as I have cared to title it, “Gold Diggers of 2012″.  Here’s the historical reference:

And the background from Wikipedia. And the definition of “gold digger” from Wiktionary:

gold digger (plural gold diggers)
  1. Someone who digs or mines for gold.
  2. A person (usually female and considerably younger) who cultivates a personal relationship in order to attain money.

But since this is the 21st century, the female bit has reverse-liberalised itself considerably.  Nowadays, I suggest, we could safely assume that instead of “considerably younger females”, we might (though it still has yet to be entirely proven) be talking about “considerably older males”:

[...] it seems the support is part of a well-choreographed campaign to make the yacht a reality. The project has had the backing of the royal family, a national newspaper, and the tacit support of at least two major organisations, for more than two years, suggesting last week’s enthusiastic headlines have been a long time in the planning.

The campaign can be traced back to the mid-1990s when a powerful group of industrialists and monarchists, anticipating the scrapping of the royal yacht, devised a replacement that would not require funding from the taxpayer.

Thus far, no surprises.  This is par for the course in a democracy where the wealthy reserve the important levers for themselves.  The next bit is rather more disconcerting, mind:

The accounts note: “Particular interest in the project has been expressed by British Antarctic Survey and Edexcel, who are the project’s science and education partners respectively.”

Edexcel is owned by the FTSE 100 company Pearson, and describes itself as “the UK’s largest awarding body offering academic and vocational qualifications and testing to schools”. It has major contracts with the Department for Education, whose secretary of state, Michael Gove, has been a vocal cheerleader for the project.

Though Edexcel then go on to rather hurriedly distance themselves from any significant association:

An Edexcel spokesman said: “In 2009, we had some initial conversations with the group about the educational aspects of their plans, and said we would be happy to offer our expertise in support, if and when the project came to fruition. We have not been closely involved with the project since then.”

Which does seem a little unseemly.  After all, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is either a jolly good thing or it isn’t; it’s hardly something one needs to be so equivocal about.

Does it?

And if so, why might that be?

Anyhow, the Guardian report clearly indicates that a considerable level of media management has been taking place.  And I do wonder if this is the case in something as surely iconic and uncontroversial as our Queen, how much more choreography is going on behind the scenes in other areas to ensure that our grey-haired futures end up firmly in the pockets of our large consumer-loving corporates?

Gold Diggers of 2012?  You bet your bottom dollar on it!


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