Jul 232014
 
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The Guardian reported around a day ago that:

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

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

However, David Allen Green notes on Twitter that:

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

Going on to explain that:

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

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

Meanwhile, yesterday I suggested that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Sep 182013
 
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The Lib Dems’ great achievement this term, perhaps for the whole of this miserable Parliament, will be to spend 400 quid per year on every child at the start of their educational lives – in order to improve their academic performance.

At least that’s what I conclude from the tenor of this article.

Talk about something for something politics.

These liberals are anything but.

And we haven’t learnt from the (perhaps apocryphal) Chinese.  We should:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

These Liberal Democrats are neither democratic nor liberal.  There.  I’m damn sure you’ve heard this phrase before; damn sure you’ll hear it again.  But it’s true.  The democratic socialist state we all once subscribed to was about intervening between business and people, and coming generally down on the side of people.  So it was that a moment of foolishness grabbed hold of our Labour leaders; the business world became tied up intimately in all the state’s acts; and soon it became impossible to see with any clarity who was being defended by whom.

The Tories then offered an alternative: small government, lots of entrepreneurs, none of that nasty red tape which made us all so inefficient and unhappy.

Only it turned out that what they really offered was big government, lots of rentiers and the kind of societal duct tape that looked to permanently trap the poor and underprivileged in their permanent underprivilege.

And now we have the Lib Dems, leaping onto the scene.  Free school meals for children who are suffering at the hands of so many austerity policies which the very same politicos have deliberately and knowingly sanctioned.

Aren’t they brave, knowing, resilient and responsible?

Only I’d really like to know what’s brave, knowing, resilient and responsible about a dash (a rather “light” version, in fact) of very old New Labour socialism-by-stealth intervention.  If Clegg’s to be the standard bearer, I think I’d prefer Blair in his early days – before, that is, the latter decided to become a permanent embarrassment to the species.

Let’s not do it this way.  Let’s not go down this route.  Let’s not give them fishes, wrap them up in duct tape or be awfully undemocratic.

So is it really beyond us to conceptualise a different kind of state?

Is it really beyond us to learn from past foolishnesses?

Is it really beyond us to see a different kind of future?

Or are we permanently condemned to suffer the indignities and consequences of an intellectually-bankrupt political class?

A political class which now seems to spend far more time selling its star products than even attempting to liberate its peoples.

Imposing, as it does, not only inhumanely but also evermore deliberately constructed yokes.

In this case, “go to work on a statist egg” being a top-down policy never more clearly delivered by politicians as substandard in their intellects as any of their miserably multifarious excuses for supposedly even-handed love.

Horrible horrible bunch, the lot of them.  I do wish they’d shut up and summarily slink away.

Alternatively, anyone any duct tape to hand?


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Jul 062013
 
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There are a number of views on what’s happening in the Labour Party at the moment.  Chris Dillow says this; Eric Joyce argues the following; Tom Watson decided to resign thus.  Three choice paragraphs, one from each respectively.  First, Chris:

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

Second, Joyce:

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

Third, Watson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something a bit more Buddha-like, in fact?

Contemplation?  Resolve?  And final action, perhaps?

Well.

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


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May 032013
 
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According to the Guardian this morning, on the subject of UKIP’s gains in local elections yesterday, Labour’s Hilary Benn tells the BBC that:

Hilary Benn, the shadow communities secretary, played down the Ukip threat. He told the BBC: “It is a protest party and not a party of government. Its economic policy does not add up.”

Meanwhile, the same paper reports:

Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University said Ukip had achieved a “remarkable performance”. In a briefing paper for the Political Studies Association on the local elections, he said Ukip presents the most serious threat by a fourth political force in England since the second world war.

Now it might, as the Tories suggested recently, be that fruitcake party everyone fears.  Certainly, its selection procedures seem to have been found rather wanting (more here), leading many of us to feel that “fruitcake” is exactly the right metaphor for a grouping whose ingredients are so very mixed.

But I think when Hilary Benn says what he says, and especially when he argues its economic policy does not add up, he is being about as lackadaisical as he could be on the threat that UKIP poses to the allegedly “non-fruitcake” parties.

Let’s just summarise what’s happened under the reign of these non-fruitcakes: we discover that bankers, MPs, police officers, journalists, celebrity sex-abusers and a whole host of other citizens have been allowed to continue for decades doing their stuff, in what most of us consider entirely unfair and even immoral ways.

These non-fruitcake regimes have allowed such things to continue happening unchecked: most stones appear to have been left unturned from Thatcher’s days onwards.  What’s more, in a complex society where technocratic experts hold the reins, they have failed the needs of ordinary people mightily.  Billions of pounds-worth of dosh has been transferred from civil society to bankers, from taxpayers to MPs, from people who struggle to get to the end of the month to people who take bribes, and from licence-payers to famous people who sexually assault under-age boys and girls during decades.

And now it would seem that any present or future governments of the non-fruitcakes will continue to force ordinary people to pay for the awful consequences of the acts of the inefficient powerful.  Is it hardly surprising, then, that voters should want to protest?

So maybe Benn is right when he says UKIP is a protest party.  But if he considers this to be “merely a protest party” sort of message, then he and his fellow MPs have got it really wrong.  To date, we’ve seen little organised protest on the streets of England, or the UK more widely.  We’re not like the Spanish or Greeks – we’re not, yet, at the edge of the abyss.  But when Little Englanders change their voting patterns so consistently and so radically, surely professional “non-fruitcake” politicians should be sitting up and paying attention, rather than casually comforting themselves with the idea that UKIP’s idea of an economic environment doesn’t currently add up.

The real issue being, of course: whose does?

UKIP will continue to make mincemeat of our body politic, if politicians of the calibre of Benn continue to choose to defend themselves via a naked appeal to technocracy.  Technocracy has failed us disgracefully: it’s bloody time to protest about the implications!  And if the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems cannot see this for what it actually is, then UKIP will not only make mincemeat of the body politic, it will be able to do so without having to convincingly add up the economic numbers beforehand.

Not that this would make them necessarily ineligible to govern in Westminster.  Right, my non-fruitcake friends?

____________________

Update to this post: final results for yesterday’s elections have come my way concisely via Twitter just now.  As follows:

RT @Tom_Waterhouse Final seat tally: Con 1,116 (-335), Lab 538 (+291), Lib 353 (-123), UKIP 147 (+139), others 208 (+28) #vote2013


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Mar 142013
 
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The quote comes at the end of this El País article last night (original in Spanish, robot English here) on the election of Pope Francis.  I have seen both hopeful and unhappy things written about this election.  Even though I am a lapsed Catholic, I wish the new pope well.  He certainly will have a helluva job to brace the ruins I perceive.

Meanwhile, practically the first thing I see this morning is this cold announcement on Google Reader.

Google Reader - July 2013

Not much more to say on this one, except that Google would appear to be reinforcing its rolling process of centralising all online debate around Google+.  It would seem that long-term the idea of us blogging at our own places and coming together through such aggregating tools is really not where Google is going to.  A Communist Google, in fact, as the model being followed seems far more USSR than USA.  I’ve already complained about other changes made a while ago to their unattended tool – and even suggested that we work out some way of buying up the whole Google Reader tinglado, lock, stock and barrel.

It won’t happen, though.  Voluntary adhesion to common goals was never the corporate way.

So whilst the Church wants to brace the ruins, Google aims to detonate them.  There’s a poetry of sorts contained in the synchronicity of the two events.

*

Two more thoughts to finish.  The next story shows us just how poor latterday journalistic standards – where not prejudices – have become.  An “exodus” of “overtaxed” French bankers becomes around one:

And that’s the sum total of the FT’s evidence of the “exodus,” at least in this article. In a population of 65 million we have one confirmed departure, one effort to leave, and an unspecified number of anonymous departees. (Who, we might ask, are they? Will they confirm that they left for tax reasons?)

Meanwhile, on a piece I posted over at the Speaker’s Chair blogging hub, we get an interesting discussion on Liberal Democrat election chances.  My response to a comment at the foot of the piece runs as follows:

I’m not absolutely sure the LibDems will lose as badly as people think. Yes, for many, they’ve enabled the Coalition – but I bet a huge number of that many would not have voted LibDem anyway. The little experience I have of grassroots LibDem members leads me to believe there is plenty of ideology which would not fit in either Labour or the Tories, and which serves to keep that flock together. I *can* agree with your latter half of your last sentence, mind. The only caveat being that I’m not sure Ed will have too much room for manoeuvre to do very much differently at all. But then tone and discourse are also important – and his would I’m sure be far more kindly and supportive to the most frightened in our society than IDS & Co will ever manage. In fact, a politician who can enthuse through manifest decency and infuse confidence through honesty may just be what our democracy needs right now.

Interesting cases today – in a way all connected.  Whilst the Church and the Lib Dems look to recover from awful moments during which their hierarchies have unfairly damaged their own sense and perception of what they should really stand for, my judgement in both cases is that these “flocks” (flocks of birds more than sheep) will not easily break away from their core beliefs.  Was the last pope, then, the Catholic equivalent of the current leader of the Lib Dems?  Pope Benedict XVI, the prayerful inactivist versus Nick Clegg, the pious teller of half-truths?

Maybe so.

The only certainty I do appreciate this morning is that corporate Google continues to head off in the opposite direction to history.

The Facebook model of walled gardens and ad-infested centralisation is not the way forward, nor was ever going to be.

Google is lost, much as the Lib Dems and the Roman Catholics have recently been feeling.

And, perhaps, in the end, for similar reasons.


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Mar 012013
 
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At Eastleigh, we discover that in a by-election of such characteristics, local behaviours can out-gun what we might perceive as more significant national issues.  Sex scandals notwithstanding, it would seem the Liberal Democrats had a good and effective infrastructure of ward councillors.  Sometimes, grassroots politics does move mountains.

Meanwhile, as the unpleasant leader of UKIP incoherently proclaims:

UKIP’s Nigel Farage said the surge in support for his party was not a “freak result”, telling the BBC: “If the Conservatives hadn’t split our vote we would have won.”

“Something is changing. People are sick and tired of having three social democrat parties that are frankly indistinguishable from each other,” he added.

But then incoherence never stopped too many politicians out there.  It could seem, to an unpractised eye, that UKIP were about to follow in a long and hallowed tradition of English politics: wrap yourself up in the Union Flag; declaim your dominion over the peoples and nations of these islands; and, ultimately, concentrate all wealth and effort down London-way, as power and the various world stages beckon.

The incoherence I mention?  Either the Tories split the UKIP vote because they (ie the Tories) are not indistinguishable social democrats – or they are indistinguishable social democrats, in which case the vast majority of the nation continues to vote in favour of a much criticised – yet still valued – tradition.

You can’t have it both ways, Mr Farage.

*

A couple of tweets I posted yesterday, and which sort of indicate where – at least politically – I currently find myself.  The first, on the subject of politicians and their relationship with the truth, as follows:

@ChrisClose50 We live in a world where spin no longer describes what is happening. This is a kind of politico-psychosis.

And the second, thus:

@ChrisClose50 If s’one with no parliamentary privilege was caught saying things that those who do have it say, they’d surely be put away.

It’s true.  Whilst teachers, doctors, lawyers and other professionals have professional codes of conduct they must abide by, politicians are loose cannons able to get away with almost everything in the blessed and casual name of freedom of speech.  You describe a disabled child as a burden on your council, fit only to be put down?  A couple of days later, maybe a resignation statement of sorts.  But you find yourself struck off no register of practising professionals – and, maybe, even continue to justify in private your words as those of a silent majority.

One example amongst many out there, in our indistinguishably social democratic landscape.

Which brings me to my final point.  One aspect of the recent horsemeat scandal has been weighing upon my mind: the issue has been couched and understood, by both politicians and consumers, as mainly one of mislabelling.  At no time has anyone seemed to care that contaminated factories which have lost their contracts with major supermarkets mean employees out of pocket – and even out of work.  Certain individuals out there – managers, buyers, negotiators, workers – knew what was going on; were even a part of what was going on.  Did they benefit?  I wonder.  I’m pretty sure they weren’t out of pocket whilst the contamination continued on its merry way for so many years.

And in a way, our politics is now the same.  Our expectations of probity are now so very low, any scandal fails to cause the corresponding reaction which in other times we might have expected.  Sex scandals?  Abuse of power?  Contamination of public discourse through a psychotic relationship with reality?

Who cares?

In the end, we voters become forgiving souls – we become about as Christian as any soul could ever be.

Even as secularism invades more widely our society.

We turn the other cheek to our politicians; we allow them to beat us and smack us to the ground.  And yet we get up and smile encouragingly – and continue to argue in favour of a better way.

In truth, what the horsemeat scandal – and now, it would seem, Eastleigh too – tell us about voter motivation is that in times of fractious societal distress, emotional triggers and appeals to the visceral sides of the voting public are as effective and manifest as they ever were in supposedly less civilised times.

We haven’t changed so very much since those times of fascist imposition.

We don’t really care so very much about the abuse of power.

We just want to ensure, when push comes to shove, that we find ourselves on the right side of such abuse.


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Dec 012012
 
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Here’s an idea – an idea for a completely new electoral system.  Let me explain the background first.

I have to say that before this Coalition government emerged, I thought the idea of a coalition between a couple of left-leaning parties was just what the British body politic was crying out for.  It didn’t happen that way, of course.  New Labour finally blew it under the weight of its evermore creaking contradictions – and the Lib Dems rather more rancid right-wing tendencies came out on top as national government and power beckoned.

But I do now begin to wonder if the problem is really Cameron & Co – or something else.  They are, after all, simply quite old-school first-past-the-post politicians – politicians who find themselves biding their time for a future they expect will bring them ultimate victory.  They may, of course, also be conscious that they’ll get soundly kicked out at the next general election – but by then, through awful self-inflicted economic crisis, they’ll have stamped their positions and policies on anyone who dares to follow on.

Whether this anyone be a different party or – simply – different leaders within the same unhappy grouping.

It does, however, seem that a certain trend and tendency is being established.  Two fairly impervious postures with an osmotic membrane of a kind sidling between.  That the Lib Dems are running the risk of extinction at the moment, precisely because they have allowed the aforementioned process of osmosis to poison the public’s perception of their politics, and that their prior chameleon-like ability to pick and mix has metamorphosed into the uncertainty of violently flip-flopping behaviours, doesn’t mean that the functionality they could provide isn’t going to be needed in the future.

Which is where we come to my idea for a new electoral system: an electoral system designed to enable coalition government by facilitating its transparent formation.  Let’s say, some way down the line, the United Kingdom (or whatever it is by then) decides to adopt electronic systems of voting.  Let’s even suggest, once adopted in that typically British toe-in-the-water way, we decide to embrace further advantages such systems could bring.  One of these advantages could run as follows: for many years, and throughout the first-past-the-post era, people have complained that voting for one party or another inevitably means compromising on certain issues.  Yes.  Labour might be OK for one voter on welfare but not hit the mark quite on Trident.  Or the Tories might convince someone on the economy (well, this is a thought experiment and we are supposed to use our imagination) but not on privacy rights.  Or the Lib Dems might get it right on grass-cutting and dog-control policy but be totally all over the place as far as drugs is concerned.  How about, then, we use an electoral system which allows us to vote for a different party in a discrete number of specially selected policy areas?  Yes!  Once the votes were all counted up across the national landscape, each party would have direct responsibility for those areas the public had judged they should be in charge of.  And a representative from the relevant party with expertise in the corresponding area would then be assigned by the party to hold the ministerial portfolio in question.

The figures of Prime Minister, Speaker and so forth could all still exist.  The PM could, even, continue to have responsibility for reshuffles and changes of government.  But in each case, he or she would have to choose from members of the parties which the people had voted for in each policy area.

This would clearly be a brand new electoral system – a system which depended heavily for its functionality on virtual-community technologies and multifarious software tools.  But it would also be a brand new electoral system entirely fit for a consensual and collaborative – that is to say, a coalition – age.  No longer would politicians have to triangulate their positions.  No longer would the electorate have to compromise when they voted.  In everything we began to do in such a body politic, honesty, sincerity and directness would become the definers of a completely new era in representative democracy.

What say you?

What upsides and downsides do you anticipate?

And how on earth, once accepted the principle by a sufficiently large constituency of citizens, could we convince enough of our first-past-the-post, anti-collaborative and anti-consensual politicians to finally and utterly let go of their carefully-tended turfs?


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Nov 012012
 
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If localism, as defined by this Coalition government, will end up being little more than a sop to Big Society obsessives – people who have the inclination and wherewithal to use their leisure time for local works which aim to exclude the weary strivers in society from their rightful role in participatory democracy – I do wonder if, knowing this government as we do, whether the plan isn’t to do it on the awful cheap.

And ever was it so, from the very beginning.

I’ve even begun to wonder if we couldn’t usefully redefine the concept of nationalism as localism with a budget.  Nationalism as a properly funded tool to keep transnational business forces at bay.

But that, perhaps, needs to be an idea we expand on in some other future post.

Today, however, I’d like to discuss whether the more recent behaviours at local level of the Lib Dems – or, as members of my political party often like to call them, the “Fib Dems” – have been a logical reaction to, consequence of and creation resulting from a very particular set of very real political needs.

Rodney over at his Team UK blog has just put up a new conceptualisation of what the United Kingdom now needs.  A couple of quotes below.  First, the problem as described thus:

  • Present party politics is letting us down
  • Parties are either very tribal or single issue
  • Tribal parties carry too much baggage to be reformed
  • Single issue parties are too centred on that issue
  • All this has created voter apathy, a state of vacuum
  • Something new is needed to fill the vacuum

A potential solution being:

To create a liberal-minded group sitting in the middle of the political spectrum . . .

If you talk to any group of politicians, you will find a wide range of support or opposition to certain proposals which cut right across party lines. If we assume that these people really do have the good of the country at heart, it seems to follow that they usually ignore the good of the UK for the good of their parties. If we cannot assume they have the good of the UK at heart – they shouldn’t be politicians.

This seems to echo Rob Marchant at The Centre Left (also published at Labour Uncut) (a position – by the way – which Paul has rejected quite forcefully over at Though Cowards Flinch).

What’s absolutely true is there is a massive contradiction at the very heart of national and international politics which, I would be inclined to argue, the “Fib Dems” – for quite some time and generally unthinkingly – were able to address.

Let’s take figures like our own David Cameron and, across the Atlantic, that equally curious politician Mitt Romney.  Both appear to support the narrative of small public governance, even as they describe the value of large private governance.  Our lives are being consistently ruled by such concentrations of private power – and it seems to matter little to most people that the latter vote themselves into such positions of power.  Perhaps this is because the more overtly political and allegedly democratic process involving the former doesn’t seem to have led to greater representation for voters and their families either.

Whatever the reason, the contradiction I allude to above runs as follows: across the globe, in democracies of all shapes and sizes, powerful top-down and virtually autocratic leaders tell us that – for our own benefit – government must get smaller.  Yes!  They claim to want to reduce themselves out of business, to do themselves out of a job.  And I would be fairly happy to bet that never in the entire history of humankind has a political leader ever made him- or herself irrelevant.

Yet the process continues.  Powerful and even aggressive leaders claim that what we need is more declamatory and humongous leaders to achieve a kinder and more human-sized politics.  But how on earth can that follow?  If we want a kinder and more human-sized politics, surely we need kinder and more human-sized participants in political process.  Not the Romneys nor the Camerons of this world; not the boasters nor the gloaters who proclaim their virtue and righteousness through the millions of marketing pounds and dollars which their sponsors care to raise.

A different sort of politics where, as Rodney goes on to argue, policies should:

  • be ‘doable’
  • be backed up by the best available expertise
  • be affordable
  • be enforceable (where appropriate)

Now I know for any Labour readers of this post that what I’m going to say next might stick in your craw.  But, at the risk of hurting your sensibilities at exactly the wrong moment in our political trajectory, I do wonder if English politics needed – and perhaps now needs – what the so-called “Fib Dems”, prior to the 2010 Coalition agreement, used to practise.

I do wonder if their ability to chop and change according to local proclivities and preferences is exactly what a future politics of collaboration would require us all to do.

Labour has demonised such Lib Dem practices to such an extent that it does seem the local collaboration I mention is rapidly becoming impossible.  (As a by-the-by, it’s funny that whilst this has happened, and for a number of years before, the word “collaboration” in a political and business context has lost its wartime connotations of betrayal and has reverted to what was perhaps its original meaning of “cooperation”.  There’s a lesson in that for all of us, I think.)  Such an impossibility of working with other political strands of thought does of course benefit the declamatory and humongous – but few of us appear to be thinking at all clearly enough to realise this for the moment.

My conclusion?  The “Fib Dems” came about because at local level we do need to compromise; we do need to live peaceably with our neighbours; we do need to perceive people as people rather than badges of honour fiercely worn; and we do need to understand different points of view as points of view and not tribal attachments.  That they weren’t liked by many of my party doesn’t mean they weren’t a logical development or response to very real requirements.

And it might even be my contention that we don’t just need such behaviours at local political levels; in truth, we need that redefinition of nationalism I proposed at the beginning: a localism in which “Fib Dems” clearly flourished, before their foolish and hubris-laden leap into the abyss of Tory-led power-broking; a localism with budgets, funding, community participation and – why not? – a sense of identity as well.

*

One final thought: the Lib Dems as “Fib Dems” had a purpose, place and Unique Selling Point in English politics.  Now that they have lost that purpose, place and USP, the field is wide open for something along the lines of Rodney’s “liberal-minded group sitting in the middle of the political spectrum”.

But I’d prefer, I think, before leaving it at that, to rephrase the idea just a little – a gentle and well-meant tweaking of concepts, if you like.

How about this?  A “liberal-minded group collaborating in the honestly-funded ‘nationalisms’ of local communities”.

And then out of such an accumulation of “honestly-funded ‘nationalisms'”, we could create a web of protective measures to preserve the integrity of our localities and regions.

That, I think (am beginning to feel more and more), would be a far more productive way of defending our communities from the most powerfully encroaching forces out there: from not only the most dictatorial and self-serving international politicians but also the most transnational and community-ignoring businesspeople.

No.  You’re right.  It wouldn’t be cheap.  But then was freedom ever so?


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Sep 232012
 
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Sometimes, when you’ve got a temperature, you’re judgement gets clouded just a wee bit.  Now I’m following these events at a distance, I must admit – but even so, Paul Waugh is a fairly reliable witness, wouldn’t you say?  One of his tweets which has just reached me states:

Clegg re his apology vid: ‘I know what I’m doing is unusual’. Wants Ed Balls to apologise for wooing the City and Lab to apologise for Iraq

Now whilst I can understand that Clegg, as leader of the Liberal Democrats, can safely say his party generally steers reasonably clear of the City and things like Iraq, the decisions he has made on behalf of his party are not quite so crystal clear.

Balls wooing the City?  How about this story (from last September) on the subject of Clegg’s partners in government, the Tories?

Hedge funds, financiers and private equity firms contributed more than a quarter of all donations to the Conservative party in the past year.

The latest research from the Bureau has mapped for the first time precisely which business sectors contributed to the Tories in the year ending June 30.

Our trawl of 450 separate donations given to Conservative Central Office by individuals, companies and limited liability partnerships reveals that 27%, or £3.3m, of the £12.18m donated to the party came from hedge funds, financiers and private equity firms.

The findings come amid growing concerns that some parts of the financial sector, termed ‘asset strippers’ or ‘predator financiers’ by some commentators, profit from financial instability.

The Bureau’s investigation, on the eve of the Tories annual conference in Manchester, shows the proportion of donations to the Conservatives from the entire financial services sector has now reached 51.4% – up 0.6% from last year. This means the City’s financial influence over the Tories has deepened in the past 12 months.

Or this story (from 2003) on the subject of how the selfsame Tories voted when it came to sanctioning the Iraq War – which the vast majority of them, in fact, chose to so do?

No.  This issue of apology fever, which seems to have taken Clegg by the scruff of the neck, isn’t bizarre because I feel Clegg as a Liberal Democrat has no moral right to ask for such apologies.  Quite the opposite, in reality.

Where I do take Mr Clegg to task is in the following: knowing so fully well that Balls and Labour were wrong with respect to the City and Iraq – two sides some of us would argue of a similar coin – how can he now possibly justify having bedded down with the Tories?

Not only were they just as guilty of voting in favour of Iraq as Labour, they’re also now in moral and financial hock to the sector which has caused all our economic ills of the past five years.

Come in from the cold of hypocrisy, Mr Clegg – and see what the doctors can prescribe.

Oh, but they can’t, can they?  Not properly.  The NHS doesn’t quite exist any more – as neither does its private-sector replacement.

:-(


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Jul 052012
 
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A few items this evening.  First, MPs have raucously rejected a judge-led investigation into the Barclays Libor-rigging scandal.  Rejected, it must be said, in the main, by a Tory-led Coalition government voting on partisan lines – and clearly in consonance with the banking community which funds the aforementioned party thus:

The Conservative Party has become reliant on bankers, hedge fund managers and private equity moguls for more than half its annual income, an independent analysis of Tory finances has revealed. Since David Cameron became Conservative leader in December 2005, the amount of money the City has given to bankroll the Tories has gone up fourfold, to £11.4m a year. Over those five years, the City has donated more than £42m to the party.

There’s also been time for personal and distracting fireworks, of course – the blame for these firmly lying at the feet of a man named George Osborne.  To be honest, I’m pretty clear that Libor is just the beginning.  A whole lot more is going to come out in the next few months – and possibly years – of weary discovery.

And it is most wearisome.  Foolish banking caused our economic misery.  Foolish banking provides half the income of the Tory Party.  The Tory Party throws even more money at foolish banking.  And so the cycle goes on.

You see, the problem here isn’t just lawbreaking.  It’s also a question of observing natural justice:

There are two rules that natural justice is concerned with. These are the rule against bias (nemo iudex in causa sua) and the right to a fair hearing (audi alteram partem).

The basis for the rule against bias is the need to maintain public confidence in the legal system. Bias can take the form of actual bias, imputed bias or apparent bias. Actual bias is very difficult to prove in practice while imputed bias, once shown, will result in a decision being void without the need for any investigation into the likelihood or suspicion of bias. Cases from different jurisdictions currently apply two tests for apparent bias: the “reasonable suspicion of bias” test and the “real likelihood of bias” test. One view that has been taken is that the differences between these two tests are largely semantic and that they operate similarly.

The right to a fair hearing requires that individuals should not be penalized by decisions affecting their rights or legitimate expectations unless they have been given prior notice of the case, a fair opportunity to answer it, and the opportunity to present their own case. The mere fact that a decision affects rights or interests is sufficient to subject the decision to the procedures required by natural justice. In Europe, the right to a fair hearing is guaranteed by Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is said to complement the common law rather than replace it.

The issue here, of course, at least in my eyes, is that our corporations, elected representatives, civil servants and other empowered figures are all too clever at getting away with breaking the spirit of the law.  You don’t evade tax (illegal), you just avoid it (immoral).  You don’t force elected majorities to do your bidding, you just use the markets to downgrade their room for democratic manoeuvre.  You don’t fix elections, you just out-gun the opposition in ads, general media support and long-term destructive drip-feed journalism.

None of this is literally breaking the law.  To impose your will in the kind of democracies we are now left with, breaking the law is no longer necessary.  All you need to do is not observe natural justice.

And no one will remember to say anything.

In my previous post, I suggested we should invent ASBOs for corrupting bankers – not for the illegally acting ones, though; for the antisocially acting ones.

Not the ones we might one day be very lucky to prosecute.

No.  Instead, for the ones who under the guise of a supposedly professional occupation will continue to sully and disgrace any concept we might have had of the meaning of civilised behaviour.

And I wonder, after today’s decision by Tory and Lib Dem MPs, whether we don’t need corresponding ASBOs for the political classes too.

For these alpha men and women – those who occupy themselves with business, politics, revolving doors and rotten hearts – have not only been trained by the financial services sector to beg for financial support and kowtow to its every whim; if it were just that, we could still say our Anglo-Saxon legacy might even now be saved.  No.  In everything they do and everything they think, they mirror money’s natural instincts to invent, undo, fire, inspire fear, abuse, disabuse, bully and trample its way to the top.

Natural justice?  Doesn’t exist.  All that exists is the letter of the law.  And when the letter doesn’t suit, we change the meaning of the sentence.

This crisis isn’t just one of banking and its mores.  This crisis is much bigger than that.  This crisis is about how the lending and borrowing and paying back of money has become a Mafia-like construction built on the backs of blameless and humble workforces.  And anyone who touches it and anyone who is touched by it immediately acquires a relationship akin to that of a drug addict with their pusher.

It’s not just the Libor rates they fixed.

It’s also our concept of civilisation; of humanity; and of how we should conduct ourselves in polite society.


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Mar 182012
 
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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.


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Mar 042012
 
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I’ve been pointing out recently how top-down traditional politics isn’t the only way into democracy – nor, even, can it now fairly represent the splintering nature of our society.  You can find these pieces here, here and here.

I then read a short piece from Lib Dem Voice, highlighting a recent article in New Statesman.  One line in particular from the Lib Dem Voice post caught my attention (the bold is mine):

Yet the Lib Dem / Conservative Coalition is exerting quite the opposite effect on Labour:
The Labour benches generally feel frozen with caution. The two Eds, Miliband and Balls, advance the party line in increments and then invite the party to toe it without a fraction of deviation. As a result, anything anyone in Labour says that might be decoded as new or interesting causes a sensation, which only reinforces the leadership’s fear of saying anything – or allowing underlings to say anything – egregious*.

Ironically, therefore, it’s the governing parties which feel free to explore new ideas through the creative tension of Coalition. In contrast, HM’s Official Opposition has become scared of its own shadow.

Creative rub and cultural dissonance have always been the two grandest virtues of multicultural and multilingual societies.  Is it possible, then, that what we have here in this case is a Labour Party which – in its dynamics of discourse – is heavily anchored in a former “One Nation Britain” approach to politicking, whilst it’s the Coalition government, forced as it is – quite despite its individual party political instincts – into the cauldron of creative tension, that is actually acting out the theory behind modern multicultural and multilingual groupings?

The results, of course, are never going to be guaranteed.  That they preach multicultural and act out mono-cultural is always going to be a possibility.  So I’m not saying the policies themselves that come out of such a process are properly reflecting the dynamics in play.

But if Labour wants to be a radical party and yet also expects us to believe in the past (its ways of seeing and doing, its dynamics of decision-making and implementation) in order to achieve such radicalism, how can it possibly square such conceptual circles and convince us that any of these contradictions are actually going to make any sense? 

That is to say, how can you possibly sell the idea of a content of multiplicity and diversity if the process for arriving at and sustaining such conclusions is so very very one-dimensional?

Wasn’t honest disagreement always a hallmark of the left?

And are we now saying the right have also stolen, from under our very political noses, even this badge of dialectic courage?


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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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