Jun 262013
 
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I’ve just read Peter Watt’s book “Inside Out”.  I read it in just two sittings.  It’s been quite a while since I last read a book in such a short period of time.  It’s not a long book; round about the same as my favourite Fitzgerald book in length.  It’s a good read because it makes you see something you thought you knew in a different way.  Probably a completely different way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For all of us, that is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even, dare I say, a new Labour!


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

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

She adds that:

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

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

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

… I respond with this comment:

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Apr 252013
 
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This story from the Mirror today does really make manifest the idiocy which abounds at the moment:

A young sidekick of David Cameron has claimed hard-up families are turning to food banks because they’ve wasted their money on booze.

The Twitter outburst by Liam Walker caused outrage in the Prime Minister’s constituency.

We’ve had this kind of rank insensitivity – where not inaccuracy – before and we’ll clearly have it again.  Now we could argue, as I did recently, that this was essentially a result of a kind of psychotic relationship with reality at the very top of government.  But I’m beginning seriously to consider whether the real explanation lies elsewhere.  As I tweeted a day or so ago:

Our social-democratic society, in its kindly appreciation of all human beings, has allowed ambitious idiots to climb to the top of the pile.

In a sense, then, we might wish to conclude that the Liam Walkers of this world are the product of social media’s zero hierarchies, which in themselves are the products of our dearly-, and perhaps lately-, beloved social democracy, in its long-pronounced labour and aim to value everyone equally.

If I am at all right in what I suggest, we’re not seeing the result of us all being a product of a hierarchical neoliberalism, where cruel announcements, decisions and outcomes tumble out of the mouths of the vicious; no, not at all.  Instead, what we’re seeing is the results of those “everyone is a human being” socially-democratic mindsets, where everything anyone thinks or says is to be contemplated, understood and considered with a judicious and egalitarian care.

What the Liam Walkers of this world are visiting upon us now is precisely the consequence of what the Liam Walkers least appreciate in their upbringing: they have grown up with the feeling that they have every right to “blurt out” this stuff, because the society, schools, environment and political legacy they respect so little has taught them that hierarchy, meritoriously achieved, has zero importance in the 21st century.

Am I reverting to type then?  A “weirdy-hippy” thinker, perhaps, who spends a decade proclaiming the virtue of flat hierarchies – only to suddenly discover the downsides of their prevalence in the words of a government hanger-on?

Maybe so.  Though I think it more complex than that.  The key is in the phrase “meritoriously achieved”.  This “merit” process, as previously defined by social democracy, and then by New Labour’s more complicated – perhaps more confusing – re-engineering of its implications, was never really achieved.  The society of aspiration and opportunity as thus described ended up simply as more smoke and mirrors to hide the graft.

I suppose what I’m really looking to promote in all of this is that via mice (social media), social democracy (a meritorious society) and idiots (like social you and me), we might fashion a different way of communicating amongst ourselves: a way where each of us, through a little-by-little learning process, acquired the skills that Walker clearly doesn’t have when using the power that flat hierarchies clearly offer.

The Walkers of this world deserve our scorn, it is true.  But we’ve all done similar stuff, driven by the prejudices none of us can ever shake off.  Before social media, we did this stuff behind the scenes and in private.  Now the private has become public, maybe we need a different approach to life.  Maybe what we really need to start doing is filtering out the idiocies in all our pronouncements, as we focus on controlling the terms and natures of the debates which most affect our lives.

Yes.  We will continue, as human beings, to be publicly idiotic.

But maybe knowing we are all so will lead us to a kinder and more respectful place.

We can only hope.

And, also, try.

Even as trying is clearly never quite enough.


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Mar 222013
 
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Rob makes an interesting point at The Centre Left yesterday:

The issue is this: Labour’s internationalism tends not to be the internationalism of today; of the internet, of international business, travel and communication. It too often harks back to the internationalism of solidarity, of comrades-in-arms. The internationalism, rather, of the Internationale. It is touching, and it strikes a chord with many of us. But it is an inward-looking,backward-looking definition.

The reason? Because practically none of its leading lights has the first clue about the internationalism that most of us see. Yes, they have visited other countries, on academic placements or political missions. But they have never, for the most part, worked in the private sector, that most international of environments. There is a blind spot there.

One Nation Labour was ever thus misconstrued.  Fatally flawed as it is from the internal contradiction of bemoaning “local” nationalisms and yet arguing, in a multi-culture world (where not multicultural), that single nation vocabulary is going to send out the right international signals, the internationalism Rob incompletely describes has simply served as the anteroom of such singular approaches to globalisation.

But whilst most of what he says seems the acceptable face of “responsible” capitalism – which is to say, pragmatic business lives pragmatically lived – I have to take issue with some of his underlying assumptions.  Especially when he says things like this:

How often do you hear a Labour MP talk about the “Asian century”? How many have visited Shanghai, the new hub of that continent? How many, dammit, even have dealings with continental Europe, if it is not to exchange political pleasantries with some European politician with an equally limited view?

Certainly, when Labour MPs are leaders or front-benchers of their Party, they don’t even exchange pleasantries with their own damn members.  They force us to swing from one cuddly but painful extreme (as defined by Rob) to another, far more cruel (as defined by Ed Miliband’s outrider, Liam Byrne).

I also find this quote revealing in its slightly dismissive tone – the “of course” is pregnant even where not pronounced; and is, of course, a bit of giveaway:

The fact is that there is a global race. It is not, as some Labour members would have it, a “race to the bottom”, in wages and protection for workers, although those things are important to safeguard. But merely pretending the race doesn’t exist is not an option, either.

It may, of course, be true that Labour and business must find different ways of getting on with each other – but the business bollocks that is revolving doors, unpaid workfare schemes and other marvellous examples of Labour’s pleasantries on behalf of capital surely has to change.  Yes.  New Labour successfully fashioned an electoral platform on the basis of triangulation – but in the process it’s pretty clear now that the job of government, what previously could have been described as a process of enabling the needs and rights of both ordinary voters as well as transnational movements of all kinds, has gradually made it indistinguishable to the job of corporate CEOs themselves: maximise revenues, outputs and market share of very specific interest groups at the expense of an awfully peaked employment.

Finally, today, I’d like to quote from a post I stumbled across yesterday before I went to bed.  It related Peter Mandelson’s speech to the CBI dinner last night (currently only available via Google webcache).  Remembering that Mr Mandelson was a key architect of New Labour, I’d like to simply list a few of the phrases he came up with (this is not a comprehensive summary of his thesis):

  • [On the eurozone crisis] we are seeing the relative competitiveness of the southern euro states – their unit labour costs – going in the right direction. It’s important that their fiscal consolidation and structural reforms continue because they have a long way to go.
  • But this is not either/or. It would be a mistake to argue for growth at the expense of continuing structural reform and improving competitiveness and productivity in Europe.
  • Rises in wages unlinked to increases in productivity in some countries have been a big part of eurozone’s problems, as are rigid product markets in many services.
  • [On the British crisis, the] banks will be re-building themselves for years to come. There remains uncertainty surrounding our main trading partner in Europe. Energy prices are not helping us. The way back is going to be long, costly and painful.
  • I believe government has responsibilities to help create a one nation society. But as a country I believe we need to make bigger choices than the ones being offered today. The next election deserves to be won by the party that has done the hard thinking and policy development not just on maintaining public welfare and re-distributing the cake but on how we expand and re-invent the cake, by transforming what we produce and how. And also where we sell it.
  • Britain needs to be deeply committed to exploiting the opportunities in the fast growing markets of the world – where I placed my emphasis and priority as Europe’s Trade Commissioner – but – and this is a big but – without ignoring the huge market on our doorstep.
  • [On Britain's relationship with Europe, it] seems insane to me, at a time when we have in our country so many other deep seated problems to grapple with, we should want to add to them by starting an entirely artificially generated argument amongst ourselves about whether or not we want to remain in the European Union.

Underlying all the above is the belief that getting structures right is more important than empowering people themselves to explain and engineer – themselves – what they need.  And it chimes most unhappily, too, with Rob Marchant’s globalisation “light” (my take a few posts ago on a related subject here): real people who travel to real countries and buy real raw materials.

In essence, if political parties are not to become more and more irrelevant, they must understand that broadcast politics – broadcast discourses in general – are not the way of the future.  There must be a far more collaborative approach which doesn’t simply involve the dreary one-way “listening” of professional politicos from so many halting times past but, rather, looks to involve and engage – through politics – voters and other interested citizens in all kinds of socioeconomic decision-making processes.

If Labour is to convince all its constituencies that there is still a place for it in the modern world, it mustn’t simply – nor gaggingly – hang onto the coattails of the internationally globe-trotting opinion formers of Marchant’s post but – also – realise, in its grandest traditions, that it has a pedagogical responsibility to lead such opinion.  And no rebranding exercise – whether that which renames “globalisation” as “21st century internationalism” or that which renames “Labour” as “New Labour” and, then, rather breathlessly, as “One Nation Labour” – will ever excise from the memories of millions the fact that in the economic equation which is flesh-and-blood finite lives versus eternal corporate structures the Labour Party is called to defend the former from the veritable abuses of the latter.

A final final thought: Labour does need to constructively interface with capital.  But where this needs to take place is at an empowered grassroots.  The elite, the slightly irrelevant European politicians Marchant mentions (presumably not referring here to Peter Mandelson), have made the mistakes they have made for one of two reasons:

  1. because they’re too far removed from the realities their policy-making impacts on – unsatisfactorily inefficient elites we could call them;
  2. because they’re deliberately using austerity to nakedly transfer wealth from the poor to the rich – brazenly efficient elites we could call them;

Either way, Labour needs to recover its former role of enabling the interests of voters and citizens above all.  If not, anything else will simply lead us not to a 21st century internationalism but, instead, to a very 21st century return to fascism.

And I’m sure no one in the Labour Party would deliberately argue in favour of that kind of globalisation, whatever the rebranding exercise in question.

____________________

Update to this post: Progress, on whose server Peter Mandelson’s speech was originally hosted, is back online.  You can now find the full text, as per my Google webcache link above, by clicking here.


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Mar 212013
 
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Following on from my rather widely read post on Labour’s unhappy relationship with workfare (now why don’t you read me when I talk of bloodless revolution?  Sign the bloody sustainability manifesto, for goodness sake!), there have been quite a few comments on Facebook.  In reply to one which suggested that Liam Byrne was acting as a result of Ed Miliband’s (otherwise admirable, for sure) collegiate leadership style, I made this comment:

Collegiate style is positive, as you say. But you have to ensure there exist principles which guide too. Here, Ed is maybe a little loose still.

I then went on to point out that:

I don’t, however, think it’d take the scalpels of a neurosurgeon to work out that a party called Labour shouldn’t believe in making people who have little power work for nothing because the top brass have mucked up their socioeconomic policies.

And finally laid out my uncertainties at the moment in this way:

Byrne knows what he’s doing and for whom. What I really am worried about is that Ed, actually, likes the idea of using him as an outrider. Now if that’s the case, I’d be questioning Ed’s position.

For all the last decade’s talk of Labour values versus rolling change – how to keep the heart and soul of the Party at the heart and soul of everything we do, even as what we do involves upending some of the tools we’ve traditionally used to achieve our goals – Blairism was finally little more than a cuckoo in a fairly selfless nest of good-hearted workers.

Ed (Miliband) should realise this.

I’m sure he does.

What I’d really like to feel comfortable about is that he realises another cuckoo – in the shape of One Nation Labour (the comparisons between the language of the latter and the original “New Labour, New Britain”, if you think carefully about it, simply don’t bear contemplating) – really isn’t what the country needs right now.

So if One Nation rhetoric is to mean anything at all, let it not mean Blairism Mark II.

Liam Byrne would be its standard.

And we clearly don’t want that.

Time, dear Ed, to define behind whose flag you wish to march.


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Mar 112013
 
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Paul Burgin asked an intriguing question this afternoon.  I retweeted it and answered it thus (for those of you not familiar with Twitter’s syntax, you have to read the second part first and the first part second):

What Ed M is doing right now? Rock boat, but not too much. RT @Paul_Burgin: What does it take to ensure that Cameron remains PM until 2015?

Is it, in fact, time that the leader of the Labour opposition, Ed Miliband, gave David Cameron, the Tory Prime Minister, the helping hand it would appear he so desperately needs?  After all, this judgement of Cameron’s efficacy and historical potential is biting – and eye-opening:

My friend writes:

“I’m struggling to get the incredulity of the commentariat regarding leadership threats to Cameron. Why should anyone expect that a Party leader who failed to win an unlosable General Election, did nothing with being PM, and apparently has no chance of winning the next General Election would survive unchallenged?”

Ouch. And, as he points out, it is often forgotten that later this year Cameron will have been leader for eight years.

“Eight years after becoming Conservative Party Leader … Thatcher had got inflation from 22 per cent to 4 per cent and beaten the Argies. Heath had joined the EU. Churchill had won World War Two. Baldwin had seen off the General Strike and the Great Depression and broken both the Liberal and Labour parties, utterly. (No other Conservative leader lasted eight years post World War One). Cameron, on the other hand has … well, there’s … umm …”

Now I’m not entirely sure that in that poverty-stricken “umm” everything is necessarily lost.  Blair’s abiding achievement, after all, was a bloody conflict in Iraq.  It may have been the case that history was cruel to him – but the energy, resource, financial weight and body count which the conflict in question required of us leads me to wonder if a cipher of Blair wasn’t exactly what we were looking for in Cameron.  So did Cameron really fail to win an “unlosable General Election” – or was it, rather, that he instinctively comprehended the British people’s need to tether just a bit more definitively their next leader to their evermore parochial kennel?

Sometimes, the closed system that is politics has its own karma.  You give up a country’s sense of itself to a foreign power such as the US, however apparently justified at the time the deal may have appeared to be – and the next leader but one who comes along has no alternative but to reverse the ship of state.  No more foreign adventures for the moment – no more Falklands, no more Kosovos, no more Iraqi conflagrations.  If you must lie to the people, then divide the country cruelly up into deserving and non-deserving; get your communications paid for by the viewers via the TV licence fee; and tell those huge lies as hugely as you can, whilst history – or at the least the next general election – remains firmly on your side.

But whether Cameron is the cipher we needed or not, I think it’s pretty clear we in the Labour Party now need him to remain.  We need his frantic straddling of supposedly detoxified Toryism on the one hand and the lurching to the right which UKIP’s current bounce presages on the other to continue for as long as it might.

And it is in Paul Burgin’s original question and in Iain Martin’s perspicacious friend that I think I finally discover the reasons behind the modest approach which, to date, Labour’s Ed Miliband has taken.  Miliband has had Cameron’s measure since the very beginning.  After all, Miliband was an MP under Blair – had the opportunity to observe at close quarters the very man Cameron has surely modelled himself on.

In both Cameron’s strengths as a professional obfuscator and his manifest weaknesses as a professional salesman, Miliband will have seen it all before.

Miliband knows Cameron’s laying his own traps.  He just has to be there for him – with the kind of helping hand all enemies proffer.

Enough rope to keep him hanging on.

Not too much to hang him.

Not yet.


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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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Oct 192012
 
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I finally tracked it down.  That Denis Healey quote on social democracy.  Only it wasn’t quite Denis Healey’s – rather, it was a favourite one he borrowed from Leszek Kolakowski:

“An obstinate will to erode by inches the conditions which produce avoidable suffering, oppression, hunger, wars, racial and national hatred, insatiable greed and vindictive envy”.

The link above is dated 2009, and marks Kolakowski’s death.  Not long after the consequences of the financial-services sector’s stupidities began to hit home.  And not long before New Labour finally found its half-hearted match in this dreadful Coalition government.

I used to be a fan of that quote too.  Not any more.  In the light of the last four years, it would seem far more likely that social democracy had an important veneer of the social but very little of the democracy.  Its top-down elitist approach to the use of number-crunched stats, of nudging voters’ behaviours, of saying one thing but doing another, of being comfortable with extreme wealth and ameliorating with extreme poverty, only suggests to me that if anything we need yet another rebrand: not Old Labour, not New Labour, not Black Labour, not Purple Labour – but, instead, so we understand exactly what’s been going wrong, a social undemocracy.

“How so?” you may well ask.

Watch and listen to Sean Taylor’s song.

http://youtu.be/jLgBMusgD1U

Now tell me that – under a supposed social democracy, under that “obstinate will to erode by inches the conditions which produce avoidable suffering, oppression, hunger, wars, racial and national hatred, insatiable greed and vindictive envy” – we don’t have perfectly exemplified as a result of thirteen years of its practice a government which is promoting all of the above.

And as a result of the aforementioned thirteen years of squeamish compromise and devil-supping politics, it would seem clear that the voters couldn’t make up their minds whether – one way or another – anything had been properly achieved.

The reason for the existence of this awful government which tomorrow’s march in London hopes to combat isn’t principally an evil neoliberalism from the other side of the Atlantic.  Rather, it’s a social democracy which was anything but sensibly democratic.

They didn’t win it.  It was we who lost it.

Before we can move on, before we can repair sadly breaking structures, we have to accept that what we prized as an honourable way forward was precisely what allowed the greed and injustice to flourish on our watch.

Sort that out – and we’ll be far better placed to fight the injustices of latterday society.

Make democracy social and democratic.

Those should be our twin objectives.

The instinct to demonstrate publicly one’s position on such important matters being just the first step along that journey.

Good luck to everyone involved in tomorrow’s march.  I wish you well.

Democracy requires us all to bear witness to our ways of seeing.  And that, in essence, is all you are doing.  Democracy.


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Sep 052012
 
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This post sets it out clearly, I think – but comes to a conclusion I’d still hesitate to arrive at myself (the bold is mine):

When Peter Kellner, president of YouGov, saw the results, he gave this warning: “What emerges is a picture of massive discontent that goes far beyond a dislike of particular politicians, parties and policies.” A majority believes Britain’s political system to be fundamentally flawed. “The combined effect of these complaints is more profound than is widely realised. Unless action is taken to restore the reputation of our political system, its very legitimacy may be at risk.”

This tends to confirm what those within Team UK feel – it is time to move beyond party politics.

I think before we contemplated taking such a step, we should first ask the question in the title of this post.  As I tweeted earlier on:

When bang goes off, always good idea to look in opposite direction to see who’s walking calmly away. So who does this crisis really benefit?

And I think before we discard completely the project that is party politics, we should ask who has been most instrumental in the process of delegitimisation which has manifestly taken place.  As I have argued recently, it seems to me that the Tories above all, but New Labour to an extent before them, are using private industry not only to enrich their political sidekicks but also to push through horrifyingly undemocratic policies designed to further cement the power that a small proportion of society wishes to hold sway.

Private industry is the firewall modern politicos use to defend themselves from accusations of anti-democratic behaviours.  In their defence, they say, when things go belly-up: “It’s the implementation [the specific companies involved], not the tendering process or the ground rules [government policy].”

In exchange for the potential for all that bad publicity (witness ATOS, G4S and others), such industries continue to get the contracts, continuity and monopolies all capitalist instincts both hanker after and demonstrate.

It’s not that the politicians themselves – I mean those who once considered themselves professionals of their calling – have necessarily degraded our trust.  It’s that there’s no longer any real difference between a top-flight politician and a top-flight businessperson.  As I have already pointed out, then, in the past businesspeople – people with power and wealth and resources, I mean; people used to getting their good or evil ways in almost everything and anything they did – bent the ears of politicians everywhere.  And we accepted this, for better or worse.

Businesspeople are people, after all.  They can create wealth and make it work for a wider society.  But the conflict of interests, the ending up being both judge and jury, the mediating between the needs of democratic oversight and the privacies private industries are so eager to maintain, is – frankly – a recipe for the kind of disasters now being so sadly visited upon us across the globe.

The reality, therefore, in a Cabinet composed of millionaires, is that businesspeople need no longer bend the ears of political mediators.  In our 21st century travesty of a representative democracy, those who have been so used to wielding a de facto power throughout history – with the just and relatively intermittent counterweight of publicly channelled opinion that real public service has hopefully maintained – can now reasonably argue that their power has finally replaced any other.

And what’s foolishly more the case, they think they’ve won.  What they don’t realise, of course, is that such corrupting relationships lead to massive inefficiencies: in processes, in procedures, in business relationships and structures; in technological development and growth; in societal cohesion and economic stability.

We lose out first – that is absolutely the case.  But they are consuming the very concept of free markets that – in the absence of an external threat as fierce as the Communist regimes – was the only thing which kept a capitalist economy on the straight and narrow of a minimum institutional morality and probity.

Without the free markets, we have an ever-increasing slide to monopolies.  And we all know how history likes to repeat its bitterest lessons.

Which is why I would suggest that the problem here isn’t only party politics; isn’t even mainly party politics.

In massive part, then, I’d suggest the problem is actually who’s engineered such an unsatisfactory situation in the first place: a rampant corporate Communism – more rampant now than any other moment in our shared histories of prized liberties and freedoms.

The wearying question being, if I’m right – what now?


http://youtu.be/XrtnnLor2UM


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Aug 262012
 
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I wonder if this Coalition government of Cameron’s isn’t living proof of and a definitive answer to the question I pose in the title to this post.  It was Paul’s article on the English GCSE smoking gun which got me thinking along these lines.  Especially where he says (the bold is mine):

Broadly, I think James is right to point the finger at Gove for deliberate political interference, but I think that interference may have been (deliberately) more indirect, and therefore deniable, than first supposed.

It seems to me that one of the prime dangers for the left right now – and more widely the buffeted people of this nation – is in overestimating the importance of being good at government for modern political parties to stay in power.

It seems to me, quite anecdotally I have to admit, that politics as a process and tool for the betterment of civilisation has morphed into a quite separate survival kit for those who belong to those self-contained shock-and-awe guerilla units which to date we have learnt to call political parties; which used to be sourced in and served to represent the interests of particular and well-defined sections of society; and which now – in their lily-livered triangulations – only manage to side with what they judge, well beforehand, to be the de facto winners in any and every political outcome.

And whilst New Labour for a while managed to attend stealthily to the needs of the less well-off, even as it preached liberty and freedom for the unnecessarily ostentatious, it’s this sub-Blair Coalition government of eagerly PR-focussed and cleverly Machiavellian types which has come to the final and destructive conclusion that it’s not the legacy you leave behind you, nor even what history says you do – but, rather, in each and every moment, when and who you do it to.

This is, after all, supposedly the grand age of all individualisms.  How fitting, then, that politics should have become a guerilla warfare against its own voters.  The ultimate individualisation of all: that which turns those who cede all power to precious representatives into mere weapons of mass and mutual destruction.

We, as voters, are no longer the point of modern politics.  Neither is good government the aim any longer of all this politicking.  Rather, it’s simply become a battlefield for socially acceptable benefit claimants: scroungers off the state galore who use ourselves, the voters, as their more or less permanent means (lobbing us as they do back and forth) to a more or less permanent set of positions of employment.

Professional politicos – don’t you just love ‘em?  So obsessed with their calling are they that they’ve finally managed to split off the external objective – society’s progress – from their own internal needs.

A mighty purification of interests going on there.

A mighty purification indeed.

And is that sorry sound which I now hear actually yours truly falling into yet another clever trap laid by moneyed white Anglo-Saxon middle-aged men?

Middle-aged men, with their inevitable hands on the levers of power, who want to see the socialising and supportive – which is to say, overtly politicised – state fall into:

  1. a lazy unexamined disrespect; and
  2. a rigorously controlled disuse.

I do hope not.

But I rather suspect so.  Don’t you?


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Aug 212012
 
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It’s curious that for such a supposedly voluble and open-minded part of the political spectrum as the left, so many taboos – both of dogma as well as more emotional – should prevent us from discussing freely all alternatives.  If New Labour contributed anything positive to the political process – even where not practice – it was in its pick-and-mix approach to ideas.  That it went too far – and perhaps deliberately detached itself from its origins – shouldn’t blind us to the fact that open-mindedness is generally an intellectual virtue.

I am minded to consider the issue in the light of this interesting Compass email I received a few minutes ago:

Hi -

We all know there are issues the left find it hard to talk about – immigration, crime and punishment, why people seem to be more sceptical of the state than the market, limits to economic growth, patriotism, faith and population have all fell into this category at one time or another.

Sometimes it’s because we think some issues are already given too much attention, other times it’s because we’re scared of saying the wrong thing, sometimes we think the conversation takes place on the right’s terms and not ours.

Whatever the reasons we don’t want to ignore these issues any longer. In the autumn Compass will publish a series of short articles on the ‘elephants left in the room’ and I want you to help. We want to know what issues you think are being ignored by the left and most importantly why and how we should respond to them.

Please send us an article of up to a 1,000 words which focuses on the issue you think is the most important elephant in the room for the left. We’ll publish all the best entries on the Compass website and I will pick my top three to be published in the final document.

The deadline for entries is September 17th 2012

Send entries to info@compassonline.org.uk

There shouldn’t be any issues that we can’t talk about. If we don’t have the right answers yet then we have to work out the right ones through dialogue and debate. If we feel that we don’t have the right language then we must discover it. If we are not addressing the issues that people care about then we can never be successful as a movement.

Thanks for your help with this.

Let’s get the elephants out of the room.

Lisa

Lisa Nandy MP

My reaction to the above?  I think it’s an excellent idea.  In my case, my biggest worry is the creeping private fascism – to paraphrase Roosevelt (more here) – that appears now, more and more, to be afflicting our Western societies.  No longer would it seem that government’s goal is to stand as mediator between markets, business, societies and ordinary people.  Instead, a brutalised and corrupted version of capitalism – in its most extreme corporate manifestation – is destroying all the virtues of self-alignment and control that a truly free market would contribute.

And if the left must be honest with itself, this has happened under nominally left-wing regimes just as much as we could argue it is due to the casual – and lately well-documented evil inefficiencies – of the right.

Anyhow, if I can get all that down in a rather less aggressive way than is my wont, I may yet participate in what looks like a much-needed initiative.

Recover the breath of intellectual fresh air of early New Labour times – without sanctioning its supping-with-the-devil instincts to champagne-and-canapé its short cuts to the political top.


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Aug 152012
 
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I’ve often battled against tribalism in politics.  I take as my reference point not the Tories of old but New Labour itself.  So much good was reworked by the silver-tongued leaders of that formation – but, as a Twitter friend of mine so rightly points out, at a cost:

@eiohel Yes, while New Labour did undertake much needed investment in schools,hospitals etc it came at a cost + we’r still paying the price

All those juicy PFI agreements being just one.

And in much the same way as the US Paul Ryan would now appear to be demanding American public-sector cuts of $6 trillion – which coincidentally mirror George W Bush’s tax giveaways to the rich from years back – so New Labour’s PFI can be interpreted as a (perhaps deliberate and intentionally fashioned) continuation of Thatcher’s savage underinvestment in state education, healthcare and social security.

Taken as a long-term strategy by those with neoliberal tendencies in all parties to eventually gut the public sector, the underinvestment by Thatcher inevitably opened the back door (where not trapdoor) to private investment in state infrastructures such as schools and hospitals.  This, then, was just the first stage in ensuring that any future regime would have its hands tied as far as private sector participation in general provision of key public-sector services.

That Cameron failed to gain an overall majority shows us just how unhappy the voting populace was with this neoliberal strategy: neither voting for New Labour in its decaffeinated manifestation under Brown nor voting for its retread in Cameron’s detoxified Tories, intuitive suspicion and a lack of real alternatives perhaps meant that the logjam of the last general election was inevitable.

It’s not that we didn’t know whether to trust Brown or Cameron.  It’s, rather, that we realised whilst our civic obligation was to dutifully vote, the alternatives to more neoliberal dismantling of a public-service model we treasured simply did not exist on our political spectrum.

Meanwhile, now what we witness is a total rejection by our leading politicians of all democratic instincts to convince the voters before implementing new policies.  They see the long-term goals of the neoliberals almost achieved – and can’t wait, gagging as they are, to fulfil their apparent destinies.

You have heard me reject – over the past six years – the need for tribalism in politics in order to achieve one’s objectives.

In the light of what has clearly been a drip-feed war played out in our common and ordinary lives by neoliberal advantage-seekers of many and any unscrupulous kinds, it would seem that – truthfully – there is now no longer any alternative to signing up to the side that best benefits humanity and its inhabitants.

Even as such tribalism, in the guise of New Labour and its Thatcherite frame, and perhaps quite despite itself, was sadly responsible for hammering the penultimate nails into the coffin of the caring state.

One word of warning, then, before I finish this post: where tribalism must be contemplated, be very careful which tribe you sign up to.

For I can hardly believe that all those bright and shiny New Labourites – who voted with such enthusiasm in 1997 – ever expected their government to form part of a historical arc which would terminate in Cameronism.

Now did we?


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Jul 292012
 
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This reached me via a Facebook friend today:

[...] The art of Tory politics is not concerned primarily with achieving power, but in making the other side submit to your ideas – hegemony. Labour is weak, split, and uncoordinated in response.

My response was as follows:

I suspect it’s also got something to do with the fact that Labour senses it is guilty – that current Tory policies build on so many foundations constructed by New Labour. Maybe that’s why Labour is weak, split and uncoordinated. You can’t hold your head very high whilst carrying such a baggage around.

It’s true, isn’t it?  Labour’s guilt is hurting us all.  It’s not just that many of our current “progressive” leaders are unable to disavow actions which took place under a previous regime – and yet have their seamless connection to the present, supposedly uniquely Tory.  It’s not enough, either, to argue that under Blair there was never any intention to take neoliberalism to its ultimate manifestations; all of us know that we shut our eyes to the implications in full knowledge of the groundwork New Labour was carrying out on behalf of its corporate sponsors.

In reality, we must accept that we are where we are because over the past decade we wilfully allowed us to become so.  It’s not just Labour as an institution that’s guilty of betraying our true instincts – it’s ourselves as casual survivors of consumer capitalism who have also let this happen.

The crises that assail us aren’t primarily financial.  Rather, what we’re really suffering from is an emotional shame for knowingly participating in a game we have now lost.  We could’ve chosen a different path: less wealth generated by that mad housing ladder; fewer maxed-up credit cards; not so many online visits to those eBays and Amazons of the world …

But, instead, we chose to play along – both politically as well as financially.

And it’s not that it’s a question of payback time – or anything as ridiculously guilt-ridden as that.  But we must – somewhere deep down in our shallow 21st century souls – still be aware that he or she who plays a game must, in the end, abide by the rules.

The rules may be unfair.

The game may be cruel.

Nevertheless, in the end, we must abide.

Abide with me.  So beautiful the other night.

And so true as far as politics and money are concerned over the past fifteen years.

We cannot shift this guilt we feel because – essentially – we are guilty.  Tony Blair tells us not to hang the bankers – what he really means is play by the evil rules we voluntarily agreed to.

Even if weakly.

Perhaps that is more accurate.  Not just guilty – also weak.  More weak than guilty.

The tragedy of our times is that the big and monolithic corporations – as well as their servants the professional politicos – have made us intellectually and emotionally weaker than ever before in history.  We haven’t just slept in a bed we made with eagerness and deliberation.  We also gratefully accepted the opportunity to fuck and be fucked.

And now we’ve contracted the societal equivalent of venereal disease.

You may be inspired by all that money you have spent on the Olympics New Labour helped kick off – just as you fire 50,000 doctors and nurses from our beloved NHS.  You may be proud that incompetent and ineffectual leaders continue the job of New Labour well into the second decade of this sorry century.

But you cannot feel anything except the most awful sensation of burrowing culpability now you realise that the clever ones in society were far cleverer than any of the rest of us knew.

They played by the rules all the time.

It’s we who now want to break them.

And Labour’s ideologues know it more than the rest of us could ever suspect.


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Jul 052012
 
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New Labour invented the Anti-Social Behaviour Order:

An Anti-Social Behaviour Order or ASBO (play/ˈæzb/) is a civil order made against a person who has been shown, on the balance of evidence, to have engaged in anti-social behaviour. The orders, introduced in the United Kingdom by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1998,[1] were designed to correct minor incidents that would not ordinarily warrant criminal prosecution.[2] The orders restrict behaviour in some way, by prohibiting a return to a certain area or shop, or by restricting public behaviour such as swearing or drinking alcohol. Many see the ASBO as connected with young delinquents.[3]

Young delinquents, eh?  On the trading floor you mean?

Which is why, in the light of recent revelations, I do wonder if we couldn’t apply the same principle to bankers.  OK.  So plenty of what they’ve done seems like it could be terribly criminal; but, equally, plenty of what they’ve done, whilst abiding by the letter of the law, might also have led to an equally terrible societal harm.

What we need to do is not just correct one or two bad apples but rip out a whole culture of behaviours from the very heart of a sector; from the very heart of a community.

And sometimes, to achieve this, you do need to physically remove those with unreasonably unspoken powers over such a community’s members.  A question of re-establishing a threshold of reasonableness.  Wasn’t that exactly what ASBOs originally aimed to do?

So how about it then?  Ban those bankers who have acted not just criminally but also antisocially from ever darkening the halls of the financial services sector again.  Far better than punishment, surely, in such disagreeable cases, is total and outright excommunication.

Oh, and if you need to understand exactly how antisocial that can get, just talk to the Greeks who don’t have the capital wherewithal to escape the consequences.  If there ever was an example of where wealth has the disgraceful freedom to travel whilst labour must stay put in money’s mire, then this, clearly, was it.


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Jul 042012
 
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Joris Luyendijk has published a fascinating blogpost on the nightmare which the financial services sector may now have become.  In it, one of his most eye-catching paragraphs runs as follows:

Over the past 10 months I have interviewed dozens of people working in finance in London and if I had to name one thing that this investigation did not do, it is restore confidence. External accountants explained how nobody at the major banks can have a complete overview any more – they have become simply too big. Well before RBS ran into deep trouble, IT consultants painted a truly terrifying picture of banks’ software operations. Forget too big to fail or too big to rescue, IT and accountancy interviewees said. We need to talk about too big to even manage.  [...]

Meanwhile, he gives a degree of praise to Ed Miliband for demanding a public inquiry into the whole mess, pointing out (clearly in the light of the above) that:

[...] His reasoning was puzzling though, arguing that only an independent inquiry would “restore confidence in our financial services”.

The assumption being that financial ignorance has been bliss.

A bliss which we should not hastily discard.

Which does make me wonder – and perhaps it should you too.  If a public inquiry on the lines of Leveson were set up to investigate everything and everyone involved in this mounting crisis of confidence, wouldn’t it seriously implicate politicians from within Miliband’s own party in one of two possible scenarios?  That is to say, either:

  1. they didn’t know – leading us to believe they were incompetent; or
  2. they didn’t care enough to do anything about it – leading us to believe they somehow benefited;

Is, then, he playing a far darker – and highly politicised – game?  Is he not only calling the political shots as far as general and widespread public opinion is concerned but also laying the groundwork for a definitive nail in the coffin of New Labour – and, by extension, any attempt that Tony Blair might be engaging in to try and make a comeback to the British political scene?

Yes.  I’ve seen tweets fly before my eyes over the past couple of days concluding that Miliband wouldn’t be entirely unhappy if Ed Balls’ wings were clipped a mite by such an inquiry.  As Gordon Brown’s best mate during New Labour’s regime, a public inquiry into banking practices over the past decade wouldn’t half keep some political people on their toes whilst it lasted – even if nothing shameful were uncovered by its end.

But far more important is the message that under New Labour, and years before the banking crisis became apparent to us mortals, certain activities, atmospheres and ways of seeing and doing were tolerated by a massive superstructure of essentially cruel makers and shakers.  As Luyendijk also indicates:

A wide-ranging public inquiry could bring out the deeply problematic scale and complexity of global banks. It could show that most banking employees do not have headline-grabbing salaries. And it could get some of those regular employees to talk about how their bank is a zero-trust, zero-loyalty environment, creating a culture of fear that makes sounding the alarm or blowing the whistle so unlikely.

Are you telling me New Labour would easily escape being tarred with the same brush?

And if not, are you telling me Ed Miliband doesn’t know this?


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Jun 272012
 
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Bob Diamond, the top boss at Barclays, has this to say on the circumstances that led to a £290 million fine being slapped on the bank for apparently manipulating – in contravention of its own rules and to its own benefit – interbank interest rates over a sustained period of time (the bold is mine):

“The events which gave rise to today’s resolutions relate to past actions which fell well short of the standards to which Barclays aspires in the conduct of its business. When we identified those issues, we took prompt action to fix them and co-operated extensively and proactively with the authorities,” Diamond said.

“Nothing is more important to me than having a strong culture at Barclays; I am sorry that some people acted in a manner not consistent with our culture and values.”

The Guardian report which lays out these pretty repulsive facts starts out by telling us (again, the bold is mine):

The £59.5m fine from the Financial Services Authority is the largest penalty ever levied by the City regulator, which found that Barclays contravened its rules for a number of years and involved “a significant number of employees”.

Both these passages lead me to wonder if my previous piece on prejudice in politics isn’t being replicated in other areas of life.  And perhaps when I said “prejudice”, I should have really said “values”.  And when I say values, perhaps I should make the distinction between overt and covert values.  For when Mr Diamond says “Nothing is more important to me than having a strong culture at Barclays [...]” and we learn that what happened took place over “a number of years and involved a ‘significant number of employees’”, what then do we have if not an organisation with two separate sets of cultures?  The overt one, the one supposedly promoted by HR and communications departments various, the one – in fact – which Mr Diamond argues did not prevail; and the covert one, the one many people operated under for many years, the one which concentrated great wealth in the already deep pockets of its shareholders and managerial class – and which, presumably, went undetected by absolutely everyone at the top.

And so it is that I am minded to come back to politics.  When politicians, think tanks, supporters and tacticians all slaver on about the importance of values in political action, are they actually following the same line Barclays Bank apparently followed?  Overt values for the working classes and covert values for those who wish to get to power on the back of the former’s votes.

And if such a circumstance wasn’t sufficiently bad in itself, when they talk about values as if they were an intellectual breath of fresh air – and when they refuse to recognise the existence of any equivalent cousins of a covert nature – are they actually talking not about a distinct concept of political weight but, rather, about rank-and-file prejudices very similar to the most primitive which any of us out here are inclined to hold?

Just dressed up in fancy language …

In short, are political values nothing more nor less than tiresomely cobbled-together belief systems – as lacking in scientific rigour or, indeed, any basis in real and useful evidence as any mumbo jumbo we might be required to stumble across?

And if so, what does that mean for our most beloved political parties?  Mine, for example – which, in Tony Blair’s massive reign, was rebuilt through the clever sleight-of-hand that was this game of remaining true to our values – even as we arguably changed our political colours.

All of which leads to me to want to add one final thought, before we shut up shop for tonight: if Labour has been a party of mumbo jumbo, it’s not the only political party which has played what is clearly a long-standing game of overt values versus covert values; nor the only one which has been selling the idea that values are far more resilient and acceptable than prejudices.

They are all, in fact, I would suggest, to a greater or lesser degree, tempted by this euphemism that the word “values” has become ; and, just as similarly, tempted to create a two-tier relationship – as per the Barclays example we started out with today – between the values they aspire to in public and the values they practise when at work behind the scenes.

Business and politics were never so mirroring as today.  When it could be so good, it turns out so foul.

What have we done to our societies?

Really, what have we allowed to take place under our stupid noses?


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