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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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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Apr 012012
 
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If you’ve been paying attention over the past year or so – or even just over the past week or so – you’ll realise British politics is about as bizarre and foolish as it can get.  It’s possible that for politically tribal reasons you will find resistible the idea that New Labour laid the foundations in its Intercept Modernisation Programme – but the fact that on April Fools’ Day this story on the so-called Communications Capabilities Development Programme is published everywhere shows how resistant to irony bureaucracy can become.  The plan – in a nutshell – is for all email, website and general Internet usage in the UK to be accessible in realtime to GCHQ, the government’s electromagnetic listening arm.

A bit of history, then, from Open Rights Group’s wiki on the subject:

In the original Coalition Agreement(12th May 2010), this statement appears on page 11:

“We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.”

And Nick Clegg reiterated this in a speech a week later(19th May 2010) when he said:

“We won’t hold your internet and email records when there is just no reason to do so.”

However, on 19th October 2010, hidden in the depths of the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review was this statement:

“We will introduce a programme to preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain communication data and to intercept communications within the appropriate legal framework … We will put in place the necessary regulations and safeguards to ensure that our response to this technology challenge is compatible with the government’s approach to information storage and civil liberties.”

The revival of the IMP is being spearheaded by the Home Office, which in fact as early as July 2010, planned to revive IMP, as revealed in a largely unnoticed document.

One can only read this as a revival of the Intercept Modernisation Programme. This is despite staunch opposition to the programme by both the Lib Dems and the Tories while they weren’t in government, and their original Coalition Agreement(mentioned above).

GCHQ were revealed to be installing a system for collecting the data required by the IMP in 2009, and are continuing to install this programme despite the suspected opposition of the new coalition. Tories at the time opposed doing this on the sly. Baroness Neville-Jones wanted it to be done only if it was passed as law by Parliament. Baroness Neville-Jones is now the coalition’s security minister and she will have to stick to her guns if the public is to ever see such an important development debated by their elected representatives.

On the 27th October 2010, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge Dr Julian Huppert asked the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s Question Time:

“Can the Prime Minister reassure the House that the Government have no plans to revive Labour’s intercept modernisation programme, whether in name or in function, and that he remains fully committed to the pledge in the coalition agreement to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and to roll back state intrusion?”

The Prime Minister had this to say:

The Prime Minister: “I would argue that we have made good progress on rolling back state intrusion in terms of getting rid of ID cards and in terms of the right to enter a person’s home. We are not considering a central Government database to store all communications information, and we shall be working with the Information Commissioner’s Office on anything we do in that area.”

Notice how he doesn’t say they won’t be extending the requirements for CSPs to retain communications data. Is this another hint that IMP will be adopted by the Coalition, just without the centralised database?

So what is the pattern since the Tory-led Coalition got into power?  First, it’s started by putting into place long-term strategies to both disempower and anger the following groups in society:

  • women
  • the unemployed
  • the disabled
  • the sick
  • those in need of legal support
  • those who live anywhere but Tory heartlands
  • the so-called squeezed middle
  • small businesses
  • evidence-based professionals such as doctors and lawyers
  • scientists
  • teachers
  • pensioners

Meanwhile, it’s kept onside the managing elites in:

  • higher education (eg the tuition fees hike)
  • corporations and those ideologically related to the Coalition itself, including those involved in health and education provision (eg the NHS bill, the free schools agenda, HMRC tax liabilities and so on)

And in general, it’s been sympathetic to the lifestyles and interests of:

  • the rich and wealthy (eg the recently announced 50p to 45p reduction in the top rate of income tax)

Now, after all the above, and building on New Labour security plans from as far back as 2006, it suddenly discovers (or suddenly reveals – not quite the same thing I think you’ll agree) that it needs a ferocious plan of thought control to defend us from … exactly what?

In years past, in Tony Blair’s time for example, we had the War Against Terrorism to conceptually deal with.  Even I gave him the benefit of the doubt whilst it still looked like the situation in Iraq was as he pitched it – though I did find evermore unhappy the company he was keeping.  But that War Against Terrorism, whilst always an ongoing matter of some preoccupation, can hardly be seen as the real justification for what is proposed now.

No.

On a day that David Cameron’s approval ratings go through the floor, the real enemy our state needs to be defended from is that long list I described above of those voters this government has chosen to disempower and anger.

And the real reason it needs to be defended is because whilst New Labour took ten years to reach the levels of hubris and disconnect from reality which led to its necessary downfall, the Coalition has managed to achieve all of this in less than twenty-four months.  In a blink of a political eye, the Coalition has committed the massive and always inevitable error of all governments past and future: identify completely the broader interests of the nation with the individual interests of each and every politician who forms a part of its inner circles.

Whilst seriously enough the voters and their families are losing in droves their trust in this Tory-led Coalition, far more dangerously for the wider population is the fact that the individuals at the top of the Coalition have lost all trust in the voters.

The announcement today that it’s time to potentially put the whole nation under continuous government surveillance is a blanket recognition that we as subjects cannot be trusted to run our own lives in collaboration and consonance with the state.

And I would agree.  It, the state that is, is right to be worried.  Essentially because the state itself, under this Tory-led Coalition, has converted itself into the nightmare New Labour was always accused of aiming to become.

Through Cameron it is now clear that Thatcher’s legacy of a land fit for the small shopkeeper has been finally destroyed.  This is not Thatcher’s doing that we see on our TV and computer screens but Blair’s very own twist on the elitist’s approach to micro-managing ordinary people’s lives.

Through Cameron we see Blair finally breaking away from his inspiration and revealing what another decade of New Labour would have meant.

Through Cameron, this government is in the process of breaking very sacred contracts.   And it knows on the inside far better than the rest of us on the out exactly what measures of control it is going to require.

Meanwhile, as we try and comprehend how matters got to such a point, all we can do is battle to remain sane in the face of such insanity.  There is no political beast more dangerous than he or she that is wounded – especially when they believe such attacks have happened and been effected not just through a rank betrayal from their own side of the House but also well before their longer sell-by date could normally have justified.

We would do well to remember this as we witness the April foolishness that is British politics today.

And as we bemoan the real unravelling of that complex travesty of misguided justice: that once-glorious Blairism of the Noughties.


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Nov 082011
 
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I don’t know if Patrick has coined this word, but if he has, congratulations on a felicitous discovery:

.@eiohel Precisely. The econopocalypse being used to cover/excuse the steam-rolling in of an extreme Tory state. Feels like class war to me.

It was in response to a short exchange we had on how Tory politicians cover their ears and just spout received wisdoms.

And the term is indeed appropriate.  For it involves a new kind of class warfare: a class warfare which denies its own existence.  Like referred pain, it claims to be elsewhere in its real location: we are here to save the economy from the excesses of a social democracy in the thrall of neo-liberalism.  And how?  By imposing even more neo-liberalism!

From the Legal Aid bill which aims to take immigration, clinical negligence, welfare benefits and other serious matters out of scope to an NHS bill designed to fill the pockets of corporate sponsors, this Tory-led government is using this “econopocalypse” of an excuse to (as Patrick so clearly points out) drive a painful wedge between Christian ethics on the one hand and the most extreme version of Darwinian capitalism you could contemplate on the other.

A class warfare which is ashamed of itself?  Or a class warfare which, for strategic reasons, hides its very deliberation and intentionality from sight?

The latter I think.

Don’t you?


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Mar 172011
 
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A bit of a round-up post this evening – though all connected and all of a piece.  First, there’s the Big Society and that march on the 26th March (this tautological expression, clearly, an example of good omen-like vibes) which Philosophy Football are once more honouring with another of their products of dissenting capitalism.

Meanwhile, this evening, I found myself in Chester’s Northgate Arena eating a BLT and squinting at my smartphone whilst reading evermore horrified this wonderful deconstruction of extreme Tory conspiracy.  Paul is right to say what he does is sad, because it is a little nerdy in feel.  But what’s really sad about what he’s doing, as he tracks government doublespeak at all levels, is that he’s having to dedicate the kind of valuable time he must have to hand to picking away at a tapestry of lies (woven by people who could’ve chosen a different and far more Christian path), rather than spending it far more constructively on putting together a society of the good.

So let me quote just two sections from his post:

This well-developed plan is absolutely in keeping with the broader project.

First and foremost, it creates an economic environment in which businesses really can drive down terms and conditions of employment in any way they want – there will always be a reserve army of labour’ desperate enough to earn anything they can.

It also allows local authorities the opportunity to negotiate with the centre over what happens to the ‘savings’ accrued from welfare benefit reductions, with some of it remaining at the County Council as a ‘reward’ for battering the poor so effectively. In effect, what will be developed is an ‘inverted’ Social Impact Bond, where centre and local government share the proceeds of their attack on the very fundamentals of the welfare state.

This, then, is the Tory plan for ‘growth’ and ‘enterprise’. The consequences for working class individuals and families in the regions will be horrendous, and at aggregate level may lead to seismic shifts in the long-term economic geography of Britain.

It’s impossible to predict how it will all pan out, but one likely scenario is as follows:

a) Local authorities in the regions will see their budgets further slashed, with reduced business rates and consequent calculations on ‘spending power’ introduced to ‘replace’ real business rate income lost to richer areas in the South East.

b) Public services and infrastructure (you know, potholes and stuff) in and around the new enterprise zones will simply start to collapse. With education no longer ring-fenced against the cuts, schools will start to suffer badly.

c) A vicious circle of economic and social decline will begin in our regional towns and cities.

And as he goes on to suggest:

Some businesses will be attracted by the low rates and other advantages e.g. easy planning consents, but these will be low skill, low wage operations prepared to make best use of the new employment law relaxations, and new anti-union legislation as it appears.

Even where businesses with higher added value products and services invest in these areas, the investment will be around the lower/cheaper aspects of the overall business, with the real added value and higher wage jobs remaining in the South East.

If Paul is right – and I fear he jolly well may be – the plan is exactly thus: having spent the last decade building a British economic miracle on the backs of the sweatshops of the developing world, British politicians – and more precisely those particularly right-wing elements of this Coalition government – are proposing to bring the sweatshops home.  In a sense, immorality is lessened as we choose to contain our desires to export poor conditions abroad and admit we are prepared to sanction them at home.  But if the Tories think they can successfully create pockets of the Third World within a landscape of the Old, then they really should think again.  Expanding the number of people who do those jobs which add little value to productive processes is not going to benefit Britain long-term – instead, we will end up servicing the value-adding hubs which are already beginning to exist in places like India and China.

By hollowing out the educational drive to train up a whole nation, the Tories are admitting we are not up to the task of chasing the economic tails of the Asian tigers.

Or, put another way, under Tory misrule, we can expect only further self-enrichment by the already rich.

Yet, the rich should also fear this policy of contraction.  For money is only good when it is circulated intelligently – and by intelligently I mean to wealth-generating purpose.  We need an infrastructure of clever industries, both large and small, as well as an infrastructure of educated consumers, in order to make better futures for everyone in society.  The politician who does not understand this – and still has the opportunity to impose his or her limiting point of view – will fail everyone, voters rich and poor, of this I am sure.  And the rich who believe that the way forward – even for them – is to create silos of poverty which they can then take advantage of are foolish in the extreme.

Social cohesion, for myself as a democratic socialist, is the only humane way out of this mess.  But if I were not a democratic socialist, if I were a simple and moderately perspicacious dyed-in-the-wool capitalist, I would nevertheless fear quite dramatically the consequences of silo-politics on my purse; I would fear the restricting influence on the growth of my companies it would imply; and I would shudder at the implications of bringing poverty deliberately back into the equation.

For recreating sweatshops out of a society accustomed to the minimum wage is not the same as taking advantage of sweatshops in a society struggling to escape them.  The latter can be an example of moving forward and away from rank poverty – an apparently natural order of progress through distinct and discrete phases of economic development between nations.  Unseemly and unsightly, disagreeable even – but workable and negotiable all the same.  The former, however, can only serve to generate an awful welling-up of resentment as humankind’s instinct to believe in better is beaten violently back into the undergrowth of survivalist and Darwinian capitalism at its worstChoosing to make things worse than they currently are – something our government is now manifestly guilty of – is not the same as positing an economic infrastructure on cheap labour in far-off countries.

What is absolutely clear, then, is those far-off countries are now going to transmute into Northern shires – and the cheap labour we will find in our own towns and cities.  And meanwhile countries like India and China will discover that the transfer of technologies required to build our factories there have empowered their peoples to such an extent that sooner than we imagine we will become their source of cheap labour.

The Tories are not only evil but cowardly too.  They see no alternative to lying down – utterly prostrate – and thinking emptily of England.  They have no pride in their own nation and no idea how to enjoin battle with others we need to fight.

If I didn’t believe nationalism was not the way forward for our country, I would become a nationalist this evening.  In the meantime, I watch with great sadness as a political party with a historical importance in our body politic sets about dismantling everything that was once great about Britain.


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Jan 022011
 
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As I was idly following a tweeted conversation between Anthony Painter and Dominic Campbell this morning, I came across a retweet via the former from Lisa Ansell:

“@lisaansell: @anthonypainter MPs don’t need to learn- they understand how it goes quite well. Its the rest of us who need to learn.”

Lisa defines her worldview most effectively, in fact, on her Twitter bio description – and it’s a very attractive combination:

In between ranting,tea drinking, and being mum, I am setting up a new company. Westminster politics is not the ONLY politics. It may be completely irrelevant http://lisaansell.posterous.com

Both the above statements are very true.  Westminster politics most definitely is not the only politics, it may be becoming more and more irrelevant as we write and the madnesses of the New Labour years – continued now in the Conservative-led Coalition government – are simply symptomatic of the fact that its practitioners sense, whether consciously or unconsciously, their own encroaching fragility and vulnerability.

Where one is threatened by forces outside one’s control, one tends to react violently and foolishly – lashing out at everyone and anyone.

This is what the Coalition government is playing at right now.

As Anthony Painter points out, in the world of Coalition politics, where the Liberal Democrats serve to provide a cloak of respectability, this is a massive uncontrolled psychodrama of entirely unpredictable consequences:

@dominiccampbell yes, they command with no visible means of control.

Meanwhile, in her first statement above, Lisa also points out that it’s not the MPs who need to learn how things work but rather ourselves.  If I understand her worldview correctly, I would assume that this means not that we should acquire the rather dark skills of professional parliamentarians but, rather, that we should come to understand that useful and honourable political power exists in more relevant strands of public intercourse than the rapidly fading and unhappily dysfunctional arena of traditional party politics.

And where party politics continues to beat the rest of us hands down is in its continued ability, however incomplete and unsatisfactory, to organise its adepts.

Party politics would become as irrelevant as the Westminster establishment that Lisa critiques so concisely if the rest of us learnt how to organise at least as badly as modern political parties currently do.

So who needs to learn what and where then?  Well, we need to learn that – and here, online, in the virtual world of global communications.

Only then will we work out how to harvest the true potential of politics outside Westminster.

Whilst the ineptitude that professional politicians are clearly demonstrating just makes it evermore essential that we acquire the organisational nous I talk of – and sooner rather than later.


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Dec 222010
 
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The Tories almost certainly have felt, over the past decade, that New Labour was a wicked ensemble of a tool, designed entirely to steal the voters which rightfully belonged to the right.  I can understand this point of view.  I agree with it.  And psychologically, it must have hurt very much.

This is why the other day I argued that amongst other things the Coalition government is a child of New Labour:

All new regimes are inevitably born out of the previous.  You cannot be an atheist without having some relationship with the construct that is God.

And Cameron’s Coalition is a child of New Labour, just as much as New Labour was a child of Thatcher.

When political people do politically unpleasant things to other political people – and whether, through so doing, they believe they are doing the best they can for a wider constituency or not – the hard-done-to will remember forever and always how far the doers decided to go.  And grudges will begin to reside in the body politic, just like a series of cancerous growths seeded and waiting to spread.

This is then when politics becomes riven with Mafia-like behaviours and instincts.  It may be innate to politics of course – something we might find difficult to eliminate altogether.  But we can surely choose either to fight it as best we can within an acceptance of the virtues of political engagement over literal war – or we can choose to actively nurture it and allow its malignancy to increase.  What is undeniable by now to almost anyone who cares to look on is that the Tories are clearly revelling in the generational opportunity to unwind absolutely everything and anything that any previous government, of whatever complexion, could deem to point to as an achievement of its own.  Meanwhile, their Coalition partners, the Lib Dems, find themselves cast as squalid whipping boys – unfairly easy targets perhaps; even targets we should hold back from exploiting too much.

Lately, it seems that the only person in politics who is not choosing to nurture these cancerous growths is Ed Miliband himself – and he’s getting his fair share of criticism for not appearing on the parapet more often and, in that awfully Punch and Judy sort of way that the childish business around PMQs demands, giving as good as he gets.

So here’s a short note in support of the strategy behind Ed Miliband’s approach.  As Anthony Painter points out in Left Foot Forward:

Ed Miliband must, in time, respond with a similar sense of drama. He has so far sought to reconnect the Labour party to the lost leadership of John Smith. It was a noble and moral leadership and would have almost certainly still have returned Labour to power in 1997.

And as he concludes in the same piece:

Do not under-value the decency of John Smith. Equally, do not forget that Labour wins when it is the future. 2011 must become the year when Labour is finally honest about its recent past and then with a sense of drama and panache, it imagines and articulates the different future that it can create and turns it into a poetic conviction. The alternative is a third year of frenetic displacement activity. Surely now is the time to move on?

And, in fact, looking back to John Smith’s time is not looking back to the past.  John Smith invoked a different way of doing politics.  He invoked a break with the Mafias, backbiting, obsessions and circles of vicious reclamation of political terrain that Thatcher, New Labour and now this baldly named Coalition partnership – a partnership that is serving only to break the nation apart – have literally condemned us to for so many years.

Looking back to John Smith involves, therefore, looking to the future with nostalgia.  That, I believe, is what Ed Miliband is trying to achieve.  There’s nothing now we can usefully do to stop the juggernaut that these stupid stupid Coalition politicians have set in motion.  But we can choose to be around – thoughtfully, supportively, usefully, intelligently and, most importantly, honourably – for when the emergency services of British politics finally have to make their entrance.

And, as all members of the emergency services do day and night after day and night, we must remember above all that what the people will then be looking for is selfless dedication to that cause and whole which is society and that unit of untold importance which is the individual.

I didn’t preference Ed Miliband as any of my choices for leader of the Party.

But I now wish him all the luck in the world in his attempt to burnish the historical glory and future path of the Labour Party with the memory and unfinished business of John Smith.


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Nov 032010
 
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This, from the BBC today, shows what kind of government we have:

Universities in England will be able to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year, as the government transfers much of the cost of courses from the state to students.

Fees will rise to £6,000 – with an upper tier of £9,000, if universities ensure access for poorer students.

Universities Minister David Willetts said this was a “progressive” reform.

Labour’s Gareth Thomas said the fee hike represented a “tragedy for a whole generation of young people”.

The National Union of Students dubbed the plan, which will mean almost a threefold increase, “an outrage”.

Much of the proposed fee rise, up from the current £3,290 per year, will replace funding cut from universities in last month’s Spending Review.

This will mean that many courses, particularly in arts and humanities, will almost entirely depend on income from students’ fees.

If the introduction of tuition fees and soft student loans were a clear example of the thin end of the social engineering wedge under New Labour – continuing as it did the preparation of the vast majority of our youth for tedious processing jobs in back offices across the land – then this further example of government interference in the moral right of our children to have a better life than our own is simply an underlining of how easy it is for unscrupulous politicians to sell to the public what is actually an investment in the future of the whole nation as a short-term cost to be easily cut.

Talking of which, Chris had a lovely couple of paragraphs the other day on why companies pay the menial amongst us less and less (my bold):

In recent years, then, moves in aggregate profits cannot explain moves in top incomes. The power of capital to exploit labour hasn’t changed much, but the power of top earners to seize incomes has increased.
I suspect there are two big reasons for this.
One lies in efficiency wage theory. Top bosses and bankers must increasingly be bribed not to seize corporate assets for themselves – partly because these assets consist more of portable things like goodwill or financial products and less of hard physical capital. At the same time, the need to bribe ordinary workers to behave well has declined as IT allows more direct monitoring of them.

Trends like these – and others we may perceive – are working together hard to make our blessed Big Society nothing more than an old boys’ network of the retired and semi-retired.  Putting people in their places and pigeon-holes is the game we’re playing now.

We are in the process of disenfranchising politically and democratically whole swathes of the population, re-engineering society’s wider expectations and leaving in the hands of both the conservative and the Conservatives amongst us the running of our schools, hospitals, local communities and neighbourhoods.

And all the above will – one day – be a breeding-ground for petty corruption.

On a pretty grand scale, I would say. 

MPs’ expenses?  You ain’t seen nothing yet …

In fact, this looks like nothing less than what we might term – if we were so predisposed in that offensive and intellectually squalid manner of speaking that the West often exhibits – the Mediterraneanisation of the Anglo-Saxon world.  Where who you know is more important than what is right.  Where family overrides due legal process.  Where the personal is far more important than the public.  Where to be seemly is to appear false and to be false is to appear seemly.  Where prejudice substitutes logic and logic is a barrier to getting ahead.

So how is all this happening?  Is it at the mercy of the American Tea Party on a quite different Long March to power that we find ourselves?  Or, equally, the British Conservatives, who without winning an election seem to be succeeding, where so many others have failed, to use economic blight to their absolute – when not absolutist – advantage?

Not all is lost, of course.  In politics, as in war, it rarely ever is. 

But we have to accept that what is lost because of our own behaviours – being, as it is, sadly and avoidably lost – is something we have an obligation to consider most seriously, before we can move on to wield any certainties of a progressive nature in another future we might prefer to construct.


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Oct 062010
 
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This kind of interview is infuriating.  As Jeremy Paxman concludes:

JP: Yes, were you told – my question is, obviously, did you know in advance?
TM: Jeremy, as I have tried to say to you, matters of taxation and benefits are predominantly matters for …
JP: Well you haven’t tried to give me a date so far.
TM: Oh, you’re asking me for a date, Jeremy?
Laughter
JP: Well we can discuss this later perhaps, but I know that you’re not going to tell me anything about child benefit.

Read the whole of the transcript of this interview between Paxman and Theresa May, and you’ll see what I mean.

So we waste our precious airtime on trying to get slippery ministers to give simple information, when there are real and far more far-reaching implications to the whole issue raised by the proposed child benefit cuts.

I studied a bit of semiotics at uni and I can tell you it is holding me in good stead right now.  This is a clear example of where form is more important than content – that is to say, the very refusal to provide clarification on timing is far more important than any information which could be forthcoming (if, that is, it were possible for one to care even more than Paxman to manage in some useful way to get the answer).

What makes us suspicious of your motives, dear Tories, is the very fact that you do not want to action all these proposed cuts immediately – even as you do choose rather airily to announce their metaphysical imminence.  Neither does this lack of desire to explain clearly to all your supporters exactly what you are looking to do long-term make the rest of us want to respond constructively.

If the situation is as grave as you assure us it is, and if nothing is done – or contradictory things are done which make one question the solvency and intention of the doers – then really what can you expect as a reaction from the rest of us?  Is it plaudits and flowers for just trying that you want?  Is this a case of going back to school and expecting to be in receipt of gold stars for simply doing our best – even when our best is really not up to what the rest must achieve?

What’s more, and quite unhappily, you also do not suggest (absolutely anywhere) that you might wish to put a cap in time on these cuts – that is to say, you are not willing to assure once the economy is back on track that you will put back in place the benefits you feel so post-coitally obliged to withdraw.

(Long careful drag on the ciggie is what I mean – before any further action is to be taken).

I simply do not get it and would rather – in the circumstances – that someone would clarify.  Why can’t the Tories tell us exactly what they want of us?  What’s the big secret?  What’s the awful truth?  That they don’t know or they don’t want us to know?

And why this apparently massive desire to blindly re-engineer British society after thirteen years of rolling re-engineering?  Surely they must realise we’re more than used to such impositions from on high – some of us, probably, even missing them already.

At least with New Labour – until tuition fees that is – the lay of the land seemed pretty clear.  And some of what New Labour did is surely within your brief.  You don’t have to unpick it all simply because your opposition had once had a hand in it.

Do you?

Are you that insecure?

This, my dear Coalition, is an absolute mess.  This infuses no one with confidence.  A hotch-potch of proposals, timeframes and supercharged tax jargon, designed to make a voting population begin to feel quite strongly that anything would be better than this lot

So are the Tories preparing to blame a tribal opposition (ie Labour) for a final national implosion or are we in the antechamber of organising the definitive decline of the Lib Dems (ie the internal opposition)?

Or, as I suggested yesterday, are they so very ambitious as to imagine they might achieve both such ends simultaneously?

*

To be honest, Labour’s been on the ball this past couple of days – whether by design or default I don’t really care.  In politics, there is sometimes a time to be silent, as silent as the night; and times such as these are the very moments you should choose to let your enemy stew itself in its own juices.

(Or – to borrow a metaphor from a subtext to this post – soak in its own steamy bed-linen.)

I believe most fervently in conversation over declamation, as a register of communication and a mode to move forwards in life.

But you can’t converse with a political lover who wants only to take from you, never give.

Who never wants to return or engage in that dialogue of disparate bodies that is a true intellectual intercourse of responsible parties.

So when will the Tory Party decide to come in from the cold and start to behave like a group of grown-ups again?

For only real grown-ups treat other grown-ups with the respect, confidence and trust they deserve.

None of which the Coalition government seems the least bit interested in purveying right now.

Sad, isn’t it?

Perhaps Britain has reached a moment of real truth: whilst it has understood that Gordon Brown and old New Labour aren’t the right people to lead the country any more, it has also become clear that Cameron and his posse of eager intellectual cowboys still haven’t learnt how to saddle up constructively and ride the bronco that is modern government.

They’ve got five years to practise.

Question is, have we?


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Aug 072010
 
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I’m currently reading a wonderful book by the writer Jung Chang.  The book is titled “Wild Swans – Three Daughters of China”, and weaves an extraordinarily easy-to-read tapestry of thought on the subject of recent Chinese history.  It covers the personal and the political, as must be the case in this most complex country – but with an absolute grace that fairly whisks the reader along.

I recently came to the part which describes the Chinese Communist’s strategy of winning the countryside before the cities, and – for some curious reason – I was reminded of David Cameron’s Tory Party as I read it.

All this urban fox rubbish – and the smoke and mirrors that threats to revoke the hunting ban generate – simply makes me weep as we continue to confuse detail and essence.

But where I do stop and think and try and draw a lesson is in this: for it is almost as if he was aiming to secure the countryside first, the “warrior” landlords and big money people with their fine and gracious mansions and estates, before going on to destroy the heart and power bases of all those recalcitrant Northern cities.

So much of what this Coalition is doing – and I have mentioned it before on these pages – smacks of a coup d’etat of astonishing bravura (de facto perhaps, but no less real all the same) that a certain referencing of previous revolutionary causes can surely not be avoided.  We certainly have some of the elements of what we might term the necessary ingredients for revolution in New Labour’s recent overturning: a complex sequence of slowly acquired and increasingly bizarre public behaviours that were clearly overrunning the country to the objective detriment of ordinary people’s lives; an arbitrary but consistent concentration of powers at the centre of government with a frustrating and damaging lack of proper ownership of the kind of decision-making such concentrations generally lead to; perhaps – even – a state which claimed to serve and support others but too often appeared to serve, support and maintain itself (or, at the very least, serve, support and maintain the personalities and individuals which like to live off body politics of this nature). 

A coup d’etat of such characteristics, and in such circumstances, requires forethought and imagination – which, I am sure, you must now agree existed – as well as the ability to think as freely and broadly as any revolutionary cause that is determined and quite clearly out to burn bridges of all kinds.

This revolution obviously has plenty of the above; thus, quite finally, we must accept it is acting for real.

Cameron’s Tories have been out in the wilderness for too long to be able to resist the temptation to turn the world upside down.  He and his ilk now wish to do to British society what the Chinese Communists wanted to do to China: make it right in a generation.

Such fearful ambition leads first, trivially, to tears and spilt milk (apparently unimportant matters that, initially, only gnaw away at our peace of mind).  Unfortunately, history teaches us that revolutions never limit themselves to spilt milk – there is always, finally, a pendulum of vengeance that will one day swing furiously and uncontainably back.

That is the vintage Cameron is now uncorking.  The revolution will go sour, even as he celebrates its gross achievements.

Some people are so stupid we confuse their stupidity for clarity of action.

But – even here – clarity of action and cogency of thought are not one and the same.

Therein the challenge of making of a real world an ideal society.

So.  To summarise: for most of the past couple of years, we figured that David Cameron had learned the New Labour tale inside and out and was aiming, above all, to repeat.  But if truth be told, in the end it seems clear that New Labour tip-toed politely onto the public stage and rarely chose to burn bridges if it could at all be avoided.  In Blair we had the strength of conviction of a Thatcher combined with the persuasive abilities of a top-notch salesman, a powerful and heady mix if there ever was one – but possibly a weakness too, as it allowed him to believe he might get on with people whose lives he was aiming to change, even where this might be against their better instincts or desires.

Cameron has no compunctions.  I think he concludes thus:

“Blair failed because he wasn’t a revolutionary.  He wanted to mend, not start from scratch.

“He wanted to take a spanner to the engine of state, not a hammer to the soul of the nation.”

Thus it is that Cameron is not a Blair, nor – even, in any recognisable way – a replay of Thatcher at her worst.

Cameron is a Chinese Communist if there ever was one – a man who wants to start from scratch in everything, who wants you to know every minute of the day how he’s changed you, who’s proud of the number of bridges he’s aiming to burn, who understands the importance of remembering the wilderness from which he has emerged and of never ever contemplating getting into the position where he’d have to go back again.

So will this revolution do us good?  Different question altogether.

Did it do China any good?  Compare the previous regimes to the current ones.

Then pause very carefully before you proceed to formulate your answer.


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Jun 222010
 
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I’ve been contemplating the breaking up of that economic contract New Labour forged with the poorer in society.  It was a contract with the devil as New Labour people used the language of aspiration to allow the wealthiest to keep their wealth and feel good about it.  But at the same time, through tax credits and a massive but not excessive re-investment in public services (for these were under Thatcher essentially under-invested public services), some redistribution – which would most certainly have not taken place under a Tory government – was most certainly effected.  Unfortunately, this redistribution was not organic, was not persistent, was not learned or sought after or fashioned from below but – rather – imposed from above in an unhappy command and control manner.

Now we get more of the same as British politics operates true to type and a new government aims to unroll everything that the previous government – which sought no sustainable agreements amongst the political leaders that peopled previous parliaments – attempted, in its wisdom, to force upon a voting public.

Lots of what it forced on this voting public came about because Tony Blair had the gift of the gab.  As simple as that.

And also because New Labour’s electoral machine knew how to bring to the fore most effectively such a gift.

Tony Blair was made for the narrative that New Labour developed and sold us.  But in order to sustain that narrative, tools such as tax credits – quick fixes if you like (quick fixes that could just as easily be undone as put in place; and therein lies their Achilles’ heel) – were used to generate a belief in that blessed voting public that politics could be convincingly about useful rapid gain.

Without too much data to hand, however, it is my gut feeling that nothing in life which brings sustainable and persistent happiness can be achieved quickly.

Equally, nevertheless, the reverse of the political coin that is what we might term the narrative of productive pain leads me to perceive a self-interested falsehood of monumental proportions.  What Gordon Brown, on the coattails of New Labour, managed to engineer – even in full economic crisis – was the possibility of a soft and shared landing from the conventional wisdom of cyclical capitalism.  “We’re in it all together” was the mantra and the expectation.

Something new was on the horizon.  And that something new was a breaking of that conventional wisdom.  It would have turned our whole society upside down.  After saving the banks, Brown could have saved an ameliorating form of capitalism for all our benefits.  And I mean “benefits” in the widest sense of the word.

This is not what Cameron’s Coalition wishes to achieve.  On the coattails of economic crisis – as well as Brown’s generally unhappy lack of political steam for most of his regime – the Coalition now aims to reintroduce a capitalism of Darwinian proportions, where ordinary workers must kow-tow to the miserable mechanics of a sharply hierarchical governance and power.

As companies develop their ability to empower and free up their workforces and flatten such hierarchies internally and most productively, so governments like the one we now must suffer choose, inevitably, to go in quite an opposite direction: they engender a miasma-like fear in the future (oh, this disgraceful narrative of “courageous decision-taking” so annoys and disturbs me); they shackle the public sector workers, the poor, those with the least time to participate in local and national democracy – those who most need to engage in public debate and fewest resources have to so do.  Thus it is that in reality the most deserving in society will now be caged within an inevitable sadness and loss: both economic and political, both social and cultural.

These people who now run our country only know how to effect quick fixes.  Whether New Labour for reasons I might generally have admired or the Coalition for reasons I can only suspect, they all do so love their damned button-pressing dynamics.

And I do so hate them all for precisely that reason.


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May 192010
 
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I said there was far more to this than meets the eye.  Nick Clegg’s speech on constitutional reform can now be found at New Statesman here.

This is Granita (II) you see.  They’re aiming to reshape two parties to their own particular interests – shave off the bits that cause them both electoral trouble and thus guarantee that the middle ground of British politics shifts irreversibly to their own part of the spectrum.

It’s not just a deal to keep Labour out, even where we might be tempted to believe it appears to be.  Keeping Labour out would not give them the power they are looking for.

They’re looking for much more.

Next week, when the spending cuts are announced, we’ll see exactly who they’re aiming to get rid of.

I don’t mean in public services.  I mean in their own parties.
____________________

Update to this post: an interesting development reported here as it seems David Cameron is looking to effectively abolish the 1922 Committee.  And so it begins?


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May 162010
 
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I find this paragraph in today’s article by Charles Kennedy writing in the Observer particularly revealing:

Early returns from our rank and file would appear comforting; there seems to have been no instantaneous haemorrhaging of membership or a sudden direct flight into party affiliation elsewhere (despite opportunistic overtures from Labour). The resilience of our grassroots to drama at the top has been well tested over the years – from the birth pangs of the merger of the SDP and the Liberals through to our two changes of leader (three if Vince Cable’s interim stint is included) over the course of the last parliament alone. This party takes the internally unexpected well. The reassurance contained within the superbly negotiated coalition agreement details obviously has played a positive role. All well and good.

And, yet, Kennedy – whilst apparently happy with the kind of “seismic shift” that reveals the Lib Dems’ true colours – is able, all the same, to detect certain reasons not to be so cheerful:

Yet we have to be alert to the ease with which the new prime minister, at that opening joint press conference, referred to this “Liberal Conservative” government (having not seen the official transcript I am assuming the capital “L”). He’s been here often before: from the early days of his leadership he was happy to describe himself as a “liberal Conservative”. And we know he dislikes the term Tory. These ongoing efforts at appropriation are going to have to be watched.

Perhaps, after all, it is not the Labour vote that Clegg is really after.  Perhaps it will not be the Lib Dems, bendy as a bull rush, who will snap as a result of this coalition.  Perhaps, after all, it will be the Tories – with their barely hidden church of broadly right-wing reactionaries – who will break up in whatever aftermath the contradictions of this agreement bring.

The Lib Dems may indeed be used to drama at the top – and may even have flexibility written into their political DNA.  You can’t trust a Lib Dem on anything it is true – except inasmuch as they will go for the policy which most suits their political interests at any one time.

You cannot perceive an ideology which is not expediency – and this coalition demonstrates just that.  To survive despite drama at the top – that is quite the most perfect description of the Lib Dems I have heard in a long while.

What the Tory Party’s backbenchers will not permit, however, is capitulation of key tenets to simple expediency.

Policy is always the last in line in our televisual election campaigns.

Policy only comes into its own once an election campaign is won.

This time round, policy will make and break parties.

Good times ahead, don’t you think?


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May 152010
 
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This really does sum it all up (credit to Snowflake5 for capturing it and to Never Trust a Hippy for sharing it).  Media like the Daily Mail will soon not know where to turn or who to blame.  No wonder Cameron wants a five-year plan.  The funniest thing about all of this is that Murdoch will shortly have to realise that things were better under Blair’s New Labour – even for him.

For Cameron has suddenly realised that – with Clegg so firmly at his side (having taken such a damningly unequivocal step, Clegg’s hardly going to unstep it) – he can pass any number of laws that will almost certainly guarantee him a presidential time of it for the next five years.  Cabinet government at last falls completely by the wayside.  At the hands of those we’d least expect to fiddle around with an unwritten constitution.

(Just remember, please, that radical does not necessarily equal progressive and, although change is most certainly a given in our modern society, not all change is the same or – indeed – similarly positive.)

In fact, Cameron’s only potential stumbling block seems now to be his own backbenchers.  But that’s nothing new – nor, indeed, should it be – in what for the moment is still a parliamentary democracy (though given time even this might change).

It suddenly seems that our future now depends not on the good faith two leaders could have chosen to exhibit but didn’t … nor on the whims of powerful newspaper proprietors who did all they could to win an election they ended up losing … nor even on the curiously cast votes of a strangely puzzled populace … but – rather – on the mixedly motivated dissatisfaction of an idiosyncratic group of firmly anti-progressive MPs who – unhappy as they are with a leader who could’ve been a different beast altogether – might yet do us all the grand favour of resetting our democracy to zero, and thus allowing us to think importantly again.

The real issue here is that Blair understood who he owed his place to and what this would mean for the future of British politics.  Certain big corporations possessed him and his philosophy – and both the good and bad of New Labour had its source in this reality.  But Cameron – via Clegg and all that the Lib Dems now stand for under this sudden limelight of power – now owes nobody, is owned by no one.

Which, in a sense, you could say might be refreshing.

Except that someone with a sense of a mission who believes he has a completely free hand is capable of as many awful things as good things we would wish for.

I fear people who believe they have been given a free hand.

I fear people who do not care what other people think.

At this point in my unhappy discourse the following words come to mind: “to hope for” … “to await” … “to expect” …

Strangely enough, these three verbs in English are translatable into a single Spanish one.  The matrix of meaning that is the word “esperar” embraces more accurately for me what politicians should see as their prime set of responsibilities: that is to say, to satisfy people’s needs, wants and hopes – and in no particular order or priority.

Just as one.

Only then will we have the body politic we as human beings all deserve.


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May 142010
 
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Gordon Brown seems to be overcoming constructively what must be a tremendous sadness of spirit.  I am glad.  The man this story portrays is a good man with a self-deprecation that never came out before his fall:

Mr Brown added: “I was actually thinking of coming in today and applying for the course on communication skills, then I thought I might do public relations, then maybe media management, drama and performance.

“But I’m actually here to talk about how this college can expand in the future… and to thank all of you for the support that you’ve given me and Sarah… not just over the last month but over the last many many years, I’m very very grateful.”

Are these the kinds of things a power-hungry paranoid of Stalinist proportions can say about himself a week after losing a general election?

I think not.

In the meantime, the contradictions grow.  We have a supposedly new politics where the Lib Dems have been invited to join the Tory government.  Prior to this government, electoral reforms have always been held to be at the mercy of a referendum, which – for the very good reasons that Paul points out over at Never Trust a Hippy – would mean the automatic signing of a death warrant for any such proposal: 

That we need a referendum before we implement a change to the voting system. We don’t. People ‘may find it hard to understand’ that we’re not having one, but this illustrates just how pernicious the creeping notion that we need referendums to rubber-stamp constitutional change has become. Conservatives – CONSERVATIVES, for god’s sake – have latched onto this argument with enthusiasm since the 1990s. Before that, they correctly identified the referendum as the tool of the demagogue. Just to be clear, referendums hand enormous powers to newspaper proprietors. A voting reform referendum opposed by the tories and the commanding heights of the media would be almost totally certain to fail.

Now, it would seem, considerable constitutional change of a different order can be imposed without a referendum when this suits (clarification to some of the terms in my previous post can be found here on the BBC website today).  Thus it is that it seems that the figure of a referendum is actually a euphemism for postponing constructive change, whilst anything that gets driven past us like a medieval horse and cart is almost certainly a bad idea.

As a Spanish friend of mine noted the other day, it would seem that politicians everywhere end up speaking the same language.  In this case, however, it’s the unseemly haste with which they have acquired their capacity to communicate in forked tongues that both surprises and saddens me this evening.

The cuts that await us will provoke the downturn Gordon Brown at his best strove determinedly to avoid.  In the meantime, the poor will get poorer because the rich were bad at their jobs.

And so we begin mightily to mess things up …


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