Feb 052013
 
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The BBC reports that:

MPs have approved legislation for same-sex marriage in England and Wales, despite the opposition of dozens of Conservative MPs.

The Commons voted in favour of the The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, by 400 to 175, a majority of 225, at the end of a full day’s debate on the bill.

This is clearly a good thing – one we can all be happy about.  The article goes on to tell us that:

Prime Minister David Cameron has described the move as “an important step forward” that strengthens society.

And I think he’s right.  My questions today, however, circle around how he reached his conclusions.  Was his desire – a very personal one it seems – to ensure this legislation was passed driven entirely by honest conviction or, alternatively, was there more than a pinch of old-fashioned triangulation behind the horse and cart he’s smashed through his party?  After all, as the BBC also indicates:

Former children’s minister and Conservative MP Tim Loughton told the BBC that he believed “140 or so” of his party colleagues had voted against the plans, along with “a small rump of Labour MPs” and “four Lib Dem MPs”.

He added: “Apparently there are 132 Conservative MPs who voted in favour, so I think what we’re going to see is that more Conservative MPs voted against this legislation than for it.”

The Lib Dem leaders are, of course, clearly delighted with the measure – it allows them to go back to their faithful with a truly liberal concept on the table.  But, as is perhaps too often the case, I am suspicious of the motivations.  And it begins to make me wonder if the name-calling that situates Clegg on the conservative (where not Conservative) right of the spectrum is encouraging us to simplify what it is happening in British politics.  Perhaps, indeed, for our own traditionally located interests.

As Clegg drags – in a complex but certain manner – his political party to the first taste of real government in generations, so Cameron may be aiming to hollow out in some constructive way the noisy and nasty party that is the Tories.  We on the left have looked to (maybe) simplistically paint the Lib Dems as just hanging onto the coattails of an unpleasantly irrelevant and Etonite England.  But (maybe) the process is a tad more engineered than that.

If we see the Coalition of Cameron’s Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems in terms of a corporate merger between a large and untidily ancient behemoth of contradictory decisions and a small and guerilla-like company of instant advantage-taking – the former perhaps an IBM before it reinvented itself, whilst the latter perhaps an Amstrad in its awfully excitable heyday – then the massive adventure which the two leaders have embarked on, both its downsides and upsides, both its potential risks and paybacks, becomes far far clearer.  Here we could argue that it’s the Alan Sugar/Nick Clegg-type pick-and-mix opportunists who visibly have the vision and agility of perceptions, even where they do not have the distribution network and other infrastructures various.  Meanwhile, the transnational corporate/David Cameron-led thinkers, dinosaur-like and history-riven as they are, have all of the infrastructures and contacts, even as they are unable any longer to provide the “market” with exactly what it needs.

Maybe the Equal Marriage bill was driven by conviction.  But I truly wonder if it wasn’t part of a much greater and broader understanding to revise and restructure the populist centre ground in, at the very least, England and Wales.  And that could mean just as much allowing the rancid Tory right to destroy themselves in their echo chambers as it could mean dragging a traditionally reflective and thoughtful strand of often principled political thought into the unhappy but (maybe) necessary glare of rather cruel 21st century government.

With these words, I’m not saying I agree at all with the vast majority of policies that have resulted from this process.

But I do wonder, honestly wonder, whether the nexus of Cameron and Clegg – and its implications – is as easy to accurately describe and define as we sometimes seem to assume.

Especially for those of us on the left of political activity.  But possibly – with the exception of the two men in question – for almost everyone else as well.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:-(


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Aug 292012
 
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There’s been quite a lot of discussion around the subject of the unemployed over the past year or so – mainly as a result of a much-vaunted and allegedly never-ending boom of unregulated markets and behaviours sadly, and undeniably, busting again.

The unemployed have been cast respectively as victims, spongers, workshy and simply hapless by a series of politicians – each looking to push a particular agenda.

The current coalition government of Tories and Lib Dems seems to incline towards casting the unemployed as at least half-responsible for their state.  They find it difficult not to make the already unfortunate feel to blame for a significant proportion of the country’s ills.  I don’t know whether Tory leaders do this on purpose or not (though I am inclined to believe they are pretty calculating in what they do) – but the net result, whatever the internal motivations, is that the already unlucky end up feeling even more so.

Today I have read that whilst the tail of the Coalition dog, Nick Clegg, calls for a wealth tax, the little willy of the same beast, George Osborne, calls it the politics of envy.  Which then leads me on to the subject of today’s post: to what extent should our economies, cultures and education systems regulate the benefits of good luck?

If you are born to a wealthy family, and acquire a millionaire lifestyle, as many of the current ministers in this government have so done, is that a throw of life’s dice we should simply accept and move on from?  Or do we believe that a good luck manifestly wasted – as perhaps God might argue of talent – should be in some way passed on to another more capable of making it work for the benefit of a wider society?

What I’m really trying to say is whether good luck should be regulated in terms of how those who are in its receipt fully make it work for society as a whole.  Should good luck be seen as an individual and libertarian selfishness – or should a moral aspect intervene, much as the above-mentioned talent, whereby the right to good luck must be a far more meritorious, as well as perhaps societal, matter?

A lot depends on the answer to these questions, of course: how we configure our welfare system, our health system, our education system – even our law and order system.  Now fairness most of us can agree upon – even today I feel, even Tories in their gentler moments! – as being a concept which should govern our societies and structure how we treat each other.  But good luck isn’t fair at all – even as most of us, yes, quite selfishly, would far prefer to have it in industrial quantities for ourselves than for others.

So where does that leave it in the general scheme of things?

Do we need to ameliorate its upsides in order to ameliorate its downsides?  Or is good luck something which adds an infinity to the world – a matter of always adding to human joy, inasmuch as such an addition to the life of one person implies no necessary subtraction from the life of another?

I wonder if economics and political thought have had anything to say about this matter.

As I wonder if anyone cares to care.


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Mar 082012
 
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The Prime Minister David Cameron and the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have just published this short text (the bold is mine):

“International Women’s Day is about reflecting on the strides that have been taken to give women more power, more choice and more control over their lives. But it is also about pushing for more to be done. Because the truth is, there is still a lot of work we need to do on the basics: ending violence against women and ensuring the physical security that is everyone’s fundamental right.

The UK already has some of the most robust protections against violence towards women in the world. But we know we’ve got to do better. So today we can confirm that we are working towards signing the Council of Europe’s Convention on Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence before ratifying the treaty and incorporating it into UK law.

This agreement is unprecedented, and it is vital. Across Europe millions of women suffer physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. In the UK nearly one million women experience domestic abuse each year. This is an utter scandal – and together we are going to work harder than ever to bring this violence to an end.

The agreement is not just a piece of paper. It’s going to lift the standards of protection for women across Europe, give greater support for victims and – crucially – bring many more perpetrators to justice.

By signing the Convention we would ensure that British offenders who commit their crimes abroad would still face justice in our courts. This is what we do in cases of murder and paedophilia. We believe rapists and abusive men from the UK who seriously harm women should face the same fate – wherever they commit the offence. Our message must be loud and clear: there must be nowhere to hide.”

This is excellent news.  Two observations only.  First, the violence against primarily women which mainly ideologically driven cuts are generating here in the UK should not be underestimated:

WOMEN are being stung for £11.5billion by Coalition cuts at a time when the largest number are jobless for 23 years.

They are bearing more than two thirds of the £16billion Chancellor George Osborne is raking in from slashing welfare in his Budget and spending review.

The number of unemployed females currently stands at 1.07 million.

In the past 18 months ministers have axed the health in pregnancy grant, closed Sure Start centres, cut housing benefit, limited child benefit and slashed tax credits. Women are said to be deserting the Tories in droves.

Second, on an entirely separate matter, but relating to the sentence I highlighted in bold, when was the last time someone accused of infringing online copyright not abroad but in Britain itself required to go before a British court rather than a foreign one?

The statement on the occasion of International Women’s Day by our Lone Ranger Cameron and his sidekick Tonto Clegg is certainly welcome.  It would, however, be far more welcome if it didn’t whiff a little of grandstanding to the gallery.

Deeds, please, gentlemen and ladies, not words are needed now.


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Feb 252012
 
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I find the acronym NEET pretty insulting for a couple of reasons I will shortly explain – but for those of you late to the party, here’s a definition:

NEET is a government acronym for people currently “not in education, employment, or training“. It was first used in the United Kingdom but its use has spread to other countries, including Japan, China, and South Korea. People under the designation are called NEETs (or Neets).

In the United Kingdom, the classification comprises people aged between 16 and 24 (some 16-year-olds are still of compulsory school age); the subgroup of NEETs aged 16–18 is frequently of particular focus. In Japan, the classification comprises people aged between 15 and 34 who are unemployed, not engaged in housework, not enrolled in school or work-related training, and not seeking work. The “NEET group” is not a uniform set of individuals.

A government site on the subject under discussion can be found, at the time of writing this post, here:

At the end of 2010, 141,800 (7.3 per cent) 16- to 18-year-olds were NEET.  Rates vary considerably with age – 2.3 per cent of 16-year-olds, 6.8 per cent of 17-year-olds and 12.4 per cent of 18-year-olds. For most young people, being NEET is a temporary outcome as they move between different education and training options – surveys estimate that only 1 per cent of young people are NEET at ages 16, 17 and 18.

The characteristics of young people who are not participating are diverse, although there are some groups that are at greater risk of becoming NEET. This includes, for example, those with few or no qualifications and those with a health problem, disability or low aspirations. The Department has published research looking at the characteristics of young people who are not participating.

The government’s planned contribution to resolving the problem – remember it affects one percent of our young between the ages of sixteen and eighteen – would appear to be £126 million aimed at getting 55,000 youngsters to react thus:

Launching the project, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said it would help get youngsters who are “glued to the television” into the “real world of work and learning”.  

*

“Sitting at home, sitting on the sofa, glued to the television …”

What a great way of defining a generation – pigeon-holing 55,000 young people as lazy layabouts.  As “not participating”.  As having “health problems, disability or low aspirations”.  And meanwhile, at the other end of the generational spectrum, what does the government do to re-engineer our society?

Just as importantly, however, I’m also inclined to believe that the big society idea was, as I pointed out earlier this month, designed to exclude from the start:
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.

So why – whilst those with disabilities have their route to independence removed, whilst those who would work for a living must work for nothing and whilst those who would aspire to take charge of their own business futures are duly informed that, to this government, capitalism is a synonym for big business – is this Coalition able and determined to empower the conservative and Conservative semi-retired when demonisation of one sort or another is the preferred course of action for the “non-participating” young, disabled and unemployed – that is to say, the utterly different and inexplicably unaspirational?

After making DLA almost impossible to obtain, after obliging the unemployed to carry out voluntary work, after planning the break-up of the NHS for the benefit of corporate sponsors, after working to destroy the principle of Legal Aid in favour of business cronies … really, ladies and gentlemen, how do you honestly expect us to want to aspire to and participate in this hell-hole of contradictions?

*

And so it is that it does make me wonder if the Tories amongst us aren’t happier empowering a group in society they know how to control over a group in society which always, always, always manages to renew, surprise, change and re-imagine the way we do things. 

Yes.  You’ve got it.  Our government’s strategy and policies laid finally clear for all to perfectly see: pigeon-hole the unpredictable young so they become absolutely blameworthy; empower the conservative old so they become absolutely blameless; and proceed to win elections for absolutely generations to come.

*

No.  I’m not suggesting for a moment we shouldn’t empower semi-retired conservative and Conservative OAPs.  I’m just suggesting we should also choose to do the same with everyone else in society. 

And where we do not, we should question why. 

And since we are not, it’s now time to question.


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Jan 162012
 
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Nick Clegg appears to have been widely praised for suggesting we should “John Lewis” the economy.  This from the Guardian today:

Workers could be given the right to request shares in the companies they work for under proposals put forward on Monday by Nick Clegg, to create what he describes as a “John Lewis” economy.

In a bid to deploy century-old liberal principles to the mounting debate about crony capitalism, the deputy prime minister will argue that the economy is in danger of being “monopolised by a minority” and that wider share ownership among employees could be an answer. “Just as the eighties had been the decade of share ownership, so this decade should become the decade of employee share ownership”, he will say in a speech at the Corporation of London and the Centreforum thinktank.

Now far be it from me to criticise such an idea, especially when John Lewis Partnership has laudable financial structures in place such as these:

[…] every partner [that is to say, employee] receives an Annual Bonus, which is a share of the profit. It is calculated as a percentage of the salary, with the same percentage for everyone, from top management down to the shop floor and the storage rooms. The bonus is dependent on the profitability of the partnership each year, varying between 9% and 20% of the partners’ annual salaries since 2000. The Annual Partnership Bonus for 2007 was the top end 20%, this is before the recession started. The Annual Partnership Bonus for 2008 was 15% of a partner’s gross earnings for the 2007/2008 financial year. The Annual Partnership Bonus for 2009 was 13% of a partner’s gross earnings for the 2008/2009 financial year. The Annual Partnership Bonus for 2010 was 15% of a partner’s gross earnings for the 2009/2010 financial year.

It is, however, worth noting that there exist other structures in modern-day manufacturing and service-industry Britain which would bring about far more engagement between workforces and management – and even help to constructively blur the lines themselves.  As this tweet underlined this morning:

Yep. RT @brylip: @GreenSolitaire Funny how “john lewis” brand evoked not “co-op”. Right to request shares long way off industrial democracy.

And to be honest, in a capitalism such as this – a capitalism, remember, we are suffering from – where is the blessed virtue or attraction in investing part of one’s financial reserves in the business one may shortly be ejected from?  Especially when – in a capitalism such as ours – the reason why businesses may go to the wall could have very little to do with the entities in question and everything to do not only with violently culpable behaviours in the financial services sector but also a wider mismanagement in political and economic institutions.

Knowing how – in the last few years – the world economy has been entirely turned upside down by a few banks, their cronies and other assorted villains, would you really want to spend every penny in negotiating a perfect financial fit between you and your corporation or medium-sized enterprise?

I know I wouldn’t.


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Aug 172011
 
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So sayeth the measured authors of this report, a short overview of which I’ve just read on the Kindle version of the Guardian.  Let me quote from the Guardian overview – in particular, the following paragraph, which is the one that really catches my eye:

To construct our measure of unrest, we looked at five indicators: riots, anti-government demonstrations, general strikes, political assassinations, and attempted revolutions. In a typical year and country, there are about 1.5 incidents of this type. The more you cut, the more incidents you get. By the time austerity measures hit 3% or more, the number of incidents has doubled. Interestingly, for the UK, the pattern is even stronger: for every percentage point of cut-backs, instability surges by more than it does on average in the rest of the countries. Importantly, these effects are in addition to the well-known relationship between lower growth (associated with more unemployment) and higher instability.

And so, in the full knowledge that these things will happen, it clearly involves the kind of cold-hearted button-pressing you can easily imagine those in charge applying to us robots – as well as those sorry processes where risk is calculated in order to determine where spending cuts are best made (the bold is mine):

[…] The annualized loss expectancy is a calculation of the single loss expectancy multiplied by the annual rate of occurrence, or how much an organization could estimate to lose from an asset based on the risks, threats, and vulnerabilities. It then becomes possible from a financial perspective to justify expenditures to implement countermeasures to protect the asset.

Or not, as the case may be.  In other rather simpler and more straightforward words, if the cuts are going to mean more than 1,700 Londoners will be arrested for violent disorder, as well as allow for the introduction of draconian sentencing policies without the traditional resort to parliamentary approval, that then is a fair assessment of assumable consequence someone somewhere down the line must have decided at least fifteen months ago to make.

The question that comes to mind is: will they be able to get away with it?


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Feb 162011
 
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This is becoming ridiculous.  First, via Paul Waugh today, we get the transcript of Nick Clegg’s embarrassed disavowal of all that the Big Society supposedly stands for.  Four times he refuses to support its conceptualisation.  Four times he refuses to acknowledge its value.  Biblically speaking, that’s more than a big “no” – it’s an outright rejection.  Meanwhile, on the back of this report yesterday, it really doesn’t sound like anyone important is very interested in participating in the Big Society.  Which I think is the key to the issue and problem we are beginning to perceive.  Whilst projects such as this one, here in Chester, get on with spreading the word of a truly contributory and engaged society, without fancy overarching themes or massaged soundbites to distract, the marketing men and women who have hijacked modern politics see it as sufficient justification for their fancy job titles, positions, salaries and perks to simply manage to get into the public sphere and domain these vague ideas I mention (and which Mr Clegg has just chosen to knock back) – with the intention, I imagine, of allowing them to fester ingeniously and for the benefit of the right-wing ideologues who have similarly hijacked our traditional ways of being.

And then these very same folk all sit around long and imposing tables, congratulating themselves on the acres of newsprint generated – acres which, nevertheless, begin to relate less and less to the reality ordinary people out there are actually living.

Look.  I’m not saying we don’t need vague ideas sometimes.  Sometimes, overarching themes need to be flexible and responsive.  They need to articulate a feeling which we can only then begin to fashion.

But this is not the case here.  Here, we have a government, which proudly wears the badge of unpopularity, vigorously throwing tens of thousands of people out of work in a massive process of re-engineering a state they will never see as virtuous.  And in its place, they hope to convince the rest of us that it will be enough to locate a few school-leavers into voluntary activities – mainly and probably because they believe school-leavers can live off their parents in the meantime.

Parents who might possibly, in their turn, and quite soon, find themselves without the wherewithal to get to what will shortly become the dreaded end of the month for hundreds of thousands of people.

Well, Mr Cameron.  You cannot lead from the front – you cannot exhibit the kind of leadership which times of dreadful crisis demand – if you reserve the grubby and unpaid stuff for those who have the least.  If you do not get down into the dirty dirty yourself, you cannot expect anyone to take up your challenge.  If you do not volunteer at least as much as you calculate others need to, you cannot possibly expect people to take you at face value.

You can, of course, use coercion if you wish.  But coercion is not only inefficient to start with – it’s also a destroyer of national unity in the end.

So will it be coercion?  The Big Society becomes the Bag Society – and the only alternative to carrying one’s possessions around with one in a box is to knuckle down to the awful misery of petty local volunteering types bringing the full force of a nasty state to bear on the soon-to-be mightily dispossessed.

I have to say I much prefer the Blacon way.  But then, I suppose, that goes without saying.

For me at least.
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Update to this post: an apposite piece from Left Foot Forward today, on the subject of the Big Society, Broken Britain, government rhetoric and actual evidence.


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Jan 122011
 
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The Sun published an article yesterday – allegedly by Nick Clegg but surely written with the help of a committee (possibly of war – but more of that later) – which praises the heroes of Britain who keep the country going, whatever the weather, whatever the hour.  I imagine that for the moment this document will remain in the public domain – for many reasons, not least political (though I suppose, even so, it could at any moment suddenly disappear behind yet another Murdochian paywall).

Suffice it to say that it’s a monumentally patronising document, dumbed down into the kind of register committees come up with when they define audiences in terms of newspaper readership.  Read it in its entirety if you must – but only if you must.

Anyhow, I’m really interested in the concluding couple of paragraphs which run as follows (the bold is mine):

Today, I’ll be meeting some of the hardworking heroes of Alarm Clock Britain. They, like many of you, had to set the alarm incredibly early this morning. They are busy doing their jobs long before it’s even light.

The people in Alarm Clock Britain deserve a break.

They drive our economy every single day of the year. Rain, wind or shine they are busy making this country tick.

So is that tick as in function or tick as in figurative timebomb, Mr Clegg?

Here’s the rationale within the Cameron camp [on why to call a snap election in May]:

The Lib Dems are so damaged, they’re an unreliable partner. Clegg is in the trough of despond, providing little, if any, leadership to his troops and getting increasingly paranoid about Conservative ministers making announcements without clearing it with him. It’s getting to the point where they cannot be relied upon as the “majority” in the chamber.

I challenged Clegg in the members’ lobby over his decision to break the convention on how by-elections are called by Parliament. It wasn’t his response that was interesting. It was his demeanour. Some people find me a little brusque on occasion, but I wasn’t being rude or particularly direct with the deputy PM.

His face was pallid and drawn over with worry lines. His eyes couldn’t maintain contact with mine. He almost covered his face with his arms. It was as if he wanted to roll up into the foetal position. He is a most unhappy man.

On the basis of a brief conversation, I strongly suspect that life on the inside is exacting a gruelling personal toll on the deputy PM. Even though I hold him in contempt, I almost feel sorry for him. He is a prisoner in a gilded cage of his own making.

Which is why I do wonder what kind of alarm clock will really be going off over the next few months – and for whom.

Sometimes, we write for others about what most worries us without realising what we’re writing most worries us and not others.

This article may actually be Nick Clegg’s subconscious – as well as that of his committee – whirring absolutely (and, in the context of the article, absolutely appropriately) overtime.  They may think they’re doing us a raft of favours by reminding us how heroic we all are but, really, what they’re mostly telling us is how heroic they believe they are being.

And remember this: those who believe they are on a heroic mission are not always the safest people to be around.

Alarm Clock Britain or Nick Clegg’s Alarm Clock Britain?  That is the question.
____________________

Update to this post: a nice analysis of the thinking behind the heroes of Alarm Clock Britain meme can now be found here.


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Dec 162010
 
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Paul has a pretty bitter piece here.  I am surprised that it has not raised any comments as yet.  So today I found myself obliged to make this rather long and possibly mildly bombastic one – as I tried to counter his thesis:

You talk of the Lib Dems as if they were one whole. I don’t think this is true. I think they are currently suffering from immense internal strains as Clegg does a Blair – but a hundred times over, and over a far shorter gestation period.

Yes – the Lib Dems have always been *opportunists*.  But that’s because they’ve had very few opportunities to define themselves on a public stage where this did not mean fighting two fronts.  The two larger parties have always had the luxury of being able to pretend they didn’t know the Lib Dems even existed – and concentrate their fire on one single opponent.

Which in itself showed a deliberately tremendous lack of respect on the part of the big boys.

Always much easier to define yourself cogently when you only have to look in one direction.

That doesn’t make Labour and the Tories any less opportunist – or less deserving of the same criticism.  It just makes them *apparently* more principled.  But I’m not sure, in reality, they are.

You’re disappointed in the Lib Dems because – like many people – their distance from real national power allowed you to put them on some imaginary pedestal.  “If only,” you said to yourself.  And the “if onlys” of this world allow us all to ignore a multitude of concurrent and very real sins.  The higher we place them, the further they have to fall.  We assume, quite naturally, that the Tories and Labour will trash representative democracy every which way they can – we don’t expect any more.  But the Lib Dems were a finer lot, surely. 

Well.  I think quite a lot of them are – as I might say the same of many members of my own party; and, even, at this awful juncture, a number of the Tories.  It’s just that the internecine war in British politics that is now our daily bread doesn’t allow for the conversational politics you would like to implement.

Civil war doesn’t allow for the dynamic of approachability.  Rather the opposite, in fact.

What am I trying to say then?  Find it in yourself not to *blame* the Lib Dems.  Their leaders do only what other leaders, when within sniffing distance of power, have done throughout political history.  And a party is always far more complex, far more compelling and far more important than those leaders of today – who will soon become the weary and solitary has-beens of a yesterday consigned to painful history.

What do yous all think then?  Can – and, indeed, should – the Liberal Democrats be rescued from those who choose to disparage them out of disappointment?  Is it fair to disparage them thus?  Is it reasonable to express such a dissatisfaction because we expected – perhaps unjustly – far more of them than we cared to do of the others?

Ought anyone ever to be blamed for not living up to the perceptions we choose to fabricate around them – cocoon-like and unreal as a Hollywood movie?

Disillusionment may set in at any moment on a political journey.  If Paul had used the word “Clegg” every time he wrote “Lib Dems”, I’d understand his piece better and be far more sympathetic.  But using the broad brushstroke of “Lib Dems” to describe the sins of a power-hungry liar of monumental proportions is really not on.

Is it then?

Or am I completely wrong now – and entirely worthy of the same disparagement too?


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Nov 182010
 
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An interesting overview of the current state of public opinion can be found at Left Foot Forward today.  More here.   In general terms, the people seem to think that Cameron’s in charge whilst Clegg’s carrying the can.  I have seen this in my own writings over the past few weeks.  When I talk about the Coalition, as a rule I no longer mention Clegg.  It is Cameron and Osborne I mention – and when not the latter two then other Tories in the news.

In the light of stories such as these, it would seem foolish for any Labour member to continue to rubbish the Lib Dems.  Even where this Lib Dem happened to be as short-sighted and politically inept as Mr Clegg happens to be.

Let Clegg carry the can all on his lonesome – and thus eventually become an irrelevance to his party.  Let Cameron convince his own supporters that he knows best.  Let the public then identify the cuts entirely with the Tories.  And, in the meantime, let us work out how to work with those Lib Dems who believe in decency and justice: let us construct a properly progressive Labour Party able to build progressive bridges with others who, whilst they do not fit entirely in our project, also do not wish to see Britain destroyed from within.

Let us prepare for a future we want rather than the future they have prepared for us – a future which, if we let them, will be full of madnesses such as these:

David Cameron today confirmed that bilateral loan to Ireland would mean Ireland borrowing money that the UK had borrowed (from China? QE3?)

For as a previous tweet from elsewhere naively – and rather trustingly – confirmed:

Surely lesson from Ireland is deep austerity makes things worse?

I say naively because one would assume, given the circumstances, that our politicians didn’t need telling.

Quite.


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Oct 162010
 
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Spin all over again perhaps.

I wonder.

Reuters tells us this afternoon that the defence budget will be cut by less than ten percent as the spending review gets ever closer to announcement and, presumably, implementation.  This is being hailed as a grand victory for Defence Minister Liam Fox of course.

Imagine a different situation.  Imagine no build-up.  Imagine overnight the government announced the MoD budget would – whilst our soldiers are still fighting in the field – be cut by oh let’s say seven percent.  Imagine the uproar and revulsion this would cause.

Imagine the charges of unpatriotic behaviour.

Possibly even the charges of intellectual treason.

But now, in the space of two days, we have Mr Clegg releasing £7 billion for poor children (bless his Deputy-Prime-Ministerial little cotton socks) and the Treasury only imposing an oh let’s say seven percent cut on military spending.

I suspect there will be quite a bit more of this over the next week or so.  Valiant ministers “saving” their special constituencies (more here) from the evil Treasury bogeymen.

For they can only be men I assure you.  Only men could conceive of such an ego-driven way of resolving issues as important as these.

It’s all so damn transparent.

And I suppose this is what they really mean when they call for more transparency in government.
____________________

Update to this post: it’s just come to my notice that the figure agreed for MoD cuts is actually going to be eight percent.

Apologies for that.

I was out by a savage percent.


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Oct 152010
 
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This is a nice piece of fact-checking from Channel 4 tonight.  Nick Clegg said this today:

“Children from poor homes hear 616 words spoken an hour, on average, compared to 2,153 words an hour in richer homes. By the age of three, that amounts to a cumulative gap of 30 million words.”

Channel 4 wanted to know more, however.  From the simplistic soundbites of a man who’s done counting his chickens to a rather more complex truth:

There is good evidence that wealth is one of several determining factors in educational attainment. But FactCheck found nothing to uphold the claim that poor children hear only 616 words an hour at home, in this country, in 2010.

Nick Clegg’s research on this seems extremely sketchy – quoting an old study, from a different county, and using a tiny sample, lands him a fiction rating.

Short but sweet – and very much to the point.

What’s really rather complex and difficult to understand, however, is how Mr Clegg has managed to turn a quite interesting subject – the environmental factors that influence the development of children in a complex society like our own – into a symbol of his political virility.  Definitely a case of our political masters deciding that quantity and the empirical is of far greater value than the qualitative.

Where would the meditative instincts of societies quite different from our own end up on such a scale of beliefs and assumptions?

What does this indicate about how we value peace and contemplation in Western society?

There’s a definite dissonance going on here.  One week, the situation is so grave that everyone must suffer.  The following week, suddenly the poor – and what’s more, poor children (glory be to the Lord) – are targeted as if by magic governmental bullet to the benefits approach the Tory half of the Coalition government so despise.

So difficult to understand.

If the massive cuts which are on the point of being implemented are so very important to the economic health of the nation, how can anyone justify spending £7 billion on anything right now – especially anything that might very well exacerbate the differences between one part of the country and another?

Unless it were a man’s ratings in the polls that mattered more than anything else.

Or unless, of course, it were designed to keep the wheels of high finance rolling.  In which case, and because it involved the private sector, that would be quite all right.  £7 billion would be a mighty small price to pay to sustain the unquestioned rights of the private side of the country to exhibit its distasteful and selfish attitudes.

*

For there is quite another dissonance, a definite lack of fit, between what politicians expect of the public sector and what they refuse to demand of the private.  Because it’s private, so their subtext seems to instruct us, we almost don’t have the right to require the sorts of behaviours public sector workers are shortly to have imposed on them.  I find this very difficult to comprehend.  Why should we not demand sacrifice in the private sector when we believe it is so necessary in the public?  The private sector owes its life to the state.  Without the state, private and public limited entities would never exist: no one would care to risk their all on new projects and innovations if the state wasn’t around as a last port of call when the pieces left behind by bankrupts needed their resolution.

Capitalism as we know it would founder without the state.

This is the truth which those who live in gleeful symbiosis with that selfsame state refuse to recognise – those who are too dishonest to admit such a reality even as they criticise without remission the hand that protects when all around collapses.  And for those looking to create a state which doesn’t only support the rich in their valuable adventures but also the poor in their disadvantaged starts-in-life, Anthony Painter is absolutely right when he points out:

It is simply not enough to graft a redistributive state onto a catastrophically unequal and unstable global market economy, as social democratic parties have universally attempted. The easy solutions are rarely the best. Instead the left must think about the civic interactions and institutions that are necessary to empower the individual both in the marketplace and with regard to the state. A dense institutional core of mutually owned and run businesses, financial services, public services, energy providers, and community institutions shift the individual from a (heavily indebted) consumer, worker and recipient to a provider, owner, and partner. In so doing the market (and the state) becomes re-embedded in social and democratic relations.

*

I do so love the fact that it had to be a politician who chose to underline how you can tell the difference between poverty and wealth by the number of words an hour a child is exposed to.

It really just had to be the kind of underhand wordsmith who found it in him to fashion a coalition agreement out of the honest desire of a nation looking for renewal – only then to dash its hopes through such sorry and base comparisons.

Just imagine the thought of 616 words of love an hour and then compare them to the idea of 2,153 words of social climbing and aspirational consumerism.  I can tell you which I would prefer.

Soundbites don’t change political destinies, Mr Clegg.  Ideas do.

Ideas you’re rapidly running out of – hand over fist.

That’s what comes of counting your chickens.  Eventually, they come home to roost.


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Sep 222010
 
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Yesterday, whilst blogging on the injustices of Nick Clegg’s speech to the Lib Dem conference, I stumbled across an idea which I am sure already exists (for most ideas, sadly, already do: our desire to be original can only be satisfied in their combining with others):

I am against it when it is counter-productive.  Coalitions are not, in themselves, bad.  But bad coalitions are bad.  And this is a bad coalition.  For it tries to abnegate any act of government that is not that of a common household multiplied a thousandfold.  And that is the counter-productive I mean.  That is a two-dimensional approach to a four-dimensional world of societal and economic time and space.

This is a minimalist approach to governmental intelligence.  If such a concept exists, if I can fairly name it GI, this Coalition partnership is absolutely no fan of such intelligences.  It shows an utter disregard for the finer complexities of modern society.  It indicates a shameless absence of an appetite to embrace supportively those who will inevitably sink whilst others inevitably swim.

The purpose, therefore, of this morning’s post is to explain exactly what I mean by GI.

A while ago, before David Cameron scaled the dizzy heights of Coalition government, he was arguing that there is more to life than money.  I have to say I agree with Dizzy David on this one: there most certainly is.  And it’s not in the pursuit of happiness that we encounter pleasure – for pursuit is more a question of lust than love. 

Rather, it is in its enjoying, in its experiencing, in its savouring that we find joy.

That is the true measure and state of happiness.

Certainly it would appear to be the case that politicians – whilst in opposition – burble quite freely on the importance of happiness and the relative irrelevance of money.  It’s only when they acquire the absolute (though temporary) powers assigned by representative democracy that they begin more to focus on money than happiness.

If David Cameron did indeed vet Nick Clegg’s speech, there is no clearer sign of his rapid reconversion to the old old habits of yesteryear politicians, who finally get a hold of the levers of imposition after decades in the wilderness and decide that all we need is a strong dose of poverty-stricken happiness.

Money ain’t important except when you don’t have any, Mr Coalition Partners.

And so it is that I wonder if we shouldn’t begin to generate other indices we might use to compare the behaviours of our lords and masters.  In particular, this train of thought provoked my little grey cells into virtual action:

But the economy is not only a question of money.  The economy is also belief and faith in the future.  If truth be told, by spending so much less at this stage in the economic cycle, it will be the already poor – those with little chance of holding down jobs that might otherwise have allowed them the slack to properly participate in that damn fool Big Society – who will be truly crippled by the misplaced ideological machinations of a foolish Coalition.

What if we could, indeed, as the progressive thinkers we hope to be, compare the behaviours and acts of governments across the world in relation to a series of yardsticks which defined what I have termed “governmental intelligence”?  That is to say, that GI quotient I touched on yesterday.

In the same way that emotional intelligence redefines the traditional, single-minded and single learning style-focussed approach to measuring intelligence, thus encompassing a much broader range of skills, behaviours and attitudes than education ever cared to in the past, so we could, perhaps, reconceptualise our understanding of how we might see good government – how, in fact, we might usefully and productively compare governments of all kinds in order to generate different and shared ways of doing and seeing things which might easily cross the political spectrum.

What factors might such a GI quotient include, measure or cover?  A random list to get started with:

  1. economic intelligence
  2. social intelligence
  3. business intelligence
  4. cultural awareness and sensitivity – this would include a government’s dealings with and attitudes to faith and those who believed in non-belief
  5. happiness awareness
  6. how they suggest we treat the weakest in society – this could include animals and pets, of course
  7. inclusiveness in general
  8. how they share – or, alternatively, concentrate – power
  9. the use of technology to empower citizens
  10. understanding the digital divide – and dealing with it effectively
  11. anticipating and understanding the future
  12. proactively protecting due parliamentary process from corruption – whether casual or persistent

I’d be most happy if you would care to add or refine this list.

I’d also be most pleased if someone could enlighten me as to whether such a quotient already exists elsewhere – and, if so, what it is called.  If it does exist, this would save us a helluva lot of work and would mean we could, in an intelligent, quantitative and constructively qualitative way, get down to the job of comparing our appropriately agreed upon ideal not only with New Labour’s past but also with the Coalition’s future – especially as the latter begins to show us its true colours.


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Sep 212010
 
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This, in one paragraph, lays bare for us all to see the most important lesson the Coalition partners have learnt (and, indeed, I have to admit most fairly) from New Labour’s time in office:

Labour did some good things, of course they did. But just think what they could have done. With enormous majorities, 13 years and money to spare. The best opportunity for real fairness there has been in my lifetime. But imprisoned by timidity they squandered a golden age.

More from Nick Clegg yesterday here.

The other day, in response to the following:

Nick Clegg hasn’t sold out. There’s a question mark over many in his party however….

so it was that I found myself tweeting thus:

@anthonypainter Maybe not sold out – but did Nick Clegg ever really buy in to Lib Dems? Trades Descriptions Act violation surely.

The truth of the matter is that Nick Clegg’s speech reads very well.  I haven’t seen his performance on video but I assume it hit the high notes where it should have done and made the low seem an appropriate medicine.

The British, for some mad masochistic reason, love their medicinal analogies when it comes to economic crises and social upheaval.  Have you noticed that?

(Weird, really.  When all is collapsing around you, you reach out metaphorically for a spoonful of cough medicine.)

Where Clegg was really weak though was in his simplistic burial of big government’s responsibility to serve and protect the poorer in society from the outrage of economic division.  This, in particular, impressed me not one jot:

So how did this debt crisis happen? Put simply, over the course of the recession, 6% of our economy disappeared. The shock was so profound that even now the economy is growing, we are poorer today than we thought we would be. All the old predictions about our future economy – predictions on which spending plans had been based – have turned out to be wrong. We can’t keep spending money as if nothing had changed.

The problems are there. They are real. And we have to solve them. It’s the same as a family with earnings of £26,000 a year who are spending £32,000 a year. Even though they’re already £40,000 in debt. Imagine if that was you. You’d be crippled by the interest payments. You’d set yourself a budget. And you’d try to spend less. That is what this government is doing.

But the economy is not only a question of money.  The economy is also belief and faith in the future.  If truth be told, by spending so much less at this stage in the economic cycle, it will be the already poor – those with little chance of holding down jobs that might otherwise have allowed them the slack to properly participate in that damn fool Big Society – who will be truly crippled by the misplaced ideological machinations of a foolish Coalition.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against ideology in politics – or, indeed, even in economics.

I am against it when it is counter-productive.  Coalitions are not, in themselves, bad.  But bad coalitions are bad.  And this is a bad coalition.  For it tries to abnegate any act of government that is not that of a common household multiplied a thousandfold.  And that is the counter-productive I mean.  That is a two-dimensional approach to a four-dimensional world of societal and economic time and space.

This is a minimalist approach to governmental intelligence.  If such a concept exists, if I can fairly name it GI, this Coalition partnership is absolutely no fan of such intelligences.  It shows an utter disregard for the finer complexities of modern society.  It indicates a shameless absence of an appetite to embrace supportively those who will inevitably sink whilst others inevitably swim. 

Oh yes.  The speech most certainly reads as if a team of marketing supremos vetted its cadences with care and intelligence.

As one would quite naturally expect:

NICK CLEGG addressed the Lib Dem conference yesterday – but only after his speech had been approved by the Tory Prime Minister.

The Deputy PM admitted David Cameron had seen and approved drafts of the keynote speech.

And the contents of the address had Tory-speak written all over it.

Clegg told the conference he intended to go full-speed ahead with savage cuts to reduce Britain’s record deficit.

But knowing how to finesse the public’s misapprehensions via the astute engineering of soundbites is not quite the same as saving a generation from a fairly permanent prospect of economic hardship and social misery. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: human beings are perishable goods:

 […] We all have finite lives. We are all perishable goods. We all deserve a better life – and we all deserve that life now.

Economic philosophies which argue that some (ie the poor) deserve only jam yesterday or tomorrow, in the interests of a wider – but not widely shared – pecuniary equation, are highly unjust.  If Nick Clegg and his cohorts truly want to capture the moral high ground, they could start by examining this truth more diligently.

In the meantime, I feel most strongly that – as time passes by and events unfold so unreasonably – this government’s GI quotient needs a liberal dose of education.

And not only liberal – a little quiff of democracy wouldn’t, in the least, come amiss …

Perhaps we should all club together to pay the Cabinet’s tuition fees for 2011.

What say you?

What do you think we should really do about this awful awful mess?


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Sep 182010
 
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This interview is hardly revealing or unexpected:

Nick Clegg has declared that there is “no future” for the Liberal Democrats as a left-wing alternative to Labour as he appealed to his party to show “patience” and maintain a united front with the Conservatives.

In an interview with The Independent on the eve of Liberal Democrat conference starting today, he promised his party it would reap the electoral rewards if it held its nerve about its slump in the opinion polls.
He said: “There were some people, particularly around the height of the Iraq war, who gave up on the Labour Party and turned to the Liberal Democrats as a sort of left-wing conscience of the Labour Party.

“I totally understand that some of these people are not happy with what the Lib Dems are doing in coalition with the Conservatives. The Lib Dems never were and aren’t a receptacle for left-wing dissatisfaction with the Labour Party. There is no future for that; there never was.”

The long-term strategy of the Coalition becomes ever clearer.  They are looking to paint the rump of “left-wing” Lib Dems which wishes to leave the confines of Coalition politics as extraordinarily naive individuals who, by potentially reassigning their allegiances to a newly socialist, moral and perhaps excessively childlike Labour, will ensure that the wider public’s perception of where the centre stage in British politics really lies can be allowed to veer sharply right.

Under the cover of a political darkness of ideological actions and activities unseen even in Mr Blair’s wildest times.

Meanwhile, our challenge, as members of a renewing and newly sophisticated Labour, is to ensure the public perceives no such thing.

As I said recently on this blog, big government is here to stay whilst climate change and other big issues such as international terrorism assail us.  But enabling big government is where the real work needs to be done. 

Forget the dichotomy between big and small government.  The real issues are elsewhere, even as our politicians fight each other with inexact soundbites.  The real issues lie amongst our common desire to identify needs efficiently and locally.

Technology, used wisely, can help us do so much more.  What we need now, however, is a shared clarity of vision.  And that, in the short-term, is where leadership at all levels will come in. 

What we need now, in fact, is for all of us at the grassroots to want to take ownership of our common cause – to want to go ahead and lead each other.

Only then can we truly localise our impulses to participate in a larger society.


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