Jun 262014
 
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Today, I saw a person on the TV show “Good Morning Britain”, a person who if I understood correctly represented Wonga.com in some significant way, saying sorry for a series of (to put it politely) historical “infractions”, most of which which appeared to border on the significantly fraudulent:

Payday lender Wonga must pay £2.6m in compensation after sending letters from non-existent law firms to customers in arrears.

The letters threatened legal action, but the law firms were false. In some cases Wonga added fees for these letters to customers’ accounts.

If I continue to remember rightly, the person who spoke on the tele this morning, when asked about who exactly was responsible for the misdeeds clearly committed, said something along the lines of: “We’re not here today to talk about individuals.”

I’m puzzled by this response.  When I worked for a large 70,000-people financial services corporation, it was impressed upon us – both in our daily job and periodically through continuous training – that what we saw, thought and imagined had utmost significance for the continued probity of the wider company.  Within what you might term the broader systemic behaviours, our own individual perceptions and consequential actions were legally enshrined, inscribed and potentially punishable.

Mind you, perhaps – already out there – there is an unspoken universal law which governs and defines how this focus on individual responsibility decreases exponentially, the greater one’s level of executive power.*  It certainly would seem that way; it would explain a lot of what’s happening right now too.

With my own personal interest in political structures to the fore, and even as this is amateur, ineffectual and irrelevant to current practice (my network of influence being absolutely zero, of course), I’d also be inclined to argue that it’s time we stopped blaming political systems for the corruption they appear to generate and started blaming, instead, the corrupting people who are taking advantage.  Yes.  I know it brings us back to the hoary subject of personal responsibility, many times couched in quasi-religious terms and so consequently abused by those who have specific and unhelpful agendas, but it serves no one’s interests to continue destroying the public face of politics as an ideal, concept and practice by saying the problems are essentially of a widespread and systemic nature almost everywhere you look.

I don’t know about you but I find myself reaching a point of utter inaction on so many different fronts.  Even in my day-to-day life; even as I got to the supermarket for the weekly shop.  So it is I can neither buy from the Primarks nor the John Lewis of the world; I can neither happily fund charitable drug research nor happily buy multinational cereals.

And as the TechDirt piece linked to above quotes, from the mouth of a person of perhaps quite different times:

[...] Here’s what George Merck, who became president of his father’s eponymous chemical manufacturing company in 1929, said on the subject, as quoted on the Today in Science History site: “We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been.”

We could substitute the word “medicine” with the word “politics” or the term “financial services” – and the impact, effect and consequences would be pretty much the same surely.  The truth and sense of integrity, too.

There’s nothing wrong with our systems which a swathe of people encouraged to be good couldn’t put right.  After all, the problem is hardly ever an absence of relevant legislation – rather, far more frequently, an occasionally appalling inefficiency in its application.  And this is the case in politics and banking, just as much as it is obviously the case in medical research and food distribution.

Forget the systems, then.  Forget that ever-present policy tinkering so beloved of professional politicos.  Whatever we’ve got, let’s try and make the best of it.  Don’t change the textbook.  Rather, give the teachers and students the opportunities to properly engage.

So let’s look in quite a different direction.  Focus, instead, on fashioning for the people the environments which serve to generate the confidence we all need – the confidence we all need to speak up in good faith about what resides in our hearts and souls.

To participate; to act constructively; to communicate, collaborate and talk with each other.

About what we all really need and deserve.  Freedom from fear.

Ultimately, freedom of expression.

____________________

* Maybe we should call it the Stepping-Stone Law, after those who wade in the bubbling brooks of tendentious activity – brooks which finally lead down to the rivers and estuaries of ultimate control and knowledge.  (But then again, maybe not …)


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Jun 192014
 
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On Labour’s new policy today for “everyone to have his own owl”, our favourite Mirror site describes it thus this afternoon:

Actually, the whole thing was a mistake. Labour’s REAL badly costed policy announcement for today was deciding to cut Jobseeker’s Allowance for young people, saving a pitiful £65 million. Nice.

(Interestingly, whilst the short link says “cutt.us/xdjrc6h3″ and whilst the “cutt.us” is clear, I do think – conspiratorially – someone should tell us what the manifestly secretive rest of it is actually supposed to mean.)

Meanwhile, there is surely a lesson to be learnt from the whole affair.  If a short hacked tweet along these lines can in an instant capture the imagination and attention of the mainstream media, their social counterparts and even those ordinary people who still pace real-world streets, maybe there is a new tactic of politicking waiting (literally! Yes, literally I say …) in the wings of such imaginations.  Politics and the Owl Factor?  That may be our brand new wonky litmus test.

Is a policy worth pursuing from now on in till the general election in 2015?  Then let it be judged against the Owl Factor!  And only if it is judged that the social commotion of today’s owl is likely to repeat with any degree of certainty will we let any future policymaking go ahead.

Simon Cowell is that?  Or Simon Owl?!  An utterly new landscape of democratically-engaged social networking opens up before us.

Hurrah the Owl; hurrah the Owl; hurrah the Owl …


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Oct 252013
 
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I suppose, in the end, we have to recognise Blair was right about one thing: we have to win enough votes to win an election before we aim to do anything else.  And in a world such as ours, to draft our appeal in terms of socialism, whilst guaranteeing a certain weight and moral validity, will hardly win any prizes for attracting the sensibilities of those whose votes make the difference between a lying halfway house of a Coalition government (as per the current one) on the one hand, and a proudly declamatory and transparent offering of tone and style (as per a future Labour one, perhaps) on the other.

Maybe we do need to accept that manifestos are vague pitches which most usefully encapsulate broad intentions – intentions which should be judged and perceived from such generous perspectives.  If we look to such a proclamation of promises with the beady eye of “will you, won’t you” conditionality, deception and disillusionment will inevitably be our lot.

We have to be more realistic to our political class.  We have, ourselves, to be far more generous to what they can deliver.

I know saying this will not make me popular.  Even so, I feel it now needs to be said.

We need to give our politicos space to preach a better world – even as we know they will deliver a less good.

Instead, I think it is elsewhere we need to focus our attention – our attention, not our ire.  This wave of history lapping at our feet – in particular with respect to its technological aspect – is driving our society towards a self-taught self-help socialism of determined communities, where both large and small companies and organisations various make their livings off the backs of a renewed focus on such a contextualised individualism (perhaps with every craftsperson’s right and precedent – “Artisans of the world, unite!” – to back up the way they conduct their commercial activities).  In my own case, I find myself teaching people across the globe the ins and outs of my mother tongue.  I feel myself to be, in a way, a victim of the zero-hour generation – and yet, at the same time, I think that I number amongst the very same generation’s most blessed of all.  Whilst I am still healthy, whilst I can still live my life in a reasonably independent way, this life is perfect for me: variety of timetable, customers and content make my work and life balance quite adequate.  And in my case, I have to admit, even as I accept I am suffering the curse of labour instability, that I have never been happier in this life.

I also have to recognise that without the infrastructures of the corporations, mainly American, which I have occasion to lambast most of my days, I would not be able to teach in that global context which makes my working-life so satisfactory.

So it is, then, I would like to suggest the following: if we are to continue, in our very British body politic, to have the kind of rather spurious game that pitching competing political manifestos against each other involves, maybe we should look mainly to the goal of refashioning the aforementioned tone and style through the selfsame hoary old sequence of political “promises”, this time understood by us voters in as kindly a way as we can still manage.

If Ed Miliband could just see his way to seeing our job, as a political party wishing to govern, in the light of an environmental concern (environmental, that is, in the sense of space – not in the sense of ecology), and even to seeing it as a trip, an excursion, a journey rather than a destination in itself, we could maybe, just maybe, aim to develop our electoral process to the point where instead of concentrating on the aforementioned spurious manifestos of what we should and won’t do, we could spend our time using them to honestly develop, promote and sell an appropriate tone and style for the future.

After all, leadership is so often a question of enabling others: not micromanaging their integrities, their actions and their personal contributions out of existence but giving them the freedom to lead themselves.

Precisely for the spurious political reasons and expectations I mention, Ed Miliband’s Labour Party is now being expected to provide swathes of detailed solutions to a flurry of truly serious problems afflicting the country.

In reality, the political debate we choose to hold should be quite a different one: Ed Miliband’s Labour Party should be saying that in a self-learning and self-empowering generation of virtual connectednesses – even where this generation has been, and is being, persistently confused by all kinds of commercial and state-sponsored activities (both disgracefully illegitimate as well as clearly rather more sincere) – a new kind of socialism, a socialism which already exemplifies itself although we choose not to name it thus, a socialism which looks to connect evermore intelligent participants, a socialism which curiously – quite individualistically – self-engenders … this socialism I poorly describe must be the self-taught self-help philosophy on which we decide to build a better Britain.

We should not be expecting of Labour the answers to our problems.  We should be expecting of Labour the recognition that we are the answers.

And in and through such a profound recognition, our political parties – all of them – could show us they have the courage to ultimately accept the implications of such a humongous shift in the dynamics of British political process.


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Jul 142013
 
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Iraq, if nothing else a misjudged war of choice in terms of its failure to democratically execute a post-war settlement, has left behind it fatalities galore.  There are the bloodied ones of course: Wikipedia gives us a list of many estimations here.  But there are other ones too.

I tweeted the following just now:

Current paucity of political leadership in our body politic is, in part, ‘cos Iraq wiped out the moral weight of too many clever people.

It bears further exploration and explanation.  So many politicians, both of Labour and of other parties, have been morally tainted by the decisions then taken.  A whole body politic, the United Kingdom body politic, putting its collective name to such decisions as it manifestly did, has had the meadow of its moral high ground scythed by the following years.

The figurative heads of brilliant brainy political wonks have been violently lopped off, as all kinds of moral gymnastics have taken to their declamatory stages.

I’m thinking in particular of people like David Miliband, a bright button of eloquent communication if there ever was one.  But there are, of course, many others.

What this has led to as a result is something quite tragic: the progressive side of this body being in power at the time, Labour’s ability – years later – to fight a rearguard action against Coalition evils has been mortally wounded by what it – in power and government at the time of Iraq – had unavoidably to take ownership for.

Yes.  It’s true that many notable Conservatives supported these decisions so many years ago now.  But they didn’t take the final decisions – they haven’t been wounded in quite the same way.  It’s almost as if we feel Labour should have known better.  Wars of choice fit badly with socialist principles, after all.  We don’t have quite the same perception for those who occupy Tory-land.

So why is this generation of politicos so rubbish?  Partly because the Labour ones cannot full-throatedly act in a principled way.  (Or at least in a way so many of its natural voters would judge to be principled.)  Yes.  They took ownership for their deeds, but continue – in the main – to fight a quite different rearguard action: that of justifying their positions when the history of implementation has clearly shown them to be wanting.

But this is not the only consequence of a conflict like Iraq destroying the ability of a generation of bright sparks to continue sparking as brightly as we need them to.  Assuming that pyramidal politics – that politics which insists on situating CEO-types fragilely atop heavy hierarchies – is the only politics we can expect, it’s clear that apart from the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, Iraq has also taken its toll – a decade later – on the people and politics of the United Kingdom.

What has the Coalition government learnt from Labour’s experience?  That in times of awful misjudgement – in this case, the econopocalypse of austerity-driven policy-making (a kind of Iraq-like impulse, if there ever was one, to redefine and redraw the landscape of a society from scratch) – what you must never ever do is take ownership.

So we have a government like Cameron’s which blames everyone and their bedroom-taxed abodes for the miseries that result from one-percent economics.  Stiglitz is right: the one percent are playing everyone else off everyone else.  And our current crop of politicians, now stuck in the mire of historical moral inefficiency, does exactly the same thing.

This generation of politicos is so rubbish not because it needed to be so.  Rather, because Labour on the one hand, hobbled by its lack of a historical high ground, and the Tories on the other, now having learned the lesson and importance of cowardice in political discourse, have lost their societal compass: they see the voters, you and me, as the corporate CEOs see their customers.  People unworthy of straight-talking; unworthy of sincerity; unworthy of open and honest communication.  To be messaged, massaged, nudged and finally cheated.

Meanwhile, we have the Lib Dems.  Supposedly dedicated to a better and freer way of doing things.  Vigorous defenders of our liberties as the Snoopers’ Charter was kept at bay.

And all the time both GCHQ and the NSA were spending the decade taping our every electronic emission.

Under what would appear to be deliberately engineered loopholes.

Sink holes more like.

Black holes even better.

No wonder this generation of politicos is so rubbish.  They’ve been trawling, living in, inhabiting the London backstreets of an elitist perception of the masses.

It’s the first time that’s tricky.  The first time you savagely misjudge something – criminally, one might even say.  But after that, it’s easy sailing.

Our society doesn’t believe in the redeeming qualities of real redemption, either.

If you do something bad, you are to be classed as forever bad.

So it is that this generation of politicos is so rubbish because they are weak – and have chosen to be so.  But they are also so very rubbish because we are lazy – and prefer to define them in terms of a damning black and white.

We’re not all to blame exactly.

But neither are we free of culpability.

We don’t have the politicians we deserve.  We do have the politicians we have made.  Rubbish in, rubbish out – RIRO, if you prefer – is a law of the universe we seem to be subscribing too.

Not sure why.  Not sure it’s a free choice.  (Not sure if we even knew we were making it when we made it.)

Anyhow.  RIP, the UK body politic.  And maybe, shortly, invisibly so, rather a large number of its subjects too.


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Jun 202013
 
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I used to be involved quite heavily with local politics.  Now I just pay my dues, and very occasionally attend special meetings.  Most recently, this involved the first (serious) hustings I believe I’ve attended in my life.  Prior to this, I attended a quite different way of doing grassroots politics – and before the aforementioned, I was very kindly visited by hopefuls in the election process already alluded to.

Shoots of a different and more hopeful way of connecting perhaps; moments when politics looks as if it might become a question of enabling existing forces rather than leading the damned into the valley of death.

:-)

I do feel obliged at this point, however, to explain: my wife has never been in favour of anything at all I’ve done with politics.  She doesn’t like my writing; she sees envelope-stuffing and door-stepping as irrelevancies in a wider landscape.  She is intelligent, well read and has a clear understanding of the political situation in her own country, Spain.  We used to agree that Spain and Britain were different.  I used to suggest this was why I thought volunteering so much of my free time in exchange for nothing tangible in return was actually quite a sensible thing to do.

Recent scandals in the United Kingdom have made this latter argument impossible to sustain.

Where not impossible, certainly tricky.  For the moment, I have lost the ability to return her fire.

For I realise now that my wife may, in fact, be right in her judgement: political volunteering, anywhere in the world, is quite the biggest waste of time and emotional investment one could possibly contemplate.

And I realise the huge scale of the task facing Labour at the next election.  Not only will it involve convincing enough people to deposit their trust in it as a party of government again, it will also find itself in the challenging position of having to persuade people like my wife (though obviously not my wife herself – she is understandably a lost cause by now) that the kind of volunteer and altruistic political activity which wins elections is actually worth all the bother.

Where the word “politician” becomes a synonym of “graft”, so people like my wife – intelligent, busy, hard-working individuals who are at the age where they’ve already seen it all before – are bound to look to convince their nearest and dearest to choose a different way of participating in democracy.

These are the politics of a purely economic democracy, maybe we could argue: forget the ideas, concepts and theories that maintain the worlds of the wonks, and, instead, just earn a Darwinian living in this savagely inevitable environment as best you can – as best you can or, indeed, as best you might.

How to convince my wife – and tens of millions like her – that political activity is really worth it?

Don’t ask them to wait on the heavy-handed results of your words.

Change their worlds for the better – and change them now!


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Jun 082013
 
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During the recent Prospective Parliamentary Candidate selection process here in Chester, which ended yesterday with the election of Chris Matheson, I’ve been blessed with several visits from a number of candidates. This, for me, was positive.  I was, therefore, looking forward mightily to the result.

This is the confirmation I received via email not long ago:

To all members:

At our parliamentary selection last night, Chris Matheson was selected to represent us at the next general election.

The selection process has been a long and hard one, generating an enormous amount of work. This has been made easier by the help I have received from a large number of people – thank you if you were one of them! This same teamwork will enable us to fight a strong campaign behind Chris, who I am certain will be an excellent candidate. That campaign begins now.

Sadly, my favoured candidate didn’t win; I did preference three candidates though – and I believe all of them ended up in the top three.

It was, I think (correct me if you know better), the first hustings I’ve ever attended.  Just shows how much of a politics wonk I actually am.

One of the speakers (not a candidate) described the evening’s events as moving.  And they were.  Held in a saintly church, they brought together many members who had, I am sure, drifted away post-Iraq.  This was, in a way, an opportunity for healing to take place.

The music that was played counterpointed the process beautifully.  The first two pieces, deliberately or not, as follows.

“Come Together”


http://youtu.be/axb2sHpGwHQ

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”


http://youtu.be/3a7cHPy04s8

Presumably that Rolling Stones’ anthem reflected the sadness four of the five candidates would shortly be feeling.

Anyhow, in this saintly broad church which I hope Chester’s CLP will become under Matheson’s guidance, there is plenty of work to be done.  If Labour is to win nationally, Chester is one of the seats which must be on its hit-list.  Let’s hope, then, for the benefit of all those voters and families who are currently suffering under the violence of Tory misrule that Matheson, his team of workers and the grassroots apparatus – which Chester members and sympathisers could revert to being given half an intelligent chance – are able to wrest from the incompetents in our politics control of what should really always lie in the hands of the people.

I am, as you will see, a romantic a heart.  Perhaps the next and final song, which I heard last night in that glorious setting, at least ends up describing me the best.

“Desperado”


http://youtu.be/rE-U5e78WHc

Good luck to those who would enjoin this battle.  We truly, really, sincerely need them to know how to win.

And win not only one election but sustainably so – for many more.


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May 142013
 
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I read recently, though can’t now pinpoint where, that no single political party representing the English has ever properly understood their true conservative nature.  This tweet which has just come my way reminds of this observation:

Farage: a pint, a fag, no control of his party, bigotry galore, and people vote for him? We need a change in electorate as well as govt.

And returning to the original observation, I realise now how mistaken it is.  It’s not that no single political party has ever properly understood their true conservative nature but rather, quite differently, that such parties have understood it all too well.  And as a result, they have – to a greater or lesser degree – chosen to ignore it.

As I argued some time ago in relation to the destructive swings of excluding politics:

The desire for vengeance, the impulse to recover so much lost time, the blind hatred of the other’s ideas … all this leads to an awful environment akin to a pressure-cooker of prejudice, where time postpones the ability to impose what inevitably become one’s tragic instincts.

Nevertheless, as the pendulum swings back, eventually power does return to the vengeful right – or, indeed, the vengeful left.  And so all those suppressed and supposedly politically incorrect opinions find their voice, their bullying courage and their aggressive channels of communication all over again.

Yet pressure-cookers are only good for cooking food.  Opinion is surely best let out on a regular basis.  As the Spanish would say, only by speaking can we understand people.  And if we choose, on either side, to suppress the right for political movements to participate in democratic process, each time the pendulum swings evermore violently back we can only expect further violence in return.

Perhaps what uniquely distinguishes UKIP’s verbal discourse, then (as opposed to the managerialist and toff-nosed leaders who peddle its wares), is that it looks not to avoid such possibilities of violence.  It looks, in fact, not to approach the electorate from the point of view of those educated political souls who understand the dangers of giving the public what it actually believes in but, instead, to engage the same by giving public voice to all its prejudices.  Whilst traditional right- and left-wing parties have both managed to contain such English conservatism, this doesn’t mean the latter has gone away.  And although in the presence of an economy which at least offered hope it has been happy to simply bubble under the surface, generally out of sight of all those social networks and media as its prejudices are shared across multiple garden-fenced and pint-inscribed conversations, when crisis hits home the fracturing nature of English conservatism has finally found in Farage’s foraging in the undergrowth of our beliefs that pressure-cooker valve I refer to above.

The danger is, of course, that what starts out as a release valve of pent-up pressure converts itself into a political party with its hands on the levers of power.

Perhaps, after all, we do need a new electorate.  But that will only really happen when the real powers in this world stop wilfully destroying environments of support, empowerment and societal liberation.

A big ask indeed.

On the other hand, if your aim is actually to engineer brutish societies of lowest-common-denominator capitalism, those are surely the kind of voters you’ll end up getting.

So conservatively focussed on Ye Olde Merrie England, even our dearly beloved Mr Gove wouldn’t feel out of place.

Talk about one forward gear and five reverse.  In their love of ancient comfort zones, political cowards without exception surely.


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Mar 302013
 
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There are many kindly things which Anthony Painter is careful to say today, in order to couch his cautious welcome to potentially new ways (at least, that is to say, in England amongst the major parties) of carrying out political activity.  If you read his piece, I’m sure you’ll see what I mean.

Three things he says in particular which I’d like to focus on this afternoon (the bold is mine in both paragraphs).  The first two, here:

The major risk is that Labour simply rides a wave of resistance politics and cites this as evidence of change and the founding of a ‘new movement’ while actually changing its power structures very little. This explains my anxiety about claims of fundamental change and a ‘new movement’. Both locally and nationally, the Labour Party remains extremely closed and narrow both in terms of access to political position and to policy influence. It’s a party that still fears pluralism; its core value is loyalism. Diversity is seen as about representation of certain groups rather than a complete opening out. It is still more a phalanx than a network.

And the third:

To be serious about change and ‘transformation’ there are far tougher questions that have to be asked about power. The conversation we are having is about organisation ultimately – though it is often dressed up in the language of power. The conclusion on this level is that there are many brilliant initiatives taking place but much of political sell around is, well, political sell. Until some vested interests not just in the Labour Party but British democracy more widely are cracked, however, transformational change will remain elusive.

All three observations are music to my ears – and really need no expanding.  I commented a few days ago on how the newly-formed and so-called Coalition of Resistance should’ve really been named something along the lines of the Coalition for Recovery.  It seems to me the left always foolishly – or at the very least, rather unfortunately – makes the mistake of defining itself in terms of reactive processes, rather than looking to take the vanguard.

Paradoxically enough, maybe, when we consider the internecine histories of socialist and Communist parties.

That the Labour Party fears pluralism is also self-evident in my experience.  Tribalism of a most closed and blocking kind is definitely a driver for those who claim to truly believe.  Of course, this is almost certainly due to real suffering and hard experience – but it doesn’t make political advancement and communication any easier in a latterday world of collaboration, connectedness and flat hierarchies of teamwork.  The instincts here, of openness to new ideas and new ways of thinking around subjects, do not come easily to those whose very life journey has taught them to be suspicious of strange bearers of gifts various.

Painter’s other point, about the need to crack vested interests “not just in the Labour Party but British democracy more widely” could easily become a motto for any new movement in any political grouping, where the aim was to properly and coherently recover our democracy.  The job ahead of us is much more profound than sorting out Labour: Labour, after all, is like it is because when you choose your competition, inevitably you become just like it.  Monolithic and tribal trades unionists, political thinkers and councillors are as they are because they are faced by powerful and expanding forces of Big Money which present exactly the same profile to the world.  After all, how on earth can any worker consider facing down a transnational without the support of an equally transnational network of informed and connected activists?

So the objective ahead must be democracy itself.  A democracy in and of a society where the concept is breaking – and if not breaking, then stumbling certainly.  A Good Democracy (more here), as per Peter Levine: a democracy which is simultaneously inclusive and efficient.

The task ahead, to create a truly sustainable politics, where people renew and inform and communicate ad infinitum, means understanding the process more as a start than as an end: a start which – on the back of different ways of organising ourselves – not only never ends but also serves as a means to a different kind of democracy.

The one, in fact, we always assumed we had a right to.


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Mar 182013
 
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The Royal Charter deal hacked out by hacked off politicians, presumably fed up to the back teeth of the whole sorry mess, is currently being resisted by those it is designed either to channel or shackle – depending, that is, on your point of view.  Yes.  It’s true.  Such an intervention by Parliament in the doings of the free press could lead to a police state some way down the line.  Alternatively, in the light of so many recent and documented events in #hackgate land, it could just as easily lead us to a useful downsizing of the existing and perniciously cosy nexus of politicians, the media and/or police.

Some thoughts to be getting on with, in no order of importance:

  • Just because you’re “anti-press abuse” doesn’t mean you’re “anti-press”.  In fact, if you truly love a free press, you’d surely prefer it not to abuse its potential reach.
  • Wishing to prevent the abuse of the powerless by the powerful is compatible with wishing to hold the powerful to account.  The problem of giving or not the media free rein arises when powerful media and powerful politicians become, essentially, indistinguishable actors and actresses in our democracies.  This is lately more a case of an economically shackled press which, whilst acting as if it believes in freedom, really believes in corporate self-interest.  The free press they claim we’re on the point of losing has never been free in the way they would sell it us.
  • Self-regulation of newspapers clearly failed: it was the media players who once had the chance and the media players who cocked it convincingly up.  It’s clear that something really important needs to be done: if an independent regulator is the only way forward, then let it be so.  If there is another way, of course, then let disinterested parties with no conflicts of interest, either political or financial, decide.
  • A free press should exist to inform and illuminate our democracy, not to allow certain individuals to lever power on the backs of their media ownerships.  There is nothing in the least salubrious nor free about a society where monopolistic media units decide who speaks, on whose behalf and when.  Especially when fifty percent or more of all copy is (freely!) sourced from the same wire services or cut-and-paste press releases.
  • Finally, while we need the service efficient and effective journalism may once have managed to provide, the financial pressures on all media organisations – a haemorrhaging of resources in some cases these days – no longer guarantee in themselves the service a good democracy requires.  It’s a joke to say that a latterday Citizen Kane will hold power to account in the public interest.  It’s a bad joke; an irony of the toughest kind.  Yes.  He or she will hold power to account – but only in a very personal sense; only in terms of the interests of his or her shareholders, of his or her publishing corporations, of his or her global financial needs.

Where I do, however, agree with the newspaper professionals is here.  As per the Guardian article linked to above (the bold is mine):

Trevor Kavanagh, the associate editor of the Sun, said it was worrying “when three political parties get together and their final verdict is welcomed so enthusiastically by Hacked Off which is definitely seeking to shackle and gag the free press. We simply do not want politicians to have control whatsoever in what goes in or doesn’t go into newspapers.

This is fair enough.  We might go further, of course.  We, the public and sovereign voters, simply do not want newspapermen and women to have control whatsoever in who gets in or doesn’t get into power. 

But perhaps, in the circumstances, that’s a bit of cheap shot.  (On the other hand, perhaps it’s not.)  Which brings me to my final point tonight.  If self-regulation is clearly past its sell-by date for newspapers and other media, and the evidence thus far would seem to indicate this is singularly the case, perhaps self-regulation is also past its sell-by date for politicians and other professional leader-types.  We’ve had so many scandals in relation to MPs’ expenses, revolving doors and all kinds of self-enrichment scams subsidised on the ever-weakening backs of the taxpayers that, hardly surprisingly, the evidence would appear to bear out the assertion: leaving all the above, as well as salary increases and living and working conditions various, in the hands of interested parties like MPs is bound to lead to similarly systemic abuse.

Not to mention the conflicts of interest that lobbyists pay highly to take advantage of and which no one, but no one, is doing anything about.

Time for an independent regulator for MPs and other parliamentarians then?  It would be a good moment for the suggestion to gain traction.  As the “free” press lost some of its choking and often self-interested stranglehold over politicians via the introduction of truly independent regulation, so a counterbalancing institution would be slotted into place to control – in an equally systematic manner – potential abuse of a political nature which newspapers might formerly have dealt with and uncovered.

That it required the actions of the Telegraph and other papers for the abuse of MPs’ expenses to come to light should not be forgotten, of course.  But what equally must not be forgotten is that the system of oversight which should have brought it to light in the first place was more or less as self-regulated as the systems which the very same press subscribed to in their own industry before Leveson.

And look where that led us all.

In both cases, it is significant that a bacterial-like culture of self-enrichment and deception spread out as it did.  So if the only solution for a corrupt British press is a new independent regulator, perhaps we should demonstrate how competent and even-handed British democracy still can be by putting in place – as soon as is practicable – an exactly similar institution to channel – or shackle, depending on your point of view – these professional enablers and leaders of our sacred body politic.

Peopled by representative persons without political or financial interests in the matter, it could be a kind of supreme court of the citizens.

A democratic circle which would serve to satisfactorily complete a dirty undemocratic cycle in the most elegant and sustainable way possible.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What say you?

What upsides and downsides do you anticipate?

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


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Sep 162012
 
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Chris has just posted a fascinating thesis.  Whilst it’s long been held that Labour is in the vicious grip of voter-base fragmentation – a grip that New Labour may eventually be seen to have simply ameliorated – there may also exist the possibility that the Tory voter-base is disintegrating just as dramatically:

What I am doing, though, is raising a question. It’s long been a cliche that Labour’s class base – industrial workers – is shrinking and fragmenting. But might the same be also true for the Tories?

The idea is definitely attractive, in the sense that it suggests a convincing symmetry.  Surely, after all, those who grow up and benefit in opposition to another are just as likely to decline when that other begins its own decline.

Which leads me to wonder if this isn’t clear evidence of the opportunities that might exist for totally new kinds of political parties.  Three examples.  Here, from the United States and a website called abetterpeople.com (just so you’re aware, posts of mine are currently syndicated to this website):

The Party

America, the entire World for that matter, is in need of a political force, a political party, focused on the needs of the citizens of the World, not just those with the financial means to influence the outcome of policy.

Our Goal.

In early 2013 to register a new political party in the United States.  This party will focus on the needs of all citizens, both the needs of the 99% and the needs of the 1%.  However, all needs will be treated equally.

The Charter, The Platform.

A Better People, and our Founder John F Moore, have a few core values that we want to see incorporated into this new party:

  • All people have an equal voice.
  • All people are entitled to the same basic human rights.
  • Through transparency in government and politics we can create a positive transformation.
  • There is no room for hatred of any people.
  • Democracy is not perfect.  It is, however, better than other forms of government in existence today.  We wish to see democracy, by the people, flourish.

Okay, what else?

This is a political party of the people, for the people, by the people.

We want to partner with all citizens of the world and create an initial charter of what matters to this new party.  All of you, in equal part, can weigh in by commenting on this initial article.

We will use A Better People to crowdsource many of the initial steps, many of the next steps.  We hope you will join us as we seek to create a Party for the People.

Here, from the UK and a website called www.2020uk.org (again, a post of mine from 21CF is due to go up there next week):

WELCOME TO 2020UK
2020UK is a group seeking a new form of governance where cooperation replaces conflict. Party politics have served this nation for many years but the world has become more complex and large international companies have as much if not more power than many governments including our own. Is it possible that a new grouping which takes the best from all political persuasions working together is the way forward for the UK? That is just one of the questions we are asking. As far as we know we are the only group that concerns itself with governance (as opposed to governing) and has no associations at all with any political party. Further details of this concept behind the ABOUT US tab.

Meanwhile, here I described on Facebook the other day the Pirate Party movement – probably out of more than a little ignorance on my part, but certainly with an attempt at good faith:

I’m inclined to think the Pirate Party is the triumph of alternative worldviews over traditional politics. Like a religion, in the sense that its beliefs are separately formed – and also serve to explain and understand many incoherences in traditional politics. You may not agree with the explanations and conclusions – but logic and cogency do play a part; especially as they are looking for a much deeper understanding of the whys and wherefores of modern life. Use technology to explain away our inappropriate dependence on it? In a way, yes. If Google didn’t do evil, the Pirate Party doesn’t do dependence. [...]

I then go on to talk of elites, a subject which does worry me – and probably should worry you too:

[...] Yet neither Google nor the Pirate Party have seen themselves able to avoid creating new elites. In that way, the 21st century isn’t defined so much by right or left but more by the elites continued ability to reinvent their power over everyone else. Perhaps despite their better instincts, perhaps because of their worse. But “right” and “left” and “non-aligned” all seem to wish to recreate self-serving hierarchies.

Which is sad, but possibly inevitable too …

Now, whilst I don’t necessarily adhere to all the objectives of the above-mentioned movements and their predictable attachment to organisational structures I would probably find resistible, I would be happy for my thoughts and ideas to be shared on their platforms – and for one simple reason: the fragmentation of voter bases on both left and right of the political spectrum which Chris describes so perspicaciously in his piece seems to me a clear given – that is to say, an unassailable reality any 21st century politician must really begin to take onboard.  And even though all the above – in their different ways – are struggling with this weary reinvention of the wheel of organisation, they are at the same time also addressing with intelligence and good faith the need to create a different approach to bringing people together in constructive consonance.  Something I find truly laudable.

My question, I suppose, in the end, is whether the Tories or Labour are even aware of the issue.  In the US, it seems clear to me that both the Democrats and the Republicans are so awash with money as not to need to even consider any alternative to the brute force of traditional politics.

Pigeon-holing and square pegs in round holes are the clichés which come lazily to mind as a result.

It may then be that it will be those who inhabit less wealthy societies who will come up with alternative solutions like some of the ones I draw your attention to above – and way before the existing political parties even begin to creep in such a direction.  The main challenge we have, of course, is whether we can resist the juggernaut of ever-increasing concentrations of self-interested wealth in modern politicking – before we have a chance to re-engineer how we organise our civilisation.

____________________

Update to this post: another post which references Chris’s original can be found here, making absolutely patent the quandary a complex population of thinking voters now finds itself in when asked to choose between limited and never entirely representative alternatives.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A mighty purification of interests going on there.

A mighty purification indeed.

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

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

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

I do hope not.

But I rather suspect so.  Don’t you?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just dressed up in fancy language …

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

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

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

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

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

What have we done to our societies?

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


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Jun 272012
 
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Chris concludes his post today in the following damning and depressing way:

[...] Miliband says, correctly, that Labour became “disconnected from the concerns of working people.” This is not just a political problem but an individual one for those of use who jumped through the Govean hoops of “rigour”: we become socially isolated, geeks, weirdos and nerds. Academic success has big drawbacks.

It could, then, be that the costs of rigour outweigh the benefits.

If I understand the implications correctly of his conclusion, academia and politics simply don’t mix.  Academia is for a world where evidence is valued.  But the problem politics has with such an approach – quite at the margin of whether we should trust our current leaders and give them the benefit of the doubt in what they do – is that most ordinary people don’t seem to value evidence at all.  In much the same way, in fact, as most political actors in charge – who don’t seem to either these days.

I’ve recently had occasion to criticise politicians for being medieval (more on the greasy-pole theorem here), but Chris’s piece today makes me wonder if I’m being unfair.  What if politicians are right to use prejudice to move the mountains of voters?  What if nations cannot be usefully moved in any other way?  What if we are condemned to a society and civilisation where “the concerns of working people” unhappily equal attitudes constructed on the sands of prejudice instead of solid opinions based on the realities of careful study?

If – as members of political movements, as promoters of evidence-based social and mainstream media and as thoughtful people in general – we are foolishly swimming against an ultimately unstoppable tide, perhaps it is time we admitted that voters are on the whole not scientists, researchers nor PhD students – and prejudice-based politicians who intuitively press our buttons know far more about the business of politics than we, in our white plastic towers of iPads and connected gadgets various, will ever know.

It’s a saddening thought though, isn’t it?  A saddening thought.

____________________

Further reading: a couple of websites which have come my way recently and which attempt to inject evidence and objective information into the hackneyed debates of politics.  First, Political Innovation‘s new project Who Funds You?: a sharp attempt to make absolutely clear which political and business ideologues are funding which allegedly – and in some cases superficially – even-handed think tanks.  Second, a new blog from Andrew which looks at how an overarching superstructure of attitudes, behaviours and hows might inform any British government, whatever the political inclination.


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May 052012
 
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One of our biggest battles, as we try and think our way out of the mess that New Labour left behind it, is understand and accept exactly that it was pyramid politics itself which became the cause of our problems rather than their solution.

As Adam Bienkov, writing for New Statesman, says of Ken Livingstone today (the bold is mine):

The problem was not Ken’s agenda, but the fact that it was Ken calling for that agenda. The sad truth is that after 41 years in London politics, too many Londoners have simply stopped listening to him. Every politician has a shelf life, a point where voters look at them and coldly decide to give another product a go. For Ken that happened in 2008 and he has spent the past four years failing to come to terms with it.

Now, whilst I’m inclined to agree Bienkov is right in what he says, I’m also inclined to believe he doesn’t have to be right in what he says.

Let me explain.

In the light of the economic crises which have destroyed the standards of living of the vast majority of citizens, we thrash and flail around as we attempt to invent and fashion the idea of a sustainable economics: the sort of thing which doesn’t Big Bang its way onto our horizons, only to contract when we least expect it just as suddenly from our grasps.  No.  Something less dramatic seems to be the tenor of our latterday discourses: something which grows sensibly, sustainably, in accordance with and respectful of the environments we are obliged to operate inside.

A sustainable economics, then, where top people aren’t so top and bottom people aren’t so bottom; where creativity and leadership are allowed to flower at every level; where, indeed, the levels flatten and become as close to a single hierarchy as is practically and sensibly possible.

In times of crisis, we look for such solutions.  Only in times of relative success do we ignore the consistent need for sustainability.

So if we translate this desire to political science, could we contemplate the possibility of a sustainable politics?

Not one based on that Darwinian slant of dog eat dog in unending conflict.  Rather, where modern commercial virtues such as collaboration and teamwork came to the fore of all political activity.

A while ago, I suggested Ed Miliband might be looking for this – even as he tried to negotiate our way out of the bind New Labour had dropped us in; and even as most of us managed to misunderstand those instincts.

In reality, I think, if I interpret them rightly, his instincts are pretty true for a 21st century context.  Both big business and current political practice are still unhappily engineered – at least in part – on the basis of an age-old history of kings, queens, serfs and servants.

What we need now, on the other quite different hand, is a new and sustainable politicking based on the far more democratic ideals of a republic of the voters.


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Apr 202012
 
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Kevin suggests that what the lobbying scandals need are an improved political class.  He writes interestingly when he says:

The correct place to start is to recognise that most MPs – in all parties – are pretty straight. Let’s encourage them to know their own minds a bit more. And let’s provide them with proper independent policy support to help them formulate their own positions on the key issues.

One observation before we continue: whilst I agree that most MPs are likely to be straight, I am inclined also to believe that the higher up the greasy pole they get, the less straight they become.  This is a serious issue, of course, because the higher up they are, the more disproportionate their influences.

Anyhow.  Kevin continues to write interestingly when he concludes the following (the bold is mine):

The conspiracy theorists and gesture politics mob who want to choke-off lobbying will simply fail to do so if ministers come forward with weak measures, or we will see our democracy asphyxiated if they come forward with clumsy, catch-all ones.

But let’s use this moment to change politics as much as lobbying. Unless we beef-up our MPs’ ability to shape the policy agenda, rather be shaped by lobbyists of whatever hue, we will have missed a trick.

And the bottom feeders of the lobbying world will get away scot-free when this latest, predictable and toothless attempt to clean-up the industry fails to do just that.

I said much the same thing when I suggested the following recently, with respect to the related subject of party political funding and PR.  Which is precisely why I argued in favour of a system whereby customers of companies could decide whether to make a purchase on the basis of a traffic-light labelling system which explained how much an organisation was spending on funding and PR per political party.  In fact, I expanded on the theme in another post the other day on the subject of a US site called sopatrack.com.  Here, tools which scrape publicly available data help determine which US congressmen and women vote “with the money” – money the wider constituents of the American Congress may raise for their own, often grubby, purposes.

The virtues of the above two ideas?  Both of them give back to the voters the knowledge that translates into power – without requiring the current political class to change, a priori, its behaviours.  The only legislation we would actually need would be freedom of information powers to access the necessary datasets where access did not currently exist.  Not a small order, I do have to accept – but far easier an order to define and delimit than the diffuse desire to do something about political corruption.

So whilst Kevin is right – we do need a political class with more backbone (which, as he rightly points out, does imply independent means to study  matters of modern import accurately and objectively) – the constituency he misses out of the equation, the voters themselves, also needs a greater capacity to oversee what’s going on.

And the tools I mention above, providing not a political straitjacket but rather constructive carrots and sticks, could achieve just that.


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