Oct 252013

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.

Oct 122013

Evgeny Morozov wrote this recently:

To say that “the Internet” is our “sharknado” is to accept that the current configuration of practices, services, and conversations – the Internet discourse – already structures how we talk,  what we say and what we do after all the talking is done.

It’s not that the current crop of Internet intellectuals are factually wrong or blinded by some false ideology. It’s that, in seeking to explain “the Internet,” they keep reinforcing a discourse that itself is in great need of disruption. Simply put, the Internet discourse has outlived its usefulness. [...]

Meanwhile, Chris suggests:

[...] Many professionals of around my age and younger downsize, step off partnership-path careers, leave to work for charities, become part-time consultants or singing teachers and so on. In a more abundant economy, many more would do so.

And then there’s the desperation many people feel with respect to latterday – certainly latterday British – politics, as it bumbles its way brutally from racist nods at awful Berlin Walls of immigration to “free” (presumably not as in beer) schools of a manifestly limited utility to ideologically driven privatisations in health, postal services and even – in this day and age of pained experience – profitably public East Coast rail services.

If Morozov is right about Internet discourse having outlived its usefulness, and if everything we do right now is gravitating more and more to being dependent on all those infrastructures sustained by such unwisely received opinion, it’s hardly surprising that intelligent and thinking people might wonder more and more – as Chris’s professionals are clearly doing – of the value of this constant collaboration we call liberal democracy, in this 21st century now bemusing us.

Those few people now still reading this blog will understand where I am heading.  Over the past ten days or so, as I share less of what I am, and more importantly peer less into the vicariously shared lives of others I may barely know (at least face to face, at least person to person), I am slowly recovering a sense of peace.  I may not deserve this sense of peace.  There are others suffering dearly right now: the poor, the sick, the disabled, the unemployed; the employed, too, who fear for their jobs; the employed who do not know from week to week where they will next earn a crumb of consolation; the employed who work in undignified conditions; the employed, even, in living hell.

So what right do I have to retire from a politics which inevitably affects you and me – whether I participate or not?  Perhaps because that politics, like our Internet discourse, like economies which serve themselves of people instead of – far more rightly – serving us, is at an end of times.  And we resist the temptation to acknowledge it.

For it’s not just the Internet which has been deconstructed by the surveillance state.  It’s all our liberal and free-market tendencies in our businesses; all our liberal and free-market impulses in our politics; all our liberal and free-market instincts in our writings.

And neither has this surveillance state consisted only of government spies.  In parallel, in tandem, sometimes in cahoots it would now appear, large companies have destroyed the conditions for healthy innovation: have destroyed the conditions which allow healthy economies to both evolve and – where necessary – commit timely revolution.

An end of times ain’t necessarily a time to end.  But it is a time to be honest and sincere: to be honest and sincere with not only each other but also, on a singular man-in-the-mirror basis, with ourselves.

Our Internet, our economies, our politics too … on the one hand, they’ve all become inefficient through systemic and individual greed and laziness; and on the other, through a despairing disconnect by the majorities the rest of us make up.

Inefficiency is obviously the mother of an end of times.  The question is whether we can recover our previous vigour, our previous sincerity, our previous honesty, our previous truths.

Yep.  I guess it is so.  A revolution of a cultural bent is needed.  Not that revolution, but one of a certain kind for sure.


Sep 022013

Whilst the government called Ed Miliband “a fucking cunt” and a “copper-bottomed shit” for saying no to a repeat of Iraq, it would appear the French – who did say no to Iraq all those years ago – have known that Syria has had chemical weapons for at least thirty years:

The announcement comes after Sunday’s French paper, Journal du Dimanche, said French intelligence agents had compiled information showing that some of the weapons had been stockpiled for nearly 30 years.

And if the French have known it, surely the NSAs and GCHQs of the world have known it just as much.

Which brings us to the matter of a request by a UK company to export precursors of chemical weapons to the Syrian government last year.  Here we have the British government’s reaction, via the Lib Dem member of the Coalition, Vince Cable.  A little disingenuous to say the least:

The licences for the two chemicals were granted on 17 and 18 January last year for “use in industrial processes” after being assessed by Department for Business officials to judge if “there was a clear risk that they might be used for internal repression or be diverted for such an end”, according to the letter sent by Mr Cable to the arms controls committee.

Mr Cable said: “The licences were granted because at the time there were no grounds for refusal.”

No grounds for refusal – except thirty years of stockpiling, Mr Cable.


So what do we have then?  A UK Coalition government, which commits austerity violence on its own population, gaily spending our taxpayer dosh on coming to decisions to export potentially dangerous chemicals to war-torn regions – war-torn regions where their government is one of the few which hasn’t signed international treaties on not using the WMDs that can be made from such chemicals … and this UK Coalition I talk of finds itself able to congratulate itself that it has complied with the law, even as it foul-mouths the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition for saying no to any resulting Western “intervention”.

Which by the way would, as a Facebook photo that just whizzed through my feed pointed out, involve members of our Armed Forces “fighting [in a way] alongside Al Qaeda in a Syrian civil war”.

This, I feel most strongly, is the result of what we might term the psychodrama of austerity unspooling.  What I’m not quite sure of is whether we were brutal and incoherent abroad first – and then learnt how to be so at home.  Or, perhaps more likely, vice versa – in a (sociopolitical) vice of totally immoral proportions.

When you learn how to treat your own people as scroungers, wasters, chavs and layabouts, how much easier it must be to think that on the foreign stage you can prance your incongruences – brightly flailing their idiocy and unkindness without anyone caring.

He (or she) who can call the Leader of the Opposition a “shit” and a “cunt” is able to see all voters, all opponents, all anti-war activists, all thinking people who are unsure of this matter … everyone who does not instinctively agree with what only starts out as yet another drone- and cruise-missile-led adventure … well, anyone who does not automatically say yes is also going to be seen as a “shit”.  No wonder austerity is so easy for them.  We are simply bits and pieces of political (sometimes literal) cannon fodder in a cruel and global conflict.

The problem here, of course, and I leave it without resolution on my part, is that whilst Iraq was the war we should’ve said no to – a war, in fact, the French did say no to – perhaps this Syria biz is quite something else.

What’s more, if the French are prepared to declassify intelligence which shows Western governments knew that Syria had stockpiled chemical weapons for nigh on thirty years, and then did absolutely nothing about it, it surely does beg the following question:

“How can our own political institutions and structures choose to make money out of such evil political trajectories – and then expect us to vote in favour of anything the former propose?”

From chemical weapons to Saddam’s unspeakable WMDs to austerity politics where the poor are savaged by the consequences of the acts of the rich, even as the rich are able to emerge unscathed, we have a politics which is broken quite as badly as it ever could be.

No wonder we feel like being shits to the profession.  They’ve been cunts to us all along.

Jul 142013

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.

Jul 032013

This morning, Steve makes a simple request:

Here’s an idea for an Education minister just leave the curriculum alone and let teachers get on with teaching #toomuchtoask? #goveout

It strikes at the very heart of everything bubbling under in latterday politics.  The deliberate deprofessionalisation of society, from doctors to nurses to teachers to lawyers, perhaps partly inevitable in a world where search engines begin to replace books and opinions begin to multiply, is not helped in the least by its lopsided nature: yes, we see how the Dark Arts have historically been used to maintain privilege and fees – but we see absolutely no sign that our political masters and mistresses are prepared to similarly attack their own.

If truth be told, the political class is the least professional of all our professions: in many cases proud of its amateur status, its gentlemanly structures and its multiple income streams, it has proceeded to make an apparent virtue out of buccaneering ways.

It does make me wonder if the current Coalition overtly or otherwise perceived the educated and evidence-based as a real threat to its long-term projects.  Anything it could do not to “let teachers [or doctors or lawyers or nurses et al] get on with teaching” would be seen as a clear strategy, where the prestige and the ability of a professional group to fight back on terms always unfamiliar to unprofessionalised figureheads – such as our political leaders often are – surely had to be undermined forthwith in the interests of a longer-term political power.

But what we’re beginning to lose in our societies and civilisations – what we’re beginning to miss – is also the concept of and instinct to compassion.  When I read something as dreadful as this NBC investigation into the reality of civilian deaths at the hands of remote-control drones, and I read how President Obama claims to be “haunted” by the “collateral damage”, I wonder how it is possible for such an intelligent man to simultaneously engineer better healthcare for his country, even as he razes to the ground the physical and mental security – their clear and manifest lack – which ordinary people, not terrorists, not combatants, not the violent in any way, who live in other countries now feel about their houses, homes and homelands.

Just as US drones invade foreign lands and reserve their right to inspect and bomb other peoples from safe on high, so our very own politicians are reserving the right to invade the absolutely essential privacy of our professionalisms: in selling our NHS records to the highest bidder, they invade our patient-doctor relationship; in allowing hedge funds and venture capitalists to shape our children’s education, they invade our parent- and child-teacher relationships; in removing so many matters from the scope of Legal Aid, they invade our client-lawyer relationship.

Our politicians more and more operate in a system which predisposes them to lobbing figurative hand-grenades into the wedding receptions of our lives.

No privacy – that is clear.

No professionalism – it mustn’t be allowed.

No compassion – would that it be possible, but we live in a world where the concepts of “citizen” and “humanity” are condemned not to coexist.

Maybe that’s the real reason our leaders are able to feel haunted by their bombing of children, even as they continue to bomb them – they feel they know such terrible things about us, only terrible things, that seeing the better side of life is now beyond them.

Battle-scarred, war-weary, our politicians act without compassion – without a desire to value professionals, without an appreciation of the importance of privacy – because little of their lives is compassionate to, professional about or private around them either.

In a sense, maybe they want for us – see it only reasonable that it should be the case – only what they have themselves.

They are unable to see outside the bubble they have created.

And if they can’t have these things the rest of us treasure, why should we?

Jul 022013

This is what Chris Hedges is famously supposed to have said about the times we are living in:

We now live in a nation

where doctors destroy health,

lawyers destroy justice,

universities destroy knowledge,

governments destroy freedom,

the press destroys information,

religion destroys morals,

and our banks destroy the economy.

And this is what John, less famously but equally observantly, tweeted this evening about Hedges’ famous quote:

Read from the bottom up and you have the #coalition 5year programme ||   “@jilevin: The politics of destruction. pic.twitter.com/E2FPVzdT2p”

Meanwhile, Labour List just as presciently asks us whether there is anything these bastards (the Tories, don’t you know) won’t do for a profit, as hedge funds and venture capitalists look to invade our children’s education at the “vindictive” hands of the highly educational Michael Gove.  And I say “educational” advisedly: if you didn’t know the measure of what a full-throated Tory can do to a nation’s wellbeing, a few weeks following the antics of Gove will set you properly to rights.

In the figurative sense of the word, Mr Gove is a bastard politician like no other.  I feel ashamed for using this language, for lowering myself to his level, but the real evil he is committing with his multiply shallow provocations gives me little alternative.  His latest plan, disgracefully couched by the Guardian of all newspapers as doing away with the “tyranny of six-week school holidays” (I imagine because Stephen Twigg, Labour’s education counterpart, isn’t averse to a bit of bastard politics himself), is so utterly unthought-through as to shock me to my core.  Giving all schools and headteachers the right to fix the dates of terms and breaks is not only going to play havoc with families who have children in different schools – it’ll also make it extremely difficult for part-time workforces, on which a hedge-funded and venture-capitalisted education system will learn to depend even more, to organise their time.  My wife being a case in point: under the current system, she already works as a language assistant in several schools, none of which by themselves would ever be able to offer her a full timetable.  So whither her holidays, come Gove’s Brave New World of 2015?

In fact, can things possibly get any worse?  Well, I wouldn’t put it past them to try.  As the Coalition previously announced not so many months ago, our NHS records will be handed over to private companies to carry out their life-science miracles, which, by-the-by, will serve to handsomely engorge their bottom lines.  But why, then, stop at health records?  All that yummy private data we now realise has been collected by government for yonks now, a kind of state-run just-in-case just-in-time Dropbox for the managerialist classes, surely will begin one day to weigh heavily on the finances of the Big State, Big Gove-rnment economy.

What, in the end, is to stop them from even privatising our privacy?  Sell off those dirty dark secrets to the highest bidder: now that’s a plan!

In his Labour List piece linked to above, Mark Ferguson rightly poses the question around how far these bastard politicians we describe are prepared to go in their pursuit of ultimate control over almost anything.  The real problem is, of course, that they are “line of least resistance” actors and actresses: unable essentially, in the absence of any serious talent, to impose their own agendas, they operate in an environment – with the corresponding tools of rank monetisation – which they know will allow them to stay atop the fragile and awkward pyramids they’ve all become so unseemingly attached to.

They may say we deserve our political class.

But I really don’t think this is true.

Our political class has given up on politics: all that’s left is brazen self-enrichment.

If only our politicians were politically-minded folk.

Now there’s a thought.

A politics without bastard practitioners, anyone?



Bloody ha.

Jun 262013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For all of us, that is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even, dare I say, a new Labour!

Jun 202013

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!

Jun 082013

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”


“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”


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.



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.

May 182013

If we believe in a history of the masses – not just in one of heroes and heroines – there has to be more to what is going on between Cameron & Co and the rest of civil society than simply the bald intention to fill corporate pockets with even more dosh than they already possess.  There must be bigger movements at play here than simply stupid incompetents being stupidly incompetent.

Firstly, it would appear there is a massive battle being fought between a society of professionals on the one hand and a society of the unprofessionalised on the other.  So it is we have doctors, nurses, teachers and lawyers fighting painfully disagreeable rearguard actions with people who have few actual qualifications to be what they end up acting out: in the main, alpha businessmen and women and politicians of all colours and levels.  These latter two “professions”, if the label can (or should) be usefully applied, currently have few training paths to prepare them for the roles they carry out – supposedly on our behalf but more generally on their own.

Secondly, there does seem to be a recognition out there that specialisation – the very stuff of both charlatans and experts – may in some insidious way itself be destroying society.

In another universe then, quite parallel to Cameron & Co’s, we might appreciate the attempts of what we could charitably describe as Wannabe Renaissance Men (WRM) (there would appear to be few women, thankfully, of the same mettle) to break through the Chinese Walls of self-interested sectors.

The problem, of course, is that these WRMs I describe really aren’t.  They’re not doing what they do in order to break down barriers that divide society but, instead, in order to re-establish – using the most unpleasant methods possible – those barriers which most benefit them at a quite individual level.  It would seem they have so convinced themselves their might is right that anything can be justified – precisely and simply because of who or what originates the acts in question.  And we are so taken aback by the astonishingly unexpected nature of these acts – so massively and confusingly outside our moral scope – that we find ourselves mainly giving in:

Govt using practices we instinctively know are wrong but our inexperience of such immoral behaviour is restraining our outrage. #Disabled

Yes.  It’s possible that Cameron & Co are able to sleep at night because they truly believe themselves on a crusade against evil and interested parties.  They see themselves as cavaliers – as latterday buccaneers of magnificent breaking-the-rules ambitions – in much the same way as top-flight businesspeople often feel themselves hard-done-to by a comfort-seeking society which fails to appreciate the real emotional hardships they run the gauntlet of in their uncertain rise to the top.

No wonder these creatures all become self-seeking and selfish.

No wonder they believe we must become like them.

But, in reality, Cameron & Co are anything but Wannabe Renaissance Men – anything but the far-sighted finally able to shrug off a lazy society’s shackles and liberate a democracy of the dreadfully slumbering.

They sense something that perhaps all of us should sense, it is true, but they are utterly incapable of performing the service civilisation requires of them.  As Pope Francis mentioned the other day, their money is ruling the vast majority instead of serving the same.  And unable to reconfigure it, they have given up at the first hurdle; they have given in and become its hugely detrimental servant rather than its master.

Renaissance Men?  They wouldn’t know a flying machine if it hit them on the noggin.  They’d assume it was a brutal and violent attack by dangerously trained beings on their self-taught, unqualified and intuitive impulses.  Out of such inferiority complexes are born the actions of the essentially brutish.

So who’s lost their moral compass?  Is it ourselves – lost in a sea of society-defining media?  Is it the journalists themselves – as yet another suspiciously discrete body of professionals too?  Or is this actually a case of the pyramid so taking over everything we do, think, say and believe that a 21st century of gloriously compulsory education has only prepared us properly for outright submission?

Maybe, even, Cameron, Gove and their cohort of evil politicos are right in some of what they say – even as they wrong in most of what they do.  Specialisations are destroying society; sectors which know so much about their own workings are never going to be entirely direct about the changes which might prejudice them.

Maybe we are all Wannabe Renaissance Men (and Women, of course).

Maybe that’s the problem.

Capitalism’s ultimate revenge: the diarrhoea of an amateur democracy.

Coalition Britain, in fact – multiplied, now, a thousandfold.  And controlled by those with the biggest chips on their shoulders history has seen.

From a society of supposedly meritorious conduct, those who least deserve to be in charge are those who have most benefited from a social democracy that urged us to value citizens in terms of what they were instead of what they did.

And so it is that the moral black hole this Coalition of half-baked humans inhabits is bound to fail, time and again, to properly impact on our sense of right and wrong.

We’ve been taught for far too long that what you do isn’t what you are.

To such an extent that what they are is affected in no significant way by what they do.

And even as they lambast us for our relativistic ways, they continue to ruthlessly take full advantage of the room for manoeuvre such generous morals do allow.

Apr 282013

It’s really getting tricky to work out exactly what is going on.  Two examples come to mind:

Which brings me to this recent epetition requesting that someone devise laws that would cover at least the latter case:

Ban MPs from voting on matters in which they have a financial interest

Responsible department: Office of the Leader of the House of Commons

We call on HM Government for new legislation to ensure that:

i. No member of Parliament may speak or vote in a debate on legislation which could financially benefit any commercial operation in which they have a financial interest; and

ii. No member of Parliament may speak or vote in a debate on legislation which could financially benefit any commercial operation which has made – or currently makes – donations to themselves personally or their political party.

We believe this is necessary to prevent corruption. It is also in accord with the spirit of political reform supported by the government.

And this is why I point this out to you today: mainly because I don’t believe the real issue to hand is working out what our leaders HAVE done.  That is the job of journalists and other politicians – that is the job of all those who oversee how things work.  No.  I think the real issue to hand is quite another one.  As I tweeted a few minutes ago:

Leaders have spent last 30 years passing laws to control us in order we didn’t notice laws which for their own benefit they haven’t passed.

And when I say leaders, I do mean both business and political.  It’s what they DON’T do which should really be occupying us now.

Why has our democracy stumbled into the 21st century with no legislation of import in place to prevent those with certain financial interests from voting on a matter they will benefit directly or indirectly from?

Why have our allegedly free markets been built upon the foundations of a money-pricing system which allows the major banking corporations to collude in fixing their levels?

What other aspects of latterday democratic life simply choose to ignore pressing legal matters such as these – and prefer, instead, to pass laws relating to a whole host of curiously repressive regimes which only really affect the ordinary people?

And where they also – gently but persistently, and into the bargain – end up improperly distracting us from the above.

After all, we’ve had a plethora of constructive and revealing websites and organisations which continually register, define and explain what our leaders have been getting up to and are doing.  Isn’t it time, now, that we began to do the same with everything else – that is to say, everything else they quite deliberately HAVEN’T done?

Time for yet another Internet list then?

The hugely important list of all the major pieces of legislation, which those whose intention it is to seriously hobble democracy and free markets have made bloody damn well sure should never happen.

So anyone know where we might start?

Bite-sized replies on a virtual postcard, please!

Apr 032013

I’ve watched, very sadly, the decline and fall of my beloved BBC.  Perhaps it was always going to be a government mouthpiece of sorts.  But whilst governments still represented the median voter, that their (our) public broadcasting systems also might molly-coddle the politicos … well, it somehow didn’t seem so important back then; somehow didn’t seem so grave.

Whilst there is clear evidence out there that the BBC has failed, for government-led ideological and propaganda reasons, to properly report issues of the day, I’m not sure – at least to date – whether anyone accused it of re-engineering the future.  But today I think we have such a case.  Today we get “The Great British Class Survey”.  Its top-down motivations can be better understood here:

Policy makers tend to focus primarily on the economic dimension of class. Concepts like progressive taxation (taxing richer people more heavily than poorer people) are a good example of this.

Increasingly, the social dimension of class is receiving some attention, with initiatives to improve networking opportunities for people who are otherwise socially excluded.

But the cultural aspect of class has so far largely been ignored, perhaps because it is a broad yet subtle concept that can be difficult to measure. The problem is, if we don’t measure it, we can’t know how important it is and how much it influences people’s chances in life.

Especially where we discover its publication will take place:

[...] The data from this survey will be analysed by Professors Savage and Devine and the findings will be published in a suitable peer-reviewed journal.

So essentially a massive survey, which serves to cement the idea that society should be described in a highly fragmented and supposedly snakes and ladders way (presumably looking to promote the idea of a meritocracy where everyone gets the opportunity to climb the multiple ladders of self-betterment), will be carried out through the BBC‘s sponsoring of a mass, and freely obtained, participation by maybe hundreds and thousands of licence-payers – only to end up a) in the naive data-crunching hands of academia, and b) in the insolently ruthless clutches of think-tank folk everywhere.

For the Lord only knows what’ll be made of the findings – or indeed how they will be used, in quite partisan ways, to drive further wedges into a future self-interested stratification of our nation.

But here’s a pointer if you still don’t fully understand the potential implications.  Try substituting the word “class” in the title of this survey with the word “caste” – and then see how you feel about it all:

Caste is a form of social stratification characterized by endogamy, hereditary transmission of a style of life which often includes an occupation, ritual status in a hierarchy, and customary social interaction and exclusion based on cultural notions of purity and pollution.[1][2] [...]

Ring any bells?  Does to me, anyhow.

There is, after all, a very fine line between simply describing a situation and ending up prescribing it – especially through the critical framework you elect and the publicity you give to its launch. And the launch that has been given does, I’m afraid, make me doubt its future political neutrality.

In fact, whatever happened to the idea we were all human beings?  You know, those human beings at the suffering edge of 21st century history, who were encouraged so firmly to find ourselves “all in it together”.

Oh, these button-pressing, number-crunching academic, political and business leaders!  What blessed obsessions with getting to know us via our stats they do exhibit.

Don’t you really just love ‘em?

Mar 182013

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.

Mar 082013

The job of a politician, fairly so too, is to tell lies.  That is to say, not tell the truth as it is but tell the truth as he or she would wish it to be.  Politicians deal more in the future than the present.  The present is an inconvenience – it is more difficult to shape and manipulate.  Much easier it is likely to be to convince a voting public that tomorrow may just be the corner we are hoping to turn than to convince them that today is not quite as miserable as it (manifestly) is experienced.

In fact, to take care of a voter’s expectations with respect to the future is probably to take care of how they feel about the present.

The past, meanwhile, is for the irritating elephantine figures amongst us who – with their considerable memories – tie down flights of fancy with a reality all too inarguable.

Better ignored, then, instead of faced up to.  Better proscribed instead of prescribed.

Now we all understand and appreciate, I think, the moments in the political cycle when politicians enthuse.  Tony Blair was good at this; John F Kennedy for the Americans too.  When such salespeople of gloriously word-ridden ideals make our emotions fly with their clever crystallisations of moments in a country’s history, we feel – all of us – that anything might be possible.  Whether in adversity or in a time of great advances, a nation’s spirit – how millions feel about themselves and about their environments – can be productively affected by the simple declamations of political leaders.

In companies, some CEOs can do the same.

And in all these cases, in their upsides and downsides, we encounter both the power of that human spirit to overcome and reshape reality as well as a profound appreciation of the value such people add to our experiences of life.

There is, however, a much darker side to these professional communicators: communicators for some – or, as I said the other day, obfuscators for others.  What do we understand by those moments when such leaders claim to have a quite different relationship with the future – those occasions when they say they are taking hard decisions and proceeding to tell us tough truths?  What is the point of such behaviours – and how do we react?  Bad news seems to travel fast, it is true – but, more curiously, bad news seems, like a cinéma vérité surface of edgy camera angles, to engender its own weight of inarguable veracity.  We seem to believe more readily the depressions of tough political love than the emotions of sky-soaring pleasure.

The question then arises: when politicians engage in such behaviours – the tough political love, I mean – what are they really engaging in?  Knowing, as they must, that whole economies will see their precious confidence exhausted, shouldn’t we be suspicious of any political salesperson who chooses to paint a situation as negatively as they possibly can?

What are they trying to achieve?

What are their true aims?

Isn’t it – simply – a desire to fully manage the moods, and perhaps the overarching ability to fight back too, not only of an entire environment but also of an entire people?

Beware the salesperson who chooses to be that bearer of bad news.  They are only out to control you even more than those who – more normally – only choose to sell you the good.

Mar 072013

Rick has a lovely piece on defending bureaucracy as a Good Thing.  It starts off like this:

Gus O’Donnell presented a thought-provoking programme on Radio 4 this morning, In Defence of Bureaucracy. He presented two arguments. Firstly, you can’t get much done without basic organisation. Secondly, bureaucracy, with its formal rules, offers protection from the arbitrary whims and prejudices of those in power.

I suggest you read it in its entirety.  It’s not just a piece about bureaucracy in government.  It’s also a piece about bureaucracy in the private sector.  This paragraph, for example:

Bureaucracy is the corporate equivalent of the rule of law. It protects people from arbitrary decisions inside the organisation. Rules and procedures give people clarity about their roles, their scope for decision making and their boundaries. Like the rule of law, they protect employees from random and vindictive treatment by their bosses. It has become very fashionable to deride bureaucracy but working in organisations with fewer rules and procedures can be just as unpleasant. Trying to second guess the whims of a maverick autocratic boss can be every bit as energy draining and innovation stifling as working in a bureaucracy.

In essence, as a set of democratic societies, we could not have arrived at where we are if it hadn’t been for the law-engendering instincts of overarching rules, processes and procedures.

It’s clear, therefore, that our impulsive perceptions of bureaucracy need a makeover.  We need to perceive it with a greater sense of its complex contribution to latterday civilisation.  Therein the rub, of course.  There’s plenty of evidence that bureaucracy – and its fairly widely independent relationship to political masters – makes it a perfect vehicle for doing ill too.  Just because a bureaucracy religiously ensures that rules, processes and procedures are followed to the letter doesn’t mean that only good may necessarily spring forth: if the rules, processes and procedures in question are malignant in nature, the result will be unkind.  What’s more, pretty consistently – even remorselessly – unkind.

The most obvious example is how the Nazis appropriated the Weimar Republic’s institutions.  But we also have an example much closer to home:

Patient interests were neglected for years by NHS mangers as hospitals concentrated on cutting waiting times at the expense of good care, the head of the service admitted today.

Sir David Nicholson accepted that he was “part” of an environment where the leadership of the NHS “lost its focus” and which indirectly led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of patients at Stafford Hospital.

Now it still seems the latter case is being the subject of much political football – the Tories have recently blamed the previous Labour government for, I assume, its attachment to targets (perhaps, in this case, the wrong ones – that is to say, the easiest ones to measure); meanwhile, the Labour opposition is calling for Nicholson to resign his current responsibility as driver of highly unpopular government-organised change at the NHS.

As I’ve said on a previous occasion:

If you think about it, the pyramid which reaches pointy-headed to the sky is actually totally absurd.  As the work gets more complex and challenging, we use fewer heads to decide what needs to be done.  The chances of committing errors, of stressing oneself into illness, of failing to achieve one’s targets … these are all bound to increase with the traditional pyramid we are all used to.

Surely this is madness.

Surely we need if not a cylinder, at the very least a pyramid without a considerable part of its upper superstructure.

And as Shuggy concisely points out:

From the Hootsmon:

“Excessive hierarchy must become a thing of the past. Upward communication must be encouraged and constructive criticism should be positively received.”

The remedy for this is, apparently, to give those at the top of the hierarchy more power:

“Headteachers should be seen as the chief executives of largely autonomous organisations…”

Kier Bloomer being desperately stupid in a way that only intelligent people can be. I’ll make this my last post on education for some time because this stuff makes me so depressed I can’t stand it.

Again as I’ve said on other occasions, where we currently find ourselves is here:

Where managerialism takes over, and where hierarchies reduce the number of people involved as the tasks get more complex, we get the big-hitter striker syndrome: a man or woman at the top on whom everyone is focussed. A man or woman on whom everything depends. A man or woman who will one day fail; or perhaps, over time, frequently fails – but has the physical presence to convince us they are, even so, actually succeeding; and so deserve the massive salaries they command. [...]

Bureaucracies and top executives – or corporate law and CEOs, if you wish – are complicated relationships, after all.  It’s true, of course, that bureaucracies can act as a dead hand on individually dangerous and maverick leaders.  But as the Nazis showed us, and as the concept of charismatic leadership more widely demonstrates, a stratospheric leadership structure can just as easily use a bureaucracy to escape conviction and control as that very same bureaucracy can serve to ameliorate the former’s wilder instincts.

If we want to continue to believe we can use bureaucracy as a force for good, we need – first and foremost – to sort out the ever-growing dysfunctionality of pyramidal structures, as well as the inefficient concentrations of wealth that accompany it.

Mar 032013

This post is about two tweets which came my way yesterday.  Both speak of the importance of personal responsibility.  The first describes its reach in private industry (in this case, I believe in relation to a recent story on the freemium app industry):

Companies are made of people, and people have a responsibility for their actions, inc. developing (potentially) exploitative freemium games

The second, which came my way hot on the heels of the first, said much the same thing – only, this time, in the context of the NHS (the Mid-Staffordshire scandal comes immediately to mind):

The best managers help clinical staff treat according to need and make patients healthier, not enforce NHS policy whatever the consequences

Meanwhile, in an oxymoron-like diatribe of the weakest kind against everything and anything New Labour ever did, David Cameron has this to say in today’s Sunday Telegraph:

That is what everything this Government does comes back to: the future. We are looking at the horizon, not tomorrow’s headlines; doing what’s right for the long-term. Thirty years ago, Margaret Thatcher said that we should be “in the business of planting trees, for our children and grandchildren, or we have no business to be in politics at all”.

I couldn’t agree more. In 30 years’ time, I want people to be able to look back at this government and see that we paid down our debts, helped create millions of jobs, sorted out welfare, made our schools world-beating and built homes for a generation.

Doing this kind of work might not earn you popularity points in by-elections, but it’s what I’m in politics for: making the country we love as great as it can be.

I haven’t heard that “planting trees” metaphor for really quite a while.  I suppose we’ll have Michael Gove telling us next that we should all write a novel before we die.

I’m also just a little puzzled – maybe out of technical ignorance – as to why he says “paid down our debts” instead of “paid off“.  Unless, of course, he means that it’s going to be the little people at the bottom of the pile who’ll always end up saving the Tories from their economic selves.

But perhaps this is all just a little too nitpicking on my part.

In truth, it’s always going to be the people who make a difference to any society.  Politicians of the kind who tend to rule us prefer to ignore this.  If they didn’t, they’d have to engage us in their processes – they’d have to get us involved and actively participating.  Far easier to blame an anonymous public-sector bureaucracy – and shift the responsibility stealthily onto equally anonymous private-sector equivalents – than to admit that the root of all our problems lies not in our systems but their application.

It’s not so much a new education system we need – it’s more a system teachers and students know how to work with.

It’s not so much a new legal system we need – it’s more a system whose costs victims and other participants don’t have to fear.

It’s not so much a new health system we need – it’s more a system which provides support as and when a person becomes a patient in need.

The Welfare State is the way to make our society less inhumane.  It’s in our grasp – but it is a choice.  We can spend considerable resource on allowing the fortunate to further concentrate their good fortune – or we can deliberately decide to give the less fortunate the consideration, charity and kindness most belief systems have tended to argue should be made forthcoming.

But what we have to accept is that, either way, it’s a choice.  If we choose to fashion a world where we must walk on the other side of the road from that homeless man who dies at the doorstep of a bungalow, we can.  We will do so, I am sure, in order that ambitious alpha men and women can – amongst the disasters they also commit – achieve what they undoubtedly do.  And this is clearly an act of socioeconomic decision-making at the highest level, committed by coherent men and women.  It is a freely-taken decision. It is an unforced decision to let some people live better at the expense of others.  It is a statistical calculation of risks that approves of achievement at the very top, even as it judges society will not rise up in arms and disintegrate as a result of the anonymous homeless dying distastefully in the streets.

If, on the other hand, we opt to help such homeless people – if our goal is to create a socioeconomic environment where this kind of action is prioritised over other, more aggressively innovative, behaviours – we may create, again entirely consciously and deliberately, a society where survival is ameliorated for a far greater number of our souls here on earth, even as achievement measured objectively loses its bleeding edges.

And either way, to come back to the original set of choices, and whether politicians like it or not, if anything turns out right, it’ll come down not to systems they proudly and powerfully announce but, rather, to their humane application – or otherwise – by people who look and act and feel like you and me.

That personal responsibility.

That core humanity.

That attachment to caring at an individual level for each and every relationship.

That love, even.

That kindness, generously imparted.

Far more important for a classroom than this textbook or that is the mind that plans the lesson around a book and the hands that clutch its spine.

For the funny thing about Cameron’s oxymoron of a weak diatribe is that there was very little in it I found myself fiercely disagreeing with.  Oh, yes.  Those silly sentences on immigration.  The daftness around welfare.  But in reality, the poor man knows exactly what we need to do.  Like when he says, almost pleadingly (the bold is mine):

These are not claims or promises: they are facts. We are turning the tide on years of decline — and building a Britain for those who work hard and want to get on. And we need to go further. We need to get more houses built. We need to build new roads and railways and energy connections. Some reading this may not like that; but as I have made clear, this is not a popularity contest but a battle for Britain’s future.

The problem isn’t the words, David.  The problem is the people.

In fact, the problem – more widely expressed – is your, and your professional class’s, attitude to people in general.  The fact is that systems, for high-flying politicians, are like electromagnets of recent generation: when you have the opportunity to choose between getting people voluntarily onside or creating a foolproof system designed to cage them into a certain set of behaviours, you can guarantee any minister worth their caviar will be pulled inexorably in the direction of implementing a brand-new system over convincing ordinary people to work better with an existing one.

I really do sometimes get the feeling that Cameron and some of his cohort are locked painfully into the wrong party of UKIP-incubating MPs and hangers-on.  If only he, and perhaps they, had chosen Labour, we could right now be facing another decade of government.

Maybe I should now spoil this post for you (or, alternatively, not) by saying how very much that idea makes me shudder.

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t.


They say familiarity may breed contempt.

I’m inclined, however, to believe that being a politician (of empire-building instincts, at least) makes one contemptuous of the familiar.

In this, both One Nation Labour and the more traditional Conservative impulses, which Cameron has appealed to in his text today, have aimed to reassure potential voters in a time of utter uncertainty that being British, in itself, is quite enough to be getting on with.

But in the end, they are all just words – both Cameron’s and Miliband’s, I’m afraid.

In a sense, I get the feeling that our politicians are likely to be as lost here as the rest of us.  And in this realisation (as Poirot might suggest!), I find the future most terrifying.

Where ordinary people would be the real solution, our leaders are now only able to work with systems.

The systems have taken over to such an extent that these ordinary people I mention truly have no impact whatsoever on the results – even as they end up shouldering all the blood-spattered blame.

The personal responsibility which I started this post with is impossible to properly engineer or encourage.  We spend our time terrified of the juggernaut-like mechanisms that threaten to bury our professional futures in a careering disgrace.  We hide, like frightened rabbits, from the oncoming lights which should illuminate – but which, in the end, serve only to make the shadows evermore powerful.

Yes.  It’s the people, stupid.

And our leaders are too stupid to realise it.