Jul 282014
 
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Bit of a serious title today – but I think the topic is serious too.

Gordon Brown finished off an interesting article the other day with this phrase:

Girls should be able to study in a classroom, free of fear and without the need to demonstrate on the streets. This is a basic right; ensuring that it is respected cannot come soon enough.

The article was about the dreadful mass-kidnapping of girls in Nigeria by extremists.  It describes a situation which in no way is comparable to the UK.  However, even so, I am minded to remember these stories on the Big Society and compare and contrast in the following way.

For starters, when in 2012 David Cameron said the arrival of food banks proved the Big Society was putting its best foot forward – “First of all let me echo what he said about volunteers and people who work hard in communities, part of what I call the ‘Big Society’, to help those in need” (further observations six months later from the Guardian here) – I don’t suppose those he imagined to be in such desperate need were going to be his political and business sponsors and cronies.  But exactly this, so it turns out, would now seem to have been the case all along:

An investigation has begun into the use of taxpayer-funded grants by the charity set up to lead David Cameron’s “big society” initiative.

The Charity Commission was examining whether funding for a childhood obesity project was used to pay the debts of a linked company, the Independent reported on Saturday. The commission was also seeking more information on payments allegedly made for consultancy services to two directors of the Big Society Network (BSN) and its chair, Martyn Rose, a Conservative Party donor.

News of the investigation comes days after a public spending watchdog issued a critical report about how National Lottery and government funds were handed over to and used by the BSN.

I have to say I was suspicious of the Big Society idea and its concrete implementation from quite early on.  As long ago as 2010, I suggested that:

Meanwhile, as a secondary question to the thrust of this post’s thesis but of obvious relevance nevertheless, if it does rather more eagerly include the retired and semi-retired – curiously enough, those generally most conservative in outlook and interests – the question then will be why?

Thirdly, because any institution, community or nexus of people will lose its ability to stay free of corruption and its resulting inefficiencies, the more similar and alike its component parts become – something all of us should surely wish to avoid.  Yet, the profile – or ratio – of inclusion versus exclusion as described above would seem to suggest that the Conservatives do not anticipate giving everyone an equal handle on the levers of power.  And this is why I suggest the big society idea may lead to what I also called the Mediterraneanisation of our communities – where families and personal contacts are far more important and far more highly prized in the governance of our society than those transparent, and supposedly more objective, processes and procedures that belong to a more technocratic way of doing things.

So to come back to my initial question and add a second: is there evidence that the big society idea aims to exclude?  I would suggest that it is beginning to appear – would seem to be evermore patent, in fact, as the big society idea’s definition and coalescing inevitably allows us to better understand the ambush of ideas it has involved.

As a by-the-by, then, and in bloody irritating hindsight, it would seem that the aforementioned “ambush of ideas” – designed not only to forestall fears of the abandonment of compassion by the state and all its works (and that many of us suspected would be the case from 2010 onwards) but also to proactively fill the deep pockets of Cameron & Co’s ideological partners with the public dosh thus leveraged – was indeed sprung on us, for a precious four years during which the Tory right have operated with a calculated impunity.

Yet what is most galling about the whole process is that precisely this clicktivist activation of our democracy – from the efficient and hugely competent organisation of food banks to online petitions to virtual communities of mums, the disabled and the poorest in society, quite unwilling to take all this rubbish lying down – has been advertised by Cameron & Co as a demonstration of everything they’ve been looking to unleash in the British character.

Yes.  Despite the #gagginglaw, the #bedroomtax, the destruction of so many disabled support mechanisms, #DRIP’s appalling process and colluded agreement, the scapegoating of immigration, benefit recipients and the poorer in society in general, the destroying of the NHS, Legal Aid and other parts of the welfare state, the fiddling of unemployment figures and economic data and so much more … despite all of this, what’s been and what’s to come, we’re all supposedly so much freer than we were before because – precisely by the art of Coalition magic – we’ve all become incredibly engaged with the very essence of what it is to be a democratic citizen.  That is to say, the very fact that we’re demonstrating day after day is proof of the Coalition’s pudding of ideological wisdom and strategic ingenuity. 

And this proof I describe?  Where does it lie?

In the levels of activity that manifestly exist, of course.

No?

Well.

This brings me back to Gordon Brown’s conclusion that I quoted at the top of today’s post.  And here I paraphrase and amend slightly:

Democratic citizens should be able to participate in a society, free of fear and without the need to demonstrate on the streets. This is a basic right; ensuring that it is respected cannot come soon enough.

For that, dear reader, is where we stand right now.  There are levels of activity and levels of activity.  What Cameron & Co have done to our democracy is not to democratise, free up or unleash a natural instinct to participation.  If only that had happened, we wouldn’t be in the mess we currently find ourselves in.

No.  What Cameron & Co have done is transfer to a wider society, impose upon a broader citizenry and implement aggressively the destructive dynamics that all Westminster’s politicians eventually become accustomed to.  And whilst I’m sure Ed Miliband’s heart is in the right place when he suggests that people are bussed to Parliament to take regular part in a carefully controlled PMQs, created (I suppose) for the acceptable face of the voting populace and plebs out there, he really does need to go much farther than that: it’s not the people who should be allowed gingerly into Parliament but Parliament which needs rapidly to understand the noxious effect its traditions are having on a nation of once already sincerely participative and constructive subjects – people brought up to believe in collaboration, and who’ve been retrained in a sadly Pavlovian way to use “social-media screech” as a placebo for true political involvement and consensus.

Our democracy is not healthy at the moment, simply because so many of us are screaming our pain.  It will, however, of this I am sure, one day revert to a rude and welcome wellbeing when, finally, we get the political class we deserve – that class, I mean, which comes ultimately from the people themselves, and understands – from personal experience – that noise and communication are not things we should ever carelessly confuse.


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Jul 242014
 
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Yesterday, I read this phrase quoted from Tim O’Reilly (the bold is mine):

We couldn’t agree more: “Technology should be about values with people at the centre” @timoreilly #OSCON2014 #OSCON

This afternoon, meanwhile, I read three amazing articles – all of which, in some way, may lead to a final fixing of our broken political process.

The first article is from Wired UK, and describes how the tech industry is leading to increasing inequality.  A lack of morality – manifested by the industry everywhere, as well as large corporations in all sectors since the beginning of capitalism – leads to “ordinary people” being forced out of their suburbs.  The wealth generated by workers, who with their interconnected technologies can set up business anywhere, soon distorts and deforms the social patterns and financial dynamics of every community they set their eyes on:

[...] The tech community has the ear of government, a lot cash and the skills to truly change the lives of people across the world. And while some do, like those building open software, along with proponents of the clean web and those trying to address human rights abuses in device manufacturing, the majority do not. US psychologist Paul Piff calls the growing detachment of the super-rich, simply, the “asshole effect”.

The second article comes from the Guardian back in June (again, worth reading in its entirety), linked to from the Wired UK report above.  And it asserts things like this – things I have failed to hear for a long time but which were music to my ears a naive decade ago:

So how does open source everything have the potential to ‘re-engineer the Earth’? For me, this is the most important question, and Steele’s answer is inspiring. “Open Source Everything overturns top-down ‘because I say so at the point of a gun’ power. Open Source Everything makes truth rather than violence the currency of power. Open Source Everything demands that true cost economics and the indigenous concept of ‘seventh generation thinking’ – how will this affect society 200 years ahead – become central. Most of our problems today can be traced to the ascendance of unilateral militarism, virtual colonialism, and predatory capitalism, all based on force and lies and encroachment on the commons. The national security state works for the City of London and Wall Street – both are about to be toppled by a combination of Eastern alternative banking and alternative international development capabilities, and individuals who recognise that they have the power to pull their money out of the banks and not buy the consumer goods that subsidise corruption and the concentration of wealth. The opportunity to take back the commons for the benefit of humanity as a whole is open – here and now.”

A perfect riposte to Google & Co’s Melian dialogues, I think.

The final article which – at least in my opinion – serves to build on the first two is this one from today, also published in the Guardian.  In it, Cory Doctorow suggests that the very tech which has corrupted further our politics can be turned round and used for and by the people to recover integrity.  As he concludes most powerfully (again, the bold is mine):

This threshold-style action system is at the heart of Kickstarter (pledge whatever you like, but no one has to spend anything unless enough money is raised to see the project to completion) and it’s utterly adaptable to elections.

In democracies all over the world, voting is in decline. A permanent political class has emerged, and what it has to offer benefits a small elite at the public’s wider expense.

We hear a lot from tech circles about “disruption” of complacent, arrogant and entrenched industries. Politics is the foremost example of such an industry and it’s overdue for disruption.

Incidentally, this afternoon a short Slideshare came my way.  I’ll embed it below so you can see that others are having similar thoughts:

And as an adjunct to all the above, back in 2012 I suggested this alternative to our first-past-the-post electoral system, where I said things like this:

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.

*

To my final observation today.  We all know how “Citizen Kane” turned out, of course.  But maybe a “Citizen Kane 2.0″ could be worth pursuing.  Imagine that a campaigning paper of the history of an organisation like the British Guardian, say, decided that – with all its present online and virtual experience and activity – it might be able to do much more than freely comment the world’s events.  Initiate, proactively participate, manage, channel and forge a new politics as per some of the ideas contained in this post today … in particular with respect to what Doctorow proposes.  Now wouldn’t that be a fine and life-changing experience for not only the journalists and readers already involved – but also for the wider population of despairing citizens?

Reshape parliamentary process through the very technology that has so fiercely pwned – in the nakedly Melian terms I mentioned earlier – every step of 21st century governance as we have experienced it to date; reform the process of exchange and blur the lines of hierarchy intelligently between leaders and led, between the thinkers and the thought; and remake, finally, the balance of power amongst those who promise so much and those who are lied to so frequently.

A temptation too far?  Come on, you clever bods of the written word.  Remind yourselves truly: the pen is mightier than the sword.

(But in order to be so, it needs occasionally to be unsheathed …)


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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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Jun 152014
 
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I haven’t read Tony Blair’s intervention on the subject of going back to blowing up pieces of Iraq.  I should do but I haven’t.  The very idea is painfully tortuous: a medieval rack for the eyes one might argue.  An “eye rack” in fact.

It’s not a joke either – even as it makes out it’s a pun.  In a world where so much information is now being distributed visually, our poor old windows on the soul are being mercilessly pummelled.

I’ve always considered myself a reader of certain understanding; always felt I was generally good at detecting a hollow thought or an empty lie.  But latterly I’ve begun to lose faith in what I considered my former ability to discern the wheat from the chaff.  Now, whilst doing so, I feel I’ve begun to keep the chaff closer to hand.  The wheat is becoming for others to value; maybe, in the end, for none of us to care about.

Where Blair has been right all along is to draw our attention to the dangers of a post-modernist relativism.  Where he’s been utterly wrong, meanwhile, is in his solutions to this issue.  Solutions which range from faith schools to US presidential colonialist adventures to an anti-democratically stratospheric body politic.  Yet, in a parallel universe, a man of his talents and intelligence and abilities to synthesise complex informations could so easily have – maybe would so easily have – decanted for an evidence-based approach to life, society and the future.

But perhaps in our universe this is just one simple step too far.  How much easier it is to stand on the ceremony of prejudice; how much easier it is to act out of historical tablets of received opinion – an opinion as tidily written by one’s compatriots and supporters as any self-serving professional could hope for; how much easier it is to side with an opinion that never gets down amongst the dirty dirty of death, pools of violent blood, maimed limbs, war rape – and endlessly long queues of detachedly, hardly walking, eye-racked human beings.

It’s daft to repeat the obvious any more.  But here I go, right ahead, doing it anyway.  Politicians have a job; they see this clearly as their job; their job is to do and act out and perform what no one would ever do if they themselves had to get down amongst that dirty dirty.  The job of politicians (as seen by the politicians, as seen by those who act as their hangers-on, by those who live by what politicians do, by those who make a living from the actions that emerge from political discourse) is to take decisions that – always, everywhere and every time – are directly designed to damage a huge minority of the people (where not more successfully an actual majority) in the interests of an idea of some idiotic sort or other.

Ideas are such powerful diamond-like things to be turned around in the light.  They glitter and shine like daggers to the heart-like parts of humanity.  In a sense, then, politics involves the simply enabling of pain: dressing up pain, that is, in calm and collected speechifying in order that those who may suffer the consequences – generally that huge minority I mention above (where not the actual majority I also refer to) – understand, appreciate and more importantly resignedly accept the inevitability of the processes put into place.

Democracy isn’t just an “eye rack” any more; democracy isn’t just a standing on the ceremony of prejudice either.  Democracy is a cruel stamping on the everyday bunions of all those low-waged, unwaged, poorly-employed and under-employed people who no longer – even where it was ever the case (which I doubt) – find themselves in possession of the time to properly participate in society.

“Eye rack” is no longer just a dagger to the heart of international relations.  “Eye rack” is also what the brutalising effect of sanctioning the legal killing of so many men, women and children in far away places has had on our wider political class and the politicians who form a part of it.  When it finally becomes easy – and if not easy then certainly commonplace – to order from thousands of miles away the killing of collaterally innocent people, in the future (though highly unpredictable) interests of supposedly “better” societies, who wouldn’t find it far less of a tiresome chore to commit his or her own people to the simply corrosive violence of austerity?

Attacking the disabled is but one example of this: an example of where a generation of foreign violence has impacted the moral compass of a whole class of political operators to the extent that – as people are forced to take to food banks in their millions – these professional makers and shakers bat not an eyelid when they find themselves in government and with the power to affect circumstance; meanwhile, in opposition – as the counterparts of the first coldly allow such suffering citizens to be used as long-term strategic cannon fodder in two-, three- or even (now) four-way battles – the parties across the floor find themselves similarly unwilling to question the fundamental assumptions that led us here.

Life, humanity and societies are closed systems.  It’s mathematical, Mr Blair & Co.  And by Mr Blair & Co I mean all politicians, whatever their hue or cry.  You push and hurt those at this end; you’ll end up being equally pushed and hurt at the other.

In the end, violence begets violence.  Though sometimes the violent at the top of the pyramid get away with it long enough for the history books to end up truly loving them, cementing their positions in such a way that we are reminded more of the splayed hands of Hollywood stars than the concrete boots they’d formerly deserve.

That’s been the lesson of “eye rack” all along.  But in what they’ve called an information revolution, nothing has really changed at all.

Well, one thing has.

Violence has now become acceptable for the sophisticated.

Violence has now become a tool for the cosmopolitan.

Violence doesn’t make you bad any more.

Violence just makes you expediently efficient.

And what’s more, violence of all kinds and types and classes has ended up part and parcel of good governance in a way that was never the case before.

Certainly, never the case before this Coalition came along.

This Coalition, you understand, of the Willing Gagging.


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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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Oct 122013
 
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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.


http://youtu.be/PivWY9wn5ps


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Sep 022013
 
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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.

Right?

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.


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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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Jul 022013
 
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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?

Ha.

Ha.

Bloody ha.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For all of us, that is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even, dare I say, a new Labour!


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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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Mar 082013
 
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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.


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Jan 062013
 
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Imagine going naked onto a battlefield every day of your life.  Imagine being a civilian caught up in the collateral damage of professional warriors.  Imagine having to swallow the ideology of people who claim to know what’s best for you.

Imagine, if you will, a war where you have no place which is not that of passive observer; where the stray bullets kill your desire to live even when they miss you by a mile; where the powerful have the whole bloody armoury in their possession and all you can do is observe their trigger-happy antics.

Imagine, in fact, what it must have been like to live in a Sarajevo under siege:

The siege of Sarajevo, as it came to be popularly known, was an episode of such notoriety in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia that one must go back to World War II to find a parallel in European history. Not since then had a professional army conducted a campaign of unrelenting violence against the inhabitants of a European city so as to reduce them to a state of medieval deprivation in which they were in constant fear of death. In the period covered in this Indictment, there was nowhere safe for a Sarajevan, not at home, at school, in a hospital, from deliberate attack.

— Prosecution Opening Statement, ICTY vs Stanislav Galić, 2003[14]

*

It’s nowhere near the same in latterday British politics, of course.  Not yet, anyhow.  Not for a while.  Or is it?

In a way, in a very figurative way that is, perhaps it really is the same.  Perhaps that’s why we hate our politicians so very much.  And, in a very great sense, we are wrong to blame them for it.

I am minded to voice the above thoughts on the back of this piece by Gloria de Piero over at Labour List at the moment.  In it, she describes the results of a poll she commissioned which revealed that a quarter of people interviewed would – in what is admittedly a rather hypothetical context – seriously consider becoming an MP:

Imagine you were in your thirties or forties, and friends of yours suggested you should stand for election to become an MP. What do you think your reaction would be?

Enthusiatic: I’d definitely consider standing – 6%

Interested: I might consider standing – 18%

Total enthusiastic/interested – 24 %

And this is the conclusion she comes to as a result (the bold is mine):

To end on a positive note – the good news for the Labour Party is that of those that voted for the Labour Party at the 2010 election, Labour voters were most likely to be enthusiastic or interested in standing for election and we were least likely to say ‘I don’t like politicians and the way politics works’ though these figures did change when Yougov asked about future voting intention with more Lib dems saying they would want to stand. But I think there’s all to play for the People’s Party in working to create a One Nation Parliament which looks and sounds like Britain.

That bit about the Lib Dems is what caught my attention.  If I’ve understood the data correctly, we’re saying here that those who must feel most frustrated at the moment – most under siege, that is, to use my opening metaphor – are those who’d most like to empower themselves through getting a direct hand on the levers (where not triggers) of power.

It’s not just the Lib Dems either.  When we say how we hate politics and politicians, what we’re really saying is that we don’t like to be swept up in a war where we are only ever collateral damage; a war where we are the victims of megaphone politics; a war where a system reserves for itself a right to behave as uncooperatively as it does, without allowing affected civilians and non-combatants to arm themselves in their own defence.

It’s that level killing-field which Thatcher and Hurd refused to sanction during the Balkan conflicts: an awfully unequal hierarchy of combat, happening all over again in Cameron’s Britain.

In essence, what I’m saying here is that when de Piero’s poll indicates that a quarter of all our voters would be interested in becoming MPs, it’s not so much because they believe in the system and want to dutifully participate but – rather – precisely because they have come to conclude that the system is inevitably a war.  And this 24 percent is now sufficiently unhappy with sitting passively on the outside looking in, whilst the practising politicians continue to toss fiscal, conceptual and intellectual hand grenades at this poor group or that, that they’re looking to fight back – interestingly enough, even on the terms which the existing system requires – by acquiring their own box of sufficiently inflammable and destructive political weapons.

When the Lib Dems, or indeed you or I, say we’d be interested in becoming an MP, what we’re really admitting to is being mightily fed up of being shot at.

What we’re really admitting to is that we’d much rather get the opportunity to do a bit of shooting back.

And really, what this poll is also beginning to reveal is that considerable support is building here in England for a figurative Second Amendment – in amongst the least likely of places, peoples and parties.


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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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