Nov 232014

I’ve been variously bemused, perplexed, uncertain and – ultimately – horrified by the revelations which started to come out drip-feed journalism style – and have now become highly publicly-domained information of a strugglingly disorientating nature.

At the last general election, in 2010, the MPs’ expenses scandal cast a long shadow over our already weary relationship with British politics.

Now you’d think that with all the hagiography around the 1980s and Thatcher, and the number of Tories/UKIP supporters who’ve professed to loving the idea of retreading her legacy, there’d be some growing reservations to expressing such self-absorption – particularly in the light of this “paedophile Britain” series of stories.

At the moment I don’t see it happening.  Perhaps discretion is the better part of sincerity.

Anyhow.  I guess I see a pattern emerging.  What I’m not entirely sure about is who benefits.

This is how I see it progressing.  In the period leading up to 2010, expenses trashed our little remaining trust of politicians.  Cameron became visible on his many promises to clean the muck-ridden political stable-yard up.  Conservatives furiously re-branded with lovely logos of strong sustainable English oaks.  We didn’t quite believe him enough to give him a majority, but we did believe him just about enough to allow him to get his hands on a coalition process.

As the Coalition built up steam, it reverted to a Thatcherism of awful resilience; awful porkie-telling; further, deeper and more deadly implementation; and profounder violence against the subjects it was supposed to govern on behalf of.

As this process continued, it reverted even proudly to the 1980s (after all, remember all those – I’m sure sincere – tears shed at Thatcher’s funeral) – and I assume in the light of the recent news mentioned above, without any knowledge whatsoever of what’s now apparently seeping out at the seams.

But someone, some organisation, some people not in the limelight surely did know, all this time, what the legacy of the 1980s was really like.  This hidden scandal of monumental proportions is threatening to overtake the whole agenda of the 2015 general election – in much the same way as Cameron & Co came to power (I shan’t say “won”) an election on the back of the disgraceful after-effects of the expenses shenanigans.

What should’ve been an election run on the basis of the Coalition’s reputation and political behaviours is looking now to become a judgement – maybe ultimately a judgment! – on a political leadership and time which even New Labour seemed to demonstrate a certain respect for.

Who can now respect the 1980s?  Who can now respect Margaret Thatcher’s way of doing things?  Who can now respect her disciples – of which our latterday body politic contains so many?  Who now can respect the British Establishment?

And who, exactly, will all this growing mistrust most serve – perfectly timed, as it is, in the run-up to 2015 and the political change which conceivably will be ours, to redirect our attention away from what should’ve been a referendum on the last four years of tremendous political cruelty?

I don’t know the answer to this question.  I’m scratching my head.  It may be no one benefits – not even the UKIPs of this world.  The vacuum may be complete; the dangers multiplied a thousandfold.  If it took post-First World War Germany to hit Nazism in a decade, perhaps in a 24/7 news-cycle world, four years will be plenty enough.

If you’re wondering whether I’m over-analysing the events (you probably are), just ask yourself the following: why didn’t we find out about all this rubbish in 2009, during the lead-up to Cameron’s arrival at the top and the regime change this implied?

Why was the Coalition given four clear years to lead with a reconverted – more importantly, unbesmirched – Thatcherism?  How differently might life have been – over that period of time – for the working-poor, disabled and unemployed, if this hadn’t turned out as it ultimately did?  And what will happen now 1980s Thatcherism is to be trashed with broad and hugely unpleasant brushstrokes – where will the right-wing Tories and UKIP go; what may end up replacing them; who will ever dare to carry her standard again?

“Paedophile Britain” – it’s a scary, horror-inducing concept.

What’s worse, however, is once revealed, how will an already fragile body politic and culture react before what is clearly a story of foundations-shaking magnitude?

I don’t know about you; personally, I’m very frightened.

Nov 192014

This article by Julie Bindel, published yesterday on the Guardian newspaper’s website, is interesting.

Certain caveats beforehand (I don’t want a storm of unhappy responses): I’m a man, so like the English in the Scottish referendum, I honestly get the feeling that I have little right to hold an opinion here; also, I get most of my understanding of the world from social networks these days – and if that’s not an example of mediated media, then I don’t know what is.

Mind you, I stopped tweeting at my previous Twitter account, @eiohel, precisely because the heavy weight of so much of that timeline was just too much for my delicate soul to deal with.

So I reverted to the backwater that is @zebrared.  And here I am.

All by-the-by; but also in the way of an explanation for what follows.

A couple of choice phrases from the article linked to above (the bold is mine):

  • “The current climate of McCarthyism within some segments of feminism and the left is so ingrained and toxic that there are active attempts to outlaw some views because they cause offence. Petitions against individuals appear to be a recent substitute for political action towards the root causes of misogyny and other social ills. Petitions have taken over politics.

I’d also argue that personalities have taken over almost everything else.  I’ll explain this assertion later.

More choice phrases (again, the bold is mine):

  • It would appear we have forgotten how to target institutions. The tactic du jour is to wind up a crowd and shut down any nuanced discussion or debate. Patriarchy is being left to its own devices while bad and unpalatable men are being taken to task one by one.”

And finally (the bold my doing once more):

  • “We built this movement on a desire and willingness to question and challenge old assumptions and truisms. We are in danger of becoming autocrats who would rather organise a pile-on than try to change systems. The life blood of feminism is in danger of becoming bile.”

To be honest, I don’t think this is a symptom of decay in feminism.  Or, at least, not just feminism.  The malaise is infecting far more areas of our society than that.  Those of us who affect more than a glancing interest in politics – and as inveterate bloggers, what’s more, a politics which once proudly proclaimed the personal as political – have, paradoxically, long bemoaned the importance of personalities in latterday political discourse to the exclusion of what we variously argue as being the far more relevant matters of policies, the grassroots, party activists, even ordinary voters and their communities.  We’ve had plenty of examples too: one clear one from my own party, Labour.  Whilst Tony Blair reigned over the movement, most of its incongruences seemed well hidden, papered over, perhaps (at least on a good day) non-existent.  As soon as Gordon Brown came to power, the personal contrasts couldn’t have been more marked: almost overnight, the Party started coming apart at the seams of what practically seemed a bogeyman’s sack.

So.  That a certain kind of feminism (the type that targets institutions and structures with thought, wit and accuracy) should become contaminated with the celebocracy of generations brought up on reality shows too numerous to mention – and when I say reality shows, I also mean current affairs programmes which prefer to invite the notorious instead of the informed, any ratings-pursuing day – is, actually, hardly surprising.  The petition-itis mentioned is but another symptom of such a focus on notoriety.  And what in our civilisation is more notorious and worthy of comment than the downfall of an individual – any individual, famous or infamous for whatever it might be – whose misfortune, stupidity or plain rank idiocy allows us to breathe quite relieved that “But for the grace of God, go I …”?

The vicarious thrill of experiencing the fear, riding the rollercoaster and escaping the condemnation was never more apparent.

If the Guardian‘s “Comment is Free” article is anywhere on the button (and I revert to my early caveat – I don’t as a relatively privileged upper-middle-aged man even know whether I have a right to type these words), then feminism – the kind that deconstructs a patriarchy which surely incarcerates us all, whether woman or man – has fallen foul of the instincts described in my post this evening.  In celebrating the importance of the individual, in underlining that every woman, child and oppressed soul matters, we have slipped slowly, silently, sneakily and ultimately over the no-man’s land that lies between a kind, generous, inclusive individualism on the one hand and, on the other, that starstruck, nasty, almost fascist celebration of media-generated idols which Chris Dillow at “Stumbling and Mumbling” has recently been exposing.

It’s sad, bad and very wearisome.  But it’s far far worse, this McCarthyism we perceive, this state of play we experience, this degeneration into lynch-mob behaviours … when perceived, experienced and observed in fields of thought we thought impervious to such influences.

Today, I read with horror that a quarter of all British people questioned want migrants to leave Britain.  (That means a quarter of the people I walk past every day want four-fifths of my family to leave the nation I was born in.)  Then I see my political party reacting with words of consolation for such philosophers of the human condition, and wonder, really, how on earth we got here.

If the touchstone of early 21st century feminism now believes it’s in crisis and has problems … well, surely it’s time we all believed the same: wherever we stand; whatever gender, belief system or century we feel we occupy; however we look at the world that cruelly fails us.

Nov 182014

Both talk and policies about wealth are terribly repetitive.  Whilst right-wing parties still pretend to attribute a mysterious force to the idea of trickle-down economics – you know, the stuff where rich people get so rich that the crumbs which fall from their tables acquire a mystical power to raise the poorest satisfactorily from rank to relative poverty – the left-wing of at least our political spectrum doesn’t half engage with the idea of taking money away from the wealthy.  And when I say “take money away” I mean not only lots of it but also almost any way possible.  Consequently, the higher that level of wealth, the more punitive, aggressive and intrusive the measures to control it must be.

So.  That’s why I’m beginning to wonder if the problem isn’t elsewhere; if the problem isn’t on both sides of the argument – and principally the assumptions people are making.

What is wealth, after all?  I remember reading a long time ago a book about the newspaper mogul, Robert Maxwell.  Apparently his life of wealth was more a game of musical chairs: he didn’t own very much of “his” wealth; instead, he apparently had access to a great deal more of what we might term “other people’s resources” than perhaps he should ever have been allowed to.  Yet at the time his empire strode the world, most would’ve seen him as wealthy: a man to be heavily taxed for sure; a man to be punitively intruded upon as already described.

And so we have policies such as the “mansion tax”, currently issuing forth from the Labour Party.  If you own a house (or maybe if you occupy one which you have mortgaged to the hilt), and valued to a certain degree, under a Labour administration you will have to pay an annual tax on the societal cost of your possessions.  If you like, this is probably little more than the “bedroom tax” in reverse – except we’re looking to apply it to the very richest instead of the rather poor.

Maybe, as such, it’s fair enough as an example of rumbustious politicking – but it doesn’t half seem (to me, at least) an arid and sterile act of policymaking, which positions – as in a predictable mirror-image that only serves to allow the enemy to continually define you – the Labour Party in no better place intellectually than the government it aims to vanquish.

Is this all wealth can manage to be?  Is this about as imaginative as we can get?  Do progressives have to be eternally framed by arguments their oppositions use against them?  After all, it must be awful for anyone who professes to be of the open-minded and thoughtful left for people to say the following about you – and not only say it once but repeat it heavily over the decades:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy” #QOTD

There are I suppose two alternatives:

  1. Aim to spread wealth equally so we are similarly poor or similarly well-off (always depending, I suppose, on where you’ve started out and where you’ve found yourself ending up) – I can imagine that here a) taxation systems would play a big part in attempting to achieve this goal; and b) universal basic incomes could also contribute constructively to its implementation.
  2. Aim to allow concentrations of wealth only where and when value is demonstrably added over time.  We would not stop being punitive about the kind of concentrations which just have rich people sitting on their wealth; we would however reward any and all concentrations which allowed us to achieve wider societal goals that Parliament, a bespoke tribunal of the people or any other democratic process could design.

What kind of societal goals could those be?  In no order of importance, then – just as they trip out of the ideas-generator:

  • Dignified, humanly fulfilling and educationally expanding work.
  • Inclusive organisational patterns of relationships, at all community, corporate and political levels.
  • A re-establishment of that liberal bond between responsibilities and rights.
  • An intuitive openness in governance in all kinds of institutions, so that honesty, sincerity and informed debate are to be prized and held dear above all.
  • Profit to be understood primarily as that which benefits the whole of society, and only secondarily the interests of more traditional investors.
  • A careful appreciation, development and implementation of technology, with the aim of putting it at the service of people and not the other way round.
  • A sustainable approach to all our environments – whether natural or human-made.
  • Ultimately, an evidence-based approach to all kinds of decision-making processes – even as the plethora of information available these days should not freeze our collective ability to take such decisions in a timely manner.

I may not be the best person to argue these things;  I may not have the most visible soapbox; I haven’t even developed the idea in any implementable way; and yet, even so, with all these caveats, what I do suggest we in Labour should engage with from now on in is thinking far more imaginatively about the whole idea of wealth and its functioning.

There’s no room in the future for the kind of politics which glories in weary gesture-making.

The future’s too serious by far for that.

Until we accept that grand things can sometimes be achieved by putting large, perhaps at first sight obscene, amounts of money in the hands of a single organisation or deserving hub of organisations, and that sometimes by so doing a helluva lot of wasted time and energy will result, we will not be able to win over what so many voters will always intuitively comprehend: money begets money, and often in a tremendously multiplying way.

Nov 142014

These three tweets retweeted into my timeline this morning have caught my eye.  They attribute the following statements to Channel 4’s economics editor, Paul Mason – mainstream (if fairly independent and questioning) media to boot.  And they run as follows:

“We’re trapped inside neo-liberalism” says Paul Mason, Economics Editor, Channel 4 News.


If I was to form a party, it would have two core tenets, says Paul Mason:

1. Kill neoliberalism
2. Move beyond capitalism


I’d nationalise all grids, all networks. And bring in universal basic income; a subsidy for moving to a non-work economy—Mason #futureshock

Now if someone like Mason can be saying, publicly, stuff like this – fairly revolutionary stuff in the context of so much unchallenged austerity (or if not unchallenged, at least untoppled) – what must be going on behind the Bilderberg scenes?

Let’s just take apart the trajectory of austerity: a very old childhood friend of mine once explained to me how they’d been told the 2008 crisis was deliberately triggered.  At the time, I dismissed this as conspiracy baloney (without saying I did), but to be sure this crisis didn’t half come in handy.  Ordinary people were becoming wealthier; leisure time was being dedicated to ever-growing active participation (or meddling, depending on your point of view) in democratic process (as well as cut-price holidays to all corners of the world!); citizens in general were getting a taste for the better times, both culturally and more importantly economically.  Salaries were rising; demands for decent, dignified working conditions becoming more widespread … all in all, life was getting hard for those top capitalists amongst us of a lazy bent (not by any means the majority, of course; but perhaps far more than a minority if we define them in terms of the riches they lever).

So 2008 was a great excuse to empty hard-earned savings from the pockets of the reasonably ordinary – the ones really to be feared in times of significantly peaceful disruption.  (The extremists are never a problem: it’s easy, rightfully so, to get people to side against them.  But the people you should never keep your eyes off are the decent, thoughtfully silent majorities.)  By emptying such savings, we were emptying peace of mind.  And by emptying peace of mind, we were emptying the ability of most to react creatively before the war that the elites were about to wage on them.

‘Question, naturally, is: why wage a war on your own people?  Why, in a supposedly liberal economy, would you want to destroy the ability of your customers to continue buying your products and services?

I suggest two or three reasons to explain austerity’s implementation:

  1. In times of crisis such as these, when markets splinter and smaller units of production begin to attack existing interests, it’s normal for the latter to want to neutralise the dangers.  I’m not attributing evil motivations here; I can understand, from my irrelevantly tiny experience as a businessperson myself, what drives people into – and keeps them within – what we might term the jungle of capitalism.  So austerity is a perfect tool to put into place a siege: a process of attrition, if you like, which only the biggest can survive.
  2. The second step is to argue that people must become independent of the state, so as not to occupy the role of scroungers who live off society (this also, partly, with the objective of distracting us from the reality that large organisations and transnational corporations are anything but independent of their political sponsors).  And whilst all possibility of being independently and sustainably employed has been progressively eliminated by step 1, as described above, and all possibility of feeling decent about being dependent on the state has been eliminated by step 2, as described here, we create a society of subjects absolutely unable to and terrified of using their imaginations for anything like getting out of the holes they suddenly find their leaders have located them in.
  3. Therefore, as society’s overriding discourse becomes one essentially of the need for both corporations and flesh-and-blood persons to sink or swim on their own behalf, the reality is actually as follows: on the one hand, these corporations absorb the wealth that once belonged to the public sector, living as parasites (or symbiotically – I am still not sure which) on the public host; on the other hand, these flesh-and-blood persons, whilst rubbished for being poor and being simultaneously exhorted to stop being poor by themselves, become even more dependent on the state for their mental and physical wellbeing.

In the end, the three steps as described above reposition our leaders, both political and business, in roles of great power and immense hierarchy over the ordinary folk: the paradox being that whilst independence is being savagely preached in public discourse, in truth the reality has reimposed a grand and terrible dependence of almost everybody on pyramidal structures we thought once well-vanquished long ago.

So is that the be-all-and-end-all of austerity?  Just that?  Isn’t there a loose end – a humongous loose end – dangling at the end of our process?

Why undermine the spending of so many “units” of consumer purchasing-power?  Why deliberately reduce the potential market for value-added products and services?  Why aim to make everyone as poor as church mice?

Here, then, comes step 4: whilst the first three steps were necessary to re-establish corporate capitalism’s equilibrium and rules in the face of open-source movements, libertarian politics and much nastier elements out there, once re-established such an equilibrium, the plan will be also to re-establish that lost purchasing power.  Of course, before that is done, the public sector (the NHS, education, fire services, Legal Aid, police services and a whole swathe of other support environments) needs to be privately mined for as much public wealth as can possibly be transferred in the meantime.  But eventually, even economic behemoths such as health services will run their course.  And private citizens’ spending power will return to the agendas of almost all politicians – clearly alongside, that is, their cosy business leaders and interests.

So it is we come to that step 4 which I’ve mentioned previously: the universal basic income (UBI) which Mason has publicly espoused.  Imagine, now, after austerity’s been a) used to re-engineer terrified dependence on the status quo by formerly independent, creative and thoughtful souls – unpredictable souls, mind (maybe that was the real problem) – and b) used to re-establish important controls over society’s running by equally dependence-forming transnationals, how easy it would now become to introduce such a basic income, as well as get widespread and publicly relieved acceptance.

To understand the issue and the establishment’s fears, of course, we’d have to examine what might happen were it to be done in a different way: in a world, pre-austerity, with a) the sense of security provided by so many hard-earned savings in so many hard-working pockets; b) coupled with the guarantees and safety nets a society with secure welfare systems in place would offer; and c) in addition to the joy of not worrying any longer what the end of the month would bring … well, to introduce a UBI in such a context would mean the predictable and probably short-term collapse of the big interests we’ve been talking about and their hierarchies.

However, if you use austerity first to position society as you need it, ensuring that ordinary citizens forget what different futures might have been, as you force them to suffer a decade of lost generations … well, then, a life as a kept consumer-patty doesn’t seem such a bad choice or outcome after all.

Am I right?  Is this analysis just the ramblings of a daft amateur thinker?

For you to judge, dear readers.  For you to judge.

Have a good day, as always.  And don’t forget – whatever the miseries around you – to continue to strive to be creative in your thoughts.

Aug 102014

A story from the Guardian/Observer website today got me thinking.  It’s headlined:

Rising Ukip star on Roma in the UK, vaccines and racist gardeners

and it’s introduced:

Rotherham is a Ukip target in next year’s general election. Jane Collins tells how she hopes to unseat Labour by being ‘different’

Notice the adjectives “rising” and “different”.  A prominent article in a notable newspaper of liberal leanings for a party with no MPs, no policies – and one narrative which, whether we like it or not, would surely lead to a business cataclysm and upheaval of unpredictable proportions.  A similar thing, though on a separate part of the political spectrum, is taking place in Spain with the movement (I respectfully resist calling it a party for the moment) Podemos.  Plenty of free media attention for something creating interest, it is true – but not with the credentials a careful democracy should perhaps require.

However, let’s try and focus on these dynamics from an apolitical stance.  I’m fascinated by the fact – it’s undeniable – that practically all our media, whatever its political opinion, is drawn magnetically to change: in such an environment, it’s hardly surprising that an up-and-down approach to communication should be the rule.  Whilst the peaks and troughs of idiotic statements capture the headlines day after day (no longer simple soundbites – more often unruly video exchanges designed to move us, almost assign us, emotionally from one monolithic bloc to the other), alongside the oft-quoted “he said, she said” journalism defining what they think we should think, it’s no wonder the careful, timely and intelligent chugging away of good practice ends up in the sewers of our perceptions.

Change, its aforementioned magnetic effect and practically all our media … yes!  This is what captures the agendas of daily politicking.  But it’s not only bad for the human race that constancy gets no publicity; it’s bad for those who enter the public sphere with the idea of working via evidence and humane values.  In the end, their initial desire to “make a difference by focussing on the universal” gets consumed by all these up-and-down appeals to “listen to me and what I’ve got brand new to say” – which, in any case, is rarely ever even moderately new in an objective and historical sense.

They say that change is inevitable – so get used to it.  What they don’t like to admit is change is not monolithic – nor, indeed, as inevitable as they suggest.  Our instinct to popularise, promulgate and propagandise around change is extremely common, that is true (as is our habit of arguing that it’s always an opportunity) – but the universal needs of a society of social beings like those of us who form this humanity I describe don’t change half as much as the change merchants would have us believe.  And if this we are to change at all in the near future, we need our media – that is to say, at least a substantial minority – to recognise that the chugging away of good practice I mention above is far more useful for that future than unceasingly spurious calls to perceive as positive, and to go ahead and opportunise, all dynamics of so-called change.

Just because it moves doesn’t necessarily mean it’s progress.  And just because it’s stable (that is to say, doing its stuff silently behind the media veneers) doesn’t necessarily mean we should proceed to ignore its true worth.

And I don’t just mean within the fields of established politics, where plenty of examples tumble out on a daily basis.  I mean also the new guys who claim – this time! – to be making a “real” difference.

Right UKIP, Podemos et al?

Jul 282014

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.



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.

Jul 242014

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 …)

Jul 222014

A couple of articles I’ve read this morning.  The first, from Labour List, documents how Labour has achieved magnificent unity at the weekend – coinciding, coincidentally, with my decision to leave the Party after ten years’ membership as a result of the cack-handed and antidemocratic #DRIP process (more here).  (At least I can draw the conclusion that I’ve finally done something right in my political trajectory – the Party must be well-pleased with my disappearance!)  The Labour List post says things like this:

It is completely without precedent in the history of the party. You can write a history of Labour that is all about its internal squabbles. Morrison vs Bevin. Bevan vs Gaitskell. Castle vs Callaghan. Benn vs Healey. Kinnock vs Militant. Blair vs Brown. There is no Ed Miliband vs anyone narrative. The only people he is vs are the Tories.

Credit also needs to go to the people who could have started a fight. Whether trade unions angry about party reform, Blairites hankering for the lost leader over the water, or party lefties nostalgic for a rerun of the 1980s, they all deserve praise for resisting the urge to have a scrap.

The importance of this cannot be underestimated. Labour in 2010 was in a very weakened, fragile condition. A bout of infighting and recrimination such as we saw every previous time we lost office, in 1931, 1951, 1970 and 1979 might have killed us off as a potential government for a generation, or for ever.

To conclude as follows:

Ed Miliband has shown incredible political skill in leading a united party into an election year at the same time as assembling a battery of appealing and radical policies. If he shows this degree of skill in uniting the country he will make a very great Prime Minister.

(The sort of stuff, incidentally, I was saying myself quite a while ago.)

Then we get quite another sort of post which defines Tony Blair’s achievements in the context of moon-landing deniers:

That’s not, of course, to say that Blair did not wrong and that is every decision was faultless. Certainly there were problems, at home as well as abroad, although different people from different political traditions will disagree as to what those were. But it seems to me that to focus on Mr Blair’s mistakes is to be like those cranks from Nowhere, Alabama, desperately pointing at Neil Armstrong and looking for signs of studio lights.

And, of course.  Yes.  Blair did indeed pick up Thatcher’s spilt milk – putting roofs back on schools etc – and of that, there is no doubt; but by so doing also stored up disasters for our present.  And I don’t just mean via his mistakes.  I also mean via his outright successes: for in order to counter the cruel neoliberalism of Thatcher – read more of the above for an excellently measured summary of the latter – Blair committed the foolish expediency of PFI and other short cuts to future prosperity.  The short cuts were necessary, desperate measures; the country, after Thatcher, was falling apart physically (and now, it seems, morally too).  But whilst Thatcher’s achievements were, in retrospect, clearly minimal – and Blair’s achievements were clearly, in retrospect, a counterweight the whole country needed – the aforementioned good also contained the seeds of the bad.

It wasn’t just the decisions on Iraq that brought conflict to our country.  It was also the decisions on matters such as tuition fees – seen by some as rank social engineering and by others as a necessary financial tool to lever access to higher education – which now, even on their own neoliberal terms, have clearly begun to fall apart at the seams.

And so I would suspect that here history is repeating itself, as it so often must.  Unity forged of the tribal – characteristic of Blair whilst he held the reins charismatically over the Party – and manifested quite differently with the Ed Miliband of the Labour List commentary; manifested differently but manifested all the same.

It may lead to a competent election result (though without wishing to be an aguafiestas, I’m not sure – even now – that this will happen as much as one might hope) but what is clear, at least to me, is that the very tribalism that political parties – of any political denomination – need to generate in order to have half a chance of getting into power is precisely that moment, time and place where the seeds of their our downfall are created.

If only our body politic were able to function on the basis of healthy disagreement, debate and well-fleshed consensus.  It’s not even as if it operates on agreement either.  Instead, when it happens, it’s a question of people like myself leaving the party in question – at the same time as people like those depicted in the two articles I’ve linked to today end up demonstrating a greater faith, fewer compunctions or negligible principles with respect to our no-longer-terribly-prized democratic process.

People who ultimately find themselves learning how to shut up for the short-term benefit of the tribe.

That the political left can only be acting as cheerleaders for internal Labour Party unity, less than a week after Parliament behaved disgracefully with the agreement, collusion and collaboration (in the World War II sense of the word, that is) of the man they are now saying will become an excellent Prime Minister … well, it bodes little positive, when his time comes, for his command of and fidelity to parliamentary process.

The elite is in charge, unity is the calling-card – and it’s time for the faithful, who often happily criticise the otherwise religious, to blindly believe in their broad church once again.

Jul 182014

Imagine the script, if you will.

“Diktat 2015″

Part II – 2014

Scene I – February – #caredata

The British government claims to have had a very bright idea: release all NHS patient medical records in England for use by the life-science industry to improve patient outcomes and research opportunities.  The system will involve an automatic opt-in – only if a patient wishes to opt out will any paperwork need filling in.

Unfortunately, it then transpires that data has already been wildly made available – and what’s more, tons of other interested parties have had/are having/will have access to such juicy datasets.

The reaction, ultimately, from the confused population is so strong that the plans are put on hold for a few months – which isn’t to say, of course, that institutions and companies various won’t continue to dig around your medical records.

Scene II – July – #DRIP

It takes the British body politic only three days to pass wide-ranging legislation which allows the state to keep a record (no one knows if rolling or not) of up to twelve months of voters’ private communications, web interactions and other assorted digital records.

That people may be unhappy to have this legislation passed without even a vote in the House of Lords really doesn’t seem to worry the legislators an iota.  The state (and the aforementioned wider body politic, of course) has clearly learnt from the #caredata imbroglio – when in doubt about your ability to persuade the voters and bring them round to accepting a ridiculous undermining of their human rights, just ignore them.

Part III – 2015

Scene I – May – #GE2015

Unable to see the difference between any of the main political parties, insignificant and unimportant voters like myself began some months before to shear off from their traditional allegiances.

This only benefits the Tories, who proceed to win the 2015 general election outright.  Recriminations are multiple on the left of the political spectrum – in truth, the fact is that in what used to be the humane, open-minded and liberal part of our previously shared civilisation we now have general agreement amongst the political parties that process is secondary to expediency.

What’s more, there is also broad acceptance in the political classes that an elitist perception of what people need hits the issues far more accurately on the head than consultation, dialogue and representation ever can.  As we begin to realise that this is what our representatives think, we the voters realise and conclude that there really is no bloody point any more.

Scene II – October – #NewEnglandOldTories

Events not entirely under Cameron’s control lead England to end up giving in to the Scottish Declaration of Independence.  This looks like a defeat, but defeats are unpredictable beasts.  In truth, the Tories now have total freedom to remake England in their image.  The #caredata project is resurrected – perhaps resuscitated would be more accurate – and so it is that no NHS England patient will be given the right to opt out of the scheme unless, that is, they choose to opt out of public sector medicine altogether.  The plan to fully monetise patient data is extended to allow access by any company or organisation which can demonstrate it is a duly registered data controller and user with a financial interest in any of our (ie the voters’) behaviours which might be affected by any medical conditions we have.  These parties include insurance companies, potential employers and local councils.

The #DRIP project will also be revised: the data collected will not now be limited to the last twelve months, but, far more importantly, will be similarly monetised to improve the voter experience.  The details around who will be able to purchase the information are unclear in the month the legislation will become law, but in the totally unexpected and entirely unrelated announcement of a merger between Google and Facebook (dependent, of course, on the relevant tax breaks and other bespoke emollients) there is a footnote to the documentation which indicates they have been in talks with Number 10 for quite some months now.  (It’s even been suggested that the two companies are preparing to install massive server farms on prime greenbelt land around Chipping Norton, fuelled via the fracking of land under a number of local homesteads – land which, incidentally, is currently used to hide potentially embarrassing copies of hundreds of thousands of ministerial SMS texts and unofficial emails of many fascinatingly compromising kinds.)

Scene III – November – #EOP #sofaengland

As government now operates without due consultation or scrutiny, five years of Parliament are finished off in a month.  The #EOP (or, more laboriously, #EndOfParliament) hashtag does the rounds, as it must – but this safety valve was only to be expected.

So it is that the Prime Minister, MPs, support staff and Her Majesty’s Official Opposition suddenly run out of things to even apparently do.  In order to justify their salaries for the next four years and seven months – and out of a residual sense of twisted responsibility, I suppose – they collectively decide to retire to the countryside and spend their days hunting foxes, shooting pigeons, evicting the disabled, cleaning moats, building duck islands, flipping mortgages, gassing badgers and closing down any food banks which have the temerity to set up stall in their constituencies.

In the meantime, the state runs itself very nicely, thank you.  Some weird people protest; get blackmailed into silence, probably via carelessly administered #caredata and #DRIP intel; ultimately accept their lot; and, quite understandably, find themselves dying in front of their goggle boxes Google boxes when their time ineludibly comes.

Jun 262014

Today, I saw a person on the TV show “Good Morning Britain”, a person who if I understood correctly represented 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 …)

Jun 192014

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 “″ and whilst the “” 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 …

Jun 192014

In UK politics, from the dawn of the 2010 Coalition onwards (but probably in Blair’s time too – nothing ever comes from nothing, now does it?), welfare has become a very bad fare.  Now we get stories such as these, where people who describe themselves as progressives couch the debate in the following terms (the bold is mine):

Yes, the left should always push back against the demonisation of people on benefits , but equally important is to remember that a life on benefits is a huge waste of a person’s potential. There is absolutely nothing left-wing about that.

The reason why I disagree so fiercely today with James, generally coherent and quite matter-of-fact as he is on such stuff, is that someone of his journalistic calibre should want to take issue with the words we’re obviously choosing to use to define the debate.

Something he doesn’t really do.

Of course a life on benefits is a huge waste of a person’s potential; so is a life on the meek living wage that some organisations are proposing – or even lukewarmly implementing.  Until small power – ie the power held by small people (and here I don’t for example mean powerless toddlers – except in that figurative sense modern liberal democracy makes of us all!) – is allowed to knit itself cogently and productively into much bigger power (bigger in the sense of getting important things done), the alternatives people like Rick propose – large corporate organisation, transnationally structured – will never bring any benefit to the fore which doesn’t have its collateral antidemocratic instincts integrated into the DNA of its very being.

So when Rick argues …

The thing about big power is that it gets stuff done. The organisation and concentration of resources is what made rich countries rich (which is why places with lots of very small companies are poor). The countervailing power of unions and other social movements made the owners of these concentrated resources agree to share the fruits with everyone else.

… he’s using arguments which are clearly easily evidenced but lead to the very situations of dependence James decries in the context of the welfare state.  Are we therefore saying big is great for private industry (and here I mean industry in both its fundamental meanings: structure and outputs) but not in any way for the counterbalancing of nation-state government?  And where we accept government should be big, are we arguing that it should only serve in its immensity to service its counterparts in the business sectors?

I suppose what I’m really suggesting is that we haven’t moved – in politics or business – from any of the primal medieval hierarchies.  We are as old-fashioned as they come; and this couldn’t be a sadder reality in a century which claims to be the most technological in history.

Advanced in our physical tools; meanwhile, as backward and primitive in social and organisational tools as ever.  I don’t know about you, but this is not what I expected of the post-millennial age.

Three final links; three final sadnesses.  This involves the British Coalition government, supposed bastion of intellectual and cultural freedom, dismantling the last vestiges of our sense of physical and personal privacies and integrities.  Whilst this describes a parallel destruction of nation-state rights by secretive treaty-making.  And in the middle of these two fronts, even our Internet communications continue to be retained against overarching legal judgment.

As already – and frequently – expressed, then, my overriding responses are ones of sadness.  I can see the point of view of people like Rick, and I am sure many others who read and appreciate his finely-wrought blogposts, that big problems need big organisations.  And I can accept the opinion of James on the waste that it is a life on benefits, even when I sincerely disagree with the justice and fairness and intellectual accuracy of using the language and focus he employs.  (Just as much a waste it is to spend a life under the yoke of wage slavery, after all.)  And, in fact, I can even see the need to track Internet usage, and trawl what bad people do – although our privacies may suffer at the hands of such behaviours.

But, at least in my eyes, it would seem that as leaders have got used to collateral damage in a residual kind of warfare (residual in the sense that whilst drones in some places consistently bomb the hell out of people, the consumer markets and environments which freely occupy the planet elsewhere continue to easily generate their useful activity), so they have become accustomed to the idea of collateral damage very much at home.  That people on benefits should be punished with even more wasted and terrified lives – instead of someone intelligently managing the change they really need – has become such a given that even people like James and Rick give the impression of generally accepting it.

And this is where we must surely part ways.  That UK politics is destroying our homeland instincts to kindliness, generosity and consultation, and that global biz is performing the same role all over, is really not difficult to take onboard – at least conceptually, at least from the point of view of perceiving the processes taking place.

What is difficult to take onboard, however, is that progressives like James and Rick are consistently failing to see the things they advocate as part of the problems we have; and part of the reasons we’re all now desperately flailing not only to find but, more importantly, impose radical solutions.

For this is where I really am sad: those who believe they already have such solutions – in UK politics and global biz both – are demanding of everyone who occupies any square metres on this earth a total submission seen rarely in previous times of democratic engagement.  Tying up loose ends frantically as they are – via international treaties, door-to-door inspections and extralegal where not illegal data retention practices – they’re covering all their bases in a quite fearful way: fearful because it indicates they’re as afraid of the future as we should now also be.

And fear of the future always brings out the worst in this wonderful, frustrating and complex species we call the human being.

Jun 152014

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.

Jun 072014

“Evening all,” as they sometimes said in my youth.

OK.  So I’ve kind of gravitated back to this blog – at least for the minute.  I’ve changed the people I purchase the hosting from, though not the server where it’s located.  So I kind of feel I have to mark the moment.  And review a bit the past few months too.

As this has generally been a political space over the past few years, and as I have developed a little in my politics over the past few months, I need to bring you up to speed – at least those of you who haven’t read what I’ve written elsewhere, which is I suppose most of you.

The post I reproduce below signals, I think, a key change in my thinking, where I touch on the politics of victimhood:

The politics of victimhood is a dangerous beast.  Whilst UKIP has long practised it in its pursuit of political notoriety, using false perceptions of immigration realities to whip up a casual furore amongst those who feel bewildered by our globalising world’s latterday speed of change, and whilst certain elements in both the Tories and Labour have preferred in a quite cowardly and triangulating way to simply go along with the narrative, in truth it only leads to the start of a banal fascism.

That fascism is already here.

Yet, for the moment, that politics of victimhood I mention seems to be working for the UKIPs amongst us where it doesn’t work for the progressives.  I used to tweet at the Twitter account @eiohel; stopped for a number of reasons already described previously on this blog; and then realised, in dawning hindsight, that one of the more important dynamics which drove me finally to let go was that so many of the people I followed on this account were deliberately promoting the aforementioned politics of victimhood – though well within what I am sure most of them perceived as a framework of a left-wing nature.

By saying this, I don’t question their honesty, truth or integrity in any way.  I just question whether their strategy – simply summarised as persistently using and exposing, for all to publicly see, their own declining standards of living at the hands of this awful Coalition government – will succeed in winning over hearts and minds outside their super-informed and well-organised support networks.

To my mind, now, after suffering their pain from the outside looking in for a long and unhappy three years or so, I’m not sure it will.  For the first time in as many years, the Tories are above Labour in the opinion polls.  And it’s not that I don’t approve of Labour’s leadership – quite the opposite, in fact; quite the opposite.  But I suspect that where Labour have preferred to also use the same politics of victimhood which is apparently working so well for UKIP & Co, and which they see being used to great (though limited) effect by those very real and yet empowered victims in the Twitter- and Facebook-spheres, for progressives – progressives who really wish to show they are progressive – it is simply not enough to bewail one’s suffering.  It is not even enough – not even even appropriate – to bewail one’s suffering and then tack on a pointed piecemeal process of policymaking.  No.  In truth, if there is to be a real difference between rank fascism (wherever it is to be found) and a progressive stance in relation to this currently pitiful and intellectually poor world we are both sleepwalking into and actively permitting, then it must lie in how we tell our stories.

Let us not complain how poor we are, how badly treated we find ourselves, how bullied and discriminated against this society does make us.  That is the UKIP/Tory way.  That does not ennoble us.  That sings no different a song to any voter out there.

Instead, if we are to learn from our recent past at all, we need to show that voting Labour makes you smarter, cleverer, happier and more sociable.

Not socialist.

Social-ist.  Skim off from all this corporate-devised social media the instincts to share, collaborate and act that could so easily make for a better world.

Democracy not as a goal but as a tool.  Not as a destination but, rather, a way of seeing.

And leave the politics of victimhood for those who would believe they are to be nothing but the acted-upon.

Not us, though.

So yes.  Perhaps the thought will upset you.  But appealing to people’s compassionate sides so overwhelmingly as the sad evidence now allows will only create a debilitating fatigue.  Labour needs leadership which doesn’t fall into the easy trap of choosing to reaffirm our prejudices but, rather, prefers to go down the route of enabling our ability to draw out the positives in life.  And to cross over frontiers of humanity.

In a way, like art itself, like a good kind of mathematics too, Labour needs to be a party which doesn’t gather votes to itself by subtracting from life but – instead – appeals to and facilitates people’s lives by adding all the time.  Not a mania for Gove-like change so that bully-boys can demonstrate their ability to thump legislative tables.  No.  An intelligence which observes and truly learns from what history can teach for the better.

“So stop complaining?” you ask.  “Is that what you say?”

Maybe so.  Stop complaining, yes – perhaps that is what I mean.

Don’t forget any of what they’ve done, by all means.  But do use your memories to reverse – quite as fast as you can – out of personally, and politically, destructive victimhood.

So I suppose, if you’ve read this far, what I’m really saying is that the last few months I’ve spent extricating myself from the pain of social media users of a disadvantaged nature – I even said this (slightly edited today) on my @zebrared account the other day: “In the end, keeping tabs on and circulating the casual and causal evil of moneyed politics is a virtuous and democratic act, but spending so much time in processes of sharing bad stuff, perceptions & appreciations does the souls of those involved no good at all …” – have led me to realise that the truism that ignorance is bliss, whilst certainly not very 21st century, may continue to weigh heavily on our mental health.

The human being, by nature, needs the meditative qualities of precisely that: nature.  Again, as I said, in the same tweeted stream of thought:

Just wish it were possible to participate in politics in time-efficient ways: in ways that allowed us to act *and* live non-political lives.  A non-political life, a life not poisoned by the things modern politicians do to each other and us, is OK whilst it sustains the illusion.  And that illusion of not being poisoned, where govt apparently ignores you ‘cos mainly you ignore it, is often welcome – even when a mirage.

Which brings me to the TTIP.  I am sympathetic to the instincts behind emails such as this one I received from WDM recently:

Dear Miljenko,

On Monday Vince Cable and other leading members of the UK government will meet with big business in London to discuss the biggest corporate power grab in a decade.

Take action now to stop the corporate power grab.

The EU-US trade agreement (TTIP) threatens to undermine public control of services like the NHS and education, to erode environmental and food safety protection, to encourage controversial technologies like GM and fracking, and to give big business sweeping new power to write and challenge democratic laws.

Please write to Secretary of State Vince Cable too tell him the UK must resist TTIP.

Resistance against TTIP is on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic. If we act now we can beat the corporate trade agenda and fight for trade that works for people and the planet.

Join us to stand up for democracy.

Best wishes,
Nick Dearden
Director, WDM

But I haven’t, as yet, clicked through to help the cause.  I find myself at a clicktivist loose end of late.  Is that how it works?  People like myself, perhaps too old to continue with the assertiveness which youth may add to human behaviours, gradually disconnect from all the good causes out there: and in so doing, we lose the historical moral compass and authority the TTIP link above describes so poignantly.

A loss of morality?  A final vanquishing of democracy?  Evil corporate business people winning the historical battle for control of our thoughts, actions, property – and even our flesh-and-blood ways of seeing?

Or – in the wearisome face of the UKIP-ed nation-states, in the absence of any kind of civic nationalism at all, in the presence of a brutal reversion to dog-eat-dog philosophies which find themselves cleverly dressed up and designed to be perceived as walls to protect and defend – are in fact the aforementioned (remember, allegedly evil) transnational corporate institutions actually much the lesser of such evils?

Certainly the lesser when compared to these resurgent nationalistic views of what nation-states should be.

So which would you prefer – if these were the only alternatives?  A corporatised world of – maybe specious but nevertheless relative – global probity, where internationally recognised institutions pre-organised our democracy… or the random nastinesses of the UKIPs of this planet, destroying our peace of mind and body politic by pulling our emotional sense and sensibilities to immoral little pieces?

The immorality of an ultimate intellectual abdication in the face of the revolting nationalists versus the final victory of the capitalist monetisation of life?

Go on.  Choose.  The future is begging us to.

For the only alternative to either of the above I can think of is experiencing and occupying the continued misery of social media networks, where truth is absolute and accurate and available, it is true – but where knowledge, equally truly, no longer serves to confer us any real power.

Except, that is, perhaps we should now accept, the power to damage permanently our own beloved selves.

Mar 142014

For just over seven years, I wrote this blog quite blindly.  I was reactive, puzzled, thrashing about where many (most) had already thrashed.  I sometimes wondered if it was infirmity which drove me on.  But in just over seven years, I was incapable of ever writing down – in a minute or two – the common denominators that drove me in so many of my posts.

Today, on the occasion of Tony Benn’s sad death, Brian Moylan sent my way this video.  In less than two minutes, it encapsulates everything (I now realise) that made me write for seven quite helter-skelter years.  Watch it – and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

No.  I’m not unmothballing this blog quite yet.  I’m writing over at and quite happily right now – the former with relative interest from my readers, the latter with very little interest for anyone except me.


But hey-ho, that’s the life on the open seas.

And with that celebration of a life sincerely lived, I burrow my way back into the anonymity from which I have temporarily emerged.

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.