Mar 282013

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been reading and writing a lot about the squeezed middle, the absolute poor and the stratospheric rich.  For those of us who are living in the United Kingdom – more precisely in my case, the North West of England – you won’t have failed to notice how the government and the governed simply do not see things eye-to-eye.  In fact, lately at least, it’s often more a case of a tooth for a tooth.

The thing is, my natural instinct is to see life from tens of different points of view.  This doesn’t make me popular – or widely read.  Yesterday, I realised the true and abiding power of ranting when itiddly, a Twitter friend of mine, asked me to edit a post of his before he posted it.  He’s a tribal fellow; a traditional political activist.  He insults and damns and blasts the Tories at every opportunity.

I resisted the temptation to help him out with his post – rather patronisingly (in retrospect) arguing that he needed to have confidence in his writing, as well as some exposure, much more than the help of a struggling editor friend.

You can read his post here.  It’s a rant and it isn’t.  There’s a barely contained fury, of course, but all the time it’s an evidence-based fury.  And whilst I rarely get above five or six tweets for my posts, in a very short time his had hit thirty-five (at the time of writing this post, it now reads a hundred).  Exposure wasn’t what was needed on his part here; instead, it was humility on mine.

Yet it is not in my nature to rant one-sidedly, even where ranting of a kind is sometimes something I do.  I would not be able, in all honesty, to write something as single-minded as the post we’re talking about.  And I wish, in some way, I were able to convey the reasons why.  I wish you could all see the ten or twenty different points of view I always see when I see the world.

People have, on occasions, even accused me of dancing around a subject.  Perhaps, in truth, they were closer to the mark than even they realised.  You dance out of engagement and concentration; a dance is a marvellous combination of emotion, precision and attitude.

That is how I see the process of writing.

Which is why I wish, perhaps by using Twitter and other social-network outputs, we could all appreciate better how each of us is perceiving the world: the pain, the glory, the happiness and joy; the misery, the fear, the certainties and hopes.  From high-and-mighty governors to humble barely-surviving governed, the world would surely become a better place if only we could see it properly through each other’s eyes.

So my question must be: is anyone out there at all interested in creating a Point-Of-View Machine?

Or are you all far more interested in setting up monolithic positions of revulsion and non-cooperation?


Further reading: I wonder, quite sincerely, whether the Google Glass project (more here) – rather than inspire our fear of a final assault on all our privacies – should make us more hopeful in the ways I describe above.  If the POV streams resulting from all those users were made available and accessible in a structured way, we would understand much more easily how each of us experienced life.  And from that understanding, perhaps a kinder governance would emerge.

A kinder world.

A kinder species, even.

We can only hope, of course.

And, maybe, pray.

Sep 072012

It’s been suggested to me via Twitter this morning that “predistribution” (more from Ed Miliband here yesterday) is another example of an Ed Miliband concept which disconcerts at first – and then acquires a much wider acceptance.  Remember, if you will, “squeezed middle” and “responsible capitalism”.

I’d have to take issue with this particular suggestion – if for no other reason than the latter two concepts kind of explain themselves whilst the first is blandly technocratic.  Already, however, in its apparent defence, those in favour of the concept are producing interesting stats which show that even where the public do not understand the word itself, they are firmly on the side of its implications.

Fair enough.  We don’t understand what you’re saying – but if we did, we’d agree anyhow.

My caveats then for this long-term process of rethinking Labour’s brand which Miliband has clearly embarked on?  With the proviso that this is definitely on an initial and slightly bemused reading of the matter, here are my thoughts as follows:

  1. “Responsible capitalism” is a misnomer.  Capitalism tends towards destructive and concentrating monopoly everywhere and anywhere.  Let’s forget the idea – much better to aim for truly free markets.  The goal is more coherent and easy to administer; the tools, generally virtual, both in the sense of how they empower consumers as well as from the point of view of democratic oversight, are getting better; and free markets are compatible as a concept with a broad range of organisational structures.
  2. “Squeezed middle” is utterly uncritical of the severe poverty the very poorest in society are now suffering from.  “Expanding poor” would be more accurate, though possibly not as acceptable to the mass media.
  3. And thus to “predistribution”.  If it’s essentially about “income equality”, and aims to include the sick, people with support needs and the unavoidably unemployed, why not call it that?  “Income equality” describes the aim not the means.  It seems – from my cursory and inexpert reading of the subject – that “predistribution”, meanwhile, precludes certain policies.  Is that the real intention behind it?  Another straitjacket for Labour?

Of course, there is going to be far more complexity to the concept than I have been able to glean and convey today.  And Éoin may indeed be right – I hope he is – when he argues the following:

The beauty of Pre-distribution is that it does not cost a penny to implement & this is why it is key to winning Labour the 2015 General Election. This goes to the heart of Ed Miliband’s Responsible Capitalism.

But if “responsible capitalism” and “squeezed middle” have already been inexactly chosen, who is to say that “predistribution” has been any more usefully devised?  As Chris pointed out recently:

My point here is, or should be, a trivial one. Language shapes thought and therefore activity, and bad metaphors have bad effects.

And as he argued in relation to “predistribution” itself:

Predistributionists, however, seem to be ignoring these options. But then, social democracy has always been about accommodating capitalists’ power more than challenging it.

Of course, the implications of the latter statement are probably a matter for a completely separate post.  But it’s not something we should ignore when we are looking to substitute one system with another.  As I tweeted a few minutes ago:

@DrEoinClarke Current situation clearly unjust. Really would like replacement system to cost less in human terms *&* financial. @ChiOnwurah

For to paraphrase Peter Levine (and not for the first time on these pages), the definition of a good democracy should contemplate both inclusiveness and efficiency.  And if we cannot take this lesson onboard, after all that’s happened over the past five years, we really do not want – nor care – to save our democratic souls.


Update to this post: this link has just come my way via the Policy Network.  The essay it leads us to is prefaced with this introduction:

To protect and restore the hallmarks of a well-functioning market democracy, progressives in the United States and elsewhere must rebuild its institutional foundations and shift back the uneven organisational balance between concentrated economic interests and the broad public

Sounds good, and says some things I stumbled towards in this post – as well as in quite a few previous ones on these pages.  Looks like it might indeed be worth our time.

Second update to this post: another link, this time from Black Triangle, seems to further contextualise some of the background to all of the above.  It doesn’t look good.  Are Labour’s leaders really looking to pull Tory wool over our eyes?

Why can’t new ideas in politics ever really be new?

Sep 262010

There is a difference you know between the “squeezed middle” and the “squeezed middle class”.  President Obama preferred sticking with the latter recently:

President Obama vowed on Monday to “reverse the overall erosion in middle class security” as he stepped up his efforts to reconnect with Americans suffering from a weak economy and high unemployment.

Compare that with this from Ed Miliband this morning:

My aim is to show that our party is on the side of the squeezed middle in our country and everyone who has worked hard and wants to get on. My aim is to return our party to power. This is a tough challenge. It is a long journey. But our party has made the first step in electing a leader from a new generation.

Yet reporting by the mainstream media has consistently chosen to use the extra word “class” in headlines – even where the word has not been reported in the main body of the articles themselves.  (Check out the web address to see how the articles were originally headlined, for that information often gives the game away.)

Here we have the Daily Mail from as long ago as August this year.  Whilst here we even have the Telegraph, publishers of this morning’s article from Miliband, also using the extension “squeezed middle class” instead of the more inclusive “squeezed middle”.  The BBC currently read the language more accurately, although Google’s search pages would indicate that journalistic shorthand and general conceptual carelessness did initially intervene just as much here as is clearly the case elsewhere.

As Paul quite rightly points out:

squeezed middle is not just middle class middle incomes in UK are £13k – £30k #lab10

Interestingly, and to be fair to Sky, they would appear – at least online – to be reporting Miliband to the letter.  Lord knows, they should do, mind: the message has been out there for four months at least.

And we pay journalists to get these things so inexactly inaccurate, do we?

So what conclusions can we draw from all this?  Well.  Firstly, as I said yesterday – don’t underestimate Ed Miliband.  He is hungry to right wrongs.  He is far cleverer than he would appear.  And he is aware of how to play the media game like perhaps no other leading Labourite.  I was proud to vote for Ed Balls because he took the fight to the enemy.  But in doing so, he painted himself into a number of corners of sorts because he was so upfront about his policy-making objectives.  Ed Miliband has made no such mistake.  He has been far more generalist.  If he’d been more specific, he might have won more handsomely – but then he would now have far less room for manoeuvre.

He is, in fact, a populist – and populists are unpredictable.  Populists are unknown quantities.  Populists can change the lie of the playing-field overnight.

What’s more, he’s a populist who believes in his own destiny.  Or, at least, he is beginning to believe.

Ed Miliband has also carefully identified a way of making the middle classes and the working-classes one.  His carefully wrought “squeezed middle” covers us all.  We all feel squeezed.  We all feel in the middle of the pincer grip the Coalition’s partners have set up for us.

That we can all identify with the “squeezed middle” is probably why some of the right-wing media are loosely interpreting it as the “squeezed middle class”.  They know there are votes to be eked out of those hills – and they know Ed Miliband knows how to do it.

“A future fair for all” was the Labour Party’s slogan at the last general election – and it was probably the very best bit of Labour’s campaign.

In the hands of Miliband, that idea and that message may very well come back to haunt the Coalition partners.

The “squeezed middle” has only just been identified.  Now it is our job to ensure everyone knows – we all know – how to belong.

Update to this post: via a tweet just now from Paul Evans, further background to the “squeezed middle” concept can be found here in an article by John Healey.  Whilst a much more comprehensive exploration of the idea from a number of political thinkers, including Healey, can be found in this useful .pdf file from the Open Left project at Demos.