Apr 152012

Party political donations have been a running sore on body politics the world over.  Your opinion all depends of course on where you sit on the political spectrum.  If you’re on the right, you’ll clearly assume and argue that everyone has the right to contribute in terms of that circle of individual freedoms they so delight in under such circumstances.

Except, that is, when it comes to political and economic opinions and the oft-held desires by progressives to change the existing order of things.

Meanwhile, if you’re on the left you’ll be inclined to assert the right of organised labour to support a political wing of action such as the British Labour Party represents.

Thus we get these extraordinarily bitter arguments for and against trades union-funded political parties.

One group, however, for some strange reason, is generally left out of the above equation.  A Facebook friend of mine reminded me of this collective in a couple of Facebook posts of his yesterday, when referring to the amounts of PR and lobbying money, as well as out-and-out party funding, which private-sector companies seem to find from the profits they make out of their customers (ie you and me).  And whilst the companies in question – in the story linked to these are American banks, already recovering from the shame of their recent bailouts as they revert to their old bumptious selves – will argue all such monies have the approval of their shareholders, I do wonder if it wouldn’t be reasonable to explicitly consult customers as well – in much the same way, that is, as trades union hierarchies are required to consult their members.

And at the very very least, provide a percentage of how much money was being spent on the different political parties.

The latter would work in the following quite simple sort of way: every time you received an invoice or receipt, at the bottom or on the back there would figure how much of that sale went to political lobbying, PR and party funding – as well as to which parties the contributions in question were being made.  In such a way, the consumer would via a traffic light system akin to current food labelling be able to determine whether he or she wanted to purchase a product or not.

The party funding systems as they currently existed could continue to exist – but it would be the relatively free market of informed customers which would decide in the end whether to punish a company for either contributing to a party they really didn’t like or, alternatively, contributing far too much of their income – and consequently the prices they charged to such end-users and customers – to means and ends which had very little to do with their core activities.

A way of controlling the American super PACs and any equivalent organisations and networks in the UK?

It’s a thought, anyhow.

Feb 062012

Imagine my wife, a teacher employed by our local council, falls ill and cannot go to class.  I, meanwhile, generally work from home – and thus have a more flexible timetable.  I also have long experience as a teacher/trainer and could give classes in the subject matter she specialises in.

Let’s expand the idea not just to classrooms and training environments but also to offices, maybe factories and other workplaces.  Couldn’t it be conceivable that – in order to improve a wider manufacturing- and service-industry productivity – we could create a new population of “shadow employees” whose primary responsibility would be to cover for specific colleagues in times of illness or other absence?  This would not be workfare; it would not be imposed on anyone who did not freely decide to choose this mode of work; it would require regular training; and there would be many details which would have to be ironed out.

But it would also ensure that an ad hoc and part-time population of jobs could be easily generated both for the benefit of those individuals who wished to proceed in this way as well as a wider economic capability.

I’m inclined to believe – mind – that whilst the idea is bright, there must be some intrinsic and knotty challenges it raises.  Otherwise, someone else would have implemented it by now. 

Or does it actually put me on the wackier end of the political spectrum – right up there in the heady political stratosphere occupied by our Coalition government and the Tea Parties of this world?

Maybe so.

Oct 292011

This item came my way via my good friend Brian on Facebook, who – in turn – came across it on the following Facebook page, DareToDemand.

For those of you, then, who don’t care to have Facebook access, here is the comparison in question.

And although I have always been inclined to look favourably on collaboration, cross-party action and a broad comprehension of my fellow man and woman, in the light of the above polarisations – which any sane human being would surely wish to avoid – the future doesn’t half look bleak.

And whilst the Tories and the Lib Dems are ripping themselves up over Europe, and Europe is ripping itself up over the Euro, all we can do – those of us who choose – is to rearrange the green benches in parliaments across the globe.


Meanwhile, some further reading on parallel goings-on: a thoughtful piece from David tonight, over at the Methodist Preacher blog, on the subject of the occupation outside St Paul’s in London.  As he concludes (the bold is mine):

So I think back to the days when I was one of the few elected politicians who actually took on capitalis, and paid with my livelihood.. I opposed the Labour Party’s re writing of our Clause IV. I still believe that a mixed economy with various forms of common ownership such as mutuals, co-ops and nationalised strategic industries are still the best way forward. These can only be achieved by arguing the politics, winning the argument and getting elected. Against such a long term strategy the occupy LSX is little more than a passing stunt. I just hope that it raises consciousness, not dulls it.

I’m not sure I necessarily agree with everything he says – I would prefer that there could be a space for the hope expressed by the Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street to the seemingly inevitable, encompassing and even deadening realism of the professional politicos out there – but I think there is a smidgen of truth in it we have to recognise.

Even as we should also recognise the right we all have – still – to continue daring to demand.

Oct 162011

I’ve had a few already this weekend.  (Treasonable thoughts I mean.)  And I’m beginning to wonder if the crime of treason hasn’t been outgunned by modern business practice.  After all, in the olden days, what was Caesar’s belonged to Caesar, and what was God’s belonged to God.  No confusion there.  And anyone who transgressed would surely end up on the wrong end of a crucifixion.  But these days, the most relevant nexuses of power seem to revolve around corporations, their deniable outriders the ideologically-based think tanks (more here), their ever-present lords and masters the shareholders – and any politician who dares to let him- or herself get mixed up in the resulting stew of conflicted interests.  In this case, the nation states seem more like God every minute of every day: last in the line and forever begging for adhesion – whilst those Caesar-like corporate interests ensure themselves first bite at the sinful apple of previous lore.

Under such circumstances, and under such widespread acceptance of the model in question, it would seem that as a practising politician who supposedly operates on behalf of a nation state, it is possible to work in favour of the interests of another state by simply associating oneself with such supposedly charitable-like lobbying organisations.  No one looks in askance.  No one actually ever finds it in themselves to accuse you of working for a foreign power – even though you are.  These are revolving doors which everyone, on both right and left of the political spectrum, expects to have access to.  There is no interest at all, then, from the governing elites to prevent this kind of disloyal behaviour – nor bring it to anyone’s attention as being thus.  It is sanctioned and accepted – until one day, that is, someone goes just a little too far and brings to the cauldron matters like Mossad, toppling Iran and being debriefed by MI6.  After which it becomes just a little bit too murky – or perhaps, instead, that is laughable – for anyone to want to be even mildly associated with such shenanigans.

In plain language and to summarise: it would appear that important and influential politicians at the heart of British government have been working with a “charity” which has the support of American corporate interests: interests which in the United States have set up a massive deniable outrider called the Tea Party in order to coerce the American people into accepting a series of political frameworks no one in their right mind would ever choose to sanction.

As far as the British body politic is concerned, the purpose of the aforementioned “charity” clearly seems to have been to drive a political fifth column into the centre of Conservative thought.  And if David Cameron really does want to deal with lobbyists, as is claimed to be the case, he needs to do so from this particular perspective: Britain may continue to have global friends all over the place; may continue to need them; may, even, be wise to continue to make them … but friends who aim to turn your cosy home with Welfare State included into a shopping mall of distant and jungle law, a law which – what’s more – they not only write but also administer … well, really they do not deserve the designation of friend – nor merit the reciprocal act of a friendship exchanged.

William Hague might very well distance himself thus:

Hague said he had only been a “name on the letterhead” for the Atlantic Bridge thinktank set up by Fox. “It doesn’t mean that you know how the thing is being run in detail,” he said.

Another deniable outrider then?  Another act of betrayal in the name of international relations?  Or another piece of incompetence from the incompetent?

To be honest (and I apologise right now for the bad language I have been driven to use in this post), I think it’s all bollocks myself.  They all know what it’s about – on both sides of the fence.  They’re politicians, for goodness sake.  And politicians live on the cusp of fresh gossip.

Not just bollocks then.  Eighteen carat bollocks, in fact.


The real question, of course, is why no one in the mainstream cared to unearth it all sooner.  And why now they’ve suddenly decided it’s a story worth running.

Weird stuff from the very top of the pyramid, this.  Weird stuff, indeed.

Oct 152011

I kind of asked myself this question already today in my previous post.

Some further reading on the background to Liam Fox’s curious friends, which makes me want to revisit the original question, has, however, come my way this evening – and can be found here tonight at the Observer.  As one politician is quoted as remarking in relation to the issue under examination:

Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshot said: “Dr Fox is a spider at the centre of a tangled neocon web. A dubious pattern is emerging of donations through front companies. We need to establish whether the British taxpayer was subsidising Fox and his frontbench colleagues. What steps did they take to ensure Atlantic Bridge didn’t abuse its charitable status?”

And as Jim Murphy, the Labour Shadow Defence Secretary is quoted as pointing out:

“With each passing day there have been fresh allegations of money and influence and it appears that much of the source was the Atlantic Bridge network and its US rightwing connections. We need to know just how far and how deep the links into US politics go. This crisis has discovered traces of a stealth neocon agenda. For many on the right, Atlanticism has become synonymous with a self-defeating, virulent Euroscepticism that is bad for Britain.”

Let us say, then, and I’d like to underline that I’m simply engaging in a thought experiment here, that those prominent Tories involved in the Atlantic Bridge – Fox himself, William Hague, George Osborne, Chris Grayling and Michael Gove – were actively pursuing, from within a UK governing party, the interests of another nation.

Even where this nation was our close friend, the USA.

Wouldn’t this be something skating so very close to treason too?

British politicians acting in the strategic interests of certain political lobbies with established political movements located on the soil of a foreign power?  Think I’m exaggerating?  Try reading this from the Observer piece:

Fox’s organisation, which was wound up last year following a critical Charity Commission report into its activities, formed a partnership with an organisation called the American Legislative Exchange Council. The powerful lobbying organisation, which receives funding from pharmaceutical, weapons and oil interests among others, is heavily funded by the Koch Charitable Foundation whose founder, Charles G Koch, is one of the most generous donors to the Tea Party movement in the US. In recent years, the Tea Party has become a potent populist force in American politics, associated with controversial stances on global warming.

Doesn’t this sound just a little like early 20th century spy novels of a most disagreeable and unhappy sort?  You know the sort of stories I mean: where clever and moneyed gentlemen make themselves rich on the backs of the poor who are sent to war.  Or where ingenious and megalomaniac individuals drive the world to the edge of destruction.


Enough of my literary digressions.

In the light of all the above which the Observer regales us with tonight, here is my very simple question – a question I reiterate just in case you still ain’t asking it yourself: just how far can influential and serving British politicians get involved with the politics of another country without their integrity and loyalty to their mother country being called seriously into question?

And aren’t such behaviours, where the political interests of another country are being plainly prioritised before the interests of homegrown politics in Britain, the kind of activities which could legitimately require us to require them to prove their loyalty – not only to the Crown but also to the wider British voting public?

As I say.

Maybe not treason.

But so pretty damn close it should really make them feel ashamed.

It does me.

Footnote: all this also makes me wonder how we haven’t till today had to reconcile the blessed virtues of globalised politics on the one hand – where nation reaches out unto nation – with the legal requirement to fight one’s own corner and protect the interests of one’s own country and state.

Perhaps we never noticed before.

Or perhaps that is what’s really at the heart of the long-standing kerfuffle over Europe.

Or maybe what’s different in this particular case is that it isn’t a matter of nation reaching out unto nation any more – but, rather, the wealthy and already powerful working out ways of carving up planetary real estate.  A much less seemly activity than striving to prevent war and conflict on a continent with a long history of the same … don’t you think?

Update to this post, Sunday 16th October: New Statesman does an apposite round-up of what the newspapers are saying this morning.  And what the newspapers are saying is not pretty.

Nov 032010

This, from the BBC today, shows what kind of government we have:

Universities in England will be able to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year, as the government transfers much of the cost of courses from the state to students.

Fees will rise to £6,000 – with an upper tier of £9,000, if universities ensure access for poorer students.

Universities Minister David Willetts said this was a “progressive” reform.

Labour’s Gareth Thomas said the fee hike represented a “tragedy for a whole generation of young people”.

The National Union of Students dubbed the plan, which will mean almost a threefold increase, “an outrage”.

Much of the proposed fee rise, up from the current £3,290 per year, will replace funding cut from universities in last month’s Spending Review.

This will mean that many courses, particularly in arts and humanities, will almost entirely depend on income from students’ fees.

If the introduction of tuition fees and soft student loans were a clear example of the thin end of the social engineering wedge under New Labour – continuing as it did the preparation of the vast majority of our youth for tedious processing jobs in back offices across the land – then this further example of government interference in the moral right of our children to have a better life than our own is simply an underlining of how easy it is for unscrupulous politicians to sell to the public what is actually an investment in the future of the whole nation as a short-term cost to be easily cut.

Talking of which, Chris had a lovely couple of paragraphs the other day on why companies pay the menial amongst us less and less (my bold):

In recent years, then, moves in aggregate profits cannot explain moves in top incomes. The power of capital to exploit labour hasn’t changed much, but the power of top earners to seize incomes has increased.
I suspect there are two big reasons for this.
One lies in efficiency wage theory. Top bosses and bankers must increasingly be bribed not to seize corporate assets for themselves – partly because these assets consist more of portable things like goodwill or financial products and less of hard physical capital. At the same time, the need to bribe ordinary workers to behave well has declined as IT allows more direct monitoring of them.

Trends like these – and others we may perceive – are working together hard to make our blessed Big Society nothing more than an old boys’ network of the retired and semi-retired.  Putting people in their places and pigeon-holes is the game we’re playing now.

We are in the process of disenfranchising politically and democratically whole swathes of the population, re-engineering society’s wider expectations and leaving in the hands of both the conservative and the Conservatives amongst us the running of our schools, hospitals, local communities and neighbourhoods.

And all the above will – one day – be a breeding-ground for petty corruption.

On a pretty grand scale, I would say. 

MPs’ expenses?  You ain’t seen nothing yet …

In fact, this looks like nothing less than what we might term – if we were so predisposed in that offensive and intellectually squalid manner of speaking that the West often exhibits – the Mediterraneanisation of the Anglo-Saxon world.  Where who you know is more important than what is right.  Where family overrides due legal process.  Where the personal is far more important than the public.  Where to be seemly is to appear false and to be false is to appear seemly.  Where prejudice substitutes logic and logic is a barrier to getting ahead.

So how is all this happening?  Is it at the mercy of the American Tea Party on a quite different Long March to power that we find ourselves?  Or, equally, the British Conservatives, who without winning an election seem to be succeeding, where so many others have failed, to use economic blight to their absolute – when not absolutist – advantage?

Not all is lost, of course.  In politics, as in war, it rarely ever is. 

But we have to accept that what is lost because of our own behaviours – being, as it is, sadly and avoidably lost – is something we have an obligation to consider most seriously, before we can move on to wield any certainties of a progressive nature in another future we might prefer to construct.

Nov 032010

Dan Hodges has a brilliant and prescient piece on the driving forces behind Sarah Palin’s awful populism:

The tea party. Not a party as such, but a movement. A reaction. Forged in response to a seismic defeat.

They look mainly inward. Purists. Believers. Compromise is dangerous. It led to electoral catastrophe. Their politics is confident. Aggressive. Its practitioners alert to betrayal.

They eschew centralisation. They are well organised, yes. But their structures are pluralistic. They believe in grassroots ownership. Distributed leadership.

This creates problems. Indiscipline. Extremists have infiltrated the organisation. Mainstream politicians who do not fully embrace their ideology have been challenged. Members of the same party have, for reasons of personal expediency, turned on their own. The old political hierarchies are unwilling, or unable, to intervene.

They do not have opponents, but enemies, who must be destroyed. Their enemy is not just pursuing a different political agenda. He is laying waste to the country they love. They must rally others to its defence.

They are outsiders. Insurgents. Opposed by the establishment and a hostile media. They must look for innovative ways to disseminate their message.

At times, their methods walk close to the line. Or across it. They are prepared to engage in direct action. They deploy personal abuse. Some have even compared the policies of the present administration with those of Hitler’s Reich.

Above all, they are driven by an iron certainty. The certainty that although they are few, they speak for the many. And that where they lead, the masses will follow.

He then goes on to suggest how the British Labour Party may be tempted to follow a similar dynamic – how Ed Miliband could preside a British Tea Party of a left-wing flavour.  This article is well worth reading, although I do wonder if it wasn’t primarily written to damn and highlight the dangers of a true integration of the grassroots into the pyramidal structures that generally underpin party political organisation.

If, in this article, Dan is defending the old ways of “consultation” (essentially after the event and without any true sense of power) instead of what I might prefer to term “involvement” (essentially before), my praise for the thesis of his piece could become a little less fulsome.

Any regular reader of this blog will know how resistible I find the idea of positioning a grand leader on top of a pile of subservient members in order that at some time in the future we can take lazy potshots at him or her for disillusioning us.

Disillusionment is almost always a consequence of structural inadequacies – the raising of expectations ineffectively, the lack of proper tie-in between volunteers and staff in an organisation and the absence of any reward for work done.  Whether we are talking open source here or straightforward politics, the result is the same.

Where I do agree utterly and unreservedly with the article under discussion is here (the bold is mine):

Populism should not be confused with pragmatism. In the elections that matter, anger at the governing party does not automatically translate into an endorsement of its rivals. When the ballot boxes are opened, there are rarely enough core votes to go around.

Ed Miliband told us that to reconnect with the public, we must learn humility. The tea party does not do humble. Over time, its passion will start to sound shrill in the ears of the electorate. Its confidence perceived as arrogance. That is not a winning formula.

I suspect that in a couple of years time, Sarah Palin and her friends will learn this lesson the hard way. Labour must ensure that we are not forced to learn it too.

In fact, I think I would go further: populism is the very opposite of pragmatism.  Pragmatism aims to square circles on a rolling basis.  Populism goes down the line of least resistance and cares only for its ability to raise the political temperature to the benefit of its proponents.

Populism gets us the Silvio Berlusconis of this world.

People who refuse to change because they know they are right.

Those who use historical figures such as Hitler and Stalin to describe their opponents are either as prescient as Dan, though in an entirely different context (they see what we, in our ignorance, refuse to), or are actors of such bad 21st century faith that they deserve only a measured, firm and adult disrespect from ourselves.

In the case of the Tea Party, I suspect the latter.  Purity of thought and deed – that is to say, an absolutism born of ambition – was never a happy way forward in human relations of any kind.

So it is true.  We could bring down Cameron’s Coalition with a mirror image of the Tea Party.

The question really is, do we feel desperate enough?

In five months’ time, I wouldn’t bet on it not being the case …

Oct 172010

The video at the end of this post came my way via a Symbolman retweet of crystalwolflady’s original:

The #TeaParty and the Billionaires – How the #Koch Brothers Manipulate Politics http://goo.gl/MqkA #P2 #GOP #Citizens4Prosperity

A case, perhaps, of how too many Kochs spoilt the broth – or, maybe more accurately, the American pie.

Watch it and then wonder.

Why do so many businesspeople these days find it impossible not to get involved in politics?  Theirs is a single-minded obsession to make more money for individual pockets.  Politics, meanwhile, is all about pulling all of society’s socks up.  The two just simply do not fit together.  Tears are ours to cry sooner or later down the line.

So is this really the sort of politics we want to have this side of the pond?


Further reading: Wikipedia on Koch Industries | the New Yorker on the Koch brothers’ war on Obama | the Guardian on the links between the Koch brothers and the American Tea Party movement