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.

Jun 262013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For all of us, that is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even, dare I say, a new Labour!

Jun 172013

Few places I can reach on the web this evening tell me what Blair said in a Times interview on Saturday.  This curious outlet does, however (the bold is mine):

Former Labour leader Tony Blair has warned his successor Ed Miliband to avoid the “politics of anger” by pushing to hit the super-rich with greater taxes.

The former Prime Minister said that pursuing such a policy “won’t necessarily change the nature of your society”, going on to defend the rise of the wealthy as “the way the world goes”.

In the past we’ve been frequently told, unendingly told, that we deserve the politicians and business leaders we’ve got.  In particular, the politicians.  And especially because we vote for them.

Now Blair adds a second reason: we have the rich and powerful we have because that’s “the way the world goes”.

He has something else to say, though – something else also pretty sad:

“There are two types of politics today: the politics of the anger and the politics of the answer,’ he said in an interview with The Times on Saturday.

“I prefer the politics of the answer. [...]”

The answer being that which the powerful prefer to predigest and expel over the rest of us.

I don’t agree.

I don’t agree at all.

This is the reason why.

When the rich and powerful separate themselves so clearly from the rest of society (as Blair so obviously does), the rest of society can’t be a reflection of – or, indeed, related to – the rich and powerful.

We really don’t vote for them – particularly when they cleverly impose their will.  We really don’t owe them anything – especially when they ingeniously argue we must.

Nor can these individuals realistically represent our very obvious needs.

How on earth could they possibly when, at the same time, admitting their stratospheric differences?

From Blair’s own mouth, from Blair’s own words, he shows us he is no socialist.  No socialist would ever give in to a world as he describes it; no socialist would ever say there was nothing to be done.

Nothing to be done – except to refuse to get angry about a planet where the needy die needlessly every day; nothing to be done – except to trot out criminal platitudes about an economy where the wealth of the wealthy concentrates off the backs of the needless deaths of those needy.

Blair’s right, of course: this is “the way the world goes”.

And that’s why we are socialists, precisely so it doesn’t.

Apr 112013

The idea of yet another third way (or more grandiloquently put, yet another “The Third Way”) rears its ugly head again.  Whilst Tony Blair re-emerges from the ashes of Thatcherism, and asks us to “oppose smartly and govern sensibly” (personally, I think it revealing he didn’t choose “oppose sensibly and govern smartly”) in a piece headlined “Labour must search for answers and not merely aspire to be a repository for people’s anger”, it would appear that Ed Miliband’s Labour is already working out how to be both a repository for people’s anger (though not always in the way they’d prefer) (more here) and its channel, aiming as it is to weave the enthusiasm-winning patterns of community-organisation and policy-empowerment structures:

[...] If all goes according to plan, Graf’s system will transform the Labour Party from a centralised, rusty machine for mass leaflet delivery into a thriving ecosystem of grassroots campaigners. The key, Graf tells me, lies in giving ordinary members ownership of the policymaking process. Then they become not just cogs in a mechanism but evangelists for a cause. [...]

So whilst Mark Ferguson rightly condemns the bloodless technocracy of Blair alongside its all too memorable results (in both the good it stealthily obtained, as well as the bad its legacy became precisely through such stealth), and as we discard Tony Blair’s intervention in a debate already too stale, what answers (to use his terminology – ah, so maybe he does have a point!) do we look for next?

Bloody revolution is clearly no option at all.  Not for moral reasons either – the violence of violent property is causing unhappy pain in the streets of Europe, Africa, the US and elsewhere as it is.  Unnecessarily so, too.  If we went down the bloody route again, the negative outcomes would just pile up on all sides.  And on our watch.

In everything there must be balance.  And so managing change of the nature we have before us must involve managing change in a balanced way.

As I pointed out recently, evolution has had its day.  The only alternative now left us is to revisit a revolution of a kind: not the blood-soaked opposite of the bloodless technocracy which Ferguson rightly finds repellent in his post, but an alternative, carefully couched and parallel process of disruption.  A “positive disruption” is how some are now terming it.  A revolution which recovers its moral right to exist, via 21st century tools which recover its ability to be ambitious of objectively-measured success.

Just imagine a French or Bolshevik Revolution aligned with the techniques of modern business.  Yes.  If Labour is looking for “The Third Way” again, it could do worse than investigate such a way.  It would automatically find itself able to draw on a huge body of practical implementation in the corporations that already sponsor political parties – and yet, at the very same time, be able to rework the tools in question for a community-based infrastructure of Party organisers.

How about it then?  Neither cold-hearted technocracy nor hot-blooded revolution – but, instead, a society-metamorphosing disruption of an entirely bloodless nature.

Bloodless but not blood-free.

There’s the key to it all.

Mar 112013

Paul Burgin asked an intriguing question this afternoon.  I retweeted it and answered it thus (for those of you not familiar with Twitter’s syntax, you have to read the second part first and the first part second):

What Ed M is doing right now? Rock boat, but not too much. RT @Paul_Burgin: What does it take to ensure that Cameron remains PM until 2015?

Is it, in fact, time that the leader of the Labour opposition, Ed Miliband, gave David Cameron, the Tory Prime Minister, the helping hand it would appear he so desperately needs?  After all, this judgement of Cameron’s efficacy and historical potential is biting – and eye-opening:

My friend writes:

“I’m struggling to get the incredulity of the commentariat regarding leadership threats to Cameron. Why should anyone expect that a Party leader who failed to win an unlosable General Election, did nothing with being PM, and apparently has no chance of winning the next General Election would survive unchallenged?”

Ouch. And, as he points out, it is often forgotten that later this year Cameron will have been leader for eight years.

“Eight years after becoming Conservative Party Leader … Thatcher had got inflation from 22 per cent to 4 per cent and beaten the Argies. Heath had joined the EU. Churchill had won World War Two. Baldwin had seen off the General Strike and the Great Depression and broken both the Liberal and Labour parties, utterly. (No other Conservative leader lasted eight years post World War One). Cameron, on the other hand has … well, there’s … umm …”

Now I’m not entirely sure that in that poverty-stricken “umm” everything is necessarily lost.  Blair’s abiding achievement, after all, was a bloody conflict in Iraq.  It may have been the case that history was cruel to him – but the energy, resource, financial weight and body count which the conflict in question required of us leads me to wonder if a cipher of Blair wasn’t exactly what we were looking for in Cameron.  So did Cameron really fail to win an “unlosable General Election” – or was it, rather, that he instinctively comprehended the British people’s need to tether just a bit more definitively their next leader to their evermore parochial kennel?

Sometimes, the closed system that is politics has its own karma.  You give up a country’s sense of itself to a foreign power such as the US, however apparently justified at the time the deal may have appeared to be – and the next leader but one who comes along has no alternative but to reverse the ship of state.  No more foreign adventures for the moment – no more Falklands, no more Kosovos, no more Iraqi conflagrations.  If you must lie to the people, then divide the country cruelly up into deserving and non-deserving; get your communications paid for by the viewers via the TV licence fee; and tell those huge lies as hugely as you can, whilst history – or at the least the next general election – remains firmly on your side.

But whether Cameron is the cipher we needed or not, I think it’s pretty clear we in the Labour Party now need him to remain.  We need his frantic straddling of supposedly detoxified Toryism on the one hand and the lurching to the right which UKIP’s current bounce presages on the other to continue for as long as it might.

And it is in Paul Burgin’s original question and in Iain Martin’s perspicacious friend that I think I finally discover the reasons behind the modest approach which, to date, Labour’s Ed Miliband has taken.  Miliband has had Cameron’s measure since the very beginning.  After all, Miliband was an MP under Blair – had the opportunity to observe at close quarters the very man Cameron has surely modelled himself on.

In both Cameron’s strengths as a professional obfuscator and his manifest weaknesses as a professional salesman, Miliband will have seen it all before.

Miliband knows Cameron’s laying his own traps.  He just has to be there for him – with the kind of helping hand all enemies proffer.

Enough rope to keep him hanging on.

Not too much to hang him.

Not yet.

Nov 272012

I read this piece by Mark Ferguson, posted on LabourList tonight:

Tomorrow Tony Blair is making a major speech on Europe, which I’ll be attending. Ahead of the speech, I received a press release entitled “Blair for EU President campaign starts tomorrow: Join us!”

Ferguson goes on to tell us:

According to the press release,

Tomorrow (November 28) Tony Blair will kick-start his campaign to become the EU’s president. We will be there to support him between 9-9.30am…Members of the London office of the Blair for President Preparatory Committee will be waiting to greet Tony with colourful campaign posters carrying the slogan: Tony Blair for EU President – Integrity in Action

We then get an intriguing bit of investigative legwork, worth reading in full, which comes to the following conclusion:

They’ve also held at least one joint event with The Bruges Group, who describe themselves as “A neoliberal think tank which researches and publishes against European federation and against British participation in a single European state.” Sound like Blair fans to you? Or a group that would want any EU President? No, it rather sounds like a bunch of rightwingers running a false flag operation to me.

Finally, onto this update, aimed at clarifying the matter:

Update: The People’s Pledge contacted us with the following statement:

“Marc has set up, in his own time, what is clearly a spoof campaign, to highlight the importance of the EU presidency. The Democracy Movement has a long history of spoof campaigns to highlight certain issues on which they campaign.”

Take a look at the website for yourself and see if you think it’s clearly a spoof…

Now in the grander scheme of things, with disabled, sick, unemployed and poor people getting the very worst treatment in recent history from the government of this once fair nation, you might think that Ferguson is playing the navel-gazing Westminster Village just one too many times.

But, on reflection, I really do not think he is wasting his – or our – time on this matter.

I think, in fact, he may be on to much more than even he believes.

All through the calvary of the last two years or so, as the austerity drum has been savagely beaten by our leaders and as the rich and wealthy have acquired more riches and wealth, I’ve found it really really difficult to understand the hatred the Tories would appear to manifest for the disadvantaged constituencies mentioned above.

As a driver to do further ill, I can understand the psychological fear that treating millions of people harshly might engender in those who impose such policies.  But hatred of the poor doesn’t seem at all the kind of motivation which – in itself – sustains, by itself, such a continuous and permanently unpleasant race against equality.

In so many cases, too, it’s almost as if the government’s yardstick for policy selection has been as follows: “Choose something – anything – which a) hasn’t yet been done and b) no one else wants!”  It doesn’t matter that there is no evidence to support the utility of a policy in particular; it doesn’t even matter that so many professionals, freely offering their advice, suggest that disaster will accompany its implementation.  No.  The important thing, the key thing, the guiding light for this current government, seems to be as I suggest: “Do it – whatever it is – as long as no one else wants it done.”

Hating the poor, the sick and the disabled?  No.  I don’t think this is enough to explain these behaviours.  For this government also hates doctors, lawyers, teachers and a whole host of other educated and fairly wealthy souls.

You know what?  I think this has so very much more to do with Blair and his legacy than any of us could quite have imagined.  Much more, in fact, to do with Blair himself; much less to do with New Labour as an entity.  This is personal.  This is painful.  This is upper middle-aged white men who spent most of their political lives in the wilderness of Blair’s shadow.  They hate the poor, the sick and the disabled – but they also hate the lawyers, doctors and teachers.

Don’t you see it?  They actually hate the intelligentsia!  That’s who they really despise.  Those, who with their intelligence and evidence, defend a permanent reworking of Darwinian capitalism.

I do really wonder if what’s at the bottom of this Coalition project, what’s really driving it mightily along at an entirely visceral and gut-wrenching level, is a vigorous and unceasing hatred of a powerful figure like Blair’s clearly was; even, perhaps, a vigorous and unceasing desire to excise him altogether from recent political relevance.

In a phrase, a pretty terrifying desire to undo his achievements entirely; to destroy all national recognition; to airbrush his presence and personal weight.

Essentially, to take him out – to take him out of the British body politic forever.

A Soviet-style rewriting of recent history?  Perhaps this is, indeed, what’s now driving this terrible terrible flock of silly politicians.  It’s not us they hate exactly you see.  It’s the “us” that Blair made us who they simply can’t abide.  The “us” that strove, however imperfectly, to create a new Jerusalem in a kingdom of the united.

A man who attempted the impossible and failed quite miserably abroad.

And yet not altogether – not quite when back at home.

The sick, poor and disabled who now fight for their rights; the doctors, lawyers, teachers and other members of the intelligentsia who will not lie down meekly and capitulate … they are his legacy far more than anything else we thought he intended.

And all this so reminds me of other Eastern bloc countries which operated in other awful times.  When history ends up in the hands of the obsessed and bitter, the unprofessional and the demagogue, it becomes a sour weapon which can destroy us all.

Which brings me to my final thought: if these dreadful Coalition politicians are so full of a Blair-driven spite as I imagine, isn’t there something we should see and salvage from all that Blair managed to leave us?  And aren’t the battles the disadvantaged are now waging against the intellectual impoverishment of the Tory Party exactly that sign of lasting achievement which – quite justly – Tony Blair will be able to take to his political grave?

Even as we, his unwilling sons and daughters, end up object of the worst kind of collateral damage this country has ever seen.

Nov 112012

I’ve been wondering on this one for a while now.  It’s clear that the Tories are engaged in a blitzkrieg of terrifying proportions as they fight alongside their American cousins to destroy the infrastructure of public-service delivery here in Britain.  It’s even been argued that they don’t care about cost: that the substitute National Health Service, as operated by private institutions, will spend far more as it does the job worse, both in terms of patient care as well as staff working conditions and pay, than the previous structures ever did.


They’re not interested in cost.

They’re not interested in delivery.

What an earth, then, are they interested in?

I think to be honest the only conclusion we can now reasonably come to is blame, culpability and responsibility in general.

The state has always been criticised quite savagely by the right here in Britain for being generally cumbersome and overly procedural – as well as lacking in responsiveness and customer focus.  Every time a disease has broken out at an NHS hospital or a child has been abused at a state school or  a police force has been accused of ignoring rape victims, we get another case added to an apparent litany of crimes which the overbearing nanny state continues to commit.

How much better would it be, then, for the state to be divided up into small and focussed gobbets of good practice which worked alongside their communities in beautiful and cogent consonance and agreement!

A kind of sociopolitical heaven on earth, don’t you think?

And that’s the way they’re telling us it’ll go.  Except that I’ve realised, today, how that’s not the real intention.

Why do makers and shakers really want to eliminate the state?  Because they’re fed up to their unprofessional back-teeth of having to respond to a public oversight of everything they undemocratically cook up on their cosy sofas behind their carefully closed doors.  Having a relatively concentrated state with relatively clear lines of responsibility makes it evermore difficult, especially in a social-media age of rolling 24-hour Internet judgement, to maintain a proper narrative which serves to win elections.

You can just hear them discussing it in one or other of their top-level strategy meetings:  “How much better then would it be if we could find a way of diluting that responsibility?  Of making it impossible to pin down – not only to the politicians but also the service deliverers themselves?”

And so this is what they’ve been doing, since Tony Blair’s time at least.  In this sense, Thatcher was anything but a diluter of responsibilities.  She shouldered them vigorously, frontally, aggressively.  Not for her this lily-livered hiding-behind-contracting-corporations.

She may have used the state to destroy whole communities – but, for her, the state was a tool that should continue.

These lot, however, are post-Thatcherites in one very important sense: deviating lines of responsibility to make one’s job easier is the least attractive behaviour any person at the top of a hierarchy can demonstrate.  And this is precisely what Cameron & Co are now doing.  Not only do they not care to make the public sector more efficient, they prefer to substitute it with a more expensive private sector which will act as a shield for their continued political survival and protection.

They are getting us to expensively pay for that which will assure their long-term permanence in their chosen fields of endeavour.

The great advantage of the democratic state was that everyone who worked in it used to think that bad deeds would one day come – sooner or later – to very public light.  The great advantage of the private-sector state, however, at least for this most recent crop of post-Thatcherite politicos, is that everyone who works in it just knows that responsibilities will be inevitably hidden.

That’s why it’s called the private sector.  It keeps most of the very bad things it does very much to itself.

Makers and shakers of this nature really only want one thing: not to be blamed for anything at all.

By claiming to reduce the state to its minimum expression, and – at the same time as destroying the legal aid system – proceeding to shift the burden of proof to the patient, parent and crime victim, they’ve discovered a wonderful way of absolving themselves of all direct responsibility.

For they’ve now found the perfect mechanism to achieve this hugely damaging goal.

Once named the taxpayer, we now have the newly 21st century patient, parent and crime victim: as hapless and confused consumer without enforceable rights, they become political cannon fodder to the personal and careerist enrichment of the most evil political class in Western democracy.

The cowardly right.

Sep 142012

Yesterday, the BBC quoted Jack Straw as saying the following:

Mr Straw said that it was “a matter of great regret” to him that Labour had not ensured that the disaster had been investigated thoroughly enough earlier in its time in office, between 1997 and 2010.

But he also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The Thatcher government, because they needed the police to be a partisan force, particularly for the miners strike and other industrial troubles, created a culture of impunity in the police service.

“They really were immune from outside influences and they thought they could rule the roost and that is what we absolutely saw in south Yorkshire.”

I do wonder if it isn’t becoming a lot clearer here that some police forces are popping up with an ever-increasing frequency as the very worst guys of establishment behaviour.  We had the apparently cosy relationship between the Met and News International which allowed the phonehacking scandal and other alleged behaviours to be unreasonably ignored for far too long – an ignorance which arguably led to the publishing empire’s iron grip over the vast majority of British politicians for decades; we had the South Yorkshire police in Hillsborough and Orgreave where incorrect policing – blunders or otherwise – were manifestly demonstrated in both cases without, apparently, any corrective actions being taken by anyone in charge.  In all these cases, we just happened to have police forces close to the epicentres of the profoundest power struggles going on at the time under Thatcher’s reign.

So I do wonder if any of what Straw says is accurate, and – if it is – whether this doesn’t explain to a certain extent New Labour’s often secretive ways of running itself.  If some key police forces really did act with an impunity certain people in Thatcher’s cabinet were able to tolerate, they weren’t going to lose the habit when New Labour came into power.  And where any of the policies New Labour wanted to put into practice ended up challenging those who were really in power, the outcomes were never going to be easy – or, indeed, perhaps, safe.

I don’t know about you but certainly for me, in Straw’s words there is a degree of latent paranoia which makes me – as an outsider – think twice.  What really went on inside those levels of British society so accustomed in Thatcher’s time to undemocratically exerting the levers of power?  How did they negotiate the change between the Tories and Blair?  Was it all down to Blair himself selling a donkey to the populace?  Or did Blair & Co really have a fight on their hands – a serious and profoundly scary fight, as Straw’s comments would seem to indicate might have been the case?


When those bodies which exist in representative democracy in order to protect the people are, in reality, there only to represent themselves … well, this is when we do really have to ask questions.  For example, is the common and underlying factor in all these unspooling scandals actually very English kinds of self-elected and autocratic leaders?  Is the nature of our police leaders as allowed to unfold under Thatcher – and perhaps tolerated under New Labour for whatever reasons – an issue which now requires a proper airing?  Orgreave and now Hillsborough?  News International?  Is there really not enough evidence to pull together a broader understanding of what has happened in the past quarter century?

For the difference between a policed state and a police state is often not all that easy to perceive.

And once we have slipped from the former to the latter, who’s to say we will ever know how to return?

Sep 062012

Interesting and perceptive paragraph, this one, from an interesting and perceptive article in the Guardian today (the bold is mine):

More and more voters, therefore, will be worrying about jobs, benefits, rents, and debt interest rates, not about the value of houses, pensions or shares. The neoliberal attempt to create mass capitalism has hit the buffers. Political parties that stand on what has been called “the centre ground” for the past three decades can afford to abandon it. If the left parties can develop a coherent economic alternative, they will find an increasingly receptive audience who, in the words of Franklin Roosevelt, have nothing to fear but fear itself.

That, in fact, is what has happened.  And so now I understand why it all went so awfully belly-up.  People like Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher maybe did after all believe in a capitalism of the masses – blinded as they were by their terrible convictions to the reality that capitalism, by its very essence, only ever feeds off the masses, even as it never properly or efficiently can all of them feed.

Capitalism requires hierarchy; capitalism requires owners and owned; capitalism requires both the downtrodden and those who do the treading.  It’s a chimera, that we can all get to the top.  For if we all got to the top, the armies that make up the capitalist battlefield would have no cannon fodder to throw at the enemy.

And that would never do.

If Blair is over, so are Thatcher and Cameron.

If Blair is over, so is that illusion of branded social democracy, of late and sentimental capitalism, that was the neoliberalism of little-people shareholdings.  A manifest piece of marketing in any case.

In hindsight, after all, it really does beggar belief.  Did we really – truly – believe them when they encouraged us to place our hard-won nest eggs precisely in those baskets they then proceeded to throw at the markets with the most violence, lack of foresight and absence of sensibility they could unprofessionally muster?

Save all your life to throw it away on an idea?  Is that what Blairism, Thatcherism and that tiny little tail of Cameronism has finally succeeded in delivering to the masses?

And they talk about the irrelevance of ideology to modern politics.

This isn’t the age of aspiration any more.

This is the age of survival.

We don’t need salesmen and women to lead us out of these darknesses – but survivalists who understand what’s it like not to know where the next poverty-engendering job will come from.  We need people and communities who understand that life isn’t about concentrating wealth but – instead –  about sharing it out as wide as possible.

Not spreading it thinly but spreading it broadly.

There’s a difference.

Wealth needs to revolve to benefit society.  Sitting on wealth and watching it grow coldly and uncreatively is the sickest act a rich civilisation can encourage its citizens to prize.

If Blair really is over, and Thatcher and Cameron too, let’s not let slip faint praise or murmur ashamedly to ourselves.  Rest in peace for a job well done?

THEY FAILED FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!  On their own terms, on ours, on behalf of generations to come; on behalf of generations who can now only look to the future with fear.  This, my dear friends, is what failure – unmitigated, unruly, unpredictable, uncontrollable – actually looks like.  Anything they now say will sound only of a vague and stupid puffery.  They’ll squabble amongst themselves, of course, as they discuss their awfully complex issues: disagreeing here, disagreeing there, “agendas ladies”, “points of order gentlemen”.  But in truth there is nothing they can do to charm us again with their stage-managed and effervescently careful whispers.

If only they were able to face up to the brutal reality: whilst the voters are too ignorant to properly understand what has happened, these very same voters are nevertheless obliged – duty-bound, in fact – to unknowingly suffer the consequences.

So it is that Blair and Thatcher and Cameron’s law and order, the Magna Carta itself, has broken up completely – right down the middle; a total disintegration of that formerly fair and just balance between doing and being done to.

Where Great Britain and Northern Ireland was once a land where the connection between rights and responsibilities ruled, now it’s becoming all too patently obvious that the truth we live is really quite another: too stupid to have the right to an opinion, we must even so swallow the medicine.

The real failure of neoliberalism – of Blair, Thatcher and Cameron?  It’s NOT the economy, stupids!  It’s utterly – and entirely – a morality play.

A broken-backed morality play for our time, that is.

A borked broken-backed morality play – if that sounds more in line with the register I’m using.

But I’m not looking to re-establish 19th century mores.


That’s not what I’m saying at all.

All I’m wondering, out loud, and with an ever-growing lack of spirit, is how it was possible for these two intelligent men and that one intelligent woman to contemplate creating a whole civilisation based on greed, something-for-nothing financial transactions and a survival of the fittest which even the basest creatures on our planet may choose to avoid.

If Blair, Thatcher and Cameron really are over, and we are now in the anteroom of another kinder and more humanly recognisable age, I can only proclaim: “Hallelujah!”

If they – and we – are not, I can only suggest you prepare your cardboard boxes, your tins of beans, your camping cutlery – and, perhaps, a prayer or two just in case.

For if it’s survival time, we’ll only really manage by sincerely and honestly pulling together as – maybe – never before.

Whilst if that’s not going to be on the agenda, and this tragically ugly and neoliberal Darwinian capitalism – which destroys so many lives, families, people and aspirations – is truly going to be all that’s left us … well, I really do not see a future peace for anyone to rest in.

Whatever standing history cares to assign them.

Whatever their official reputation may finally turn out to be.

Aug 152012

I’ve often battled against tribalism in politics.  I take as my reference point not the Tories of old but New Labour itself.  So much good was reworked by the silver-tongued leaders of that formation – but, as a Twitter friend of mine so rightly points out, at a cost:

@eiohel Yes, while New Labour did undertake much needed investment in schools,hospitals etc it came at a cost + we’r still paying the price

All those juicy PFI agreements being just one.

And in much the same way as the US Paul Ryan would now appear to be demanding American public-sector cuts of $6 trillion – which coincidentally mirror George W Bush’s tax giveaways to the rich from years back – so New Labour’s PFI can be interpreted as a (perhaps deliberate and intentionally fashioned) continuation of Thatcher’s savage underinvestment in state education, healthcare and social security.

Taken as a long-term strategy by those with neoliberal tendencies in all parties to eventually gut the public sector, the underinvestment by Thatcher inevitably opened the back door (where not trapdoor) to private investment in state infrastructures such as schools and hospitals.  This, then, was just the first stage in ensuring that any future regime would have its hands tied as far as private sector participation in general provision of key public-sector services.

That Cameron failed to gain an overall majority shows us just how unhappy the voting populace was with this neoliberal strategy: neither voting for New Labour in its decaffeinated manifestation under Brown nor voting for its retread in Cameron’s detoxified Tories, intuitive suspicion and a lack of real alternatives perhaps meant that the logjam of the last general election was inevitable.

It’s not that we didn’t know whether to trust Brown or Cameron.  It’s, rather, that we realised whilst our civic obligation was to dutifully vote, the alternatives to more neoliberal dismantling of a public-service model we treasured simply did not exist on our political spectrum.

Meanwhile, now what we witness is a total rejection by our leading politicians of all democratic instincts to convince the voters before implementing new policies.  They see the long-term goals of the neoliberals almost achieved – and can’t wait, gagging as they are, to fulfil their apparent destinies.

You have heard me reject – over the past six years – the need for tribalism in politics in order to achieve one’s objectives.

In the light of what has clearly been a drip-feed war played out in our common and ordinary lives by neoliberal advantage-seekers of many and any unscrupulous kinds, it would seem that – truthfully – there is now no longer any alternative to signing up to the side that best benefits humanity and its inhabitants.

Even as such tribalism, in the guise of New Labour and its Thatcherite frame, and perhaps quite despite itself, was sadly responsible for hammering the penultimate nails into the coffin of the caring state.

One word of warning, then, before I finish this post: where tribalism must be contemplated, be very careful which tribe you sign up to.

For I can hardly believe that all those bright and shiny New Labourites – who voted with such enthusiasm in 1997 – ever expected their government to form part of a historical arc which would terminate in Cameronism.

Now did we?

Aug 072012

A while ago I posted this piece on the virtues of pursuing excellence compared to the downsides of competition:

Everywhere that commerce gets involved in what used to be public spaces, there is the same tendency to make exclusive of each other different products and services supplied by different providers.  From software such as Microsoft Office which locks you into proprietary data formats to supermarkets with private malls and parking places which can only be used for a certain time and only for a certain purpose, the desire by powerful companies to own our physical and intellectual spaces only seems, as time goes by, to march unstoppably onwards and upwards.

And yet commerce wouldn’t have to be like that if excellence rather than competition were the name of the game.  A massive evolutionary step forwards it – indeed – would be, in fact.  And perhaps, in a way, we are in the anteroom of such a step forwards: whilst the web is still in its relative infancy, we – even so – are able to perceive on the social horizon many tendencies and tools which might allow for a perfect perception of true excellence – above and beyond the tricks of marketing and persuasion which currently tend to cloud realities.

I then went on to conclude that:

In the name of competition, specialisation arose.  Through this process of specialisation, disconnection began to spread.  Now we only know how to keep a community together by creating as big a sense of distance and difference as possible from those beings we are forced unerringly to compete against.  By creating a worldwide web of interconnectedness on the back of such specialisation, we have created an impossibly gigantic circle the squaring of which can surely only break us.

My conclusion?  We either stop using, at least as we have done to date, that specialisation I mention to advance our society – or we work out some pretty convincing alternative way of overcoming the Chinese walls that are breaking up our ability to share our evermore uncommon experiences.

Either way, it’s going to be an uphill battle for the cooperative instincts at the heart of humanity.

And an example, perhaps, of where a progress measured only empirically distorts a wider understanding of what excellence – and, as a result, our society itself – should really look like.

In the above piece, I set out the arguments in favour of moving on from the age-old competitive instincts of Darwinian capitalism to a more objective, more reality-grounded, more cooperative-focussed, goal of achieving excellence in all fields.

Yesterday, however, I was minded to recapitulate: I finally saw the film “El Caballero Oscuro: La Leyenda Renace” (the Spanish dubbed version of “The Dark Knight Rises”, the final film in the Christopher Nolan take on the Batman mythology).  Amongst many other wonderful things (Blake is almost like a Luke Skywalker reprise; Catwoman a Hans Solo delightfully playing off the moral centre thus constructed), the film talks of the dangers of a just revolution – even when you are right, by acting on such righteousness you may further contribute to the destruction of civilisation.

And part of this righteousness lies in our competitive pursuit of excellence above all.  If we teach, through our consumerism, our children and youth to believe in absolute notions of value for money, of best is first, of maximising outcomes in everything we do and everyone we get to know, we can only conclude that excellence must be applied to every field of human endeavour.

The nominal baddie in the film goes by the name of Bane.  (The bane of Batman, in fact – even as Robin John Blake alludes to stealing the latter’s right to an autumnal morality, as the Batcave substitutes his beloved attachment to good policing.)  At one point in the narrative, Bane and his gang invade Wall Street’s Stock Exchange.  The following exchange sets up their moral justification for their violent occupation of those who have used other tools to commit injustices:

“Esto es la bolsa, aquí no hay dinero para robar.”

“¿De verdad? Y vosotros, ¿qué hacéis aquí?”

Which loosely translates as:

“This is the Stock Exchange, there’s no money here you can steal.”

“Really? And you lot, what are you doing here then?”

In this film, we see how the absolutism of corporate competitiveness has led all kinds of human beings – both good and manifestly evil – to acquire the same mindsets of excellence in what they do.  Bane’s plan is as coherent and thought-through as any marketing of a global brand has ever managed to be: even, perhaps, as ingenious and effective as that plan which has sold us the narrative that contains his story.

“The Dark Knight Rises” explains history quite magnificently.  From the dangers of a new French Revolution to the unhappy reality that, sometimes, evil individuals operating on the backs of masses do change the direction of humanity, Nolan’s images underline how fragile the order which contains our worst instincts really is.

In the light of the above, then, do I still believe in cooperative excellence over competitive Darwinism?

I think I do.

But after watching Nolan’s film, a single caveat: sometimes, civilisation needs uncivilised means to put evil genies back in their bottles.  The problem we have, when we decide this is the case, is that the process we use to choose who and when is still fraught with the unempowering hierarchies of old.

We cannot solve our crises of morality if the genie-containing procedures are not in themselves shared moral acts.

That a Tony Blair or a George W Bush take it upon themselves to lie to us (as, in the film, Commissioner Gordon did to his people for eight long years about the true nature of their alleged saviour Harvey Dent) in order, that is, to save us from our enemies … well, this is not only immoral but also – as we have seen in both the cinema and our own realities – rankly inefficient.  If for no other reason, then, than that of saving pecuniary pain, we should change not only when we go to war (whether figurative or literal) but also how we make that decision.

Perhaps, in truth, we need a little less excellence than we have always assumed.  Perhaps it is time to stop stretching the envelope so competitively.  Perhaps the mirror image of the Apples of this world truly is the Banes of cinematic existence.

Perhaps it is time to be less human – and more humane.

Jul 042012

Joris Luyendijk has published a fascinating blogpost on the nightmare which the financial services sector may now have become.  In it, one of his most eye-catching paragraphs runs as follows:

Over the past 10 months I have interviewed dozens of people working in finance in London and if I had to name one thing that this investigation did not do, it is restore confidence. External accountants explained how nobody at the major banks can have a complete overview any more – they have become simply too big. Well before RBS ran into deep trouble, IT consultants painted a truly terrifying picture of banks’ software operations. Forget too big to fail or too big to rescue, IT and accountancy interviewees said. We need to talk about too big to even manage.  [...]

Meanwhile, he gives a degree of praise to Ed Miliband for demanding a public inquiry into the whole mess, pointing out (clearly in the light of the above) that:

[...] His reasoning was puzzling though, arguing that only an independent inquiry would “restore confidence in our financial services”.

The assumption being that financial ignorance has been bliss.

A bliss which we should not hastily discard.

Which does make me wonder – and perhaps it should you too.  If a public inquiry on the lines of Leveson were set up to investigate everything and everyone involved in this mounting crisis of confidence, wouldn’t it seriously implicate politicians from within Miliband’s own party in one of two possible scenarios?  That is to say, either:

  1. they didn’t know – leading us to believe they were incompetent; or
  2. they didn’t care enough to do anything about it – leading us to believe they somehow benefited;

Is, then, he playing a far darker – and highly politicised – game?  Is he not only calling the political shots as far as general and widespread public opinion is concerned but also laying the groundwork for a definitive nail in the coffin of New Labour – and, by extension, any attempt that Tony Blair might be engaging in to try and make a comeback to the British political scene?

Yes.  I’ve seen tweets fly before my eyes over the past couple of days concluding that Miliband wouldn’t be entirely unhappy if Ed Balls’ wings were clipped a mite by such an inquiry.  As Gordon Brown’s best mate during New Labour’s regime, a public inquiry into banking practices over the past decade wouldn’t half keep some political people on their toes whilst it lasted – even if nothing shameful were uncovered by its end.

But far more important is the message that under New Labour, and years before the banking crisis became apparent to us mortals, certain activities, atmospheres and ways of seeing and doing were tolerated by a massive superstructure of essentially cruel makers and shakers.  As Luyendijk also indicates:

A wide-ranging public inquiry could bring out the deeply problematic scale and complexity of global banks. It could show that most banking employees do not have headline-grabbing salaries. And it could get some of those regular employees to talk about how their bank is a zero-trust, zero-loyalty environment, creating a culture of fear that makes sounding the alarm or blowing the whistle so unlikely.

Are you telling me New Labour would easily escape being tarred with the same brush?

And if not, are you telling me Ed Miliband doesn’t know this?

Jun 272012

Bob Diamond, the top boss at Barclays, has this to say on the circumstances that led to a £290 million fine being slapped on the bank for apparently manipulating – in contravention of its own rules and to its own benefit – interbank interest rates over a sustained period of time (the bold is mine):

“The events which gave rise to today’s resolutions relate to past actions which fell well short of the standards to which Barclays aspires in the conduct of its business. When we identified those issues, we took prompt action to fix them and co-operated extensively and proactively with the authorities,” Diamond said.

“Nothing is more important to me than having a strong culture at Barclays; I am sorry that some people acted in a manner not consistent with our culture and values.”

The Guardian report which lays out these pretty repulsive facts starts out by telling us (again, the bold is mine):

The £59.5m fine from the Financial Services Authority is the largest penalty ever levied by the City regulator, which found that Barclays contravened its rules for a number of years and involved “a significant number of employees”.

Both these passages lead me to wonder if my previous piece on prejudice in politics isn’t being replicated in other areas of life.  And perhaps when I said “prejudice”, I should have really said “values”.  And when I say values, perhaps I should make the distinction between overt and covert values.  For when Mr Diamond says “Nothing is more important to me than having a strong culture at Barclays [...]” and we learn that what happened took place over “a number of years and involved a ‘significant number of employees'”, what then do we have if not an organisation with two separate sets of cultures?  The overt one, the one supposedly promoted by HR and communications departments various, the one – in fact – which Mr Diamond argues did not prevail; and the covert one, the one many people operated under for many years, the one which concentrated great wealth in the already deep pockets of its shareholders and managerial class – and which, presumably, went undetected by absolutely everyone at the top.

And so it is that I am minded to come back to politics.  When politicians, think tanks, supporters and tacticians all slaver on about the importance of values in political action, are they actually following the same line Barclays Bank apparently followed?  Overt values for the working classes and covert values for those who wish to get to power on the back of the former’s votes.

And if such a circumstance wasn’t sufficiently bad in itself, when they talk about values as if they were an intellectual breath of fresh air – and when they refuse to recognise the existence of any equivalent cousins of a covert nature – are they actually talking not about a distinct concept of political weight but, rather, about rank-and-file prejudices very similar to the most primitive which any of us out here are inclined to hold?

Just dressed up in fancy language …

In short, are political values nothing more nor less than tiresomely cobbled-together belief systems – as lacking in scientific rigour or, indeed, any basis in real and useful evidence as any mumbo jumbo we might be required to stumble across?

And if so, what does that mean for our most beloved political parties?  Mine, for example – which, in Tony Blair’s massive reign, was rebuilt through the clever sleight-of-hand that was this game of remaining true to our values – even as we arguably changed our political colours.

All of which leads to me to want to add one final thought, before we shut up shop for tonight: if Labour has been a party of mumbo jumbo, it’s not the only political party which has played what is clearly a long-standing game of overt values versus covert values; nor the only one which has been selling the idea that values are far more resilient and acceptable than prejudices.

They are all, in fact, I would suggest, to a greater or lesser degree, tempted by this euphemism that the word “values” has become ; and, just as similarly, tempted to create a two-tier relationship – as per the Barclays example we started out with today – between the values they aspire to in public and the values they practise when at work behind the scenes.

Business and politics were never so mirroring as today.  When it could be so good, it turns out so foul.

What have we done to our societies?

Really, what have we allowed to take place under our stupid noses?

Jun 222012

I only applied to one university in 1980.  I only applied for one course of study.  I couldn’t see myself lasting out any other of the offerings at the time.  I made a mistake filling out my application form and missed out General Studies.  I was made an offer at Warwick University to study Film and Literature on the basis of the results I was expected to get in the other three subjects I studied at A-level – one of which was, unusually, the challenging subject of Mathematics.

My Mathematics teacher was off for ten weeks with a stroke that year.  He refused to take early retirement; the school neglected to contract a replacement.  My grasp of Maths had never been very good; I clearly should’ve taken English Literature, but parental pressure took me down the scientific route.  The omens were therefore not very good.

And so it was that I was offered a place at Warwick University to study Film and Literature on the basis of A-levels in Engineering Science, Economics and Mathematics.

If I remember rightly, there were around twenty places on offer and perhaps a hundred or two applicants.

There weren’t too many film studies courses around at the time in the UK.

In the end, I failed my Maths A-level – I got another O-level instead – but Warwick very kindly let me in because of my General Studies, where I achieved an A grade.  I wasn’t a brilliant student; I had problems with my study methods.  But I did get a 2(i) at the end of it.

It was 1983.

Margaret Thatcher was holding sway quite despite her disastrous economic policies.  Unemployment was rife.

I wanted to be a writer.

I spent three years living with my parents, writing stories and sending them off.  And getting them returned, often by return of post.  I used a real typewriter at the time; later an Amstrad computer with a WordStar clone.  But the rejections didn’t stop taking place.

By the time I was twenty-four, I felt pretty unhappy.  Then I met a Spanish woman at a birthday party – in Salford, of all places.  She invited me over to Spain in the summer of 1987, after a year of having exchanged letters.  This was way before email was available for the majority of the population.  Perhaps way before email was available for anyone.

In Spain I found myself at home.  I added value to Spanish society.  I was a university-educated English speaker who quickly learnt how to popularly teach the English language to the Spanish.  This would never have been possible in my own country.

Wherever on earth that might have been for an Oxford-born half-Croatian with a sixteenth part Spanish Jew, an atheist English father and a dyed-in-the-wool Catholic-practising anti-Communist mother.

I added value precisely because I crossed those frontiers.  I already added value (just wasn’t aware I did) before I went to Spain – precisely because of the mix of cultures I represented.

I escaped Thatcher’s Britain because in such an environment I believed I was worthless.  I felt that what I represented wasn’t needed by the cost-reducing instincts of a Darwinian capitalism in full pursuit of that deep-pocket-enriching bottom line.

But the Spanish – far more clearly – did need me.

For twelve years.

Then my boss – a man I considered a dear friend and even a kind of partner (perhaps that was my mistake) – broke certain understandings into painful and destructive shards.  I lost a lot more of my family’s money than I had a right to.  Finally, I lost my mind in an awful crisis of confidence.  This has affected me ever since as I struggle and battle to regain the right to become a businessperson again.

Business – good business – involves crossing those frontiers I mentioned above.  Cultural rub, cultural dissonance – these are terms that I have used on these pages before to describe the manifestly creative aspects of promoting difference; of promoting our respect for such difference; of promoting its power and ability to devise new futures.

There is nothing more exciting than to find oneself a fish out of water – yet able, somehow, to survive.  That change which takes place – and which takes one aback – as sea creatures morph into amphibious beings suddenly able to engineer brand new ways of living.

So after that crisis of confidence – which, in a sense, was my fault entirely; my fault as I failed to properly understand the ins and outs of a culture still foreign to me – I retreated back to the country I was born in.  It was a messy retreat for which I felt a great deal of guilt during a long time afterwards.  Indirectly, if that is at all the right adverb in the context of the verb which comes next, I wrenched my wife and three children out of their home environment – and forced them to study and work as migrants in a country I had never, myself, known how to completely call my own.

For that was the funniest thing: I, also, felt myself a migrant.  A migrant as I returned to my “own” country; a migrant as foreign as they felt.

Blair’s Britain, its five-a-day exhortations, its ASBOs, its LEA letters threatening us with fines if we allowed the children to stay off school … all this did most definitely not seem the green and pleasant land of my childhood, of my Ladybird books, of my graded readers, of my primary education.  Milkmen still existed; but not for long.  I think even two postal deliveries still existed; but, if they did, not for long.  School milk had long disappeared; meanwhile, Microsoft and Dell ruled the education establishments in their shiny and salesperson-driven realities.

The open source software I had stumbled across in Spain was a century – and a world – away from the country I should surely have felt formed a close and intimate part of me.

Even as I didn’t.

So how can one feel a migrant in one’s country of birth?  How is this possible?  Are some of us natural migrants?  Do some of us belong naturally to all countries and none?

What is this strange feeling I have of being a migrant wherever I go?

And will I ever, now, manage to fit in?

Or will I forever be condemned to a state of foolishly square peg in that deceptively round hole – that round hole which belongs to men and women who only believe in people who believe in fitting in?


So it was that I studied Film and Literature; taught English for twelve years to the Spanish; had a crisis of confidence; studied to be a publisher; had a second, far worse, crisis of confidence; and then found myself working for seven dispiriting and soulless years in a back-office operation in a bank (even as I rightly fought to make up to my family the mistakes I had committed a decade before).

And where am I now?  What am I now?  A migrant in the country I was born in.  A man who can call Spain his adopted home; Croatia his distant love; and England his resilient oppressor.  England an oppressor?  It both drove me mad during the Iraq War and then, via the NHS, put me back together.  It both educated my three Spanish children and taught them the value of their rather more perfectly formed identities.  It both gave work back to my wife and taught me I was capable of going so far as to damage my body on humble data-inputting production lines – out of love for a family I treasured above everything else.

It also showed me how cruel and ingrained the class system still is in this country – this country which proclaims itself a bastion of opportunity.

Oh yes.  I understand what it is to be an immigrant.  Because, from the day I was born, I never belonged anywhere.

Even as I knew, in my heart and soul, I had the right to belong everywhere.

May 042012

The Independent reports this story thus:

A source close to Mr Blair was quoted in Public Affairs News magazine: “He wants to re-engage in the UK. He has things to say and he thinks it’s the right time. The question is how he re-enters the UK scene without re-entering domestic politics and interfering with the Labour Party.”

He has Ed Miliband in a bit of a bind here – though at least from the outside looking in this would appear not to be the case:

Last night a spokesman for Mr Miliband said: “Tony Blair is a very big, successful Labour figure who won three general elections. He talks to Ed regularly and we would be delighted to see him re-engaging in British politics.”

So how could he re-enter domestic politics without interfering with the Labour Party?


I’ve got it.

He could set up his own party.


Well, actually he could.  He has the financial resources, connections and presumably long list of favours to call in (I don’t say this in bad faith but, rather, as a political reality any long-serving politician is bound to acquire); he has the considerable confidence that moving between the revolving doors of business and politics provides one with; and, whether you now like him or not, the ability to talk the hind legs off a horse.

If Mr Blair didn’t care to mess around with internal Labour politics any more, he could quite easily impact on British politicking in many other ways.  In a society where private power is more dominant than public democracy, anyone can enter the spheres of political influence without climbing the greasy poles of party structures.

So perhaps, if I read the situation correctly, Mr Blair will enter British politics – as, since the last general election under this band of millionaire ministers, it has now become – in much the same way as the Osbornes and Camerons of this world.

The difference?  Perhaps he has had time to reflect on his unalloyed successes and contextualise them decently in terms of his undeniable failures.

We are where we are precisely because he taught us – after a good dose of Thatcher’s political spanking – that personality politics did not have to be such a dangerous matter.  I’m inclined to believe it is, mind – now always will.

We are where we are not only because of the legislative groundwork Blair laid.  We are where we are because in a crowdsourced and collaborative age, politicians like Mr Blair continue – with their force of personality – to impose their very particular (perhaps peculiar) visions of society on its citizens.

There is, however, an alternative.

If you missed it yesterday, read this post from yours truly which highlights great political thought on either side of the Atlantic.  To rid ourselves of right-wingers who use the deniabilities of “charismatic authority”, we do not necessarily need to use the same tools and structures as our enemies.

We do not need powerful figures in order that we may exert a mediated power through a sad and sorry papering-over-the-cracks.  We simply require organisational structures which through confidence, trust and sensible belief allow us to exert that power directly.  Does Mr Blair have a place in such a proposal?  Does Mr Blair care to belong to the past or the future?

I’m really not sure.

Surely it will depend far more on Ed Miliband – and how fundamentally he has really changed Labour.  If Labour will truly become a political party of the 21st century, where people control and organise what happens in structures that follow and interpret rather than force and impose, then Mr Blair himself will need to show he understands the profundity of sociocommunicative – as well as sociopolitical – change in such a democratic environment.

If, on the other hand, Miliband has managed (whether by design or by inertia) to change very little, Mr Blair need not alter an iota of his political behaviours.  The Party will remain essentially as he had left it, and its levers of power will act in very familiar ways for him.

At the mercy of a savage Coalition government, perhaps we will all – in some way, then – prefer the devil we know to the devil we most recently voted for.

It all depends – quite curiously – not so much on Mr Blair and his public persona but, instead, on how effectively Mr Miliband has restructured the internal workings of Labour.

Is it the organisation which still fits hand-in-Tony’s-glove – or has it properly (or even significantly) grown up and out of such a time?

Anyone out there any idea?

It’s not clear to me whether, indeed, this has actually happened.

Apr 122012

This is the piece from Ed Miliband’s most recent speech that is probably getting most widely reported.  It talks about taking failure on the chin (the bold is mine) and it is right that he should say this:

You might think the Government’s failure to bring about change will be good for Labour.

It certainly didn’t turn out that way in Bradford West two weeks ago.

The uncomfortable truth for Labour is that people turned to a protest party rather than to us.

We are determined to learn the lessons from Bradford, some of them local to that constituency.

But for me it’s a reminder of the scale of our task.

People turning away from an unpopular government doesn’t automatically mean they turn to Labour.

Letting a government make mistakes is no longer enough to get back into power – if, indeed, it ever was.

In another part of this speech, Miliband (E) claims the following:

The most depressing thing I hear on the doorstep is not when people say they’re going to support the Tories or the Liberal Democrats.

It’s when they say that we’re all the same, all as bad as each other, and that they’re not going to vote at all.

He also says (again, the bold is mine):

The British people rejected us in 2010.

We had great achievements.

We saved the NHS.

We rebuilt schools.

We cut crime.

We took half a million children out of poverty.

I am proud of our record.

But it was also clear that after thirteen years in government, we had become too disconnected from too many people in this country.

And I think, right there, in that last line I highlight, is where British politicians get it wrong over and over again – where Ed gets it wrong too.  The seeds of New Labour’s final fall from grace did not lie in the thirteen years of achievement (thirteen years which, if fairly described, could hardly have led to such failure) but in how it conceptualised its return in the years prior to 1997.  It was going to fail from the start simply because it involved keeping the lid on its less engaged supporters and members, vital nevertheless to its repeated return to power, instead of pursuing a longer-term and more complex approach to putting everyone at the heart of everything it represented.

To be honest, recent attempts to open the Party up to non-members have me in a quandary: are they the final death rattles of sneaky New Labour activists looking in the medium-term to change the voting profile of Labour’s electoral colleges without having to convince anyone with appropriate debate of their populist policies?  Or are they the intelligent suggestions of forward-looking individuals looking simply to make coincide the Party with a more generalist approach to politicking?

My previous post on the dystopian future Labour currently seems to be promising us, in its most recent video on the NHS it says we should aim to be rebuilding, led me to tweet thus this morning:

I’m serious about this, I’m afraid. Why ask us all to vote for a vague dystopia – why not define a wider vision of what you want to achieve?

Where, indeed, is that wider vision?  What can we point to in order that we might proudly declaim “Simples!” – and thus be able to say what we stand for and aim to do?

In the swirling tides of this Coalition shock and awe, we have ourselves on the left lost all sense of direction and shape.  It has managed to generate such an apparently piecemeal approach to dismantling everything that represented sensible British socialism that none of us seems able to create a contradicting easy-to-understand rebuttal.

Our responses have not been knee-jerk – but neither have they been very political.  Evidence-based criticism is fine when you’re dealing with evidence-based professionals.  But politicians, at the very best of times, hardly ever let a good piece of evidence get in the way of an opportunity to landgrab more power.

And so when Ed attributes failure to disconnecting with the people of this country, he is defining the solution once more in terms of “conversation” and “dialogue”.  But shifting power and control away from the state’s institutions, and its elected “enablers”, our politicians, seems not to be anywhere in his current calculations.  If it were, he’d be saying things like “the Labour Party spent thirteen years doing stuff it thought was important on behalf of people it judged couldn’t do be shown how to do it for themselves …”.

Now the implications of that really would be a revolution worth pursuing.

The truth of the matter is that the managerialist and dystopian air of Labour’s latest election broadcast where it hijacks the NHS cause for local election purposes and, whilst saying perfectly truthful things about the bad things Cameron has done, gives us little idea of how this future Labour NHS would be better than the current, doesn’t half make me wonder if New Labour’s top-down ways of doing politics remain today as firmly at the heart of the Party as they ever were under Tony Blair & Co.  Frighten us into voting against the evil Tories (yes, they are evil but I’m a thinking person – I want to vote for things which are important to me and not against things which terrify me); give away as little detail as is possible of what you would do instead (though the video is about as corporate-couched as any video could ever be – in the absence of hard policy, take note of casual register); and, finally, get everyone onside by talking about what the government’s done wrong and not what the opposition, given the chance, would do right.

In fact, if I remember rightly, in the landslide of 1997, people not only chose to vote against the Tories, they positively voted in favour of Labour.

So where’s that strategy in what’s being done today?

How do we get onside, in one relatively happy boat, all those members, supporters, floating voters, apparatchiks, suits, the poor and the disadvantaged – as well as, perhaps more importantly, that broadening constituency of people who simply can’t give a toss about politics at all?

Not by listening, not by conversing, not simply through well-meaning dialogue – but, rather, by:

  1. committing one’s political infrastructures to promising to give away all that power which could really rest in a 21st century people; and
  2. enabling this people to then use such power constructively in order that, as per Peter Levine’s equation, efficiency and good democracy become synonyms for our modern societies;

Simples, no?  Not really, no.

Necessary?  Surely it is – or it is if we want politics to continue being worth what it costs us.

In the meantime, dear Ed, don’t confuse the meerkat with the market.

We didn’t lose the last general election because over thirteen years of government we lost our way.  We lost the last election because the way we found pre-1997 didn’t empower the people from the start.

It was an elite of clever souls who decided they knew better than anyone else what was good for you and me and the cat’s mother – even when we thought that it really wasn’t or didn’t care for the way it was done.

Their behaviours were there from the start.

The results were inevitable from the beginning.

In the interests of political expediency, it’s clear that Ed Miliband runs the risk of making the same mistakes all over again.

My advice to him then?  “Whatever else you do, don’t do this!”