Oct 192014

In truth, the Tories were right: we are all in this together.  And we are all better together.

The problem is they don’t really believe what they say, but – at the same time – what they say is what we ought to say.

A dependence society is bad for everyone concerned: individuals, whether we are “healthy” or not; companies and businesses, whether we are big- or small-scale.  To scrounge a living on the backs of others is about as un-human as anyone can get: the glory of “being” surely lies in proactivity, not the kind of inactivity that relying unnecessarily on others can lead to.

It doesn’t make any difference whether you defraud pennies or billions of pounds: it’s primarily the mindset which is wrong here.  One thing, then, that is broadly shared, I can tell you, is this mindset of something for nothing I describe.  That’s how we’ve been taught to think over the past thirty years.  That’s what “greed is good” does to you.

Yes.  The Tories were right.  In what they said.

The Tories were, however, wrong.  In what they did.

If Labour is looking to see what its next manifesto should really contain, it could do far worse than to take Tory platitudes; give them to our most dedicated (ie humane) socialists; and turn them into properly burnished policies – policies which impact on everyone, in what we would like to call society.

Always assuming that more radical change to our structures is no longer possible short-term, the kind of government we need runs as follows:

  1. A leader like any half-decent philosopher out there – let’s call them HDPh for ease of use – who is able to identify the essence of what makes us happy human beings, and then enable and facilitate the changes and direction we’re all looking for.
  2. A communications tsar like Cameron himself (though please never like IDS, Gove or Boris), able to form and trot out the platitudes we all want to believe in, but which – for a number of years – we’ve failed (for good reason) to believe he believes in.
  3. A second-in-command policy-adviser type like Ed Miliband himself (though please never like those beloved of the so-called Blue Labour clique), able to identify and stand up to the big issues of the day before anyone else has the guts or nous to do so, and then define a proactive response that lives up to the needs of our peoples.  (Needless to say, communication of the latter would be the responsibility of the communications tsar.)

As you can see, no further justifications are required: we are in it – and better – together.

The only problem I can see is that no political party, nor leading light, cares to do just what they’re best suited to; all of them want to be uniquely responsible for making a mess of our lives.

HDPh-type, where are you?

Jul 232014

The Guardian reported around a day ago that:

Two leading Westminster civil liberties campaigners, David Davis and Tom Watson, are to mount a high court legal challenge to the government’s new “emergency” surveillance law, which was rushed through parliament last week.

The application for a judicial review of the new legislation, which was passed with support from the three main parties, is to be mounted by the human rights organisation Liberty on behalf of the two backbench MPs.

However, David Allen Green notes on Twitter that:

I understand the @libertyhq challenge to #DRIP is actually only to section 1 – and *not* the entire Act: https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/news/press-releases/liberty-represents-mps-david-davis-and-tom-watson-legal-challenge-government%E2%80%99s- …

Going on to explain that:

In other words, despite the news coverage, the Tom Watson/David Davis legal challenge is not to entire #DRIP Act but to one section of it,

It appears not one of the news reports on Davis/Watson legal challenge have noted that the challenge is not actually to entire #DRIP Act.

Meanwhile, yesterday I suggested that:

It’s a mistake to start by protesting about the content of #DRIP – far more important, and firstly, the really shocking part was process.

I’d love to have the money to take political leaders to court for undermining democracy, process and procedure. #DRIP

Truth is, whilst Gaza, Ukraine and other awful parts of the news have occupied the front pages over the past two weeks or so, and whilst Labour cheerleaders are happy to leave their human rights credentials to the dustbin of history, passing quickly onto other far more important issues such as internal Party unity, a serious matter is clearly not being fully aired here.  As I said in a previous post (the bold is mine today):

#DRIP, as a process, for me, is just one drop too far.  Politics, if it is anything meaningful in liberal society, is process.  But if the process is no longer liberal, the society is just bald dictatorship.  And that is precisely what we are getting here.  Government diktat in the absence of proper scrutiny:

And when even committed libertarians (libertarians in their own ways, that is true – but libertarians all the same) such as Watson and Davis limit themselves to challenging only a part of the result of dictatorship – obviating a rigorous analysis of the process they participated in (even if unwillingly, I am sure) – then the bald dictatorship I talk of is not just beginning to kick in: clearly, in an ultimate analysis, it is simply proceeding to re-establish itself.

Make no mistake about it, dear readers: this is a full-throated attack on the integrity of democratic communication, dialogue and consensus.  We need to see it as such; we need to deal with it as such; we need to understand that from the so-called #gaggingbill onwards, the final intentions of the political elite – not just the Coalition I insist; not just the Tories or the Lib Dems – is to revert all political activity into the ever-developing injustice that is parliamentary procedure.

From the immorality of Thatcher’s times to the hand-holding hand-in-glove behaviours of our latterday political elite, it’s time we started shouting from the rooftops of all our democracies: “STOP NAYSAYING OUR HUMAN RIGHTS!”

For that, exactly that, is what they are doing.  And that, exactly that, is what they now need to step back from.

Sep 292013

I recently wrote a post on the paradox whereby liberal democracy can carry within it the seeds of its own destruction.  The example quoted, from Paul over at Never Trust a Hippy, went thus:

Paul says these interesting things in his latest post:

I’ve often been asked about what happens when a new electoral process results in an illiberal government. I’ve been told that “if you promote liberal democracy, for example, in many countries in the Middle East, you create a situation whereby a totalitarian-ish Islamist party can take power”.

Surely this presents us with a paradox?

Well… no it doesn’t. If you hold an election, and the resulting constitutional settlement allows the winner to abolish, or rig, subsequent elections, then the election was not part of a process that could be described as ‘liberal democratic’ in the first place.

I remember the above, once more, as the Muppet Tory Party hold their annual hatefest in Manchester this week.  When, for example, I read stuff about David Cameron and Chris Grayling saying they’re looking to repeal the Human Rights’ Act, I am reminded of how challenging such broad-ranging measures are to our liberal sense of freedoms.  If historical Conservatism has any virtue at all, it is in its instinct to move cautiously when amending the fundamentals of any complex system.  You can never fully appreciate the long-term impact on anything when you rush fairly headlong into the matter.  Witness, if you will, New Labour’s initial steps towards NHS privatisation which have tragically laid the crazy-paving path of disaster the Tories are currently marching along and extending.

Using the law to undermine the law is a dangerous precedent of those who would forge and refashion worlds.  If politicians of this ilk like to criticise publishers such as the Murdochs and Assanges of our time for the megalomania they exhibit to ordinary people’s points of view, they might also care to examine their own impulses and attempts to change the terrible basics of human conflict and existence.

Politicians of this kind are little more than megalomaniacs of lever-pulling rule.  Only they believe – and this is the worst of it – that they do it, in the end, for our benefit.

For it is quite one matter when political parties like New Labour overwhelm us with legislation which builds on and furthers existing moralities.  We may agree with them or not; but they are existing, all the same.  In this, I think we can see that the beast was far more truly conservative than these current Tories.

It’s quite a separate matter, though, when you aim to upturn received opinion; when you look to drive a country down the alleyways of prejudice where its unkindest instincts lie.

And when you use the law to undermine  such received opinion, I honestly – sadly frankly – believe we are talking about little more than a de facto takeover of liberal democracy by those who would destroy its essence.

I can only repeat what I wrote in the piece I opened with this morning, where I rewrote my beloved Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

Let’s rewrite them, then, but this time specifically in order to define how liberal democracy must defend human beings:

  1. Liberal democracy may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. Liberal democracy must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. Liberal democracy must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Or, alternatively, and perhaps equally revealingly, to define how human beings should defend liberal democracy:

  1. A human being may not injure liberal democracy or, through inaction, allow liberal democracy to come to harm.
  2. A human being must obey the orders given to them by liberal democracy, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A human being must protect their own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

If only some of the puppets peopling Tory Party Conference this year would take note of the importance of defending those basic principles of freedom – principles we should hold far more dearly than we do – perhaps, then, we could reach some kind of productive consensus in our broken politics.

For that, in truth, is now where we’re at.  Some of our politicians, who represent us from election to election (but don’t seem really to represent anyone except themselves), see the rest of us through a prism of broken politics: for them, it is our society which is broken and their responsibility to sort it.  But in reality what’s broken is Westminster itself.  It’s not us they need to mend but their own sorry front door.

It’s not us who have burgled the House of State at all.  It’s some of these society-reforming busybodies who have forgotten the very English concept of taking people with you when you propose change.

It’s some of these politicians who believe the law’s primary purpose is to abruptly upend everything that came before, instead of building on good practice and better beliefs.

Using the law to undermine the law is anything but good politics, business or governance.  And in the end, it comes back to bite you in the backside.  But in the meantime, before it does, very many ordinary citizens will suffer the awful consequences.

That is the real tragedy of this dreadful Muppet Show.  That is the real tragedy of incompetent governors like Cameron & Co.  We suffer, they don’t – and all the while, the United Kingdom no longer will be.

Roll on One Nation is all I can say.  Even where this will only mean I can contemplate a tidy little England for myself.

Sep 072013

There’s a most irritating bit of viral tweeting been going on today.  Even the normally judicious House of Twits has freely played along in the process of its propagation.  It involves the so-called (well, that’s what they called it) Militax.  There’s even a website called stopthemilitax.com.  Now I can think of plenty of websites I would like the Tories to sponsor: stopIDS.com; stopthewarinsyria.com; stopthebedroomtax.com; stopcullingbadgers.com; stopkillingdisabledpeople.com; stopbeingarseholes.com … but no, they’ve had to choose stopthemilitax.com.

So there you are.

Currently, the website says this of Mr Miliband:


Ed Miliband has been too weak to stand up to Len McCluskey and his union paymasters – and as a result, he is now asking hardworking taxpayers to bail him out.

Ed wants YOU to pay for his spin doctors, his speechwriters, his conferences, his leaflets, and his party political broadcasts.

He’s proposed a £5,000 cap on political donations, which would mean massively increasing taxpayer funding of political parties.

We cannot let that happen. We cannot let the result of the trade union scandal be that every taxpayer in the country pays for the Labour Party.

Join the campaign to STOP THE MILITAX by signing the petition below.

And the way it’s been tweeted – at least today (I may be out of some loop or other, mind – I have been out of the country) – it gives the impression that this is quite a spontaneous outpouring of emotion in favour of freedom, liberty and all things all of us should be in favour of.

So I thought I’d take apart this spontaneous outpouring a bit.

First, the Google page you get when you search “militax 40m”.  The first listing is the Daily Mail (who’d have thunk it!); the second, a Politics Home Storytracker link (fair enough).  The Storytracker, as befits its role, is just under a week ahead of the Mail.  But then look what follows: a veritable stream of exactly the same headline, spread out across the web on often weirdly-named websites from August 24th to 25th.  Someone has clearly been buying up Internet real estate, one way or another.

Google page for the Militax

That bbb-news.com site, for example.  Wouldn’t be there to confuse the casual observer into thinking we were dealing with the BBC, by any chance?

Anyhow.  Let’s bring things up to date.  We have a figure of 40 million quid which I believe some Labour people claim – in a bit of a rabbits-in-the-headlights moment – is plucked out of thin air.  So where might that figure have been pulled from?  And with what purpose, background and intention?

Try this article from George Monbiot from late last year:

It’s a revolting spectacle: the two presidential candidates engaged in a frantic and demeaning scramble for money. By 6 November, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will each have raised more than $1bn. Other groups have already spent a further billion. Every election costs more than the one before; every election, as a result, drags the United States deeper into cronyism and corruption. Whichever candidate takes the most votes, it’s the money that wins.

The money that wins – and, of course, the money we as consumers, customers and end-users of the donating corporations end up paying out of our own pockets.  Accountable as these business contributors only are to their shareholders, the rest of us clearly have no say in such electoral carve-ups – and just about everything to lose as we sit on these evermore undemocratic sidelines, coughing up our ever-shrinking income.

But Monbiot has a solution – and I suspect this is where the Militax campaign in question was first conceived in Conservative HQ.  First, what Parliament itself suggested – not very far from the Militax which Ed Miliband’s Labour is now being accused of:

The solutions proposed by parliament would make our system a little less rotten. At the end of last year, the committee on standards in public life proposed that donations should be capped at an annual £10,000, the limits on campaign spending should be reduced, and public funding for political parties should be raised. Parties, it says, should receive a state subsidy based on the size of their vote at the last election.

Then Monbiot’s highly elegant alternative:

[…] This, I think, is what a democratic funding system would look like: each party would be able to charge the same, modest fee for membership (perhaps £50). It would then receive matching funding from the state, as a multiple of its membership receipts. There would be no other sources of income. (This formula would make brokerage by trade unions redundant.)

This system, I believe, would not only clean up politics, it would also force parties to re-engage with the public. It would oblige them to be more entrepreneurial in raising their membership, and therefore their democratic legitimacy. It creates an incentive for voters to join a party and to begin, once more, to participate in politics.

The cost to the public would be perhaps £50m a year, or a little more than £1 per elector: three times the price of a telephone vote on The X Factor. This, on the scale of state expenditure, is microscopic.

So instead of Gove’s £40 million Militax, we have Monbiot’s £50 million alternative.  Even more difficult for an austerity-riven public to swallow?  Well.  I don’t know.  Two things which make me think otherwise:

  1. If unchecked, and as per the trend sweeping in from across the Atlantic, more and more of our goods and services will have the cost of political sponsorship built in to their prices.  From the millions we currently pay for without representation, it’s not inconceivable that in what Cameron has so recently described as the world’s sixth-biggest economy, aspirations to shifting up a gear and buying billions of political influence won’t be far behind.  Our choice as consumers and voters, then?  Be ready to pay outside the umbrella of democracy – or be ready to pay within it.  I know which I’d prefer.  (I also know – as I’m sure you do – that there’s no such thing out there as a free lunch.)
  2. The British people are already quite accustomed to spending wasting, say, £34 million on quixotic projects without an apparent end-date.  If IDS can reserve for himself the right to burn the taxpayers’ fingers as he does, why not run the risk of trying to fix – with a degree of intelligent foresight – our whole body politic?  Before, that is, it goes much further down the road of shitty American plutocracy.  You never know, it might even work!

Aug 282013

Just received, in my spam box, the following email from my local MP, Stephen Mosley.  I’ve communicated on a number of occasions, some less unhappy than others – but, in writing at least, I’ve always received a proper and correct response.  This time, however, for some curious reason, it would appear that the aforementioned public servant is producing copy which Google’s algorithms most certainly do not like.  For those of you with a tribal bent, it may amuse you to know that the technology behemoth advises me in that ever-so-warningly red-bannered way:

Be careful with this message.  Similar messages have been used to steal people’s personal information.  Unless you trust the sender, don’t click on links or reply with personal information. […]

Google blocks Mosley

So Google blocks my local MP – the question which then occurs to me being, why?

Any ideas, anyone?

How about this one for a humdinger?

Maybe Gmail’s decided to revise its full algorithm-set and, in the process, reject all communications from the West’s representatives  – reject them, that is, as being a possible extension of our surveillance state in action?

That’s a joke, by the way.

We can still joke, right?

Aug 042013

Coincidentally, I was nattering about evil versus ordinary the other day on Facebook.  Some extracts from my side of the exchange:

Ordinary people, I mean. If only ordinary people ruled the world. Is it a condition of being ordinary that one cannot rule?

My daughter once commented on the word “extraordinary”: she argued (without knowing the etymology) that “extraordinary people” were actually “especially ordinary people”. Surely, somewhere in our history, there are cases of the most ordinary being simultaneously the most glorious, without losing their prior condition.

Not my definition of ordinary. I’d use the word “evil” for that. Maybe “casually evil”. Not to distance such acts from myself, since I’m aware we’re all capable of evil, but instead to distinguish them from what we should aspire to. Ordinary, right now, is everything that doesn’t involve the people who’ve caused this crisis. And extraordinary is the capacity of such ordinary people to survive all the shit that continues to be thrown at them. I walked past a man today who was digging through the rubbish container next to the local supermarket. He was clearly looking for food. I’d call *him* extraordinary.

[…] I think I’m saying I’m aware human beings can contain a number of incompatibilities. I recognise my capacity to be evil *and* ordinary, and by so doing can resist the temptation to be the former better. […]

Can’t say it clearer than that, though am happy to stand corrected (as, indeed, my FB contrincante left me stood the other day).

And whilst Chris covers something of the same ground here, equally coincidentally, in relation to perceiving wrong and perceiving evil, Rob concisely discusses the dreadful situation in Italy and Spain at the moment here.  Where I disagree with him most strongly is in one of his concluding paragraphs (the bold is mine):

All the while, some of us in the UK are still incandescent about MPs overclaiming their expenses, while others claim the incumbent government is “evil”. But the wrongdoers over expenses were rightly punished, and proportionately; the government is wrong, not evil.

And so I thought for a while too.  Until I stopped thinking so, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary (the bold is mine today):

Where the Tories are rankly wrong, however, and here Labour is still nowhere on the ball nor sufficiently appreciative of the error, is in not following up their initial analysis with a cogent and consequential train of thought: if we are to reduce the cost of benefits to the state, we also need to reduce the cost of living to the people (or, alternatively, increase the wages they earn); if we need to make cheaper a whole raft of processes, we need to ensure this doesn’t cheapen our moral take on society; if we want to convince people that opportunities are out there, success shouldn’t be defined only in monetary terms; and if society is to move forward in truly good faith, we must not only stop the corporate cancer of profiteering injustice – a cancer which incidentally the Tories currently depend greatly on for their funding – but also actively enable a proper and fair understanding of societal justice.

That Tories are only prepared to contemplate implementing the half of the equation which benefits their corporate sponsors, at terrible cost to over fifty percent of the British population in the round, doesn’t make them only wrong – it also makes them evil.  Evil in the sense that we are all capable of such evil; evil in the sense that we can be unconsciously capable of committing such evil; evil in the sense that unless we realise the former … well, we will surely be guilty of the latter.

There are none so evil as they who believe they know what is best for us.

None so evil as those who – rather than allow us to speak, act and engineer for ourselves – prefer to crusade from privileged top down, on our supposedly radical behalf.

A Very Political Evil.

A Very Tory Evil, in fact.

For you were right, you fearsome socialists of old.  The Tories, when unleashed, become evil incarnate.

Jul 292013

Even the best-lied plans of rats and men don’t always come off as you’d expect them to.  Here’s one example from an article way back in March (the bold is mine):

From the beginning of April 2013 the chances of getting help with legal bills will be slim. The Law Society estimates 650,000 cases will no longer qualify, including 20,000 employment cases and 200,000 in family law.

The report goes on to point out that:

At the moment, workers can get help with preparing for an employment tribunal and representation at an appeal tribunal. The scale of the problem is evident – 20,203 employment cases were started under the legal aid scheme during the 2011/12 tax year. A further 6,842 new employment cases and appeals were started in this one.

“All help is going to be removed in these situations with the exception of discrimination cases,” says Miller. Even then, people bringing claims will only have access to help via a phone line manned in three different offices round the country, rather than face-to-face meetings.

It’s clear, then (don’t you think?), what the government was aiming to do with its Legal Aid changes: disenfranchise ordinary citizens in the face of an evermore rampant and predatory capitalism.  Benefit the cash-cow-accustomed incumbents over the consumers, start-ups and innovators in society.  Return favours duly called from hedge-fund sponsors.

In essence, make ordinary people nakedly at the mercy of the already rich and powerful.

But it’s a curious thing, this planning for the long-term.  You can’t anticipate all the consequences.  OK.  So it looks like they’ll get their way on the NHS private-insurance scam.  But, equally, such an encouragement might lead us to consider other kinds of insurance: for example, the kind of insurance that being a member of a trades union can offer us in times such as these.

Just the massive fear of being dismissed unreasonably from work will surely lead many new members into the folds of modern trades-unionism.

In reality, all those evil Tory plans to destroy the NHS and replace it with a fragmented and privately-insured simulacrum of healthcare – with the sole intention of bolstering the power of the health corporates – will only have the reverse effect in the context of worker protection: unions will become stronger on the back of the fear the Tories intended would silence us.

This is why evil Tory plans won’t always work as intended.

This is why we should continue to be hopeful in the face of an evermore uncertain future.

Jul 062013

There are a number of views on what’s happening in the Labour Party at the moment.  Chris Dillow says this; Eric Joyce argues the following; Tom Watson decided to resign thus.  Three choice paragraphs, one from each respectively.  First, Chris:

[…] Unions are lousy at hegemonic strategies. The rhetoric of “fighting” and “demands” makes them seem a tiresome sectional interest rather than a group whose interests are the national interest. And of course the media – including the ever-neutral BBC – reinforces this. Whereas bosses are often invited to give a “neutral” and “expert” opinion on the economy, working people rarely are. “What’s good for GM is good for America” was long a plausible slogan. The slogan “What’s good for Unite is good for Britain” has never even been tried. Perhaps, therefore, unions themselves are partly to blame for their political marginalization.

Second, Joyce:

Over the years, trade unions have used their putative power sensibly. They’ve understood that party rules create the possibility of serious dysfunction if they choose to overexert their potential muscle. In Falkirk I’ve found them to be a stabilising influence in partnership with the Labour party. Until now.

Third, Watson:

Having resigned a couple of times before, I know how puckish lobby hacks might choose to misconstrue the departure. So to make it harder for them let me say this: I’m proud of your Buddha-like qualities of patience, deep thought, compassion and resolve. I remain your loyal servant. I’ll always be on hand to help you if you need me. I just don’t think you need me in the Shadow Cabinet any more. After nearly thirty years of this, I feel like I’ve seen the merry-go-round turn too many times. Whereas the Shadow Cabinet’s for people who still want to get dizzy.

I love that line of Watson’s about Miliband’s “Buddha-like qualities”, don’t you?  And what’s more, it makes me realise why breaking the link between trades unions and Labour could be good for both trades unions and Labour.

Let me explain.  I am an associate member of a TUC-affiliated trades union.  I no longer work for the sector they operate in, but I value the work they do, the added-value services they offer even associate members and their whole approach to trades unionism.  Interestingly you might say, for a Labour Party member like myself, they have chosen – however – not to affiliate with the Party.

I could’ve joined Unite at the time I joined the aforementioned organisation.  I chose not to.  The union I joined is a small, focussed trades union, with a personal approach I appreciate.  I also worked for it, for a while, without glory or much effectiveness, as a rep.  But that would be a story for another post.

This trades union I talk about did get a little overwhelmed by events when its policy of engagement was swept away by a new regime as a result of an enforced takeover.  It took time to find its feet again.  But then we all did, in 2008, when the world turned all our worlds upside down.

However, the problem I had with both my union and Unite – a (now) necessarily powerful union in times when capitalism is far more global, brutal, aggressive and clearly lacking in some of its former (perhaps very temporary and hardly heartfelt) virtues of dialogue and HR-driven employer comms – is that they didn’t half find themselves obliged to behave like their competition: that is to say, company management.  They say you should be very careful who you choose as your competition – you will always end up mirroring its behaviours.  Never a truer word was spoken in the case of modern corporate-interfacing trades unionism: torn between wanting to communicate openly with members on the one hand and required to conduct back-room negotiations on redundancies and business change on the other, with the legal framework of Stock Exchange communication tying down both company and employee representatives, it soon became clear to me that open and honest conversation was an HR – where not PR – chimera of humongous proportions.

In many ways then, and not just in the attitude that “he who pays the piper calls the tune”, trades unions and hedge-fund managers find themselves in absolute agreement.

“If I pay you, you do what I need.”  A conditional and conditioned relationship as old as the hills.

Labour and the trades unions, both, have rightly striven to take the high ground with respect to the more than 50 percent of Tory Party funding which proceeds from the financial-services sector.  But Labour and the trades unions, both, are currently handicapped because a) the latter are not free to construct the political wing their members need; and b) the former has grown from a party of the considerably deprived to an organisation which aspires to put a benevolent face on a capitalism it doesn’t really want to undermine for a significant minority.

And maybe it’s right in this: maybe there are many people who don’t find representation in the Tories but do want a capitalism-supporting political party which looks to ameliorate rather than revolutionise.  Those people have a right to find that representation.  Labour, equally, has a right to argue democratically, internally, that this constituency should be where it – ultimately – chooses to situate itself.

You can’t, however, continue to hold the high ground on party funding if dysfunctional process enters the link between Labour and the trades unions.

As Joyce suggests, you’ve got to know how far to flex your muscles – and know not to flex them too far.  Though I know nothing of the ins and outs of the Falkirk case itself, it does seem apparent that the creative tension which has sustained for quite a while both “sides” of the labour movement’s argument – worker representation on the one hand, middle-class representation on the other – appears now to be on the point of snapping.

And that is why I think it should.  Labour should be free to choose to represent the deprived without the hand of trades unionism being perceived as its main driver.  Trades unions should be free to choose any constituency which pays its dues correctly and loyally without the hand of so much managerialist interaction tainting our view of its motives.

Trades unions need to revert in both perception and reality to competing for membership and support through the daily labour (never better said!) of personal interaction, coupled with the strategic long-term freedom to wage the proactive battles we need them – we need ourselves – to wage.

Labour may choose to follow such a path too – but if it doesn’t, let another political wing be created in its absence.  Properly conceived for 21st century relationships – relationships which avoid the dysfunctionality hedge funds generate in the Tories, just as much as complex labour-movement relationships may have done in Falkirk et al – let us allow new political wings to grow organically out of new conditions, ways of seeing and doing.

Downsides?  Money, of course.  Party funding.  None of these problems – on any side of the political equation – would exist if “he who pays the piper” wasn’t looking to call the tune.

Labour, Tories, Lib Dems, Unite, trades unionism in general … this all, in the end, comes down to the question of money.  If Unite and the wider movement of trades unions had the dosh to set up a fully-funded political party, and if Labour had the resource to pay its own way, none of the above would cause grief to anyone.  Even Mr Cameron, free of the weighty implications of City money galore, could have been the Prime Minister he must once have dreamed of becoming.

It’s clear to me, anyhow – even if not to you.  The sooner trades unions and Labour lead the way, the sooner we could bring a moral imperative to bear on the other parties.

Right now, though, we’re stuck in a very 21st century hypocrisy of our own fabrication.

And we do need the freedom, the intellectual space and the absence of roller-coaster pressure to finally think more clearly on this one.

Something along the lines of the subtext of Tom Watson’s resignation letter?

Something a bit more Buddha-like, in fact?

Contemplation?  Resolve?  And final action, perhaps?


Whilst we do so value thinking fast these days, thinking slow is also said to have its virtues

Jun 062013

On the subject of welfare, I have the following to say:

  1. When a system breaks down because the wealthy have buggered up, you don’t have the right to blame the system’s victims.
  2. Demonising poor, sick and disabled people is evil under all circumstances.
  3. Lying about statistics is an act of intellectual criminality.
  4. Manifesting incompetence in the face of severe socioeconomic crisis is an act of unaffordable luxury.
  5. Not being honest about one’s failings is stupidity squared – and infuses in absolutely no one the otherwise necessary confidence which our society needs to properly function.

To blame welfare for the crisis we’re suffering from – as well as arguing it needs to be controlled in order to recover a semblance of economic normality – is like saying you can have an overdraft facility, which, by the by, they charge you for, exactly when you don’t want it, and then withdrawing it precisely at the moment you go overdrawn.

(This, by the way, once happened to me.  I shall never forget the moment.  I shall always remember, from that moment on, how it coloured my view of life – and banks in particular.)

But then that is how politicians, business leaders and hangers-on various – who don’t do or need welfare personally at all – all prefer to see the lie of the land.

We’ll charge you for welfare until and unless you actually need it.  And then, particularly if it is our fault, we will take away what is becoming in our eyes a disproportionate right to access it.

Never mind that the suffering is more than equal to its disproportionate access.  Never mind that disproportionate access is symptomatic of terrible suffering.

To cap it all, let’s go and cap welfare.  Sounds much less painful – don’t you think? – than capping people.

Yes.  Kind of like capping the knees of the most defenceless.  And whoever needed to care at all when those that hobbled were the least vocal in society?

May 182013

UKIP’s been getting itself a pretty unpleasant name of late.  Holocaust deniers, equal marriage haters, out-and-out racists – the accusations have come thick and fast.  Now much of the political debate, for Labour at least, has centred around how far it needs to triangulate to the right of the British political spectrum.  Especially in the light of political shocks such as this.

There comes a time when principle must come first, however.

However hard the decisions might be, however unfavourable the polls might seem, however tempting that triangulation becomes, however risky sticking with the values of a wider movement may be perceived, UKIP’s success is precisely the reason why Labour should firmly ignore the pressure-cooker venting of political prejudice clearly going on at the moment.

UKIP is, in fact, a perfect opportunity to paint the Tory right with the broad brush of rancid ideology.  The more the rather private British right becomes unavoidably associated with the public witterings of such figures, the more the difference between what we need Labour to be and what the right is becoming revealed as will become clear in the public mind.

It’s time we saw UKIP not primarily as a threat to Labour’s heartlands but as a perfect weapon to sully the Tories’ own attempts at detoxification.  It’s not the Labour Party which should be worried about losing its voters but the Tory Party its room for manoeuvre.  We need to make that happen.  We need to ensure it does.

The good people will come back to a Labour Party which remains firm on this one.

The sad people will bury the Tories one way or another in overbearing prejudices of UKIP’s making.  It’s not Labour’s job to make the sad people happy but make the good people realise they were right all along.

Remember that, Ed.  Remember that, please.

May 032013

According to the Guardian this morning, on the subject of UKIP’s gains in local elections yesterday, Labour’s Hilary Benn tells the BBC that:

Hilary Benn, the shadow communities secretary, played down the Ukip threat. He told the BBC: “It is a protest party and not a party of government. Its economic policy does not add up.”

Meanwhile, the same paper reports:

Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University said Ukip had achieved a “remarkable performance”. In a briefing paper for the Political Studies Association on the local elections, he said Ukip presents the most serious threat by a fourth political force in England since the second world war.

Now it might, as the Tories suggested recently, be that fruitcake party everyone fears.  Certainly, its selection procedures seem to have been found rather wanting (more here), leading many of us to feel that “fruitcake” is exactly the right metaphor for a grouping whose ingredients are so very mixed.

But I think when Hilary Benn says what he says, and especially when he argues its economic policy does not add up, he is being about as lackadaisical as he could be on the threat that UKIP poses to the allegedly “non-fruitcake” parties.

Let’s just summarise what’s happened under the reign of these non-fruitcakes: we discover that bankers, MPs, police officers, journalists, celebrity sex-abusers and a whole host of other citizens have been allowed to continue for decades doing their stuff, in what most of us consider entirely unfair and even immoral ways.

These non-fruitcake regimes have allowed such things to continue happening unchecked: most stones appear to have been left unturned from Thatcher’s days onwards.  What’s more, in a complex society where technocratic experts hold the reins, they have failed the needs of ordinary people mightily.  Billions of pounds-worth of dosh has been transferred from civil society to bankers, from taxpayers to MPs, from people who struggle to get to the end of the month to people who take bribes, and from licence-payers to famous people who sexually assault under-age boys and girls during decades.

And now it would seem that any present or future governments of the non-fruitcakes will continue to force ordinary people to pay for the awful consequences of the acts of the inefficient powerful.  Is it hardly surprising, then, that voters should want to protest?

So maybe Benn is right when he says UKIP is a protest party.  But if he considers this to be “merely a protest party” sort of message, then he and his fellow MPs have got it really wrong.  To date, we’ve seen little organised protest on the streets of England, or the UK more widely.  We’re not like the Spanish or Greeks – we’re not, yet, at the edge of the abyss.  But when Little Englanders change their voting patterns so consistently and so radically, surely professional “non-fruitcake” politicians should be sitting up and paying attention, rather than casually comforting themselves with the idea that UKIP’s idea of an economic environment doesn’t currently add up.

The real issue being, of course: whose does?

UKIP will continue to make mincemeat of our body politic, if politicians of the calibre of Benn continue to choose to defend themselves via a naked appeal to technocracy.  Technocracy has failed us disgracefully: it’s bloody time to protest about the implications!  And if the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems cannot see this for what it actually is, then UKIP will not only make mincemeat of the body politic, it will be able to do so without having to convincingly add up the economic numbers beforehand.

Not that this would make them necessarily ineligible to govern in Westminster.  Right, my non-fruitcake friends?


Update to this post: final results for yesterday’s elections have come my way concisely via Twitter just now.  As follows:

RT @Tom_Waterhouse Final seat tally: Con 1,116 (-335), Lab 538 (+291), Lib 353 (-123), UKIP 147 (+139), others 208 (+28) #vote2013

Apr 292013

This came through our letterbox recently.  It’s the Chester Tory “Young Persons’ Survey 2013″.

Chester Tories Youth Survey

Let it be said, upfront, that I like the idea of politicians engaging with people via the communication tools they are most familiar with.  But this particular survey, unfortunately in my opinion, goes a little beyond simple engagement: in particular, because it seems to sell the idea of fairly traditional party-political voter-tab-keeping in the guise of hierarchically latterday – and almost peer-to-peer – communication.

Also, me being the grammar Nazi that I am, I notice that the people who wrote the survey in question don’t know the difference between “uninterested” and “disinterested”.

But that, I suppose, is something most of us care less about.

Now most of the text is pretty easy to read, but – curiously for an MP who’s sat on the Snoopers’ Charter parliamentary committee – the terms and conditions are not.  So for your delectation and delight (probably not), here they are:

How we use your data

Some data we receive from you will probably comprise personal data about you and may include sensitive personal data.

The types of information we may collect about you will probably include your name, address and contact information and information about your ethnic origin, political opinions, and religious, philosophical and other beliefs.

The data you provide will be retained by the Conservative Party Stephen Mosley MP (“the data holders”) in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 and related legislation.

The data holders will use the data we collect for the following purposes: (i) to improve our understanding of political life in the United Kingdom; (ii) to compile and provide anonymous statistics about voters in the United Kingdom; (iii) to facilitate our operation as a political party; (iv) contact you in the future by telephone, text or other means, even though you may be registered with the Telephone Preference Service, without asking for further permission.

Your data will not be sold or given to anyone not connected to the Conservative Party. If you do not want the information you give to us to be used in these ways, or for us to contact you, please indicate by ticking the relevant boxes: Post _ Email _ SMS _ Phone _

Those of you with better knowledge of such matters may be able to let us know how reasonable the above T&Cs might be.  I don’t personally have the ability to decide whether an organisation can request a partial waiving of TPS adhesion.

As far as the content of the survey itself is concerned, especially in relation to questions 4 and 5, I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about a) how loaded or not the questions might be; and b) to what future purposes any answers might be put.  But if I am to draw any wider conclusions, I think they may be these:

  1. I assume for an MP with such an obvious knowledge of matters relating to online privacy, intellectual property and the 21st century rights of citizens that this survey has not been carried out hurriedly.
  2. If someone who has sat on a Snoopers’ Charter parliamentary committee feels it OK and unchallengeable to ask for personal, philosophical and political information of this nature of an eighteen-year-old young man, in order that this be processed by machines for the purposes of party-political activity in such an open-ended and blanket fashion, then I do wonder how deeply these mindsets have now permeated almost every sector of public life.
  3. I wonder how many other political parties are doing exactly the same.
  4. I wonder if the battle for privacy is already well and truly lost.

No.  Nothing illegal is going on here.  But that is precisely the point.  This mining of information is so prevalent and accepted that no one blinks twice in its presence.  In the end, my son didn’t complete the survey – but mainly because he hates politics.  Not disinterested at all, of course – frankly, like so many of us out here, totally uninterested in the bollocks it’s become.

A final couple of thoughts to be going away with, then:

  1. Will the results of this survey be used to fashion future local- and national-government lies?  I imagine so.
  2. Will we be told the proportion of those who answered the request for information when the results are misused?  I imagine not.

It’s sad that Mr Mosley, with all his online experience, should feel it fine to want to drill so unreasonably down into my son’s thoughts, communication tools and inner responses.

But what’s even sadder is that he’s clearly not the only one.


Further thoughts: I’ve been cogitating a while more on the wider drivers behind this survey.  It seems to me that both lily-livered triangulation and impositions from on high have motivated the whys and wherefores of its drafting.  Wanting to know what interests people have from a very young age, wanting to know their political and philosophical inclinations, wanting to know how they might be divided from people older than themselves … all this and more shows that both the aforementioned instincts are still alive and well in the English body politic.

And this obsessive wanting to know bodes well for no one.  Whatever the party driving such surveys.

Further reading: the Open Rights Group, of which I am a member, has just published this comprehensive briefing around the knotty subject of the Snoopers’ Charter – and what, as a result of its imminent demise, may surface later instead.  You can find this briefing here.  Well worth your time.  As would joining the organisation itself!

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.

Feb 102013

And so it has come to pass.  The beef that was not beef but was actually, to a very great degree, horsemeat may not – in the event – be horsemeat either.  Whilst lurid tales have been recently spread by government ministers – alluding to Eastern European mafias shifting equine loot – the Independent reports tonight that we could be facing a culinary invasion of donkeys.  In its astonishing report – verging on the most English of parodies in tone – the paper also reminds us (the bold is mine):

The French consumer minister, Benoît Hamon, said today that he would not hesitate to take legal action if evidence emerged that the two French companies which handled the meat had been aware of the fraud.

In passing, Mr Hamon also took a swipe at the British Government. He said that London was complaining about weak European food inspection while cutting the budget for EU food-safety checks in Brussels.

This is a revelatory sentence and explains with great clarity the behaviour of the Tories.  “How perfect!” their strategists must have proclaimed on discovering that good old British beef had been contaminated by pesky European horse.  No matter that in reality we could argue these things happen because hands-off neoliberal thinkers a) like to believe the market will attend in an absolutely perfect and efficient way to both its own and our needs and b) love to suggest the complex B2B transactions that now populate our globalised world are always going to be entirely beneficial.

In truth, the B2B transactions I mention don’t really have to be as complex as they are.  It’s only so huge transnationals can easily reach – with their tenuous distribution channels – each and every corner and supermarket shelf of the nations that make up the developed world that we tolerate these complicated and interdependent ways of delivering food to our tables.

And so now that it turns out our meat has been properly tested for hygiene but not – it would seem – for species, what other lurid thoughts can flood our minds?




Concrete boots?

Various and varied ways of disposing of that which one would prefer to make disappear forthwith?

Jan 302013

We had this headline a couple of weeks back:

Tom Winsor says outsiders will ‘enrich’ the police service

By “outsiders” it seemed, at the time, that he meant those who were not primarily police officers.  In their wide-ranging efforts to de-professionalise our society – and at the same time rid the hold such evidence-based individuals apparently have over the same – it looked like this government was now setting its attack dogs on the police as they looked to apply to allegedly hidebound practice the synergy and synchronicity of other ways of seeing.  Just one more profession in a long line already under fire: lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers … well, the list could be as long as you wanted it to be – as long as it didn’t include politicians themselves.

Today, however, we have a truly pleasing development.  The outsiders Tom Winsor was describing weren’t just other professions: they were – actually – people from abroad.  Yes!  It’s official!!!  The Tory Party comes out in favour of immigration:

Senior officers from overseas will be able to run police forces in England and Wales for the first time, under a government overhaul of recruitment.

Outsiders will be able to join forces as superintendents and recruits can be fast-tracked to inspectors.

Police Minister Damian Green said the service would benefit from a wider talent pool.

In favour indeed, as I say, of an immigration of the most blatant kind.  Right to the heart of the law and order of our state, no less.  Foreigners to be in charge of how we weave the very tapestry of the English and Welsh way of doing things.

Well, sort of anyway.

A couple of caveats, as always with this government.  First, no nasty European-types will be allowed to sully our oppressive instincts, as the Home Office only plans:

  • Opening up chief constable roles to senior officers from countries such as Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand

We really wouldn’t want untrustworthy horsemeat-eating individuals anywhere near our command-and-control infrastructures, now would we?  Who, after all, could trust a Frenchie with our tasers, rubber bullets and CS gas?

Second, even now, even after all the above proposals have come to light, not quite all immigration is as welcome as it might be.  This, for example, also published today, on the government’s initially wizard wheeze to selfishly cream off entrepreneurial talent from other – perhaps less advantaged – countries where you might think such characters might be just as usefully needed:

Immigration rules intended to encourage entrepreneurs to settle in the UK are being abused and need to be tightened, a minister has said.

Immigration minister Mark Harper said a “meaningful assessment of the credibility” of immigrants claiming to be entrepreneurs would be introduced.

Fake businesses were being created and funds recycled to provide evidence of entrepreneurial activity, he said.

“Legitimate applicants” would not be deterred, he predicted.

Hmm.  Legitimate applicants I hear you say?

One occasion, in fact, where Cameron got it right.

So why is his government so all over the place on this surely self-evident issue?  Of course crossing frontiers and boundaries is good for the countries where this happens.  Of course the sparks that cultural dissonance generates lead to far more creative soups of productive activity.  Of course the good that globalisation can mean will only come out of exchanges of opinions and viewpoints amongst our evermore sclerotic specialisations.

What I really can’t understand, then, being as the Tories claim to be the party of those who wish to get on, is why they aren’t more consistently in favour of immigration as a grassroots process that benefits practically everyone who could participate in its primarily constructive embrace.

Which kind of football team would you really like?  Cherry-picking believers in obscenely buying in top-class players like our very own Manchester City?  Or youth-academy stalwarts investing in the long-term future of a Barcelona?

The kind of place, in fact, where foreigners are welcomed with open arms – and yet are also generously combined with carefully nurtured homegrown talent.

I know which I’d prefer.

The question is: does Cameron’s Tory Party?

Jan 082013

After this evening’s Coalition shenanigans at the House of Commons (with clear reasons to vote against from David Miliband here), ten Tory pledges for the next general election have just come my way.  Remember, you read them here first:

  1. “Anyone using foodbanks will be obliged to register their payments in kind with HMRC.”
  2. “Anyone using charities will be obliged to register their payments in kind with HMRC.”
  3. “Anyone who is found not to have registered such payments will be forced to make an official complaint to Amazon’s call centre about a Google ad for a Kindle accessory, using a Vodafone mobile in a Starbucks café.  All such complaints will be recorded for quality, training and humiliation purposes by the local JobsWorth Centre™.”
  4. “Obese children from families where joint parental earnings are £25,000 or less will be compelled to go down to their local Big Society LardWatchers Circle™ and follow a specially outsourced government apprentice plan to make them fit for chimney-sweeping duties.  Where targets are not met within the specified timeframe, local officials may consider applying the guillotine procedure to both the children and their parents.  If the family is a one-parent unit, the guillotine will automatically be applied.  In this latter case, no resource will be wasted on training.”
  5. “Fatties with incomes of £100,000 and over will be eligible for free gastric-band treatments on the NEHS (Not Everyone’s Health Service).”
  6. “Toffs who work within a pleb’s throw of the House of Commons’ restaurants will be able to obtain free food and drink 24/7.  Such rights will, it goes without saying, be tax-free – as long as excessive consumption can be proven.”
  7. “Any subject who breaks any limb, contracts a cancer of any kind, becomes mentally incapacitated or otherwise unhappy with their lot will be required to give up all benefits whilst under the influence of their incapacity.  Recovery shall lead to a temporary reassignment of such benefits, once a period of no less than ten months has passed – and an improvement free of benefits is demonstrated.  If the recovery is sufficiently convincing and sustained, no benefits may be awarded at all.  At the discretion of the Prime Minister, however, the person in question may be given a medal for acting above and beyond the call of humanity.”
  8. “People who do not vote Tory will be automatically sectioned.  Voting in accordance with one’s interests is clearly a white-coats matter.”
  9. “White coats who do not vote Tory will be automatically bribed – or, alternatively, threatened.  Acceptance of new terms and conditions of employment will generally be enough to avoid any more undue unpleasantness.”
  10. “All other workers who are happy with their lot will be paid less.  If they become unhappy with being paid less, they will be made redundant without notice of any sort.  They will not be eligible for benefits of any kind.  Under no circumstances will they be allowed to return to the labour market, though cremation may still be an option.”