May 082013

This piece from Ian Birrell in the Guardian this morning says mostly what can be sensibly said about our body politic’s shared attitudes to the immigration “issue”:

The overall tone is clear: foreigners are flooding over here and taking our jobs, our benefits, our houses. This is, of course, a panicky response to the rise of Ukip – but it is one utterly wrong on commercial, economic and even the narrowest of party political grounds, pandering to ill-informed prejudice rather than putting the interests of the country first. Already the immigration cap is undermining higher education, one of our few world-beating sectors. Yet Labour, going through its own masochistic contortions on this issue, is unlikely to offer resistance; shamefully, it seems determined to outflank from the right.

Meanwhile, this is what Nigel Farage is responding right now to the Coalition’s programme on immigration for the next parliamentary session:

“The immigration measures in the Queen’s speech don’t tackle important issues on exploitation and illegal immigration.

“We support many of the measures promised though of course we will scrutinise the detail, but it appears their impact will be limited.

“The Government is still not tackling the exploitation of foreign workers leading to the undercutting of local workers. There is nothing to improve enforcement of the national minimum wage, no action on agencies recruiting only from abroad, nothing to improve training for local workers for sectors recruiting heavily from abroad, no action to extend the Gangmasters licensing legislation, and nothing to deal with slum landlords using overcrowded housing to recoup labour costs.

“The Government is also missing the opportunity to tackle illegal immigration which has got worse on their watch. There’s nothing to deal with the failure at the Home Office to deport bogus student cases, nothing to deal with loopholes in student visitor visas, and nothing to give UKBA officers who inspect colleges and workplaces the power of arrest.

“Immigration is important for Britain and needs to be controlled and managed so it is fair for all. That is why the impact on the labour market and the problem of illegal immigration need to be addressed.”

Did I say Nigel Farage?  I did, of course, mean Yvette Cooper.

The problem of course is this “One Nation” terminology.  For starters, it’s manifestly untrue: there are probably hundreds of nations of people who live their lives in latterday Britain.  So what I want to know is why they chose the phrase “One Nation“.  Why not “One State” or “One Country” – or “One Place” even?  Why focus, as they have, on an emotive word such as “nation” with all its historical, colonising and excluding baggage?

Unless, of course, that’s what you mean to do.  Unless, of course, you’d already analysed quite a way back that in a disintegrating social environment, and come 2015, the dynamics of the immigration “issue” would be far more important than the traditional old battle between left and right.

Is there any chance, any chance at all, that the Labour Party’s strategists have just been waiting for UKIP to rear its ugly head?  That the “One Nation Labour” language was never intended to allow Labour to wrest power from the Tories come election time but, rather, more predictably, deal with what would almost certainly be the real opposition five years down the line: those ideas and dynamics, those fascist instincts for personal survival over societal support, which UKIP – and other groupings like it – best exemplifies.

Is there any chance that Labour – with its “One Nation” mantra – has all along been triangulating not for a David Cameron (II) at all but, instead, for a UKIP – in one potentially unhappy shape or another?

The resulting plan being to convince all us progressive souls to continue voting as we were – on the understanding that Labour will keep slyly hidden from the rest of the electorate until after the next election its true instincts and values.

Ingenious approach, right?  Even – in the light of disagreeable 20th century history – intelligently, usefully and wisely prescient.

So just forget Cameron & Co, and hope this is the case: that One Nation Labour was always designed with a UKIP in mind.

Because if this isn’t the plan, if this isn’t the explanation for the outflanking wearily quoted in full above, I really do wonder how anyone in my dearly beloved movement expects us to believe that One Nation Labour won’t itself become that UKIP we all fear – but all on its triangulatory and ingenious lonesome.

Apr 302013

Paul writes a splendid defence of universal benefits this morning.  You can find this post over at his blog at the moment.  It’s clear from the shape he gives to the subject that it’s really rather a no-brainer for those in favour of a smaller state.  As he argues:

[…] A simpler, more direct and universal benefits system should appeal not only to those on the left but to those who believe in a ‘smaller’ state – it doesn’t require such huge state machinery, such massive bureaucracy and such complication. It does go against the grain in some ways – we like to believe that being more ‘targeted’ means being more efficient, and we’ve followed that mantra for many years, largely despite the evidence against it that’s all too clear for anyone who’s tried to work their way through the systems. Now, it seems to me, is a time that we can try to think in different ways about these issues. Think more radically. Universal benefits is one of those ways.

Mind you, those who remain in favour of “targeting” the deserving versus the undeserving find it just as impossible to go down a route that would clearly benefit their ideologies long-term.

I’m inclined, myself, to want to go even further.  I’d like to see us adopt the concept of a citizen’s income.  Pete does a beautiful exposition of the whys and wherefores of the subject in question here, coming to the following radical conclusion (the bold is mine):

Our society has moved from being dependent on unskilled manual labour (which was adequately motivated by threat) through to more skilled manual labour (which can be adequately motivated by the promise of money) and is now entering a time where we are more depending on mental labour – which cannot be motivated by threat and can only be only poorly motivated by money. Yet, our leaders still use both to try and squeeze more and more productivity out of us.

Why then, is there the dual insistence that some people, normally rich, will only be productive in return for extensive financial reward and others, normally poor, will only be productive when faced with some form of threat? We understand where our most productive activity comes from, and we also understand that productivity there is not very well motivated by promises of wealth or threats of poverty. So is now the time to, perhaps against many people’s intuition, start removing the link between work and having enough money to live on?

And for once, in a New-Labour triangulating kind of way, I’m looking to gain a broader acceptance for such radicalism.  Any changes such as seriously universal benefits for absolutely everyone – which in essence is what a citizen’s income would seriously constitute – would require the complicity of the rich.  As I argued a few months ago, the tax system we currently have surely only exists because the well-to-do – those who have the biggest voices in society – are fairly content with the current outcomes (despite all their wailing).  So how could we convince them to jump ship and take wholeheartedly onboard this logical extension of universal benefits as described above: that is to say, the aforementioned citizen’s income?

How about this idea which I drag out of the treasure chest of ancient 21st Century Fix trains-of-thought?  This one runs thus:

For some mad reason, it provoked the following train of thought in my fevered Saturday brain.  What if we paid for everything according to our tax code?  In an entirely – or almost entirely – cashless society, tax code information could quite easily be added to our credit and debit card chips.  In such a way, we could eliminate all kinds of income tax and use the tax code – instead – to determine how much we paid at point-of-sale.  Big spenders and big earners would pay more for everything – those with less would pay correspondingly far less.  The scale would be incremental rather than banded.  Poverty traps could be eliminated at a stroke.  We wouldn’t have to calculate VAT or chase its evasion or pay out tax credits or even child benefit.

An income-tax free state which allowed for properly dimensioned public services and strove to reduce the difference between the very richest and the very poorest?  Surely a Nirvana of some kind …

As a result of varying the price at point-of-purchase (a concept which, incidentally, the discounts you get for buying in bulk already contemplates) instead of varying the income you are left with at the end of year, we could suggest not only to the rich but – actually – to absolutely everyone that anything and everything they ever earned would remain in their pockets until a purchase was required.

Yes.  It would only work effectively in a state where every purchase was tracked – but isn’t that where we’re heading for anyway?  If the cashless electronic state of total state and information awareness is going to be our future in any case, why not make it work on our behalf as we properly break the already disintegrating connection between the motivation of money and the motivation of mental labour?

Don’t pay you for what you do.  Pay you, instead, for what you are: a human being, as valuable as the next; with so many things to offer society.  And in the meantime, allow the alpha men and women to keep a hundred percent of what they prefer to value.

Some final caveats:

  • We’d have to, of course, base the tax code on access to wealth rather than ownership.  Too many rich people would soon work out ways of getting around any definition based on the latter.
  • I can imagine a flourishing industry in reselling growing up: less well-off people might become professional shoppers for the better-off, so buying at lower prices than the latter should be paying.  On the other hand, this would create business opportunities – not necessarily a bad thing in such times.
  • We’d have to be pretty clear that hacking of such cashless systems – and at the very least, revolving-door mediation – to adjust tax codes would be an ongoing issue.  I have no answer to this one.

As you can see, a few thoughts to be getting on with on the table.  And as I mentioned to Paul Bernal on Twitter this morning, some of the above are clearly heretical.  But hasn’t the situation become sufficiently complex and problematic for heresy to be almost a requirement?

Isn’t it time we began considering how we might turn the systems constructively upside down?

Mar 062013

I read this piece from Labour Uncut today, and immediately lashed out (mentally, I mean) at a couple of the phrases thus contained.  Interestingly, however, not all.

Let me list them as follows.  First, the soundbite that caused my mixed blood to boil unevenly:

  • “An effective approach to migrant labour is, then, about economic justice, not racial prejudice. In the interests of One Nation politics Labour has to become the party that is tough on immigration, but tougher on its causes.”

I think this is clearly misplaced.  An “effective” approach to migrant labour doesn’t – in a globalised world – aim to shut down the freedom of such labour to move where it will.  Unless, of course, in the name of “economic justice”, it also chooses to restrict the movement of capital.  And I’m sure the author of the post in question would never suggest that’d be a way forward.

Though I, indeed, might be inclined to.

Another couplet which drew my attention:

  • “[…] There will also be a symbolic shift towards the police rather than HM Revenue and Customs taking the lead on enforcement of the national minimum wage.
  • “‘There must be a level playing field so domestic workers are not disadvantaged and employers shouldn’t be allowed to use migration in the wrong way,’ says a Labour source.”

Not sure there’d be many immigrants out there who’d be positive about certain police forces getting involved in any enforcement.  But Labour’s strategists probably know this – are even maybe counting on it, at least as a way of getting across a subliminal message for the “flog ‘em and hang ‘em” crowd.

Two more phrases now – this time it would seem a little more constructive in approach, and telling the kind of story I perceive:

  • “[…] it is not racial prejudice driving public concern about immigration, it is economic injustice. Indeed, the contemporary discussion about immigration pits older migrant communities against newcomers in a battle for scarce jobs and resources.”
  • “[…] Immigration is a necessary addendum for economic neo-liberalism to function. The growth of the New Labour years was held aloft courtesy of an ever-ready army of cheap migrants serving to keep corporate costs down. […]”

But the author goes on to colour his argument when he adds in flag-wrapping glory:

  • “Surely it is a great progressive cause to tackle labour market abuses and offer British workers something more than the dismal prospect of competing with migrant workers on the basis of who will work for least? Isn’t that what a labour party should be for?”

That sentence would’ve be fine for me if he hadn’t used the adjective “British”.  What’s progressive about that?  How internationalist does that sit with other “progressive” approaches to globalisation?  We never think twice about capital moving its dosh at the speed of electronic – and stateless – light.  Yet when we talk about the flesh-and-blood aspect of our economies, we suddenly get all coy about identity and its relative importance.

No.  To argue that the case of migrant workers is mainly a question of economic justice, and the economic justice we’re talking about relates to “British” workers in Britain at the expense of anyone else with an equal right on this planet to make their living, is to ignore the real causes of much migration: the relative poverty we tolerate in other countries compared to the advantages we – even today – still enjoy here in England.

And I’d be much happier if the suggestion to hand was to deal with the subject of economic justice in all its awful entirety than to use it as a fig leaf to cover the immigration sensibilities of those who’d like to be racist – but find themselves unwilling to take ownership for their state.

A final thought to be going away with.  You’re right.  I don’t know how to talk about immigration, do I?  And that should be a most puzzling matter, for I was born in Oxford, England – can’t get much more English than that – to then spend most of my life growing up in the North West of the same country.  But my mother is Catholic Croatian; my father atheist English (and possibly Welsh); my wife and children are Castilian Spanish; and I even feel kind of curiously attached to the fluid ounces of Spanish Jew that apparently course through my veins.  So maybe you can understand my confusion.  I belong to nowhere entirely – and yet feel beloved by all of those influences.

For me however, and for people like me, in Labour Uncut’s economic justice, there is no place at all – except, perhaps, a self-interested sleight-of-hand which, on the one hand, says if you have enough capital, the world will surely be yours; whilst, on the other, if you find yourself at the bottom of the pile, stick with the bottom of the pile in the country which still treasures that neo-liberal drive to the faecal end of the labour market.

Which probably means the vast majority of so-called developed countries out there.

Now doesn’t it?

Feb 052013

The BBC reports that:

MPs have approved legislation for same-sex marriage in England and Wales, despite the opposition of dozens of Conservative MPs.

The Commons voted in favour of the The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, by 400 to 175, a majority of 225, at the end of a full day’s debate on the bill.

This is clearly a good thing – one we can all be happy about.  The article goes on to tell us that:

Prime Minister David Cameron has described the move as “an important step forward” that strengthens society.

And I think he’s right.  My questions today, however, circle around how he reached his conclusions.  Was his desire – a very personal one it seems – to ensure this legislation was passed driven entirely by honest conviction or, alternatively, was there more than a pinch of old-fashioned triangulation behind the horse and cart he’s smashed through his party?  After all, as the BBC also indicates:

Former children’s minister and Conservative MP Tim Loughton told the BBC that he believed “140 or so” of his party colleagues had voted against the plans, along with “a small rump of Labour MPs” and “four Lib Dem MPs”.

He added: “Apparently there are 132 Conservative MPs who voted in favour, so I think what we’re going to see is that more Conservative MPs voted against this legislation than for it.”

The Lib Dem leaders are, of course, clearly delighted with the measure – it allows them to go back to their faithful with a truly liberal concept on the table.  But, as is perhaps too often the case, I am suspicious of the motivations.  And it begins to make me wonder if the name-calling that situates Clegg on the conservative (where not Conservative) right of the spectrum is encouraging us to simplify what it is happening in British politics.  Perhaps, indeed, for our own traditionally located interests.

As Clegg drags – in a complex but certain manner – his political party to the first taste of real government in generations, so Cameron may be aiming to hollow out in some constructive way the noisy and nasty party that is the Tories.  We on the left have looked to (maybe) simplistically paint the Lib Dems as just hanging onto the coattails of an unpleasantly irrelevant and Etonite England.  But (maybe) the process is a tad more engineered than that.

If we see the Coalition of Cameron’s Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems in terms of a corporate merger between a large and untidily ancient behemoth of contradictory decisions and a small and guerilla-like company of instant advantage-taking – the former perhaps an IBM before it reinvented itself, whilst the latter perhaps an Amstrad in its awfully excitable heyday – then the massive adventure which the two leaders have embarked on, both its downsides and upsides, both its potential risks and paybacks, becomes far far clearer.  Here we could argue that it’s the Alan Sugar/Nick Clegg-type pick-and-mix opportunists who visibly have the vision and agility of perceptions, even where they do not have the distribution network and other infrastructures various.  Meanwhile, the transnational corporate/David Cameron-led thinkers, dinosaur-like and history-riven as they are, have all of the infrastructures and contacts, even as they are unable any longer to provide the “market” with exactly what it needs.

Maybe the Equal Marriage bill was driven by conviction.  But I truly wonder if it wasn’t part of a much greater and broader understanding to revise and restructure the populist centre ground in, at the very least, England and Wales.  And that could mean just as much allowing the rancid Tory right to destroy themselves in their echo chambers as it could mean dragging a traditionally reflective and thoughtful strand of often principled political thought into the unhappy but (maybe) necessary glare of rather cruel 21st century government.

With these words, I’m not saying I agree at all with the vast majority of policies that have resulted from this process.

But I do wonder, honestly wonder, whether the nexus of Cameron and Clegg – and its implications – is as easy to accurately describe and define as we sometimes seem to assume.

Especially for those of us on the left of political activity.  But possibly – with the exception of the two men in question – for almost everyone else as well.

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?

Apr 222012

Tonight it’s being reported that in the first round of the French Presidential elections, the far right candidate Marine Le Pen has managed to poll between 18 and 20 percent of the vote.

So who’s to blame for such a miserable state of affairs?  I’m inclined to conclude that it has quite a bit to do with the legacy a broad tendency to triangulation has left behind it: those of us most to blame being those of us who judge ourselves to be on the left of the political spectrum.

Whilst the situation is not – as yet – as grave here in Britain, George Galloway’s recent win in Bradford West and the growing seepage of sitting Tory MPs and councillors to right-wing parties such as UKIP are examples of the kinds of things which can happen in times of extreme socioeconomic distress: when we give up the honest and frank desire to educate, engage and lead in a principled way a voting public’s attitudes and behaviours and exchange all the latter for a lily-livered and eternal redefining of our positions in accordance with opinion polls, newspaper headlines, focus groups and – occasionally – even our own mealy-mouthed prejudices, we create exactly the circumstances and environment necessary for the dynamics of such protests to kick in.

Because we did not care to face up to educating and leading our populaces when immigration allegedly began to impact how people felt about their lives, so we now reap the consequences.  In fact, immigration hasn’t even been the real issue.  The fascists will always find a reason, a flag, to blame someone else: before immigration it was Communism; before Communism it was the Jews.

In reality, the real issue at the heart of all of this is our triangulating instinct to avoid sticking to our markers in the sand.  In fact, in modern politics, the Blairs and Camerons of this world are strangely admired for their ability to ride the storm – for their ability precisely to blur the boundaries and not define themselves too fiercely.  We do not admire the principled because it would seem that principles are an easy way out: the way out of the intellectually simple.

In my opinion, it is this, precisely this indefinition, which is leading us to the very special 21st century fascism I have described on a number of occasions recently (here and here for example) – a 21st century fascism which is surely occupying us again this evening.

Just a few days before the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica, it’s not the ghosts of evil past that should concern us but, rather, our own inability to throw off the yoke of a well-meaning present.

Mar 212012

An increase in personal allowances which benefits the rich just as much as the poor but is sold solely as an improvement for the most disadvantaged; a massive hit on middle-class pensioners; a tax cut for 14,000 millionaires which benefits practically everyone on the Tory front bench … oh yes, these are the things which make class warfare very easy.  However, when Ed Miliband is accused of committing such a crime, those who argue he is doing so really fail to understand the reality of the situation.  This is not class warfare in the traditional sense we are engaged in but simply a drawing of voters’ attention to the fact that we are most definitely not in this together as a nation or a people.

After this budget, something should clearly separate the Tories and Labour: whilst the Tories are legislating – using the very tools of Parliament – to enrich their personal standing and already deep pockets, Labour no longer has to triangulate a middle way between those nakedly rich – who for decades have been accustomed to operating via bought-off politicians – and the rest of our blessedly Middle England.  For the fact of the matter is that those businesspeople who benefited from pork-barrel politics are now precisely the politicians who use Parliament for their own ends.  There is no difference between a stratospheric businessperson and a stratospheric politician any more.  It’s not just that they speak the same language – they are actually, literally, the very same individuals.

So here is my plea to the Labour leadership, members and supporters: let us put well behind us the instinct to triangulation here and now.  The current Coalition government has opened up so many simultaneous fronts of active political warfare that it can only be a matter of time before their thesis begins to slip and lose traction.

Time to stop mincing our words?  Oh absolutely, yes it is.

Time to put all that triangulation rubbish well and truly behind us.

Time to start the slow but sure route to political fightback.

What the Coalition government has achieved, more than any other in history, is put the levers of parliamentary power under the direct control of big and bad capitalism.  Our job now is to make this patent and clear to our voting constituencies.  Democracy allows for terrible mistakes but it also allows for rectification.  Labour lost the last election because it didn’t deserve to win.  But the Tories didn’t win the last election and we don’t deserve to labour under their mistakes.

That is the message we must now get through.

This budget draws a final and undeniable line in the sand: self-enrichment for the few versus economic prosperity for the many.  As simple as that.  Now it’s Labour’s turn to meet the challenge.

Mar 182012

Over at Labour List today, Sue argues we lefties should get a grip:

I don’t like the current Labour position on welfare, I’m almost constantly head-desking whenever they issue a press statement, I do realise they set a lot of these “reforms” up and I worry about the possibility of an election any time soon – they clearly couldn’t run drinkies-in-the-proverbial right now, but on the whole – on the whole – get a grip lefties. 

Start defending our record. Accept the bits we got wrong and move on, but for goodness sake, anyone claiming “They’re all the same/Triangulation/They’re worse than the Tories/I’ll never vote Labour again” might want to ask themselves just how long they’d like to keep this cabinet of millionaires. And just how much we’re going to allow them to get wrong before we unite and fight.

It’s funny – or perverse; whenever someone argues we should jack in political parties I find myself beginning to disagree, but whenever someone comes to me saying the primary responsibility of us lefties is to unite … well, I really can’t help reacting rather negatively.  Yes.  I agree with Sue that we should get a grip – the question is who gets to get the grip and precisely on what.

Unable, in a first instance, to answer this question, I thought I’d carry out a thought experiment to see if that would help.  A list of personal positives which I would be prepared to attribute to Labour:

  1. when I came back to Britain in 2003, I was in a serious state of mental ill health – the NHS managed in the end to help put me back together again;
  2. my children received a better education from the time they rejoined me in England than they almost certainly would have done in Spain had they stayed – they are now bilingual, the eldest is studying Mandarin Chinese and Russian at university, the middle one wants to go abroad to study film and the youngest is already considering proactively how she might get jobs once she is sixteen;
  3. my wife regained confidence in herself and her own ability as a teacher due to the then relatively buoyant labour market – little by little, she has achieved a certain degree of stability and self-respect;
  4. I have finally managed to get to a position where I can see I may be able to earn my living from writing via the Internet – something I dreamed of since 2002 and which would make my life entirely fulfilled if I achieve my goal;

These are all good, big and life-changing moments which allow me to see Labour – even New Labour – through a positive prism of perceptions.  However, I have to say that at least one of them – my mental ill health – was in part due to the lies and obfuscations which surrounded the process leading up to the Iraq War.

I lost my faith, during that time, in much of what could be reasonably expected of party politicking – I still resist, for example, at a local grassroots CLP level, to get involved with active politics.  In part I do feel it has something to do with this back story.  A story of political innocence being taken advantage of by those who know how to manipulate sincere emotions for their own personal benefit.

So many big positives for me in a little under a decade of living under New Labour – even as the primary one which brought me back to Britain was the massive negative of a questionable and bloody political process.

If I, as a relatively unpractised leftie, do need to get a grip as Sue suggests, then I might be inclined – in the light of all the above – to suggest the grip I really need to get is over a political party which doesn’t know how to communicate; doesn’t understand that consultation is nowhere near a proper dialogue of equals; and is riven with the triangulatory instincts she blithely tells us to ignore.

Here, then, is where Los Indignados can teach us more than one lesson: in order to unite around positions and policy, you first have to agree on process and procedures.  Without due agreement on the latter, no progress shall ever be sustainably made.

Do not, then, as a leftie who needs to get a grip, simply exhort me to hate the Tories and fight the good fight.  I don’t want them to define how my politics will function any more than you want them to define how the country will function.  And if we give up on truly empowering process and procedures before we’ve even really started, if we refuse to learn the lessons other groups and organisations springing up across the world can teach us, we shall remain anchored in a past that will become – by itself and not because of the Tories – evermore irrelevant, ineffective and ineffectual to a proactive and generally empowering producer-consumer society such as ours could become.

If the Tories manage to force us to limit our ambitions to creating a New Labour (II), they will have won a long-term political battle without us even having cared to engage.  Just as the terrorists of 9/11 created a generation of fearful legislation and terrified citizens, so the Tories may yet achieve their goal of turning us lefties, those of us who supposedly need to get that grip of Sue’s, into a wearisome terracotta army of conservative instincts ready to continue implementing the philosophies which Tony Blair so carefully set up and entrapped us all with.

As a Lib Dem acquaintance of mine (yes, it’s possible for a leftie like me to have one) quite rightly said to me recently, the NHS bill we’re so desperate to get dropped had its foundations laid by New Labour in 2006’s National Health Service Act.

If we really want to get the current bill dropped, and I am sure we can all agree we do, we should surely also campaign to unravel the straitjacket of philosophies which Tony Blair was directly responsible for – and which have led to Lansley’s moment of awful glory.

Meanwhile, dear Sue, we should surely remember that “getting a grip” can just as easily mean subjugation as empowerment.

And remembering thus, act accordingly.

Feb 042012

Chris picks up on David Miliband’s deservedly resonant piece in New Statesman the other day in the following way:

If you ignore the mindless tittle-tattle, David Miliband’s New Statesman article raises a genuine issue: what should be the left’s attitude to the state? He writes:

The weaknesses of the “big society” should not blind us to the policy and political dead end of the “Big State”. The public won’t vote for the prescription that central government is the cure for all ills for the good reason that it isn’t.

As I pointed out in my own post on the subject, David Miliband has done everything since losing the leadership election to deserve our attention – at the very least in articles and interventions such as the one under discussion. 

I have to say there are very few things I now miss about Blairism – but one thing I definitely miss at the moment is that feeling that following trains of thought to unpredictable places had a natural place and right to exist in the Labour Party.  As an example of this, I saw Miliband (D) at an Intelligence Squared event last year – and I have to say whilst not entirely convinced by what he said, I was entranced by how he moved from one point to another.

And we need more of that eloquent intellectualism – not to use it to triangulate our enemies out of existence as in New Labour times (which is why such approaches have such a very bad name in our body politic at present) but, instead, to search out new ways of understanding our relationship to the universal themes of individual freedom, socialisation, survival and support of the strongest and the weakest – as well as the more traditional aspects of modern life which tend to occupy our leaders: economic and political organisation 

In any case, good politics is always more a case of reinterpretation over pure invention.  Blair wasn’t really original – he just gave the impression of being authentic.  And people value that – at least as a starting point.  It helps to build on the past, on previous foundations – something our most recent generations of politicians really haven’t cared to productively contemplate.

So what I do miss Blair for is that sense of authenticity and roundedness.  For that, I really do. 

I also agree with Chris that Miliband (D) should be allowed to be heard – mainly because if he is permitted his voice, the left will be on the road to a recovery of sorts.  Prioritising the bright and breezy generation of ideas over their dusty and technocratic classification is always a good sign.  And right now, we on the left need as many good signs as they can throw our way.

As Chris concludes:

Granted, David’s analysis and solutions here would be rather different from mine. But he is posing a good question. The tragedy is that, in our anti-political political culture, this question will be ignored.

It is up to us, then, to ensure that exactly this must not happen.

Jan 222012

Politics should not be about doffing our (benefits) caps in mutual incomprehension.  But it certainly looks to be heading in that direction.

We simply do not understand each other, do we?  On the one hand, the government has clearly decided that the whole nation needs re-engineering far more than it needs a helping hand.  On the other hand, the opposition (that is to say, the political party I am a member of) can only see the degrading piecemeal destruction of a vast infrastructure of little-by-little policy decisions – all originally put together with the very best of intentions by New Labour and its protagonists over a long decade of social repair.

Sadly, most modern politicians seem – eventually – to get stuck at “changing things” instead of “changing things for the better”.  Even such enlightened observers as Éoin are now urging Ed Miliband to come over all pragmatically populist.

Out of sheer desperation, Labour is now uncertain whether to triangulate the short game of the general election in 2015, in the faintest hope that maybe the polls will eventually support what is now fast becoming a manifest absence of convictions; or, alternatively, give up on the short game entirely and properly play the long game of 2020.

Between two such stools we are rapidly falling.  And no: populism is not the answer. 

On the other hand, a careful weaving of a tapestry of real and appropriate convictions, whilst surely just what the (spin) doctor ordered, doesn’t seem to be all that close to a sensible realisation.

For we, on the progressive side of politics, appear to have learnt absolutely nothing from our last disagreeable encounter with a conviction politician.  Mrs Thatcher finally managed to impose on us her cruel brand of politics because we gave her the space to demonstrate she was perfectly coherent in everything she did.  She might not have been, of course; but her discourse clearly gave the impression she was.  And that, far more than populism, convinced us there was no alternative.

Triangulation; populism; to be reactive; to have no clear centre of political gravity … well, these are ideas I all find an anathema to what I believe a politics of the people should really be about.

Essentially, we need to know three things: why we are here; what we want to achieve; and how we want to achieve it. 

Defining oneself in terms of one’s eternally piecemeal responses to a multitude of government policy objectives – objectives which only serve to shotgun our body politic – is a lily-livered and ultimately futile exercise in short-term political survival.

We have no alternative, any more, to entirely reinventing ourselves. 

This is not a party political luxury of the self-indulgent. 

This is a precondition to long-term survival.  A precondition to any progress from here on in.

Jan 162012

There have been a flurry of tweets over the past twenty-four hours on the subject of a defection to the Tory Party of one of Labour’s most controversial tweeters, Luke Bozier.  You may not have heard of Luke, mind – if you want to know more, Mark Ferguson’s short and eventually dismissive piece over at Labour List this morning is probably the best place to start.

Meanwhile, I was minded to respond to a tweet from Anthony Painter earlier in the day on this very same subject of how Labour had to learn to deal with different ideas and people and places, when he wrote:

Labour has to learn that people can disagree with it, vote for others, join others, not vote and not be bad people…..

My response being:

@anthonypainter No. It’s not Labour that needs to learn this lesson. It’s political activism in general.

Something, in fact, we could expand to many relationships and sectors these days.

And then came along this other tweet – which got me thinking further:

Fellow Tories, what are your thoughts on a sudden influx of Blairite/New Labourites into our party?

Two questions immediately arise, of course.  The first one, the obvious one, being: could Labour survive as a governing political force?  That is to say, would Labour minus the Blairite tendency equal the wilderness years from now on in?

But the second – far more intriguing – one goes as follows: what about the Conservatives?  Could the Tories as they currently perceive themselves even survive such a stampede of an influx of potentially overwhelming proportions – if and when, that is, the political dams broke (as they might) and a flood of disaffected triangulators invaded their treasured Etonite playing-field?

In a sense, the right-wing of the Tory Party and the left-wing of the Labour Party are literally mirror images of each other: their relationship with and attachment to much-needed badges of courage – those political markers in the sand they use to auto-define their positions – is a given in both extraordinary cases: signs of tribal loyalty and righteousness, indeed, if there ever were any to behold.

So that’s why the more I think about it, the more I do wonder.

And you know, I really wouldn’t be surprised if the often worthy and positive cuckoo that was the New Labour tendency mightn’t end up destroying the heart and soul of the Tory Party over the next two governments in much the same way as it has already manifestly managed to do to what used to be Labour, its class movement and its society-loving instincts.

Nov 112011

Paul has an interesting piece up at Though Cowards Flinch today, where he argues that the real object of our endeavour should not be the excesses of capitalism but the very subject of money itself.  As he concludes in a post which deserves to be read in full:

Ed Miliband said at the weekend:
In every generation, there comes a moment when the existing way of doing things is challenged. It happened in 1945. It happened in 1979 and again in 1997. This is another of those moments because the deeper issues raised by the current crisis are too important to be left shivering on the steps of St Paul’s.”

True, but Ed needs to be clear that the moment is not about taming the excesses of capitalism, but about taming money itself on behalf of the citizens of Britain and (if Habermas‘ advice is followed) the whole of Europe.

Which brings me to a post of my own which I dug out this morning and where I say the following from the perspective of the 2008 credit crunch (I’ve added the bold today as I reread what I wrote then):

I also find it curious how some democratic socialists should spend the past decade berating the evils of triangulated capitalism, only then to spend the past six months defending the evils of propping up (perhaps) poorly-run (and clearly iconic) representatives of all that was once so bad. Does no one else see beyond the dangers of the immediate headlines? Is the need to keep money swilling round the economy so great that – whatever its source – we must keep it swilling?

Where’s the intellectual coherence behind all these policies? Is this simply downhill racing for beginners?

I wonder.

I wonder if the avowed need to keep this money moving isn’t blinding us to simpler truths. Robert Maxwell was once allegedly quoted as believing wealth was not a question of possession but access. Perhaps the vast majority of the allegedly rich – companies and individuals both – falls into this latter category. These individuals and entities with access to money can only live the high life if that money is kept moving. Perhaps the urgency for us to spend, spend, spend comes from this stratum of society, more than any other. Perhaps the great achievement of the past ten years was to increase the proportion of the population which believed it formed a part of the former category of possession without letting on to the fact that it actually formed part of the latter one of access.

I don’t think people’s capitalism will ever provide anything more permanent than the access Maxwell so accurately described.

Possession will only ever be for the truly rich.

And they will always be wealthy, whatever happens to the economy and the rest of us.

So. We have a choice. Keep it swilling or realise the chimera you’ve been living for the past decade.

Now which would you choose?

For as Steinbeck is quoted as saying:

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

It does beg the question, though, doesn’t it?  That is to say: does money need to swill for the poor or for the rich?

The poor can only ever strive to live within their means.

Whilst the middling- and upper-rich have the psychological tools to hand to convince their investors they’re richer than they really are.  And so it is that the swilling I describe – and which underpins the chaos that has befallen the world economy in recent times – must continue as disastrously as it has of late, simply so that these supposedly wealthy personal economies do not fall utterly flat on their brown-nosed faces.

Nothing to do with the needs of the vast majority of the population.

Entirely to do with the mad careering of the top thirty percent.

Oct 222011

We have the Bermuda Triangle.  We have the Eye of Providence.  And now we have Alex Salmond.

The connection?

Well.  Precisely this: Mr Salmond doesn’t have to triangulate himself.  And that’s really why they all despise him so.  He now has the freedom they never have had to say what he bloody well likes.

The last decade and a half has seen the British body politic jointly responsible for tolerating the kind of dictatorial behaviours a media genius like Mr Rupert Murdoch has managed to sustain: an all-seeing and all-encompassing process whereby he purchased an entire stratum of society.  This dominance clearly prepared the ground for and led to the hacking scandal at the News of the World – without such traction on those who should have provided the oversight of observant government, things would never have gone as far as they did.

What has been the most unseemly part of the whole damnable process though – at least from an intellectual point of view – is the ever-present and effervescent instinct to triangulate which dominated the thinking of New Labour’s elite.  This led the country not only to its media takeover by the Murdochs and their own particular brand of cavalier freedoms, but also to the absolute control of Middle England by the Daily Mails of this world.  And whilst I’m sure Blair & Co must have become soundly fed up of jumping through the hoops that all this entailed, this doesn’t excuse them from contributing to the unhappy consequences which are only now becoming apparent.

The most unhappy one being, for our wider body politic, that no one seems to escape the burden of triangulation.

Except, of course, and as I pointed out at the top of this post, Mr Salmond himself.

The great thing about being a civic nationalist of the kind I believe Mr Salmond likes to define himself as is that the overarching themes of independence can be used to tie together a wonderful rainbow coalition of voters.  In this case, however, it’s being achieved through an identification with singularly coherent themes that bind openly and straightforwardly – instead of via that cleverly shabby “searching for the lowest common denominator” approach that has characterised politics in England and Wales for far too long.

If those outside Scottish politics – and even some within it – still find Mr Salmond so very resistible, I suggest they ask themselves how the rest of the UK might respond if a mother lode of such rich political clarity were discovered and equally applied.  Something which might tie the English together with such overwhelming insistence that almost anything constructive could be achieved.

Apart from the external threat of a war imposed from without which would serve to engender its own Dunkirk Spirit all over again, I’m not sure, really, that such a force will ever exist again.

Unless, of course, we decide to go for independence ourselves.

In the meantime, the Bermuda Triangle that was the United Kingdom for so long – a place where so many bright initiatives vanished into the political ether – is surely beginning to lose its shape.  And in the absence of the all-seeing eye that was Murdoch and his absolutist control over political discourse, it looks like Alex Salmond and the SNP will have a clear run towards the kind of independence Catalonia has achieved within the confines of the Spanish state.  A permanent tension with central government – and a consistent and continuous improvement of its competencies in matters of health, security and education.

That is to say, keep them guessing as much as you might – and all the time, all the time, get whatever you can.

We, in the rest of the UK, could do worse than to follow their example.

In relation to Westminster, Cameron & Co – and the other navel-gazers down in London.

Further reading: Éoin has just published this relevant post on Labour’s current polling preoccupations.  Graphs and stats lay it out for all to see.  Localism, nationalism and independence are all issues the Labour leadership is currently refusing to face – to the wider movement’s detriment, both intellectual as well as purely electoral.

Oct 042011

One of the most read pieces on this blog recently was this post, framing Ed Miliband’s recent speech in terms of the reception Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” received on its first showings.  I then suggested that our Red Ed might be turning himself into Ready Eddy.  Meanwhile, Eoin analyses data which suggests voters are happy – where the commentariat huff and puff – for Miliband to turn his back on Blair.  Then, going against the Labour grain perhaps but in line with the aforementioned commentariat, Dan Hodges, over at Labour Uncut, had this to say of Miliband’s week:

We have to understand. We need to grasp what has just happened to the Labour party.

Ed Miliband did not have a bad week. He had a grotesque, cataclysm of a week.

The conundrum gets more involved, though, with this latest research highlighted by Liberal Conspiracy, worth reading in full – and the conclusion to which runs as follows (the bold is mine):

There are two lessons here I think. First, bland centrism doesn’t necessarily mean you get elected. Second, the press is out of touch with public perception of where Ed Miliband and David Cameron politically stand.

As a tangential idea to keep up in the forefront of our erstwhile triangulating political minds, I also like this observation from the same article:

So does this all mean being centrist gets you elected? Not necessarily. The Libdems are placed broadly in the centre by voters, and yet they languish at 11-15% in the polls.
Why? Kellner says:
When we delve into the figures more closely, we see why. Conservative voters dislike him because they think he is left-of-centre – while Labour voters reject him as too far to the right for their taste. These attitudes cancel each other out in Clegg’s overall average.

And so we come to a final re-evaluation of what Ed Miliband might be up to – if, that is, he’s as intelligent and intentioned a politician as I believe he may be becoming.  Again from Labour Uncut – this time, from within the most inner place of Miliband’s own inner circle:

By contrast, and by coincidence, as I made my way out of the hall in Liverpool, I bumped into two very senior business figures. One is a longstanding Labour supporter, who has made millions in private industry. The other has only recently joined the party, having retired from business after decades of running multi-million pound commercial enterprises. Both thought the speech was very good. They enthused about not only its thoughtfulness, but in particular its emphasis on the importance of business as a “wealth creator”, a line used repeatedly in Ed Miliband’s speech.

The author of this latter post – Michael Dugher, Ed Miliband’s own parliamentary private secretary – goes on to argue that:

The truth is it is not “anti-business” to criticise Fred Goodwin or to condemn what a private equity firm did to Southern Cross care homes. Neither is it “anti-business” to say a future Labour government should challenge the big vested interests like the energy companies ripping off consumers. It is the right thing to do.

There is, then, I think sufficient evidence laid out in my post this morning to suggest that:

  1. we are, as in Thatcher’s time, seeing the definitive political downsides of the fearsomely amoral act of triangulation;
  2. Ed Miliband perhaps realises this – and perhaps better than the rest of us right now;
  3. Ed Miliband is getting to the point where we need to seriously re-evaluate his potential as diviner of political dynamics;
  4. the mainstream press and their hangers-on are not necessarily best placed to catch the fluctuating public mood;

For the last point, after all, is precisely why we have politicians in the first place – to capture that public mood accurately and, in the end, democratically.

Politicians can only make their way and their reputations in that fragile conjoining of events and personal actions that is the body politic as a whole.

Which, essentially, means we can only wait and see.

Even as we do our very best to do so with what should be a generous as well as inquiring intelligence.

Oct 092010

Paul makes a profound point thus in a neat tweet we should admire and remember:

Elections are fought on centre ground. Governments can move that ground. That’s how child benefits cuts shd be seen. Do #libdems get this?

So what can we do?

Instead of us choosing to gravitate towards some mythical middle ground of a squeezed middle class located speciously in a LOTR type of Middle England, we should take those voters gently, honestly and sincerely by the scruffs of their necks and gravitate them towards the middle ground we can both convincingly stand on and believe in.

Let us be pedagogues as well as politicians.  Let us teach as well as learn. 

We do not need triangulation to get our message across. 

We simply need to want to get our message across.