Feb 252013

I received an email this afternoon on a new report by the Fabians.  I am a member of this grouping, though a rather passive one.  I suppose it would be fair to throw the accusation of armchair socialist at me.  I like my armchair, it is true.  But what I really like is words.  Their order, their relationship with other words, their choice and their juxtaposition.

All of that stuff, for someone who writes a lot, is significant and key – even when it might not necessarily be for you.

Not that I’m suggesting it should be.  We all have our different ways of looking at the world.

Anyhow, the email I mention leads me to this web page – and then onto the report itself, where we start out with these words:

Labour needs to answer five questions about the future of the state, so that it comes to power with a radical programme of government, but one that survives contact with the reality of office. [...]

The five questions line up as follows – in order to make the exercise I’m about to carry out work better, I’ll put them in an ordered list for you:

  1. Is there a middle way on fiscal policy?
  2. What are the next ‘pledge card’ policies?
  3. What does Labour do with the legacy it inherits?
  4. How does government change the economy and society?
  5. And how does Labour create a better state?

This was then sent my way in a slightly different and more concentrated form on Twitter (sometimes Twitter serves quite usefully to reveal what a greater space and time often obscure):

5 tests for the next Lab gov: fiscal trust, pledge-card ideas, coalition legacy, culture and markets, a better state [...]

 So let’s rewrite the above list with the language as per the tweet:
  1. Fiscal trust
  2. Pledge-card ideas
  3. Coalition legacy
  4. Culture and markets
  5. A better state

I responded to this tweet in the following way:

@andrew_harrop Good ideas – bit surprised by order. IMHO shd be: coalition legacy; culture & mrkts; fiscal trst; better state; pledge card.

Which is to say:

  1. Coalition legacy
  2. Culture and markets
  3. Fiscal trust
  4. A better state
  5. Pledge-card ideas

What really am I up to here then?  Well.  As horsemeat’s all the rage, it did seem to me that a few “cart before the horse” games were being played in what at first glance might appear to be a casually ordered list.  The question I ask of myself – and, through this post, of you – is whether the order the list was served up in was quite as casual as it first appeared.  In particular what stuck out as that proverbial sore thumb was “pledge-card ideas” at position number 2.

How so?  Using a pledge-card strategy as your second big idea or test for adequacy in government two years down the line is hardly the most convincing, nor politically solvent, move to make, now is it?

So what about the list I went and suggested?  By 2015, when the next general election hits us, for sure it’s going to be hitting us hard.  The coalition legacy will be clear for all to see; uppermost in people’s minds; a massive constraint on what Labour’ll be able to promise and deliver; and, more importantly, a starting-point for everything.  On the back of that legacy, we have a far older one – political and fiscal culture and markets.  One which this government will have done absolutely nothing to convert.  One which will be living on its highs of inviolable dominance.  And only if Labour knows how to deal with these two items first will the third on my list become at all possible to engineer and acquire.

A better state is my fourth, of course – something I think all of us on the left are aiming to create.  But it comes as a result of dealing with the first three – the first three being either the obstacles or opportunities to bring back some sense and sensibility to a “one nation” perception of the British body politic.

Whatever “one nation” might eventually mean for a group of islands where so many peoples live.

The pledge-card idea surely has to come last of all, mind.  You can’t know what you’re going to be able to deliver until you’ve been through the difficult process of deciding what’s available.  You can’t argue: “Shopping-list first!” – and then scrabble around for the pennies when you get to the checkout.  That this seems so self-evident to me and not to whoever drew up the intro makes me wonder if there isn’t some hidden agenda in all of this.  A bit too much input from marketing perhaps – and not quite enough from sensible political and financial observers?

In truth, of course, they’re just words – and words are only this important to silly wordsmiths like myself.  I may indeed be making a massive mountain out of stupidly trivial molehill.  But if that’s the case, do let me know.

It doesn’t harm to inform.

I don’t bite.

Apr 192012

The prostitution scandal currently affecting the American Secret Service, and which has already led to three dismissals, is interesting.  If we were still living in a world where WikiLeaks held sway, this would surely have been a story they’d have run.  But it isn’t such a world.

So why – and more importantly how – is the story being run?

It’s not being run because upstanding Americans from the Moral Majority – or indeed the liberal left – are unhappy at such acts.  This is clear enough from recent political declarations, which, while mentioning ethical issues in pretty quick passing, go on to display the following narrative arc:

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Ms Collins, a Republican who represents Maine in the Senate, also said she had asked Mr Sullivan a number of questions during her phone briefing.

“Who were these women? Could they have been members of groups hostile to the United States? Could they have planted bugs, disabled weapons, or… jeopardised [the] security of the president or our country?”

The question of course, as always, is who does it benefit to run such a story at such a time?  Obama, because it distracts from other matters out there?  The Republicans, because it casts Obama in a bad light in the eyes of Hispanic voters?  Or maybe the newspapers themselves from a pecuniary point of view, because they’re owed one for previous favours rendered?

In reality, it leads one to believe that an intruded-upon secrecy simply doesn’t exist.  Whatever we see, it’s because someone who knows wants us to see it.  We’re always going to be at the mercy of that manipulatory instinct to engineer our perceptions; always going to be unable to see things directly and with clarity ourselves.

If our politics is really as “crap” as some are now saying, we need look no further than the above impulse to know the reason why.

Politics does not search out the truth.  Politics looks to degrade our appreciation of what’s right and what’s wrong.  And pretending, occasionally, that our media serve to cast light on dark realities is just one more part of the game those in power are playing with their voters.

Jan 192012

Politicians generally prefer to do stuff to us rather than engage in public service.  There are notable exceptions, of course: the MP Dennis Skinner whom Cameron cared to call a dinosaur yesterday (I agree – velociraptor came to my mind) being one national example; many ward councillors without an ounce of ulterior ambition being perfectly admirable and local examples.

But in general, politicians are not the enabling and facilitating bridge (which they could, if they put their collective mind to it, quite easily become) between the technicalities of government and the non-professionals who vote them into power.

They should be – but they aren’t.

And as I read that the dreaded credit rating agencies (now they really are modern velociraptors) will be used on the NHS to vet its solvency, I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea to employ them on our selfsame MPs to examine – with equal and biased thoroughness – their accounts and general expenses.

Out of pique on my part; out of a generalised desire to hurt others I suppose.

What really makes me miserable this morning, however, is the following amazingly perceptive and simple observation:

Cameron seems determined that this will be groundhog decade – reliving the 80’s month by month – portsmouth.co.uk/news/local/eas…

And so it looks like it will be.  For whilst we can accept more of the same from Cameron & Co, I honestly felt that having got thus far our Labour leaders had learned the value of not blinking in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.

Except that, last weekend, they finally did.

Groundhog day?  It’s not just the Tories who are repeating themselves.  It’s also Labour which is unavoidably wrapped up in an unhappy and dangerous cocoon.  As Sunny points out, Labour appears to have few political convictions which don’t exist in relation to where others choose to stand.  Triangulation has become such an instinctive reflex for our “progressive” leaders that it would appear no core belief needs to exist absolutely anywhere.

But ordinary people – and I mean non-professional politicos (you know, the people we call voters who supposedly drive the whole blessed wagon) – do operate their lives in terms of beliefs.

In a sense, then, I suppose when I talked about a “moral democracy” a short while ago on these pages, and then described the “capitalist blame game” that seems to be affecting us most profoundly, I think perhaps I was moving slowly towards an idea that an impulse to relativism in our civilisation – an impulse many people of a religious inflection have been criticising for years – has actually come home to roost in an imperiously negative fashion.

We are suffering the consequences, on all sides of our parliamentary system, of a lack of focus, direction and clarity.  No.  I’m not tentatively sanctioning pig-headed decisiveness, as Éoin did the other day.  I am, however, asking for politicians who know how to match thoughtfulness and patience with an ability to take the right decisions.

And in their apparent absence right now, it does occur to me to wonder if perhaps life has become so very complicated that hindsight, historical awareness and understanding the past are no longer sufficiently effective strategies to deal with the future.

We are therefore condemned to live a future which repeats itself overbearingly – even as it changes key elements sufficiently confusingly.

Bill Murray might indeed have something to say on this matter.

Even as I ask myself whether our politicians are able to realise the issue is out there to be considered.