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?

Apr 082013

I wrote this a while ago on the subject of dependence (oh, and excuse the loose use of economic concepts in this post – I didn’t fully understand the complexity of the terminology at the time):

It’s a truism to say our political system is anything but conciliatory.  And so it is I am minded – in these strife-ridden times – to argue that important concepts which might otherwise liberate are being lost to such strife.

One example, which I bring to this post from my teaching experience, involves providing the right environment to encourage students to become independent learners.  This, in such experience, is not always an easy task.  There are many language students out there who are looking for the continued emotional support of the teacher.  You may provide them with the materials and content which a modicum of self-learning would serve to multiply by a thousandfold their progress – but no, they will insist on leaving most of the work to the classroom and the teacher.

Or they prefer to spend years in the company of the same teacher, using such learning to act out social instead of training needs.

Good teachers should, however, be like good dentists: so good at what they do that they do themselves out of a job.  And yet it doesn’t seem to work like that.  People often don’t want – or don’t know how – to be independent.

I then went on to argue:

So now I’m going to make myself unpopular.  Let it first be understood I am entirely on the side of those who would remove through democratic means all vestiges of this Coalition government.  It would, however, be remiss of me not to argue – as I have already mentioned above – that some potential good is being lost to the blunt battlecries of our current crop of politicians.

They demonise benefit fraud; they look to remove disability and incapacity allowances; they blame the unemployed for not finding jobs when jobs are not to be found.  And yet, if given a different slant, all these ideas could be grounded in positivity.  For example: benefits are good as amelioration strategies for short-term distress but should not create a social environment of dependence as has often happened.  Supportive alternatives (and the word here is “supportive”) should kick in as soon as they can with the objective of ensuring people remain as proactive and independent as possible.

And what about blaming the unemployed for not being able to find those non-existent jobs?  It’s the wrong tactic all round.  We should be encouraging – not rhetorically but practically – as many people as possible to want to strike out into an economy of the proactive.

Business should not be a fearful beast but something people find absolutely fascinating.

And yet whilst our large monopolistic corporations supply our consumer fantasies with the gadgets and prices the latter dream of, the former can only distort and make so unfairly competitive the free-market economies which supposedly populate Western society.

No wonder the unemployed don’t want to set up new companies.  If their customers won’t pay and the wider economic prospects are so grim, who on earth would choose to be an independent worker in times like this?

Only to conclude that:

Big corporations love us to become dependent on their products and services.

Big politicians love us to become independent of the state.

We can have one or the other – but it’s going to be mighty difficult to juggle both behaviours at the same time.

In a successive post, I went even further:

A quotation attributed to Ralph Nader came my way this morning which made me think that perhaps the answer is to be found somewhere here.  It goes as follows:

“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” — Ralph Nader #business #leadership

As far as I can see, Cameron & Co understand quite the contrary.  And it’s absolutely clear that they don’t want to remove the dependency culture at all.

Instead, what they really want to do is transfer our sense of dependency from the state to their private sector buddies.

Not change us at all, then – just rearrange the furniture for the benefit of their deep-pocketed sponsors and bosom business pals.

Leadership?  You gotta be joking.  The Coalition know as much about the true tenets of leadership as did the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  They don’t want to amplify our initiative – they just want our docile consumer complicity.

And that’s a really long way from encouraging independence of action.

Finally, some time around the middle of last year, I suggested:

Of course, in a very great sense, big business encourages its participants, customers and employees to be as dependent on its services as possible.  They’re not looking in the least to create independent – that is to say, disloyal – subjects who pick and choose as the fancy takes them in an unpredictable and dangerously freedom-loving way; or who might either switch brands or even set up their own competing ones.  The very dependency culture which people like Iain Duncan Smith criticise in the public sector and Welfare State mindsets is – quite paradoxically – promoted aggressively and actively in that private one I describe above.

Working as an employee for a large corporation is to be cocooned in an environment where every few months little rewards come along to make you give up on the idea of spreading your wings; of leaving your safe and secure little role; of moving out of that comfort zone.  Buying as an end-user from a large corporation is to be cocooned in an environment where spreading similar wings to other providers is either dangerous or uncool; either risky or unwise; a choice the advertising messages pumped out daily encourage you to believe can’t exist.

Big business is as (perhaps corruptingly) effective at deliberately creating a dependency culture as the public sector and the Welfare State could ever be accused of.

With the single proviso that the Welfare State doesn’t seem to do it intentionally, whilst big business most definitely does.

And so to my main question – and the reason behind this post: big business – or at least banking big business (which is where my experience of such organisations lies) – is a web of dependent relationships.  Now I’m not saying this is necessarily bad – for myself, as an employee, and at a particular moment in my life, it actually proved very positive.  But if we can see in the private sector positives to be taken from such a set of relationships, why do we argue that in the public sector and the Welfare State the same cannot apply?

To (quite reasonably I think) conclude:

Why is it good to be dependent in the private sector but not in the public?

Why is dependency only to be contemplated as permissible by those who run transnational organisations?

And what does this mean for the morality of those who create such empires; their behaviours and attitudes; and, indeed, the wider ability of society to generate the entrepreneurial spirit that creates new economies?

In these three pieces, then, we can see how a reasonably thinking person like myself has tracked and reacted over the past two years to the unthought-through analyses of the processes at work here: no real end-to-end comprehension of what we might want to do from scratch; no real desire to assess the totality of what might be fairest; no intention at all to aim for a perfect world; no wish to leap out of a most unpleasant real world.

Instead, just tinkering around the edges.  And, finally, blaming the Welfare State for using the same tools of outright dependency that Big Business has used all along.

The only difference being that whilst they claim the Welfare State leeches off the real economy, in truth with all their externalisations, their tax avoidance and evasion and their pretty widespread living-off the state and all its works, those who really live out this dependency fantasy are the sponsors of political parties everywhere: the transnational institutions which provide so many of our Western democratic experiences.

It’s time we did something about it.  And fast.

As I say in my first piece linked to right at the top of today’s post:

From independent learners, then, to independent workforces, we most definitely have a challenge here as we attempt to convince people otherwise.  And where we can most definitely criticise the Coalition is in the prejudices which underlie the anti-dependence rhetoric they have used: they need go no further than their nearest language class to understand that the instinct to dependence is far broader and more widely shared throughout all levels of society than they might think.

Maybe an instinct so very broad and shared we should begin to consider capitalising on it – instead of demonising it cruelly as we are!  After all, as all sensible entrepreneurs will tell you: “Where there’s a resource, there should be a way of taking advantage of it.”

So why should only the corporates be allowed to make full use of dependency?  Do please answer me that …

Apr 072013

The Observer reports this morning on Labour’s blinking first in its face-off with the UK’s ruling Coalition.  As a justification for the changes now in the pipeline of “progressive” politics, Byrne is said to have claimed the following:

The shadow work and pensions secretary, Liam Byrne, writing in the Observer, commits Labour to a return to the “old principle of contribution” championed by William Beveridge after the second world war. “There are lots of people right now who feel they pay an awful lot more in than they ever get back,” Byrne writes. “That should change.”

As a “senior party source” in Ed Miliband’s Labour seems delighted to point out (the bold is mine):

[…] “The problem at the moment is that you have a person aged 50 who has worked all his life and then becomes unemployed getting much the same as the person next door who has never worked. It is about linking what you take out to what you have put in,” said a senior party source.

Well.  I’m sorry.  That’s not what it’s all about.  There are millions of people with all kinds of support needs out there who need to be prioritised before such decisions are taken.  That they are not being prioritised – ie that we are becoming an uncivilisation unable to see the less cruelly ambitious, or simply less able, as little more than irritants in a socioeconomic environment of self-confidently alpha men and women – is something which should make us think far more than twice about the direction we’re taking.

So let’s take that telling phrase apart just a little, shall we?  “‘It is about linking what you take out to what you have put in,’ said a senior party source.”  For starters, this is clearly Ed Miliband’s Labour speaking.  So let us have no doubts about that.

Then the phrase and thesis itself: for in order to fashion such a link between “putting in” and “getting out”, we assume several things:

  1. The criteria we use to determine what we consider appropriate to value as an input: economic contribution; social; familial; scholarly … the list is obviously fairly complex and really should be debated first.
  2. The starting-point at which everyone finds themselves: essentially, how privilege and post-code lotteries are barriers to or catalysts of societally approved (see number 1) definitions of progress … it’s manifest, after all, that if you start off with millions, you’ll be able to contribute more financially to society (or, alternatively, pay someone to avoid/evade such contributions, if that’s what floats your boat).
  3. The natural justice or not of defining people only in terms of their financial and economic profiles: this, truly, is the monetisation of life to the power of a thousand (see number 1, where I’m sure it’s only going to be the first item in my list which’ll interest our beloved number-crunching politicos; see number 2 for how we so easily justify the felicitous, or otherwise, accidents of privilege) … and something I have spoken about, in fact, on already far too many occasions.

In reality, then, it’s not about “linking what you take out to what you have put in”.  If we’re going to be truly progressive about the matter, we’d do well to remember the story of the widow’s mite:

In the story, a widow donates two small coins, while wealthy people donate much more.[2] Jesus explains to his disciples that the small sacrifices of the poor mean more to God than the extravagant, but proportionately lesser, donations of the rich.[2]

So where, in Ed Miliband and Liam Byrne’s “progressive” universe, does the widow of biblical proportions now fit?  Where are the mechanisms to define people in terms of how far they’ve come and under what adversity?  Where is the intellectual desire to understand in all its complexity the actions and efforts of all human beings – whatever their personal journeys, whatever their own hopes and miseries – across the nation they claim to represent?

For that, really, is the issue.  The problem isn’t whether Labour has blinked first or not.  The problem is how many people will no longer find representation under this democracy.  As is clear since 2009, both left and right political parties across the OECD world have catered only to the very top of society.  We should hardly be surprised, as a result, when Labour unleashes such ideas as Liam Byrne loves to represent.  The stats would seem to suggest it’s been happening everywhere, anyway.  And Labour’s history over the last fifteen years hasn’t really led to any long-lasting revolutions in political behaviours.

Two final points:

  1. A hard power observation: linkage may be a good idea under certain circumstances – but only where not gamed in favour of the privileged in society, and only where we do not use nakedly economic outputs to determine the value each person is able to add to a community.
  2. A soft power observation: linkage needs to be carefully, and sensitively, implemented in a world where conditional relationships are destroying our ability to work together to a common good.

And one final question, before I finish writing my political suicide – this time, directly for Ed Miliband’s Labour itself.

Last night I argued that the Coalition government was not just looking to reduce the cost of the Welfare State in its “propping up” of the 99 percent who don’t abuse the system but that it was also looking to increase the amount of public resource that ended up in the pockets of the most privileged.  In effect, as I termed it, the privatisation of the Welfare State.

My question, then, for Labour this afternoon – a political party I am a member of, after all – runs as follows: does Labour also plan to continue primarily supporting the interests of the top 6 percent by shifting even more public resource over to the already wealthy?  Or will it, one day, ever consider measuring and supporting its voters in ways that do not automatically lead to further enrichment at the very top?

Apr 062013

In 2011, these questions were being asked of the Tory Party and its relationship with a financial services sector which – at the time – was bankrolling over half its total income:

There is no suggestion that any donor has made personal appeals to introduce policies that would benefit them, or gained from their donation in any way. But the extent of the Square Mile’s bankrolling of the party will raise questions over whether the Conservative-led coalition may be treating its financial supporters favourably.

This very Friday, then, we got this story from the Guardian:

Hundreds of millionaires working in Britain’s banks will save an average of almost £54,000 when the top rate of tax is cut this weekend, according to figures compiled by the Labour party.

The changes mean that 643 bankers, each earning more than £1m, could get a combined tax cut worth at least £34.6m.

The previous day, meanwhile, we had Mr George Osborne pressing the left’s buttons in the following way:

During a visit to Derby, where Philpott lived on benefits with 11 of his 17 children , Mr Osborne told the BBC: “Philpott is responsible for these absolutely horrendous crimes and these are crimes that have shocked the nation. The courts are responsible for sentencing, but I think there is a question for government and for society about the welfare state and the taxpayers who pay for the welfare state, subsidising lifestyles like that. I think that debate needs to be had.”

Whilst today, as the clock struck twelve (don’t you just love the melodramatic histrionics of that phrase!), thousands of millionaires received tens of thousands in tax cuts.

Even as tomorrow the Observer newspaper explains how NHS hospitals are gearing up to concentrate on creating a two-tier set of services, where private patients will inevitably be given priority.  Evidence of which I reported on as long ago as late 2011:

The point of this post is to underline that this is probably the first in what will become a long line of junk mailshots on the subject of unsolicited health services –  a long line which we shall just have to learn to disregard.  Unaccustomed as we have been to see health as simply one more consumer item, the ability to filter out deliberately scarifying messages in terms of this “product” is something we have yet to properly acquire.

Judge for yourself – forewarned is, after all, forearmed.  For this is just the beginning of the two-tier freemium NHS.

More in a similar vein from early 2012 can be found here.

My conclusion to all of this?

  1. Whilst the NHS ethos of free-at-point-of-use is being surreptitiously driven underground by growing corporate-capitalist markets (oh, if only they really were free-market forces …), since 2011 even I in my relatively humble housing-estate have been the object of rapacious health-service providers, aiming to scare my family into premium lifestyles.
  2. Whilst the “subsidised lifestyles” of the Philpotts of this world are used to abuse the reputation of the 99 percent of benefit recipients who don’t abuse the Welfare State (curious, eh?, how that 99 percent pops up all over again), the very same Welfare State begins to redirect its efforts to “subsidising” the 13,000 millionaires who really do begin to abuse the system.

Essentially, what this is all about is a huge sleight-of-hand shifting of public resources from the subsidising of lowly-paid corporate salaries, as per the New Labour post-Thatcher socioeconomic contract of its tax-credit heydays, directly towards the interests of a) a growing and influential number of private lifestyle service-users who will now take priority over the less well-to-do and lower-tier needs; and b) an increasingly influential 1 percent in society who will soon learn the true advantages of the Welfare State as per Cameron & Co.

By distracting people and cleverly whipping up prejudice about the “subsidised lifestyles” of the 99 percent (the disabled, the pregnant, the working mums, the working poor, the sick, the young and the aged), all this time they’re shifting all that very public resource into the pockets of very private patients, very private bankers and very private millionaires.

And so it is that no one seems to be realising what the aforementioned Coalition is really privatising: it’s not just the NHS, in quite sub-Thatcherite and expected mode, but also – in a particularly novel move, even for the most vicious of a historically vicious English right – the whole bloody Welfare State itself.  Not content with reducing the rights the 99 percent may have to properly claim their part of the action, this Coalition of the Damned goes even further: actually increasing the sleazy access to the public purse the top 1 percent will enjoy in the future!

For the poor and aged, for the disabled and sick, expect to become a band of bottom-tiered citizens.

For the rich and botoxed beautiful people of the top-tiered NHS, meanwhile, expect to become a CCTVed group of wealthily sociopathic Philpotts – secure in the presence of its expensive airs and graces that such madness is only in the eye of the beholder.

And if the beholder is poor, this means nothing at all.

Except the honour of funding – through one’s blood, sweat and tears – the “subsidised lifestyles” … of the rich.

Mar 252013

A while ago, I was very cross with Compass (more here).  Part of what brought the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition to power was a broader miasma which led to the organisation’s dallying with the very idea of what the Lib Dems represented at the time.  Which is not to say that New Labour didn’t lose the election; didn’t bring this catastrophe upon them(and our)selves.  But Compass, along with the Guardian newspaper, certainly got their fingers all filthy in some amazingly grubby pies of half-baked confection.

Over the past year or so, however, an alternative to sincere but hardly transferable barricade-climbing (I did suggest in all good faith that a Coalition of Resistance backed by sixty-three economists should really have been named a Coalition for Recovery) has, in parallel to other more grassroots movements, been emerging from the thinkers who now seem to be interfacing with this grouping.

Which is not to underplay the importance of all the organisations which attempt to battle with the wily beast that is Tory/Lib Dem uneconomics.  It’s just that one day, some time, the rainbow must either disappear – or find its crock of gold before it’s too late.

Anyhow.  To the reason for this post.  Today, as an interested subscriber to their email list, I received notice of a briefing on how to defend and construct a powerful narrative around the concept of social security: deliberately, I think, recovering its original denomination to recover its original integrity and sensibilities.

Welfare has been hurt so unhappily of late – not only by Cameron’s lot but also by the internecine Blue, Black, Purple and Red Labour boots which have bruised their way across a wider Labourism.  So it’s no wonder Compass are finally looking to reframe that debate.

You can find the briefing in question here, if you’re interested.  Some quotes which caught my eye below:

1. Social security cannot be separated from economic security.

If we are to deal with causes and not just the symptoms of our social recession then we need an economic model that provides security and social justice through fair wages and decent, more evenly distributed work. Having overworked and stressed people existing side by side with those that are desperate for work makes no sense.

And this in particular:

Through new institutions, built by people and not remote bureaucrats, we create the spaces in which progressive values of equality and democracy are reinforced.

Which reminds me of my piece on the potential for a positive Latin-Americanisation of Europe, as well as some of the things I highlighted today on how democratic institutions have been hijacked by the top 6 percent.

Some other choice phrases in no order of preference:

  • The widespread nature of an aging population and ill health due to modern lifestyles and endemic job insecurity means costly-targeted systems should be replaced by services that are open to all in a way that is universally preventative; this means providing services for everyone to reduce harm to us all.
  • The renewal of the welfare state starts with a refusal to believe the worst of our neighbours, colleagues, friends and family and seeks to rebuild it by believing the best in people. No one was born wanting to live their lives on the couch, avoiding not just work but the opportunity to make the most of their life, and very few do so. We are only fully human when we are creative and engaged in society with other people. Yet we must be given the space and opportunity to be a part of and add to our society- whether that be through paid work, caring for a family member, running a household, or being a part of our community.
  • Language is vital. You may have noticed we have used the term social security in this document, this is because welfare has become contaminated by its association with a US-style residual poor relief for people of working age. We need to reclaim and own the phrase social security as not simply a bureaucratic means but representative of an end to which society aspires; a society that provides security. It expresses the desire to achieve, insofar as is possible, genuine economic security for all through social means.

There’s a lot of good stuff in there – certainly a lot of good intentions few would find it in themselves to disagree with.  I can hardly see Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems agreeing to any of that, mind.  And the current Tory leadership, in your dreams.

At the moment, I have to say we are simply cannon fodder in a wider battle we really did not know we were signing up to.  And perhaps I was wrong, after all, to argue for a Coalition for Recovery – perhaps, right now, it’s one of Resistance we do indeed need.  With the wise initial steps of this gentle document on narrative, coupled with the intellectual vigour of a People’s Assembly backed by those who know all too well what resistance is like, the time to resist may be much closer than we think.

No.  The Tory/Lib Dem Coalition haven’t quite become evil Nazi-types for the moment.  But they have chosen to take the fraudulent 0.7 percent of the welfare budget and paint 99.3 percent of poor people’s behaviours in its light.  It was they who chose to employ a tiny number of Britain’s inhabitants as a battering-ram to clobber down the doors of thoughtful, and supposedly sovereign, voters everywhere.  And in their thirst for continued power they will continue in such a way – until, I suppose, they ultimately run out of further objects to demonise.

At which point, who knows what they might do?  Any ideas? Do you know? Have you any notion?

And – as one last thought – once we arrive at that moment, will you finally be ready to take a middle-class waverer’s final stand? *


* Acknowledgements to Tom for such a perfectly nutshelled idea.

Mar 032013

This post is about two tweets which came my way yesterday.  Both speak of the importance of personal responsibility.  The first describes its reach in private industry (in this case, I believe in relation to a recent story on the freemium app industry):

Companies are made of people, and people have a responsibility for their actions, inc. developing (potentially) exploitative freemium games

The second, which came my way hot on the heels of the first, said much the same thing – only, this time, in the context of the NHS (the Mid-Staffordshire scandal comes immediately to mind):

The best managers help clinical staff treat according to need and make patients healthier, not enforce NHS policy whatever the consequences

Meanwhile, in an oxymoron-like diatribe of the weakest kind against everything and anything New Labour ever did, David Cameron has this to say in today’s Sunday Telegraph:

That is what everything this Government does comes back to: the future. We are looking at the horizon, not tomorrow’s headlines; doing what’s right for the long-term. Thirty years ago, Margaret Thatcher said that we should be “in the business of planting trees, for our children and grandchildren, or we have no business to be in politics at all”.

I couldn’t agree more. In 30 years’ time, I want people to be able to look back at this government and see that we paid down our debts, helped create millions of jobs, sorted out welfare, made our schools world-beating and built homes for a generation.

Doing this kind of work might not earn you popularity points in by-elections, but it’s what I’m in politics for: making the country we love as great as it can be.

I haven’t heard that “planting trees” metaphor for really quite a while.  I suppose we’ll have Michael Gove telling us next that we should all write a novel before we die.

I’m also just a little puzzled – maybe out of technical ignorance – as to why he says “paid down our debts” instead of “paid off“.  Unless, of course, he means that it’s going to be the little people at the bottom of the pile who’ll always end up saving the Tories from their economic selves.

But perhaps this is all just a little too nitpicking on my part.

In truth, it’s always going to be the people who make a difference to any society.  Politicians of the kind who tend to rule us prefer to ignore this.  If they didn’t, they’d have to engage us in their processes – they’d have to get us involved and actively participating.  Far easier to blame an anonymous public-sector bureaucracy – and shift the responsibility stealthily onto equally anonymous private-sector equivalents – than to admit that the root of all our problems lies not in our systems but their application.

It’s not so much a new education system we need – it’s more a system teachers and students know how to work with.

It’s not so much a new legal system we need – it’s more a system whose costs victims and other participants don’t have to fear.

It’s not so much a new health system we need – it’s more a system which provides support as and when a person becomes a patient in need.

The Welfare State is the way to make our society less inhumane.  It’s in our grasp – but it is a choice.  We can spend considerable resource on allowing the fortunate to further concentrate their good fortune – or we can deliberately decide to give the less fortunate the consideration, charity and kindness most belief systems have tended to argue should be made forthcoming.

But what we have to accept is that, either way, it’s a choice.  If we choose to fashion a world where we must walk on the other side of the road from that homeless man who dies at the doorstep of a bungalow, we can.  We will do so, I am sure, in order that ambitious alpha men and women can – amongst the disasters they also commit – achieve what they undoubtedly do.  And this is clearly an act of socioeconomic decision-making at the highest level, committed by coherent men and women.  It is a freely-taken decision. It is an unforced decision to let some people live better at the expense of others.  It is a statistical calculation of risks that approves of achievement at the very top, even as it judges society will not rise up in arms and disintegrate as a result of the anonymous homeless dying distastefully in the streets.

If, on the other hand, we opt to help such homeless people – if our goal is to create a socioeconomic environment where this kind of action is prioritised over other, more aggressively innovative, behaviours – we may create, again entirely consciously and deliberately, a society where survival is ameliorated for a far greater number of our souls here on earth, even as achievement measured objectively loses its bleeding edges.

And either way, to come back to the original set of choices, and whether politicians like it or not, if anything turns out right, it’ll come down not to systems they proudly and powerfully announce but, rather, to their humane application – or otherwise – by people who look and act and feel like you and me.

That personal responsibility.

That core humanity.

That attachment to caring at an individual level for each and every relationship.

That love, even.

That kindness, generously imparted.

Far more important for a classroom than this textbook or that is the mind that plans the lesson around a book and the hands that clutch its spine.

For the funny thing about Cameron’s oxymoron of a weak diatribe is that there was very little in it I found myself fiercely disagreeing with.  Oh, yes.  Those silly sentences on immigration.  The daftness around welfare.  But in reality, the poor man knows exactly what we need to do.  Like when he says, almost pleadingly (the bold is mine):

These are not claims or promises: they are facts. We are turning the tide on years of decline — and building a Britain for those who work hard and want to get on. And we need to go further. We need to get more houses built. We need to build new roads and railways and energy connections. Some reading this may not like that; but as I have made clear, this is not a popularity contest but a battle for Britain’s future.

The problem isn’t the words, David.  The problem is the people.

In fact, the problem – more widely expressed – is your, and your professional class’s, attitude to people in general.  The fact is that systems, for high-flying politicians, are like electromagnets of recent generation: when you have the opportunity to choose between getting people voluntarily onside or creating a foolproof system designed to cage them into a certain set of behaviours, you can guarantee any minister worth their caviar will be pulled inexorably in the direction of implementing a brand-new system over convincing ordinary people to work better with an existing one.

I really do sometimes get the feeling that Cameron and some of his cohort are locked painfully into the wrong party of UKIP-incubating MPs and hangers-on.  If only he, and perhaps they, had chosen Labour, we could right now be facing another decade of government.

Maybe I should now spoil this post for you (or, alternatively, not) by saying how very much that idea makes me shudder.

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t.


They say familiarity may breed contempt.

I’m inclined, however, to believe that being a politician (of empire-building instincts, at least) makes one contemptuous of the familiar.

In this, both One Nation Labour and the more traditional Conservative impulses, which Cameron has appealed to in his text today, have aimed to reassure potential voters in a time of utter uncertainty that being British, in itself, is quite enough to be getting on with.

But in the end, they are all just words – both Cameron’s and Miliband’s, I’m afraid.

In a sense, I get the feeling that our politicians are likely to be as lost here as the rest of us.  And in this realisation (as Poirot might suggest!), I find the future most terrifying.

Where ordinary people would be the real solution, our leaders are now only able to work with systems.

The systems have taken over to such an extent that these ordinary people I mention truly have no impact whatsoever on the results – even as they end up shouldering all the blood-spattered blame.

The personal responsibility which I started this post with is impossible to properly engineer or encourage.  We spend our time terrified of the juggernaut-like mechanisms that threaten to bury our professional futures in a careering disgrace.  We hide, like frightened rabbits, from the oncoming lights which should illuminate – but which, in the end, serve only to make the shadows evermore powerful.

Yes.  It’s the people, stupid.

And our leaders are too stupid to realise it.

Nov 252012

Let me explain.

I’ve been away for a couple of days in a hotel room.  The hotel was fine but it wasn’t my home.  I wrote a couple of pieces whilst I was there.  The pieces were more reflective than has been my custom of late.  We need more reflection.

At least, I need more reflection.

I’ve just arrived back home and sitting back in my familiar surroundings, anything but luxurious but – even so – comforting and family-underlining, the rain pitter-pattering on the sitting-room window, the recorded football on the tele, so it is that I am reminded of the great importance of familiarity in general: because for our politicians and rulers, you see, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt but – instead – too much confidence on the part of their subjects.

To feel safe in your castle as all Englishmen and women are supposed to feel is the greatest challenge to all political rulers who aim to desegregate a tapestry of national expectations.  Whilst you fear losing the very soul of your life, you will be cowed into almost any kind of behaviour.  But if you feel your loved ones are protectable behind the four walls of your home, then almost anything may be contemplated.  I can, in this sense, understand those who argue against gun laws – not, I hastily add, because I believe in anyone bearing arms at all but, rather, essentially because I appreciate now more than ever the importance of feeling permanently in control of one’s own destiny.

Which is what I think most profoundly is behind the assertions of such a constituency.

And that sense of control is what Disability Living Allowance aimed to provide; that sense of control is what the NHS which kept the wolf from the door was looking to add; that sense of control is what many of those top-down policies of empowerment we berated New Labour for engineering simply steamed ahead and implemented, day after day, to a wider benefit of us all.

To want to eliminate all those things is, in a sense, the UK equivalent of a rampant US desire for nationwide gun control.  Our “guns” – what allowed the British to protect themselves from the elements – are inventions such as the NHS, Legal Aid and the Welfare State.

As well as a wider network of social-care instincts.

Thus we come to understand that home is a shield which rightly emboldens us all – and DLA, the NHS, Sure Start and all were astonishing extensions of those shields I allude to which allowed us to believe, precisely, in better: better ways of seeing, thinking and living.

I tweeted rather sadly this morning the following sequence of ideas:

Did civilisation get too expensive for those who rule? Is that what this Coalition is all about? Reducing the costs of Western compassion?

And to me, it doesn’t half feel as if this is the case.

They can’t, of course, say that universal education has created a mass of highly intellectualised people which perhaps in many matters knows better than our governors.  They can’t admit this because they are tied hand and foot to the concept of meritorious pyramidal organisation.  Those at the top must be better than those at the bottom, because otherwise those at the top couldn’t be at the top.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy which, if questioned, would lead to all kinds of awful potentialities: maybe, for example, an utter and total reworking of that aforementioned – and for me, quite dreaded – pyramid of often dysfunctional relationships.

And the Lord forbid that such eventualities might take place.


Chris has a pertinent observation today, when he says:

[…] there’s a belief that the only knowledge that matters is direct experience; Tim seems to think that only the poor can truly understand poverty.This is doubtful. And what’s even more doubtful – in fact plain wrong – is that direct experience of poverty is necessary to know which policies are best to relieve poverty.

Something which I’d be inclined to agree wholeheartedly with.  Being evidence-based is far more important to the justice and fairness one can bring to bear on a matter than whether one was born rich or poor.  Being a person of kindly outlook – with an awareness of others, an empathetic personality and the ability to actively listen – are all far more useful to one’s ability to reach out than whether or not one has suffered personally the disadvantages of deprivation.

Such disadvantages may drive one unremittingly to help others, of course.  On the other hand, they could just as easily encourage us to trample whenever the opportunity presented itself.

It is in the essence of an individual where we must judge people’s integrity – rather than in terms of the origin of the acts themselves.

And so Chris is equally interesting when he concludes with these final biting lines:

It is not the background of Cameron, Freud and Osborne that stops them making effective anti-poverty policy. It is their ignorance and ideology.

Only I wonder if it is truly ignorance and ideology.  To be honest, I think it might be the biggest and most unpleasant practical joke of latterday political times.  A humongous practical joke, in fact.

For them, we are simply buttons to be pressed.  And if you really want my opinion, whilst I admire all that New Labour achieved, I’m going to be blaming Blairism, iPods and technological gadgets equally for this unending robotisation of how a society must function.


Social mobility means you walk the streets with your frozen hands clasping firmly a PAYG phone.

Social mobility means you can never know if your parents will ever see their grandchildren.

Social mobility means you will never live in a face-to-face community again.

Social mobility – of this kind, I mean – leads us to a desperate scrabbling for a smidgen of human warmth.

And without that warmth, we have no hearth.  And without a hearth, we have no home.  And without a home, we have no shield.  And without a shield, above all we are as defenceless as the men and women who once occupied the caves.

Oh yes.  We have running-water and central-heating, but without the wherewithal to properly purchase it, it all becomes a mirage.

Hold on to that home.

Hold on to that shield.

Embolden yourself before it’s just – infamously – too late.

Jun 302012

I think, in some senses, I’ve mentioned this before – but today, in the light of all the recent news about how criminal in some quarters big banking would appear to have become, I feel for some reason it’s time to mention it again.

We’ve had a lot of grief from both New Labour and our present cohort of Coalition politicians on the dependency culture which supposedly makes us weak and spineless.  I did point out a while ago that (the bold is mine today):

[…] Let it first be understood I am entirely on the side of those who would remove through democratic means all vestiges of this Coalition government.  It would, however, be remiss of me not to argue – as I have already mentioned above – that some potential good is being lost to the blunt battlecries of our current crop of politicians.

They demonise benefit fraud; they look to remove disability and incapacity allowances; they blame the unemployed for not finding jobs when jobs are not to be found.  And yet, if given a different slant, all these ideas could be grounded in positivity.  For example: benefits are good as amelioration strategies for short-term distress but should not create a social environment of dependence as has often happened.  Supportive alternatives (and the word here is “supportive”) should kick in as soon as they can with the objective of ensuring people remain as proactive and independent as possible.

And what about blaming the unemployed for not being able to find those non-existent jobs?  It’s the wrong tactic all round.  We should be encouraging – not rhetorically but practically – as many people as possible to want to strike out into an economy of the proactive.

Business should not be a fearful beast but something people find absolutely fascinating.

Of course, in a very great sense, big business encourages its participants, customers and employees to be as dependent on its services as possible.  They’re not looking in the least to create independent – that is to say, disloyal – subjects who pick and choose as the fancy takes them in an unpredictable and dangerously freedom-loving way; or who might either switch brands or even set up their own competing ones.  The very dependency culture which people like Iain Duncan Smith criticise in the public sector and Welfare State mindsets is – quite paradoxically – promoted aggressively and actively in that private one I describe above.

Working as an employee for a large corporation is to be cocooned in an environment where every few months little rewards come along to make you give up on the idea of spreading your wings; of leaving your safe and secure little role; of moving out of that comfort zone.  Buying as an end-user from a large corporation is to be cocooned in an environment where spreading similar wings to other providers is either dangerous or uncool; either risky or unwise; a choice the advertising messages pumped out daily encourage you to believe can’t exist.

Big business is as (perhaps corruptingly) effective at deliberately creating a dependency culture as the public sector and the Welfare State could ever be accused of.

With the single proviso that the Welfare State doesn’t seem to do it intentionally, whilst big business most definitely does.

And so to my main question – and the reason behind this post: big business – or at least banking big business (which is where my experience of such organisations lies) – is a web of dependent relationships.  Now I’m not saying this is necessarily bad – for myself, as an employee, and at a particular moment in my life, it actually proved very positive.  But if we can see in the private sector positives to be taken from such a set of relationships, why do we argue that in the public sector and the Welfare State the same cannot apply?

Why is it good to be dependent in the private sector but not in the public?

Why is dependency only to be contemplated as permissible by those who run transnational organisations?

And what does this mean for the morality of those who create such empires; their behaviours and attitudes; and, indeed, the wider ability of society to generate the entrepreneurial spirit that creates new economies?

Jun 192012

I didn’t consciously realise I knew who Jimmy Carr was, such is the paucity of my knowledge of popular culture.  Carl sets this all to rights – as does, apparently, the front page of the Times today.

The story’s all about how some people live and work in Britain and quite legally pay only one percent tax.

The ins and outs or moral implications of this reality are not the object of this post today, but you might want to click on the first link above and inform yourself better.  Forewarned is forearmed, as they used to say when I was a kid.

Interesting how this tale has emerged in the same weeks we’ve had Christine Lagarde – who, incidentally, pays no tax whatsoever on her around $400,000 IMF salary – berating the Greeks for being entirely responsible for their fiscal downfall.  I was drawn to defend the Mediterranean peoples in the following way:

[…] before we talk down to the Mediterranean countries and their ilk from our supposed moral high grounds (after all, we mustn’t forget MPs’ expenses et al), let’s try and understand exactly what inputs and social norms operate in these countries compared to our own.

Paying taxes is quite one thing when you have the standard of living to grumblingly do so – or, indeed, the resources to legally avoid it; having to spend all your economically useful days caring instead for a helpless relative to the best of your ability, whilst the state stands by and offers no support for those in need after a lifetime of productive contribution, is quite another.

And that’s the business of government.  Or, at least, so it should be.  An implicit contract between young contributors and their old age; a contract which governments through the ages have kept to some greater or lesser degree; a contract which no longer seems as sacred as it once was.

No wonder increasing numbers of people try and stuff their governments’ ability to collect tax.

Today, the business of government clearly involves stuffing the people.

A couple of final questions, then, to contextualise the complexities we are beginning to have to face up to:

  1. Would you want to continue to contribute to a future Tory Party state, where business cronies of the eighteen millionaires in the Cabinet made money out of the rolling-back of public services – even as millions found themselves at the edge of financial ruin?
  2. Mightn’t you begin to think it’d be better to hide your pennies away instead of watching them disappear into the pockets of national politicians and corporate behemoths across the world?
  3. Can’t you imagine a situation whereby all the above would lead you to feel the same as Jimmy Carr?

I’m not suggesting for a moment you should do any of the above; I’m not even suggesting Mr Carr is right in what he’s allegedly done.  All I am saying is as the business of government becomes quite a different matter from yore, maybe a correct free-market response would be for the people to withdraw in some way their resource from political masters who – for some time now – have decided to take for their own enrichment far more than they hand out.

This is, after all, whether explicit or implicit, a breakdown of real contractual understandings.  We are now being asked as a nation to pay more each day for fewer and less effective public services – public services which our government is redesigning to generate private profit in evermore increasing circles of brazen disregard for minimum moralities.

Wouldn’t you, as a son or daughter of a value-maximising age, want to get more bangs for your bucks than that?

You never really know.  Perhaps one truly sad day this will all be known as the Jimmy Carr generation.

Jun 052012

From the Facebook page "Connect The Dots USA"

Charles Clarke grasps the nettle interestingly when he says the following:

Over the past 50 years, Labour has steadily become more the party of the public sector than, say, an ideologically driven democratic-socialist party or a party committed above all to fighting poverty and social exclusion.

There was a time when I would have agreed with the implications of such an assertion.  A statist dinosaur of a political movement, incapable of refreshing itself for modern times.  Seeing how the private sector is deliberately undermining public and representative democracy for its own pecuniary ends, however, makes me begin to wonder if the left-wing fans of the public sector weren’t right all along.  That is to say, we need the bulwark it might represent against a fascist state driven by private-sector interests out to destroy representative democracy’s integrity and basic fundamentals.

The truth of the matter is that institutions such as the NHS are an out-and-out threat to the private sector’s fiercest proponents.  On the one hand, in their desire to bring to every man, woman and child the advances of 21st century progress, such institutions are about as individualist as you could possibly desire.  On the other hand, in their ability to do so in a sustainable and supportive way, they are about as socialist as you could possibly hope for.

What institutions like the NHS demonstrate is that – at one fell swoop – one can construct a politics where every single person is valuable and worth fighting for – in as individual a way as any libertarian might care to argue in favour of – whilst at the same time offering up an implementation of such a politics which beds down the foundations of a social space any democratic socialist would be happy with.

Institutions like the NHS massively square political circles.

Those who want to make more and more money out of our democracies find themselves threatened by such wonderful processes.

That is the real reason they must be destroyed.  In reality, the NHS, and institutions like it, don’t pose a significant financial threat to their business models – they have, after all, been making money out of medicine for generations – but, rather, far more importantly, a dialectic threat to their politics, and thus their longer-term goals.  And that is what’s at the root of the private sector’s battle to destroy the collaborative politics the Welfare State and its institutions represent.

The private sector wants an extraordinary and total rendition of our democracy precisely because our democracy was on the point of sorting out its most significant challenges.  After the end of the Cold War, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and even as no one was really aware that it was happening, people in certain governments were looking to share out the spoils amongst the populace.  Battening the hatches on the Welfare State was just one example of such an investment.

Wars, economic crises and foolish endeavours various had, then, to intervene.  If they had not, the world this side of the 21st century would have looked very different.

Which is why the NHS and institutions like it are the final political – not financial – battleground where the future of representative democracy will be waged.

If we lose this war on that battleground, representative democracy will end up only representing those who do the representing.  Which is to say, those in power: the MPs who fiddle expenses; the leaders who lie to stay at the top; the Eurocrats who bind together a continent behind closed doors; the media barons who have access at all times of day or night; the columnists who have a bigger voice than the people; the moneymen and women who support labour laws which reduce the freedom of unionisation and collective action but allow evermore liberal opportunities to move their capital at will.

So what will happen to the people as a result of all the above?  Say goodbye to any significant chance of participating in the direction of a country’s political development!  The only vote you’ll be making is which consumer (not very) durable to purchase with your ever-decreasing disposable income.  That’s how they want it.  They want all ideology to become just one more monetary transaction.

Because when it comes to ideology, they fear the unpredictable.  But when it comes to money, they know more than anyone.

And that’s why we need an ideological public sector more than ever before.  Only then, when we stop allowing them to decide on their weapons and their killing-fields of choice, will we have even half a chance of saving representative democracy for ourselves.

At the moment, it’s like we were practising the political equivalent of unprotected sex.

Is that really something we want to continue getting involved with?

May 072012

Wikipedia Commons

Paul has just posted a terrifyingly measured piece over at his blog.  It describes the dangers of creating a surveillance state with the supposed justification – perhaps the essential requirement – of wanting to protect us all from terrorist attack.  A couple of salient quotes from a piece you should really read in its entirety.  First this:

[…]  In yesterday’s election in Greece, the far right Golden Dawn party gained a disturbing 7% in the elections, and held rallies that had distinct echoes of Nazi Germany.

“No one should fear me if they are a good Greek citizen. If they are traitors – I don’t know,” their leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos told the media. The words, the images – and indeed the election results – have sent shivers down a lot of spines, not just in Greece but around the world.

Then this:

[…]  It should remind us of the origins of a lot of the human rights conventions, declarations and so forth in the second half of the 20th Century: as a reaction to the atrocities of Second World War. We recognised the needs of people for protection from their own governments – because governments can’t be trusted to protect people at all times.

And finally to his conclusion:

As Bruce Schneier put it, in one of my favourite quotes:

“It’s bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to facilitate a police state”

He’s right. We shouldn’t. Those election results from Greece should remind at that most forcefully. Wake up. Smell the coffee.

We in Britain are, of course, no strangers to these dynamics.  In its desire to achieve the parliamentary power the Party had so long been excluded from, Tony Blair’s New Labour sustained and implemented more fully so many right-wing policies from Thatcher’s time that it seems impossible to contemplate that what this current Coalition government has carried out could’ve been done without the ten years of spadework which that intervening and supposedly socialist triangulation may in part represent.

In reality, the mixing up of public and private interest started off in Blairite times as a tactic to ensure the private sector and its sponsors in the media would continue to support some form of public interest.  But whilst Tony Blair & Co could probably be trusted – at least to some degree – with the NHS, our education system and the Welfare State in general, the tools they built and configured in a slew of legislative acts for one set of purposes simply made it easier for utterly untrustworthy examples such as Cameron and Osborne to turn them to the purposes of their own – as well as our – destruction.

Our Welfare State, principally the NHS and Legal Aid, has been torn asunder by the mindsets Blair used, arguably in a cowardly way, to cement in his time its medium-term future.

And so to the CCTV, online surveillance and information sharing policies we now face today: in the hands of the good guys, a whisker away from the fascist state (more here) we should always fear; in the hands of the bad guys, however, a better set of ready-made procedures and processes could not be fashioned if one wanted to.

The lesson for the future?  Don’t rely on your love of a charismatic authority or political figure to sway you from your basic principles: whether we’re talking about private involvement in the public sphere or we’re talking about surveillance strategies against terrorist threats, you cannot predict what economic crisis will do to the way people decide to vote.

After all, democracy has shown throughout history its ability to swallow its own tail and vanish entirely from the scene of the crime.

For democracy is not a steady-state theory.

Rather it is quite often a Big Bang of extreme destructiveness.

A policed state which slyly and incongruously slips into a police state simply makes it easier for the bad guys to go ahead and do their badnesses.

And it’d be mightily ironic if – after a decade of warring against terrorism – our own home-grown internal disaffected individuals, our extreme nationalists and their hangers-on, the Breiviks and EDLs and BNPs of this world, were somehow to take control of our democracies with the very tools we had insisted we acquire in order that, as democracies, we could protect ourselves from external attack.

Apr 092012

I recently discussed how advertising in particular would be the driver of online technologies over the next decade, in much the same way as pornography drove the development of, for example, streaming video and payment methods in the past.  Further evidence of this tendency is reported by the BBC today as Yahoo files its intentions to make it possible to pepper e-books with advertising of all kinds.  The patent the BBC draws our attention to would allow advertisers access to all kinds of personal information, including lists of previous purchases, from readers of e-books who were looking to get discounted or even free versions of their DRM-ed content.

Of course, it goes without saying that book lists can provide highly politicised profiles of someone’s interests.  But I’m sure gaining access to something like that is a simply coincidental and irrelevant side-effect of a wider process.  (I’m sure you do, too.)

Meanwhile, Google Glass makes us realise that whilst the project in question is sold as serving to “augment” our perception of reality, it’s actually – once again – going to be a slick conduit for funnelling advertising onto our very eyeballs.  If mobile ads weren’t quite enough, sitting relatively politely in our pockets, one day we will be able to walk the streets and be permanently in touch with a fabricated world of astonishing ingenuity.  Layers upon layers on top of a very core reality, which’ll turn our lives into a massive kind of virtual onion that’ll inform us what to do and how to think in every damn moment.

As you can see, advertising really is occupying everything these massive corporations are thinking about.

It’s probably got more to do with the fact that we’re all beginning to suffer a little from brand fatigue than an out-and-out concerted desire to control all our movements.

We clearly have two utterly separate strands of society whose interests are clamming them together: on the one hand, corporations desperate to grab more of our time and reach our decision-making nodes with greater efficiency and result; on the other hand, governments and security services desperate to understand what an evermore complex society might choose to do in the future.  In both cases, getting their hands on personal individualised information is key to staying on top.

So here’s a thought to show where all of this could finally lead: imagine Google Glass becomes the future of all human life.  An augmented reality which is principally augmented by brand messages – with technologies which may even be hardwired into our bodies at birth.  From birth, we will be influenced by the directly marketed communication data these tools will send our way, in consonance with that other layer of reality which will continue to struggle through to us from those erstwhile surroundings we will still call Planet Earth.  Our direct relationship with Planet Earth will, however, become less important as time goes by.  The layer that branded ads generate, on the other hand, will become far more important to our perception of who we are.

“I think, therefore I am” will shortly become “You think, therefore I can”.

So if advertising could eventually hit a hundred percent of a day’s existence of a hundred percent of the planet’s inhabitants, just imagine the revenues which could be generated.

Just imagine the control over what people think and do that could be algorithmed.

And just imagine the “free” stuff we could receive in exchange.

Perhaps, even, conceivably, we could manage to pay for an entire National Health Service and get all the services we currently pay for via our tax system entirely and totally without direct charge.

Paul finds my understanding of true free culture quite resistible, and was looking for a decent and wholesome way to pay for decent and wholesome content.  Perhaps this utterly advertising-ridden brave new world could be one kind of not exactly free culture answer to all his understandable dreams.

Or maybe that’s all his nightmares.

Apr 072012

Amazon’s been in the news the past couple of days.  First, this story from the Guardian brought to our attention the fact that it allegedly paid no corporation tax on UK sales even though such sales generated billions of pounds.  It would appear, however, and this is something I shall focus on in this post, that the profit margins on the income generated are generally around 3.5 percent.

Compare that with Apple’s massive cash mountain of more than $80 billion and it does take the edge off some of the allegations.

But then, on the other hand, Amazon has always been known for aiming for market share above early profits: destroy the competition first has always been the promise; the benefits will surely come later.

Today, then, we have Tim Waterstone, of the British bookstore chain Waterstone’s, saying this kind of thing of his main competitor:

[…] No trader has ever been so successful in its concentration on consumer pricing – all this impervious, of course, to the broader considerations of the overall welfare of the industries in which it is operating. It’s all so simple. Make and build your brand on a reputation for absolutely rock-bottom pricing. Do this single-mindedly and ruthlessly. Even say it upfront, insultingly and aggressively, in your advertising – go, Mr Consumer, go to Harrods or wherever it is, inspect and admire the goods, then come home and buy them from us. Online. At a deep, deep discount. And fuck Harrods or whoever it is for their trouble. More fool them. And more fool Waterstones. Go and browse through all the books there, in Waterstones, or Daunt’s, or your lovely Topping stores, then put them back on the tables (fingered and soiled) and order those you want from us. Why pay more? Why worry about the consequences?

And I can sincerely feel for what Mr Waterstone expresses with such clarity.  Even as I am a pretty gung-ho Amazon consumer.  I began to use it when I lived in Spain and couldn’t get English-speaking books locally.  When I came back to Britain, continuing to use it was a natural progression – a progression someone who loved the Internet really couldn’t resist.

But, even so, I can see from the bitterness of the above passage what Amazon has done to a whole industry of honourable individuals.

There was no industry in the world more dependent on its different elements for its good functioning than the publishing industry.  And now people like Amazon, and Apple too, are integrating massively so that all potential for making a living lies entirely in the hands of single companies.

We no longer need editors; we no longer need typesetters; in an age of e-books we no longer need bookbinders; we no longer need printers; we no longer need designers; all we need are the individual creators prepared – probably unbeknownst to them – to sign away the future of all traditional diversity.  In the name of empowering the authors, we destroy the ways and wherefores of a profoundly rich and complex sector.


What I am more worried about, however, is that 3.5 percent profit margin.  Even if Amazon did pay corporation tax in Britain on the sales its Luxembourg arm is responsible for, on such a margin how much of what Amazon moves would actually  end up in the pockets of the interventionary state so beloved of democratic socialists?

So what’s happening here then?  What are the wider implications?  Essentially, in our latterday capitalism consumers have taken over from schoolchildren, teachers, parents, patients, doctors, nurses, police officers, social workers, council workers, councillors pensioners, MPs and a whole host of other interested parties.

Our economies no longer function for the benefit of wider societal needs and justifications.  Large companies like Amazon have realised, whether consciously or unconsciously, that, by dropping their prices to the lowest rock-bottom levels which Mr Waterstone talks about, they can not only guarantee their futures on the killing-fields of corporate engagement but also remove all need to hand over any cash to the state.  In fact, it will soon become unnecessary to avoid paying tax.  Corporations will generate enough profit to keep going but not too much to have to contribute to the public sector.

Perhaps, in their terrible wisdom, this is what the neoliberals have seen – and what the rest of us are refusing to recognise.  In such a way, the state will, indeed, run out of cash – not because capitalism finally fails but because, rather, human beings in the guise of any other role but that of consumer will die a long-drawn-out death akin to the dinosaurs of old.

The only transaction which will work in this brave new world will be that of business to consumer.  As long as your needs refer to consumer needs, you will benefit mightily from such a dynamic.

The problem is if you will ever be a worker for one of these businesses; or a person in need of medical support you can’t afford; or a child in need of a soup kitchen which doesn’t exist.  Then, of course, you will miss the Welfare State – a state which no longer exists because our economy only cares any more about consumers.

This may be part of how and why the Welfare State is all of a sudden being disembowelled.  Those who are organising it, whilst certainly looking to fill their own already deep pockets, may also see the dangers of the Amazon dynamic to their ability to control the heaving masses: if we don’t sort out some way of engineering support services in a world where 3.5 percent profit margins become the norm, the recent demonstrations across Europe and the US against the injustices of the current crisis in capitalism will be but a harbinger of much worse times to come for these ruling elites.

We on the left, for example, may see the destruction of the NHS as the worst betrayal of all that we have held most dear in a society where common interests used to structure how we distributed resources.  On the other hand, those on the right might actually be looking to salvage from what they see as the unstoppable juggernaut of their own unfortunate economic history a modicum of society-protecting humanity.  Even if this is simply to protect their interests as that ruling elite.

Do try and be charitable about this, folks – at least for a moment.  The situation is becoming so grave we really do need to think a little laterally.

There is, of course, an alternative – there always will be.  In this case, to understand the Amazon dynamic for what it is – and change society so that our economy doesn’t only serve and contemplate the interests of the customer.

“But the customer is king,” I hear you say.  Well, perhaps we have lived this cliché for far too long.  A society where the customer is king and the king reigns above and beyond the interests of everyone else is a society ripe for considerable upheaval.  And the consumer society – the society where the customer is the most important driver of almost everyone’s interests everywhere – is surely approaching such a moment.

It is time we rethought society profoundly.

The question is whether anyone’s capable of understanding that it’s actually there to be rethought.  Before it becomes too late to rethink it.

Mar 102012

It’s the classic story of referred anger: the husband beats the wife, the wife beats the child, the child beats the dog, the dog fights the cat, the cat mauls the sparrow …

So it is that I do wonder if all the recent fury against the Lib Dems and their passive enabling of the destruction of the welfare state, legal aid, social care and the NHS is taking place entirely because we’re subconsciously coming to the conclusion the Tories have become way too big to deal with.

For what we really should not forget is that the aforementioned destruction, currently laying waste to our nations, is driven first and foremost by clever and far-sighted Tory ideologues who have imported foreign ways of seeing and doing from the US and adapted them for their own self-enriching schemes and purposes.

The real enemies are the Tories – and every legal tool we have to hand which might contribute to their future fall surely needs to be contemplated in both the short- and long-term.

Even if this involves talking to and working with some of the Lib Dems whose disaffection is beginning to seriously grow.

Feb 192012

Last September I wrote a rather involved and ranting piece about how the government and its hangers-on were planning a several-pronged attack on a number of simultaneous fronts against the whole concept of the Welfare State.  You can find this post here.  In particular, and in relation to the subject of Legal Aid, I concluded:

The trickle-down effect in the context of the economy may now have fallen well into disrepute – just as many of capitalism’s ways of operation have recently and damningly done so.  But the trickle-down effect on people’s morale as ordinary subjects discover the fear of potential bankruptcy, brought on by the imperious need to exercise their legal rights as injured parties in the face of encroaching injustice and negligence, can only advance in leaps and bounds.  The more the population discovers that its government’s true intention is to effectively remove a safe access at point of sale to a raft of human rights (human rights which we previously had learned to take absolutely for granted), the more those who break the law will get away with doing so.  And thus the rich will get richer – and the rest of society, from the middle classes downwards, will be all the poorer in both body and mind for it.

Doesn’t half sound like what this Coalition government is doing to both the economy and the NHS.

So does no one else perceive the similarity on these three significant fronts – in vision and actions both?

Can no one else see the pattern?

Will no one else demand that this all be stopped before the circle is finally closed?

Later in the same month I also wrote on the subject of revolving doors:

It was bad enough in New Labour times.  Something I picked up via False Economy in August (background here) made that pretty patent and clear enough for all of us to see.  Amongst the many unhappy truths, conflicted interests and abuses of power in such times, this one is perhaps one of the most vigorously anti-democratic:
“The number of former ministers ‘revolving out’ raised particular concern in Parliament and the press in 2008, when the list for the previous two years revealed that no fewer than 28 former ministers had taken jobs in the private sector. Of these, thirteen were still MPs. Paul Flynn, a member of the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), commented that ‘he could not remember ministers hopping into the private sector like this……It is a way of buying access.’ This number of 28 compares with a total of 31 in the list published in March 2011, which covered the previous twelve months. A smooth transition to the private sector could now be said to be the normal expectation for a government minister.”

Now – it would appear, however – that as in everything in this world, Cameron & Co are looking to outdo even more of the less salubrious “achievements” of our previous governors.  As the Telegraph reports today:

The bosses of some of the biggest companies in Britain, including BP, Shell and Jaguar Land Rover, are to be given hotlines to ministers to boost the economy.

To be honest, here I’d be inclined to want to argue the toss – and make one very small but important amendment to that sentence:

The bosses of some of the biggest companies in Britain, including BP, Shell and Jaguar Land Rover, are to be given hotlines to ministers to boost their economy.

Today, however, we have very clear evidence which shows that pork-barrel politics has well and truly landed in Great Britain (the bold is mine):

This list represents the dire state of our democracy. The financial and vested interests of our MPs and Lords in private healthcare. Why are these people allowed to be in charge of our NHS, to vote on a bill that they clearly have something to gain from. Who cares that they have put it in the register of interests. This doesn’t excuse their interests, it merely highlights clearly why they should have no part in the privatisation of the NHS. It is privatisation, despite the media’s continued use of the word ‘reforms’. The question must be asked. Are they public servants or corporate servants?

Which makes Jim Killock’s assertion yesterday at Netroots North West that “Governments are hiding behind corporations” all the more pertinent; though, personally, I’d be inclined to go even further: it is in fact surely the case that governments are no longer hiding behind corporations but brazenly marching out hand-in-hand to the tune of “We’re In The Money”.


Feb 022012

After yesterday’s news that being sick or disabled is a “lifestyle choice”, the Daily Fail, one of England’s biggest selling Middle England newspapers, has decided to run a series of features on its centre pages on how to become dependent on those around one.

Focussing on some of the liveliest support needs currently out there, they plan to demonstrate how easy it is to become tetraplegic, epileptic, autistic and schizophrenic – and why, indeed, over being fit and healthy, any one or all of these conditions should be the choice for you! 

And good news for cancer sufferers – the Fail is looking to provide you all with as big a send-off as possible, as they include a list of official government NHS waiting-times for the next year as well as statistics on how long it takes you to die from each type of cancer.  So using your free Daily Fail Death-Tester, available only in your Daily and Sunday Fail this weekend, you can now easily work out if you’ll survive long enough or not to be refused treatment anyway!

They’ll kick the six-part feature off with a massive exposé on how the British Labour Party is riddled with sick and disabled MPs who are actually plotting to take over the world.  The Fail will, in exclusive, demonstrate how a shady behind-the-scenes bleeding-heart organisation of do-gooders is secretly working to acquire an international stranglehold on major charities and health organisations the world over.

So don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make that shift.  And remember, being sick and disabled is just one gorgeous lifestyle choice away! 

Only in your Daily and Sunday Fail!