Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy new year

Looking for a babysitter tonight?

Good luck. I'm staying in again with Mrs NTaH, some Doritos and a few gassy bottles of beer. Probably watching Jools' Hootenanny as usual, and swearing about the Kaiser Chiefs as usual.

Could watch the One From The Heart DVD that Santa brought instead? Gimmie a film suggestion someone?

Staying in too? Here's a few suggestions from the archive.

Update: Here's the 'May Contain Notts' 2007 awards.

Meantimes, here's a Yootoobe clip of Mick O'Connor (banjo) who used to play at a session that I used to sit in on in the mid '80s. I haven't seen him since, until I ran into him on the tube this morning. He's at The Crown Moran Hotel in Cricklewood most Sunday afternoons (3.30pm - 6pm).

Hello again Mick.

Wedding furniture

A heated debate.

Vote early, vote often!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Eight for 2008

OK. I've not been tagged with anything for a while, so here's one from Shades:

Eight 2008 wishes (Iain Dale’s Meme) with a likelihood in brackets after it (no particular order). Here's a stab at them anyway:
  1. Forest to finally escape from the nightmare that is the Third Division (35%)
  2. A significant improvement to the house (lots of stuff to do - rewiring, etc) (50%)
  3. (Don't laugh) - my tenor banjo playing is getting there. I'd like to get over the final hurdle and up to performance standard (60%)
  4. I know this is a bit odd, but I'd like all of my techie things to work the way they are supposed to (40%)
  5. Find more time for music in general - practice, playing recording (35%)
  6. Nigel Clough to be appointed as Forest manager (2%)
  7. Finally escape from my childish attitude towards food - my kids have got a more mature attitude to food than I have - at least a half of most restaurant menus is off-limits to me. (5%)
  8. Find five new CDs that I'd really recommend to others. And five novels. And a handful of non-fictions as well. (65%)
There's a few wishes that are a bit too nebulous. The 'work' wish is so thoroughgoing that it could use up all ten of my wishes - so I've not bothered with it at all.

I'd like Labour to have learned where it's gone wrong and - as a result - to have better-than-evens odds of winning the next election (I'd settle for 'in coalition with the Lib-Dems at a stretch). A respectable mid-table position for Forest in The Championship is a qualification to wish No.1 but it would reduce the likelihood to a dispiritingly low 10%.

Wish No.8. could include actually listening / reading stuff I already have properly. For example, I've dipped into David McLellan's 1973 biography of Marx a few times in the last few years and each time I do, it looks more like a book that deserves proper study.

OK. Five people to pass this one on too: Jon, Jams, Matt, Col, and - you never know - Shuggy may finally remove his digit from his fundament for this one?

Power corrupts

... and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Elsewhere: The Schengen Archipelago.

And, finally, if there's one thing that blogs are useful for, it's arguing about what's wrong with Government IT projects (procurement, management, quality, overarching philosophy, etc). For some reason, there are lots of semi-anonymous IT contractors haunting the blogosphere.

Leaving aside the usual cruft that crops up in the comments boxes, this post - like many others - should be archived somewhere. If there are any bloggers with time on their hands, and a lack of direction in their current blog, this would make a useful project.

Any takers?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Subordinating the state to the general will

I saw this just before chrimbo (via DSTPFW) and I've tried half-a-dozen times to write a post about it for here because it doesn't have its own comment thread.

There's far too much meat there for one comment. For fuxake, go read it yourself.

A few times in the last few years, other bloggers have pointed to something that has already arrived at the conclusion that they have been striving towards. The conclusion that they were never likely to actually articulate properly.

Like whoever it was who said that they found out that they'd been writing prose all along, this post pulls together so many themes that I've been niggling around for so long. I'd never have got there though.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The heart of the matter

Another rushed one: Reading Tristram Hunt’s lament about the continuing phenomenon of departmental capture of ministers at the various transport departments that we’ve had in recent years, I can’t help wondering if this would be the case if we had a stronger link between politicians and their own civil servants – in-and-outers?

If we didn’t have a media that is prepared to connive with mandarins and pressure groups in search of a story, instead of in search of a government with some sense of direction?

If we had more politicians with their own personal profile, people who originated in local government, people who could sit around a cabinet table and decide whether they were going to keep the current PM – rather than the other way around. Politicians with many (but not all) of the characteristics of Comrade Ken?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

Yuletide cheer

Christmas greetings to Popinjays everywhere.

Also, there's a Forest blog that I didn't know about until now. Follow that link to Russell Brand's article in last Saturday's paper (saying that England should hire Mourinho as a penance for not having hired God in the late 1970s.

There are two sorts of people in this country. Those who like Russell Brand and those who don't. I'm in the former camp on this one. I particularly liked this:

"In his pomp Clough would’ve been a marvellous England manager - he vibrated on a plane of consciousness that made him a formidable leader but unnerved administrators. It is widely assumed that the reason he didn’t get the job is because the FA didn’t think they’d be able to control him - and they probably couldn’t have. That’s one of the reasons he’d've been bloody good.

If you have not yet guessed that I’m building towards a rather grand fanfare in support of the appointment of Jose Mourinho then you don’t deserve a newspaper and I suggest you take this copy of the Guardian, God’s newspaper I call it, and thrust it into the palms of an orphan who will be grateful of the nourishment. I think that by appointing Mourinho we can as a nation atone for the criminal neglect of Clough’s talent."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Nope. Nowt new here.

I'm so busy at the moment. But what do you care? You want something to read? Go here to find out who is to blame. And the Left Lion blog is still making me homesick. This dig at Gordon Ramsey is very good.

I will be doing an unusual bit of work in the new year that will involve a slight brush with Northern Ireland politics, so I'm keeping more of an eye on Slugger at the moment.

Belfast Gonzo has done a few really good bits of analysis in the last few weeks, including this one about the DUP and his relationship with non-Unionist parties elsewhere, this less serious one on the Welsh admission to the Union Flag, and another one about the DUP / UUP relationship.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Civil Service numbers

Gordon Brown isn't Stalin, it seems.

This is worth a read.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Privacy and websites

Have a look - over at OpenDemocracy - privacy and facebook (among others)

Bloggertarian Round Up

This is a round-up on the fallout from my original poke in the general direction of bloggertarianism a while back.

It’s been fairly exhausting. It’s even been bad tempered at times. But I’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time in the comments boxes of others over the past few weeks. Regulars here will note that I'm generally not that rude to people normally, and I've slightly adjusted my normal tone in these threads. The reason for this is that one of the early postings featured a particularly obnoxious bloggertarian calling me all kinds of c*nt. And lots of angry libertarians weighed in supporting him in doing so - and some of them were very upset when I replied in kind. So I've conducted this argument on other people's terms.

A few commenters have raised the question with me about Citizens Income and ID Cards. I’ve not been ignoring it – I didn’t really get around to answering it until this week – in the comments here.

Here are some other threads in which the whole thing has been discussed: Feel free to pick up any loose ends in the comments here.

Easily the thickest bloggertarian that I’ve found anywhere is regular Liberal Conspiracy troll, Roger Thornhill. Now I’ve been accused (sometimes with a modicum of justification) of constructing Strawmen here. But Roger is the real deal. He is not capable of exhaling, it seems, without accusing someone of being a fascist.

You’ll find him here initially noting the discussion (I’m a sociofascist, apparently) and here as the first commenter under Devil’s Kitchen’s rant. Apparently I’m a “Left-Fibbernazi.” (WTF??). His site is called “Neue Arbeit Macht Frei” – New Labour Sets You Free … not!

Perhaps I’m investing too much in this, but this outlook is so comprehensively offensive and stupid that it does need pointing at repeatedly.

I understand the libertarian notion that taxation is theft and any state imposition – even from a liberal democracy – is on a continuum that leads to totalitarianism. I’d even acknowledge that these claims make you re-examine your own views about democracy in a sixth-form sort of way. But Roger takes all of this to a new level. His remarkable bit of photoshopping, and this gem:
“If you think New Labour is, erm, what is that term you used? … ‘a social democratic party in an age of network governance’…then you really need to look more carefully at what they are doing and also more carefully into your sources of fatuous newspeak.”
So a fairly respectable term in social science isn’t just questionable. It’s ‘newspeak’. It’s Orwellian.

In one of the many arguments this has led me into, I was thinking about why I’ve bothered with all of this. It certainly has caused lots of arguments. Here’s my explanation (cut and pasted from elsewhere):
I think that libertarianism is extraordinarily rife on weblogs and discussion forums in a way that it isn’t in any other sphere. I’m not alone in this observation either. Aside from people I’ve met through blogging, I’ve only ever met one person who describes themselves with any conviction as a libertarian in the way that I think I’ve been discussing the term here.

And because of this, I think that libertarianism has a gravitational pull on online discussions that makes those discussions less of a deliberative tool than they could be.
For this reason, I think that it needs challenging - which is what I’ve been doing.

Something for the weekend, sir?

A blogger's manifesto at Dave Cole's blog.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Labour of love

I joined that 'blogpower' group recently - I like the idea of a network of blogs more than I like the idea of big group blogs.

Anyway, one of their number - JMB - has performed what can only be described as a labour of love. He's read an awful lot of weblogs and signposted the interesting bits.

He did this for you so that you don't have to do it yourself. Be grateful.

Dirty Santa

On The Register.

See the update: "Merry Christmas, especially to all my friends in the UK!"

Monday, December 03, 2007

What does the left-blogosphere really need?

Health warning: I blog as much to help me organise my own thoughts as I do to provide readers with worthwhile content. Many posts here are largely signposts to previous things that I've written. It also repeats - for the umpteenth time - things I've said before, so regulars here can skip this post. I understand that I could edit myself far more fiercely, and if anyone is daft enough to give me a book-advance, I will do. Until then...

Ashok – in the comments here – has picked up on my scepticism about the value of The Liberal Consipracy weblog. He’s asked for clarification, and - as a few good mates are LC contributors - I should provide it so as to avoid any misunderstandings:

I think that the basis upon which the LC site has been established is faulty. There appears to be a widespread view that the political right have stolen a march on the blogosphere, and that the left needs to do something to counteract this. I disagree, on a number of levels.

In the first place, I don’t believe that political blogging matters much in campaigning terms. Jag Singh of MessageSpace (in the comments here) informs me that his stats reveal a total of between 50,000 and 80,000 ‘absolute unique visitors’ to the highly visited ‘political blogs.’

I’m even sceptical about that figure – the blogs that I visit can get a unique user session from any one of four PCs that I have access to. I’m sure that many blog-addicts record more than one visit a day to particular sites on different machines.

So bloggers aren’t reaching large numbers of the public – and the small numbers that they are talking to are probably fairly politically entrenched in the first place. Blogs are not directly effecting elections very much.

Where they are having something of an impact is in their ability to give personal smears about politicians sufficient momentum in a way that the MSM can’t. Hopi Sen outlined how an asset like this can be very useful to the political right (see ‘Point Two: Focus on Personality’ – here).

And this is useful in the US, in the way that Howard Stern and Matt Drudge have proved useful assets to the Republicans. But this is not the case here. Our equivalents – Scallywag magazine in the 1990s, and Guido more recently – are not really that much of an asset to the Tories. In some cases, the Bloggertarians don’t claim to be such an asset – but that is largely beside the point. Sure, they may give legs to a few stories, but they also display the Conservative Party’s ‘id’ for all to see.

I would suggest that the Tories will not look upon the Bloggertarians with much more affection than many lefties reserve for the 57 varieties of Sparts that we had in the 1980s. The Bloggertarians may ultimately bring the greatest curse that it is possible to bring upon any political movement: A lively internal debate led by people who are plainly barking mad.

Another short-term benefit that right-wing bloggers are providing to the Tories is the wanton and willful way that some of them are attempting to sabotage public debate. There are obvious right-libertarian benefits for doing this (preferring markets to rational debate), and I’ve argued before that it’s one of Guido Fawkes’ main aims.

But this is something that newspapers do far more effectively. Bloggers may be increasing the number of spiteful Kremlinologists, but they only appear to be further exaggerating an existing phenomenon.

So, I don’t buy the dangers created by right-bloggers. They are – in some ways – a useful asset to us. A Petri-Dish that we can draw conclusions from.

Which brings me to the Liberal Conspiracy. I’ve blogged loads here about how weblogs could foster a more deliberative space (this subject has a tag here all to itself) that would improve the quality of democracy. But a largish-readership website that focuses significantly upon party-politics is not one of those sites.

Lots of low-ish readership blogs that aren't primarily about politics is - as far as I can see - where the real political blogosphere is. Not wishing to repeat myself, it's all in this post here (referring back to Ashok - where today's post started).

And finally, I'm not keen on the ingrained negativism of the Liberal Conspiracy site. It appears to adopt a fundamentally journalistic perspective. It is Against Bad Things, and For Good Things. It's the extension of the BBC anchorman's 'Man In The White Suit' complex. It has caught the same cold that liberal journalism seems to have done. I've posted on this as well before, so apologies for sending anyone who has got this far off to read another screed - but it saves repetition, doesn't it?

The only group-blog that I really like is the only one that will have me as a contributor - The Popinjays. This blog is often acerbic and not always hospitable to it's political opponents. But it is - as far as I can see (I expect a very bad-tempered email shortly correcting me on this) - agit-prop. It's contributors are uniformly for things rather than against them. It largely ignores Westminster gossip and it doesn't set itself up as an online home for assorted trolls. It doesn't seem to attempt to colonise any wider space in the way that LC, Crooked Timber and The Sharpener do. I particularly like the fact that I learn a fair bit from reading the comments.

At the Liberal Conspiracy - and many of the high-volume sites - I rarely learn very much. All you get to see is a range of fairly well-established positions being rehearsed in the most predicable way.

(This post was dashed off in a hurry, so apologies for any typos or poor drafting. On the one hand, I'm too busy for this now. On the other, I wanted to write this, and it is only courteous to Ashok that I should reply fairly sharply).

Update: Gracchi has picked this post up on Liberal Conspiracy (cross posted on his own site). There will be more comments there than here, I guess...

Friday, November 30, 2007

European perspective

At the risk of creating a recursive loop that breaks the Internet, here is a good post by Jon Worth that (links back here and) offers a European perspective on this missing disk fiasco and how politicians and civil servants work together.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Read this

Rarely have I found an article in a newspaper that...
  • Makes points that no other journalist seems to be making
  • Points that are pretty obvious when you think about it
  • Points that I agree with...
... as much as this one by Michael Cross in today's Guardian.

This is what decent journalism is all about. Understanding your subject, not trying for the cheap 'gotcha', offering an insight into the subject for the layman, making a case coherently, doing it consistently without any ulterior motive. And being right.

Remember Me

British Sea Power (2003)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Losing accents

Too busy for much today. I did see this guide to Nottingham's lovely inimitable accent on Left Lion (again).

I was listening to a Podcast (ark at me!) from The Times a few weeks ago - an interview with Paul Weller. I remember him being interviewed in the late 1970s on TV - he had a hatchet of an accent then. You wouldn't think that there was a regional accent in Surrey, but our Paul had a peach of a one.

Today he has a nondescript middle England update of RP.

I listened to myself on that Little Atoms show a few weeks ago (admittedly, probably putting on my telephone voice) and my near-undetectable Stabbeau accent depressed the life out of me.

State Funding for Political Policymakers - now!

There's a good piece by Jenni Russell in todays Guardian. It offers a diagnosis of the problem with the central civil service that completely mirrors my own experiences of dealing with Whitehall. Civil Servants are not motivated in any way to co-operate with elected politicians - and they are rewarded for not doing so.

And - thankfully - there are no problems that she observes that wouldn't be largely solved by applying this blog's version of state funding' for political parties. (That is a link to one of my posts from a year ago, but I could have written it yesterday without many changes).

The problem with advocating this is that no opposition is likely to take such a moral high-ground and call for it, and without such cooperation, no government could introduce it.

Even though we've seen that the Tories have no greater track-record of administrative competence, the kremlinologists will always give them rich rewards for grandstanding rather than for being constructive. If this wasn't the case, I suspect that the Tories would be prepared to accept that the arrangements I'm advocating here would be just as much in their interests as they would be in Labour's.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

All power to The Popinjays

The Liberal Conspiracy's mission - to revitalise the left-blogosphere - has been shown to be a bit previous in recent weeks.

The comments under these posts alone surely prove that the Popinjays have taken on this role perfectly well - without any of the negativists.

Monday, November 26, 2007


No time to say anything much today. A quick competition maybe?

How many song-titles can you think of that are just a word spelled out?

(I've got two so far*: R.E.S.P.E.C.T. and D.I.V.O.R.C.E.).

And one other thing: A random question that I meant to ask ages ago and never got around to: What do we think of the general idea of happiness as a public policy goal?

(*Oh, alright. I admit that I nicked this from here).

Professonal misdirection

The World This Weekend on Radio 4 yesterday asked..." there a fundamental problem with the way that politicians interact with civil servants?"

Sir Christopher Foster - a long-standing adviser on economic policy - thought that this was a problem that has built up over twenty five years. His list of problems would not appear unfamiliar to anyone who has given this issue a sideways glance:
  • too many initiatives,
  • too many reorganisations,
  • not enough planning,
  • many more pieces of legislation.
  • too much micro-managing by politicians,
  • the overconfidence of politicians in their own abilities
... and of course, the relationship with the media.

And that's all well and good. But - again - why do politicians feel the need to constantly try new initiatives? Generally, if they aren't being seen to over-react to almost everything, they can expect a well-organised personal campaign against them from any one of a few thousand professional pressure groups.

An unwillingness to either comply - or loudly denounce - any one of these initiatives - will rapidly result in that career-ending verdict: 'Out of touch.'

And should the relatively small cadre of ministers in central government really be spending longer planning for difficulties? Surely, that's what the professionals in Whitehall are for?

Also, why do politicians feel the need to micro-manage everything? Is there really an 'overconfidence' in their own abilities?

Or is this the result of a well-observed lack of confidence among politicians that civil servants will do anything at all about public concerns unless they have a bossy minister breathing down their necks? Do ministers rapidly draw the conclusion that anything that they want doing, they will have to do themselves?

The problems, of course, are plain to see.

Ministers have to make decisions that are too big. Strong devolved regional government would massively reduce the pressure.

Civil servants don't share ministers desires to be seen to be governing. Quite the opposite. When the public want to see action, sometimes they need to be shown action. This is inevitable, surely, in a democracy? Yet, as long as we have a permanent (and amateur) civil service, this problem will always be with us.

We need a larger number of political appointments, and a culture of specialism that all of the parties can draw on and recruit from. This may improve the quality of ministers that we have to put up with as well.

And as long as pressure groups and the media are indulged in the way that they currently are, even the best ministers and the most competent and professional of bureaucracies will continue to command little confidence among the voters.

And as long as we have a media that is prepared to connive with overpaid Mandarins to discuss these problems entirely in the context of politicians' failings (why wasn't Sir Christopher given the kind of mullering that is usually reserved for a minister?), I doubt if anyone will spend much time thinking about the causes of poor administration in this country.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Two pointers at Gracchi on the trot. Here's a good post on 'electability'.

I use this blog partly to organise my own thoughts. So I'm going to point back at this post of my own from a while back for reference - a similar theme.

Is consumer capitalism inherently totalitarian?

Here's Gracchi on the question 'is the left totalitarian?':
"The issue therefore is whether economic aid transferred by collective consent from the top of the socio-economic pyramid to the bottom is totalitarian.

Various respectable bloggers on the right would definitely argue that case, but I think they are wrong. If you accept the definition of liberty that it is the absence of coercion, you then face a problem which libertarians are rather too keen to forget about, which is the definition of coercion and who can coerce. For the straightforward libertarian answer is that only the state can coerce, but that is obviously nonsense."
Elsewhere in Gracchi's piece, the balance of his argument is understandably aimed squarely at the open goal that right-wing libertarians offer: the dubious liberty of the beggar to eat caviar.

But I think that the word coercion provides a suitable jumping-off point. Douglas Rushkoff's notion of coercion, for instance, casts a useful light on another common theme of right-libertarians: A dislike for the concept of public service broadcasting.

The BBC is - I think for almost every English-speaking resident of these isles - fantastic value for money. For 37p a day, the radio alone is worth it. Chuck in the TV channels, the archives, the website, and the fact that Auntie provides a larger subsidy to the performing arts than the every other investor in the EU combined,* and the argument becomes almost unanswerable.

The vast majority of us have no complaint about the coercion of paying a licence fee, because it can allow us to continue enjoying this fantastic value at the expense of the minority who do.

Long may it continue. Because the alternative would be to expose my kids (and myself) to a constant stream of coercive advertising on TV. That would be coercion squared. On the one hand, continuously feeling incomplete without whatever tat that they are determined to flog me. And on the other, stuck in an expensive war of attrition that every parent has to fight when their children are exposed to advertisers.

It would cost us all a good deal more than 37p a day if some people had their way - and the level of investment in original content would fall through the floor at the same time.

There is something slightly bizarre in arguing with people who spend so much time painting liberal democracy as inherently totalitarian, while at the same time remaining silent about the powers of a profession that uses coercive subliminal techniques every day.

*OK. I can't source this figure any more - I could in the late 1990s, and I don't think it's changed, but I stand to be corrected.

Wanted: One scapegoat

Wise for England: They deserve each other.

Máirtín has let them off the hook, it seems.

I know that, when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me. But surely the numb-nuts at Soho Square weren't going to risk hiring a Ulster taig who used to manage Celtic as their next manager?

I don't know how patriotic Villa fans felt about this one, but personally, I trace my lefty pro-EU disdain for Englishness to the English FA's ability to lure Brian (pbuh) away from Forest in the late-70s. My chauvinistic Irish family had nothing to do with it.

I resented their power to do so. When they didn't exercise that power, I saw the entire English establishment for what it is: A shower of morons.

Whoever gets this poison chalice will just become their latest scapegoat. Denis Wise is having a good season, isn't he? Could it happen to a nicer bloke?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Paging Comrade Ken

I've been glancing around the blogs, along with the usual trawl of newspaper columnists, and I haven't found one anywhere that has attributed the latest data-loss fiasco to the following factors:
  • Constant urge to re-organise everything - a permanently disoriented bureaucracy, permanently focused upon self-preservation
  • Never-ending use of management consultants to draft re-organisation plans
  • Increased demands from a mobile population that expects greater levels of 'choice'
  • Inititivitis on the part of politicians - but no clearly stated long-term purpose
  • Lots of 'audit', no 'inspection'
  • A long-term collapse in the competence of public management
  • Lack of any real attempt to hold bureaucracy to account by journalists
  • Constant need to be seen to be cutting costs
  • Regular changes of direction as a result of press / pressure group action
  • Lack of a professional civil service
  • Demotivated employees - no-one working there who believes (rationally, it would seem) that hard work will result in a better outcome than box-ticking
Any explanation that I would frame (if I had a bit more time) would feature these points. I've found very little support for this elsewhere, though I have found an alternative explanation:

All civil servants are lazy cunts
(here - passim). Genius!

Oddly, I think that the only politician who has grasped the problems, and shown any competence in offering a solution is Ken Livingstone. Rather than re-write my arguments, I'm going to cut-and-paste from a post I wrote over at The Trots some time ago. It wasn't - for the most part - an endorsement. Quite the opposite. But there are things about Ken that one can't help being impressed by. I said....
"...once in office – he was able to demonstrate why risk-averse political parties are often incapable of the kind of change that the public want. Where Blairite daleks would have drowned Ken's transport measures in a soup of consultation and consensus, Ken got on with it.

He drove through potentially unpopular policies that had articulate media-backed opponents, and he gave Labour an object lesson in how the real 'forces of conservatism' should be handled. It was often a joy to watch him presenting the Tory press with a stiff middle-fingered salute.

And when People In Pubs talk about problems, they expect clear-cut solutions of the kind that Ken offers, and political parties don't. Where Whitehall is stuffed with ineffectual self-perpetuating Sir Humphreys for whom a problem solved is a job abolished, Ken appears to have surrounded himself by fellow travellers who share his ambitions.

It's easy to be cynical about can't-do politicians boxed-in by tottering complex problems and irreconcilable vested interests. But Ken is the antidote to this. Independent-minded conviction politicians like him are – more than any other device – the means by which politicians and voters can be reconnected."
If only Ken could drop his tipsy forays into gesture politics....

A few thing in passing

Xmas gonads from Argos

Steve McClaren to Guantánamo Bay

Banned from every pub in Nottingham. Apart from five.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Moss Side Story

Went to see Barry Adamson on the South Bank last night. Very good it was too.

This is an old Granada clip about Moss Side Story from the early 1990s.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Going gently into that good night (not)

Fatman on mortality:
"An extravagant love of life lies at the heart of a sense of justice; anger at the cruelties of the world, at those who, due to their psychopathologies, megalomania, or attachment to malign ideologies, would drain the joy of life from others. So let's relish the sensuousness of existence and when our time is up be very pissed off indeed."

Step Seven

A classic line up - Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, Gary Meek and Jose Neto. They used to usually have a January residency at Ronnie Scotts in London throughout the 1990s.

From Nottingham's Flickr group


Friday, November 16, 2007

Ignore the 'fundis'

Dave Osler is on the Liberal Conspiracy (sorry, I can't help sniggering about that one - a bit like the preposterous and vaguely hubristic choice of 'Lenin' as a blogger identity) discussing the possibility of choosing The Green Party as the vehicle of destiny for ideologically ambitious lefties.

While I agree with Dave's conclusion ('stick with Labour'), his post contains a paragraph that sums up everything that makes me despair of most of the left.

Firstly, let me summarise what I'd regard as a sensible neo-Kautskyite ('ark at me!) position:
  • Economic democracy will only be achieved by the maturation of liberal democracy
  • When there is a tension between those who assert a general liberal position, and those who assert a democratic one, democratic socialists should should always side with the latter - secure in the knowledge that the democrats' illiberality is always overestimated
  • Representative democracy is the highest form of liberal democracy. Any improvement towards this particular Burkean ideal deserves unreserved support. Any retreat from it should be opposed with every fibre.
With me so far? OK. Here is Dave's offending para:
"...historical experience shows that where Green parties do take off, they leave their radicalism well behind. The Realos take over from the Fundis, and the one-time soixante-huitard peaceniks end up cheerleading Nato bombing campaigns from the comfort of their ministerial limos."
The problem Dave seems to find is that the 'Realos' grow up. The Nato bombing campaigns (I suspect that he's objecting to the endorsement of some European Green big-wigs for the liberation of Kosovo?) could be shorthand for any compromise. They could be shorthand for the kind of compromises that anyone who has been elected has to make in order to represent the interests of the nation as a whole.

I would argue that - in order to defend liberties and to promote economic democracy - it is essential that political representatives should abandon the sloganeering and posturing that is designed for their own supporters and embrace the need to prove the quality of their judgement by addressing immediate problems. The individual issues are less important that the requirement that every democratic socialist has to be - first and foremost - a democrat.

More importantly, no democrat can ever chose to perform for the gallery of their activist base over the general public. Knocking on doors does not - in itself - entitle one to influence. The problem with the Green Party is not that the 'Realos' will always get into arguments with their purists. It is that purists are given house room at all in The Green Party.

Thankfully, there is a political logic that supports this. Parties that aren't able to ignore their activists suffer electorally as a consequence. In the 1980s, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy - with its attempts at mandating MPs and making them directly accountable to the swivel-eyed fruitcakes that turn up to every CLP meeting (and encouraging them to ignore those that didn't) - brought the party to the brink of destruction.

The Ulster Unionist Party was similarly traduced a few years ago by the constant recall of it's representatives by it's most obsessive activists. John Major's government found itself in a cleft-stick between it's need to run the country and appease the demands of Theresa Gorman in the mid-1990s. And - thankfully - the Tories must be starting to get worried about it's bloggertarians for similar reasons today.

Direct democracy kills political parties.

And when Dave cites the example of economic liberals regrouping in the 1950s to give birth to Thatcherism a quarter of a century later (he quite rightly approves of their strategy, if not their success) he argues that the left should go on a similar long march, promoting individual policies and values.

The Tory right didn't bang on about specific demands for all of that time though. They recognised that strategic value that reactionaries would draw from the advancement of economic liberalism. There are economic liberals who aren't reactionaries - but that didn't matter. The result was socially regressive.

Similarly, we on the left should recognise the instrumental value of advancing the highest principles of liberal democracy - particularly, the non-negotiable primacy of representative democracy. There are plenty of democrats that aren't socialists. But that doesn't matter. They are our allies. The result will be socially progressive.

The left will not succeed by promoting worker control or environmental prescriptions. We don't know how to apply the former with any success and we don't have any joint positions on the latter. If we want socialistic policies, we should simply promote democracy for now. The rest will fall into place of its own accord.


Sound Effects. Something you said set the house ablaze

I went for a quick nose-around St Pancras the other day, but it was still a big building site. I think it'll be nice when it finishes though. Here's Left Lion's recollections of old St Pancras from the perspective of a Nottingham-based Jam fan.

Anyway, it's Friday. So here's three little bits of Jam-inspired trivia to be going on with.

Further to the discussion of all things Jam here and here....

1. Give me your nominations for 'most underrated Jam song' - in the comments. Once I've got the nominations in, I'll do a poll.

So far, in the comments here, I've had 'Happy Together' (my fav), It's Too Bad, Absolute Beginners and Tales from the Riverbank.

2. Give me a list of records that are obvious Beatle rip-offs. I'll start with...
  • It's Too Bad - The Jam
  • Start All Over - Kula Shaker
  • Goodbye Girl - Squeeze
  • Four Seasons in One Day - Crowded House
  • Don't Look Back in Anger - Oasis
Any more?

3. It's an important weekend for those geniuses in Respect. Any suggestions for a theme tune (I've already done some piss-poor ones in the comments over on the Ingrate's post).

For the archive

I was on the wireless a few weeks ago, on the Little Atoms show with Richard Sanderson and Padraig Reidy.

The show has been archived (mp3), with me using the telephone voice that my mum used to make me use.

Regular visitors will not hear much that hasn't been written up at least a dozen times. I referred to a study that Tom Steinberg had cited here some time ago, offering evidence about how an increasingly customised and personalised media offering is (or isn't, it turns out) driving us into anti-social cul-de-sacs.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Early auntie

This is worth a read: The first time that the BBC was 'auntie'. It includes an account of fuckwittery from Scottish ILP members during the second world war.

High points

I saw The Jam quite a few times before they finally split up, but there was one moment in their live set when the whole show came together. The entire audience would be on their toes for the extended outro of Set the House Ablaze (about three-and-a-half minutes into this clip). This video doesn't do justice to my memories of a night at the Granby Hall in Leicester during (I think) the Sound Effects tour. If I could re-live any moment at any gig I've ever been to, it would have been that one.

And - on the subject of The Jam, wasn't Happy Together their most overlooked tune? I think so.

And while we're on the subject of early 1980s high-points, surely there has never been a better pop video than this one?

Outnumbered by cars

... over at Bagrec.

Worth a look, I'd say.

If you could put an air to it...

... you could sing it.

Mick, over at the RSA blog today.

"It's a question of people wanting to be respected."


If you’re ever looking for an example of the grim humour of north of Ireland, there’s an old popular Belfast prod poem called The Ballad of William Bloat.

It’s a tale of a protestant man who slits his wife’s throat, and then – shortly afterwards – does away with himself.

There are a number of variations that arise, no doubt, from it’s propagation through the oral tradition.

Here are the top two results from my Google search for it. There are differences. The dénouement illustrates the confusion that loyalists had in the early 20th century: The Germans had wiped out almost the entire young northern working class in hours on the Somme. But – as the century moved on - the priest-ridden farmer state to the south replaced the Hun as the prime enemy.

American Gangster - review

I'll ruin the end for you (Gracchi's review, not the film)
".....what is interesting about it is the way that American Gangster reflects a society in which doing your job has become the substitute for an ethic. We all know why that is- in the longterm it is sensible not to be pettily corrupt- but that doesn't work obviously with all levels of potential income and the truth is that if you discount public service, there is no reason not to aim for what you can collect. The ethos of ego clashes in this film with the ethos of the job and it isn't obvious that the job wins- its clear that in the long run letting your ego rip leads to disaster, in the long run we are all dead, but it is also clear that not doing so leaves us with the question we would like to ask Iago:

What is the motive of a motiveless malignity?"
Good blog, Westminster Wisdom, innit?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bloggertarians - update

NuLab: The way we live now.

All of this bloggertarian business got picked up a bit more than I expected. If you haven't been following it, it started with an exchange of unpleasantries in which right-wing genius Devil's Kitchen called me seven kinds of cunt because I'd written this post arguing that many self-styled libertarians were really just right-wing negativists. It all inspired this post over at the Trots and escalated from there.

Devil's Kitchen offered this by way of response and has now provided some links to his back pages to prove that he is not - in fact - negativist at all. Oh no. Not a negativist. Certainly not.

Item one is a post ('Carnival of Polly Kicking #3') which is 'excoriating' (trans: swearing at) Polly Toynbee ("liar", "fool", "shut the fuck up" and "thieving cunt". Oh - sorry - that last one was aimed at Gordon Brown).

Have a look if you like. Libertarian? Well, it shouts about a few totemic libertarian objectives I suppose, but it's prime motivation appears to be to advance a position that is as far as possible, the direct opposite of anything Polly Toynbee would argue for.

If you can find anything that acknowledges where we are, that understands the various actors and institutions or that offers any recognisable road-map that supporters of his proposals could follow .... well good luck. No-one who really would like to see a smaller government could take any comfort from the fact that so many Bloggertarians are appropriating the word 'libertarianism'.

It's claim to non-negativism seems to rest entirely on a back-of-the-fag-packet outline of how a Citizen's Basic Income could work. It's hardly original (I think I've visited at least a dozen blogs that advocate a CBI - but I've never seen one that offers any advice on how any electable politician would be able to implement it). I'm waiting in hope by the way - I quite like the idea in principle. But - in passing - none of the Bloggertarians ever address the question of how you can have a CBI without ID cards?

And that's it. There are a number of other posts in the list that we're asked to consider as proof that DK isn't a negativist. Check them out.
  • Privatise schools!
  • Sack all of the civil servants!
  • Global warming is all made up by doom-mongers!
  • Privatise pensions!
And, er.... modest curbs on immigration probably.

All of them based on an utterly ahistoric assessment of modern institutions and power-structures. Most of them are - in themselves - complete electoral liabilities. No counterfactuals. Not really anything that would pass as argument outside of the semi-religious circle-jerk that crops up in the comments boxes of sites like that.

Instead of there being historical processes that could be altered by recognisable forces, we are offered a list of cunts (teachers, civil servants, politicians, Polly Toynbee), and a list of largely unargued demands for ultra-Thatcherite excesses.

This isn't libertarianism. It is simply numb-skulled Poujadism. The cherished themes that aren't electoral liabilities (leave the EU!) would not be possible to argue without accompanying policies that would be electoral liabilities. No wonder these people's understanding of 'democracy' stretches little beyond a demand for referendums on a variety of cherished stand-alone issues.

And where am I going with this? Well, in the comments under my post at The Trots, things rapidly descended into a slightly asymmetrical argument. A number of the commenters argued that there is no point in bickering with the Bloggertarians because it is a bit like engaging with creationists.

It's a fair point. If your base position is so ignorant of history and your diagnosis of society's problems are so ... weird ... then surely any further reasoning is a waste of time? If you really think that "under New Labour, the UK has become subject to a Sociofascist, Autocratic and borderline Kleptocracy" then you really have (to borrow a phrase from Shuggy) went and done and gone and lost your damn mind.

On the other hand, are lots of complicated know your enemy arguments. On a more civilised level, you learn something when you have a more sober argument with a fairly reasonable Tory (again, here's oneinspired by this spat). The Bloggertarians - whatever they claim - have a gravitational pull on The Conservative Party. In these arguments, Tories will always side with the Bloggertarians. Like UKIP, they are the Tories 'Id'.

Know what they are arguing for today, and you can see where The Stupid Party is heading tomorrow. It's a two way trade, even with the self-styled left-bloggertarians. Allies - or objective allies? Take your pick. My argument for picking these fights is that - if you write about Bloggertarians - your comments box becomes a very good Petri Dish.

But sod that. There's another good reason for picking fights with them. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. It's therapy for people who aren't so ill that they have to write 5 x 1000 word posts calling everyone a cunt every day. It helps you gird your soul and see the enemy for what it is. Anti-democratic. Negativist. A liability to any party stupid enough to regard them as allies or an asset of any kind.

And a complete and utter shower of cunts.

Update: Proof of the Petri dish argument: There are lady-Bloggertarians as well! Now I'd never have believed it possible until I saw this which I found in the comments here. I'm beginning to feel sorry for the Tories.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

North, South, East and West

Mick reminds us that even the greatest of men can be forever associated with bad things. In this case, the great Gerry Fitt.

In the same post, there's a bit of scepticism from the DUP about the Tory motives in promoting a Grand Committee. Mick points out that this could be important in the event of a hung parliament.

All of this prompts me to re-fly an old kite of mine.

I still think that there is a simple magic bullet here - regional constituent assemblies that take over the democratic oversight of all regional governmental entities - made up of existing Councillors, and initially elected by the Councillors.

This idea has a number of unique virtues:
  • It would be achievable without a massive increase in the cost of bureaucracy (indeed, there is a case to be made that it would ultimately reduce it)
  • It could be done at fairly short notice, in an ad-hoc way to start with
  • It would not be seen as a significant 'constitutional' change (regulars may recall the I find the notion of constitutional change in the UK a bit of an odd subject)
  • It would be seen as bringing government closer to the public
  • It would neutralise many of the problems caused by asymmetrical devolution (Scot / Welsh assemblies, but none in England)
  • It would be much more acceptable - politically - than a single English parliament.
  • All of the major parties could accept it - it doesn't jar with any of their traditional stances on local government
  • It would be a pilot scheme - because it is uncontroversial, I doubt that it would excite the kind of opposition that would require the current Government to nail it's colours to it too firmly (or be opposed too stridently by the Tories or the Lib-Dems). It could be a genuine 'let's see how it goes' exercise.
  • It would increase the legitimacy of local elections and make them more contentious and relevant
  • It would underline the need for democratic capacity-building among local Councillors - they would need to improve their communications / consultation skills if they wanted to be selected to join the constituent assembly
  • It would provide a new channel into mainstream politics for people who are not career politicos.
I'm sure that there are reasons why some of the political parties would reject this idea, or why it's unworkable, but the only one that I can think of is that the Tories may oppose it because it offers Labour a simple way out of a constitutional pickle.

That would not be a good enough reason to really oppose this now.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Go somewhere else today please


Good post here. Takes a well-aimed swipe at my prejudice that a knee-jerk rejection of the political mainstream is always a bit mindless.

I mean, it *is* still nearly always mindless. But not always, apparently.

Clarity from Mr S.

"the key problem in education today - sub-standard teachers who are not fantastic. The obvious thing to do is to get rid of them and draw from the deep well of latent fantasticness out there. Recruiting the less than fantastic ones was, in hindsight, something of a mistake."
Regular readers of Shuggy will be amused to hear (as I did over the weekend on a Radio 4 programme - can't remember which) how post-16 education is done in the Army.

Apparently, the average reading age of a squaddie isn't that impressive, but they've had some success in improving it.

How do they do it? The consensus appears to be 'press-ups - and lots of them.' It works apparently.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Basil Islington

The world according to Nick Robinson (at the Onion).

(The idea for the post was pinched wholesale from Mr Reidy. Soz Padraig).

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bollywood Jacko

Ta Faisal.

Air traffic


(ta James C.)

Marx on bloggertarians and kremlinologists

The man himself

Via the boy Rubbish (by email), here is the man himself foreseeing the witless combination of bloggertarians, kremlinologists and fuckwits of the Rory Bremner variety.

It is well known that a certain kind of psychology explains big things by means of small causes and, correctly sensing that everything for which man struggles is a matter of his interest, arrives at the incorrect opinion that there are only "petty" interests, only the interests of a stereotyped self-seeking.

Further, it is well known that this kind of psychology and knowledge of mankind is to be found particularly in towns, where moreover it is considered the sign of a clever mind to see through the world and perceive that behind the passing clouds of ideas and facts there are quite small, envious, intriguing manikins, who pull the strings setting everything in motion.

However, it is equally well known that if one looks too closely into a glass, one bumps one's own head, and hence these clever people's knowledge of mankind and the universe is primarily a mystified bump of their own heads.

Stop press: Latest news: Fuck You Alan Johnson, I'm off for a fry-up!!?!?!???!!! Genius!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Where now for the BEEB

Nico Macdonald is writing an essay on the BBC's distinctive online role for the mid-term (in BBC terms, that means 'between licence reviews' but I may be wrong about this).

His outline looks interesting. I'd suggest that his 'possible roles' could include the fostering of a more conversational civil space that can promote more localised dialogues on matters of policy (as opposed to Westminster-centric spitting matches about politics).

Monday, November 05, 2007

Nothing will ever be the same again

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.
In thirty years time, don't forget where you first read about the The British People's Alliance, will you?

Explaining misplaced disdain

Dizzy could think a bit harder than he is doing here perhaps.
The argument goes like this. The really popular blogs are not analytical enough, and tend to be echo chambers for media style gossip. Ergo they impoverish blogging.

The post on Westminster Wisdom was sparked by this post by Sunny on Pickled Politics. The post was titled "Challenging the elites, and the blogs" and made the same point about the current state of UK blogs and also goes on to the say that there is elitism in the NGOs, think tank etc towards blogs because of their impoverished debate level as already mentioned.

Isn't it wonderfuly amusing, and dare I say beautifuly ironic to see someone bemoaning blogs for being tabloid and requesting that debate be raised to higher purpose analysis away from the dumbed down masses, whilst simultaneously moaning about elitism outside the world of blogs?
OK. I'll try:

I would agree that "really popular blogs are not analytical enough, and tend to be echo chambers for media style gossip." Not blogs in general, but really popular blogs. In the case of political blogs, you have to do something to become really popular, it seems. You have to provide a hospitable place for trolls in your comments box and you have to write knockabout posts that simplify and personalise issues.

There are plenty of sites that don't chose to do this though. Dizzy will have seen one of these when he visited Westminster Wisdom - and there are plenty more to chose from if he could tear himself away from the fuckwits in Iain Dale's sidebar for a bit longer.

The next observation - that "there is elitism in the NGOs, think tank etc towards blogs because of their impoverished debate level as already mentioned" - is hardly a difficult one to understand. NGOs and think-tankists do turn away from the blogosphere rapidly because it takes a while to realise that there is a world beyond the more popular herd of independent minds that make up the popular blogs.

If NGOs and Think Tanks were more aware of the less popular sites - the ones that aren't that interested in attracting hordes of spEak You're bRaines types, then this would change.

As I said yesterday, the reasons that is is not massively rewarding to use blogs in an interesting, deliberative way may dissolve into thin air when the technology gets better at back-tracking and collaborative filtering. Then, maybe, the people who are actually paid to wonk may find time to ferret out the good stuff that we amateurs have been reading for ages.

Bloggertarianism redux

I was thinking about Mr Eugenides post about Conservativism v Libertarianism (of which, more later) when I saw Chris Dillow's response to Devil's Kitchen who says...

"I have a problem with this whole "liberal-Left" issue: to me, the terms are near incompatible. Many of us have long argued that the terms Left and Right are effectively meaningless, and that the actual fight is between those who are statist...and those who are free-market libertarians."

I fear that Chris is too patient in his defence of the term liberal left. He could, far more easily, gone on the offensive against the notion of a liberal right.

You can see the problem with it by revisiting Mr Eugenedes' point. Bloggertarians, as he points out, will always gravitate towards something pragmatic, right-wing and populist like the Conservative Party or possibly UKIP, because they don't have any positions of their own that could be sold to a sceptical public. They have a critique, of course - and the bloggertarian position is absolutely stupendous as a standpoint from which to oppose something.

But if you ask a right-wing libertarian to explain what they would actually do on any given subject (with an audience consisting of some members of the general public, as opposed to wonks from the Adam Smith Institute) ... well, don't hold your breath waiting for anything coherent.

Here's what I mean. Have a quick look around a few bloggertarian sites. It's easy enough to find out what they are against. In the example of 'law and order', generally it's...
  • CCTV
  • ID Cards
  • DNA databases
  • Police powers in general (though the distinction between bloggertarians and libertarians is that they only oppose police powers where they are endorsed by a Labour PM).
Yet, if any of the bloggertarians were to break the habit of a lifetime and provide us with a libertarian - or right-liberal - prescription, you can bet your arse that it would not increase the liberty that we enjoy in any way.

For example, let's look at what a more libertarian alternative to a publicly funded and accountable police force would look like. How will it be funded, in whose interests will it operate as a consequence? What powers will this atomised entity be provided with? How would the end of socially-funded policing impact upon the environment that we live in? Would there be less CCTV? Less by way of gated communities and general obstructions in the way of the free individual walking about where they please?

I don't think so.

Would commercial risk aversion demand that we have more robust means of proving our identity? Will well-heeled lawyers be able to demand access to any information held by organisations that verify our identity, should such organisations exist? Will we wish to provide these atomised entities that we pay to look after our personal security some kind of legal leeway to make mistakes? Or will every standard of the law apply to them even though we expect them to constantly place themselves in situations that demand the use of force or coercion in our interests?

Will we be a more, or less regulated society? Will we be more or less intruded upon? Will life generally be fairer? Will our initial choice of womb be any less of a future-defining decision than it is now?

In this case, I'm pretty sure that market liberalism would result in less of what most people would call liberty.

In the meantime, any examples of bloggertarians not simply being negativists would be greatly appreciated.

Inside pissing out, or outside pissing in?

Under this post over at Dave Osler's site, there is a one-line comment that I read a few hours ago.
"Some of us would be very happy to see the rabid side of the Tory Party defect to the right."
I still don't know whether I agree with it or not.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Policy blogging

Here's Matt Sinclair's explanation of why policy wonks relate to weblogs in the way they do.
"I reckon lots of smart people start blogging and don't find it rewarding because they don't get into a community whose praise and criticism can make it worthwhile. That community is what those of us who want to see a more thoughtful blogosphere should all try to build."
I'd agree with his conclusion, but I think that the technology isn't quite there yet to support the development. Blog-posts disappear from view shortly after they are written in most cases. They aren't captured and indexed in a consistent way, and 'backlinks' aren't sufficiently effective or consistently applied. There isn't a fully developed form of 'collaborative filtering' in place yet (though this is developing all the time in different forms).

I keep emphasising the 'yet' bit of those sentences because it's pertinent.

'Enoch was right!'

The Tories. Back on form.

Diversity training

I'm trying to work out if this is an accurate report, or if Mick Hartley has been taken in my one of those 'political correctness gone mad' hoaxes?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

spEak You're bRanes

Ridicule as a substitute for moderation?

ifyoulikeitsomuchwhydontyougolivethere - a lovely journal of what happens when we are invited to Have Your Say. One for the blogroll - definitely. And high up.

Can we have one for The Guardian's Comment is Free? And for Iain Dale's site? And Harry's Place?

Hat tip: James, Paul and Padraig - all via Facebook.


Resign! Resign! Resign!

Friday, November 02, 2007


... daisy!

Cometh the hour...

I've argued before that Ken Livingstone is a problematic figure. On the one hand, he is a fantastic example of what an audacious elected representative can do - I'd almost argue that he has developed a proven prescription that could end the decline of representative government.

But on the other hand, he is capable of adopting positions that are so disgraceful that he is almost impossible to vote for.

Good Ken / Bad Ken. Today, on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme (Real Audio File), Good Ken came to the fore. As every other politician either scuttled for cover, equivocated, or jumped upon a negativist bandwagon, Ken stood tall and said what any responsible political leader needed to say. And he said it with conviction.
"Police officers operated against suicide bombers in conditions of extreme danger - and subject to strains - both of risk to themselves and of their desire to safeguard Londoners lives, that no one not in their position can understand.

Health and safety legislation was not drawn up for such extreme situations.

This verdict makes the struggle to defend Londoners against terrorism more difficult. The shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes was a tragedy but the safety of all Londoners must not be undermined in a struggle against terrorism that goes on every day."

I expect that the Tories and the Lib Dems will get their scalp in the end though. The journalistic profession doesn't even have a place in it's gearbox that allows it to emote responsibly.

A courageous decision

When they ask 'Where did it all go wrong for the Little Atoms show on Resonance FM (104.4), the answer will come:
"2nd November 2007. When they were stuck for a guest and invited that bloke with borderline Tourettes on."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Immigration and social capital

One thing puzzles me about the immigration debate. While I'm broadly very liberal on this, I do accept that there is an argument that rapid changes in the social composition of an area can diminish social capital.

So - if my street rapidly fills up with people who I don't know and with whom I can't easily establish a social affinity, then I will find it hard to borrow a cup of sugar or find cheap trustworthy babysitter quickly. And lots more, of course.

Now, I don't envy anyone who is having to write a PhD thesis explaining how that diminution in social capital compares to the obvious economic benefits that immigration brings.

But - either way - surely immigration has a similar impact upon social capital as car-use does? One of the classic studies explaining Social Capital (so 'classic' that I don't recall what it was called or who wrote it now) showed the mathematics of a busy street.

In the absence of cars, we strike up relationships with the people who live across the road. But we also then strike up relationships with the people on our side of the road who didn't know us - but who do know the people we've got to know across the road.

With me so far? (This is very much Kevin's territory - not mine, by the way).

The effect of someone moving into my street and not knowing my language or having much in common with me essentially reduces the number of mavens or connectors (using Malcolm Gladwell's terms) across the road that I have access to.

So, why aren't those who oppose immigration into this country also calling for a reduction of car-use and the increased prioritisation of the pedestrians needs? Stopping immigration is surely the most expensive way of increasing the social capital available to us?

Why even consider it when Barnet Council don't have the decency to consider traffic-calming measures that would make my road a bit less attractive to little fuckwit boy-racers looking for a cut-through?

What's the problem with PR for Labour?

I meant to comment on this - a jointly-authored article by John Cruddas and Jon Trickett - yesterday, but didn't get round to it.
"We have become too distant from crucial bases of support, including manual workers, public sector employees, trade unionists and black and ethnic minority voters. But we have also failed to energise the progressive middle class. We need to focus more on policy areas that matter to these groups - such as our threadbare public transport, the casualisation of workplaces, deepening concerns about the anxious state of modern childhood, rising personal debt and an all-pervasive feeling that our lives are running out of control."
Now, there's a paragraph that was written by committee if ever there was one. I'd agree with most of it, as it happens - (with, perhaps, a qualification on the debt issue - I think that rising personal debt has some progressive upsides), but it highlights the problem that the left has.

They're arguing that Labour ought to take these concerns seriously. But it is very unlikely that these are the issues that Labour's election strategists will really be worried about.

Whenever I argue with fellow lefties about proportional representation, one of the main objections is that it will make it impossible for Labour to enjoy untrammelled power. Well, we have it at the moment, but daren't exercise it. And PR could shift the key demographics and make Labour want to appeal to the groups that Compass thinks that it ought to appeal to.

I don't understand the arguments against PR personally. Any ideas?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Standing up for auntie

Fiona Bruce. This is what Gordon is fighting for.

Paul Anderson thinks that Gordon Brown has shown some bottle in refusing to offer a referendum on the EU treaty.

I don’t know whether this is the case or not, but Paul’s understanding of it as a simple conflict with Rupert Murdoch is an interesting one.

But I’ve never seen much written anywhere about why Murdoch is so anti-EU. Is this some personal political hobby-horse that he’d developed over the years? A hang-up that he pursues in his spare time, and one that he’s prepared to place his newspapers in conflict with the government over?

Or does he have a business reason for doing so? Is the problem Murdoch? Or his businesses?

I think that the latter is a more persuasive explanation. The EU – and more specifically, their TV Without Frontiers (TVWF) directives - have made life very difficult for Sky TV to compete with their Public Service Broadcasting rivals. These regulations are designed to ensure that broadcasters actually make programmes for the audiences they serve rather than importing them from very robust marketplaces (in this case, the US).

I did a post a while ago outlining what TVWF was about, and it’s here.

But if Gordon Brown was brave in standing up to them over the EU constitution, everyone should be thankful to him for doing so. Because if he didn’t, you could wave goodbye to…
  • TV made specifically for UK audiences
  • Thriving cultural industries throughout the UK, benefiting from an healthy investment climate
  • Thousands of jobs in creative sectors
  • The values of public service broadcasting
  • TV programmes that aren’t constantly interrupted by adverts
  • Radio 3. Radio 4. Radio Six. Radio Seven. Programmes aimed at ethnic minorities and other interest groups.
  • Progressive payment for entertainment (goodbye licence fee, hello TV stations for kids that are all adverts)
  • Impartial broadcast news (goodbye Fiona Bruce, hello Fox News)
Anyone who has worked around media policy-making (I did for four years) will know that these issues are the permanent elephant in the room. The level of access that Sky lobbyists enjoy, and the amount of muscle that they flex can't be understated.

I remember some analogy - a while ago - about how the fine art of taxation is like having the ability to pluck goose-feathers without much hissing. I'd say that the fine art of government is about giving Sky lobbyists as little as possible without having them turn on you.

And whenever you hear orchestrated calls for a referendum, you can be sure that there is a demagogue somewhere at the heart of it. Tony Blair always capitulated to it. I hope Brown is made of sterner stuff.

So I won't be joining Nick Cohen (in the comments here) in saying 'Bring Back Blair!'

On form

The last five substantial posts at Freemania are all worth a look.

Interesting elevators

There are at least 70 interesting elevators in the world.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Constitutional convention?

Jon wants a Constitutional Convention. I'm not with him on all of his demands (but agree with most of them). It's certainly in the air, isn't it? Brown's recent noises about entrenching some liberties beyond the immediate reach of Parliament, his need to head off demands for a 'constitutional' EU referendum, the fuss around fixed-term parliaments, and Brown's need for a 'vision thing' in order to get the show back on the road.

This is an interesting idea - for me, particularly, in the context of the view that we don't have a constitution at the moment (and don't need one IMHO).

Would a Constitutional Convention be a good or bad thing at the moment? Well, it could turn the tables on the Tories in the short term. If they want to form a double act with the SNP, it could go a number of ways for them. On the one hand, it could fatally undermine their tradition as the Unionist party - and ultimately the direction could be dropped following a damaging split (yay!).

On the other, there is a certain inevitability that they may ultimately become the English Nationalist Party in due course. Focussed upon a southern suburban and rural power-base, resentfully anti-EU and atavistically right-wing. I'd guess that - if they were to yield to these temptations - they would find that people aren't as keen as they say they are. The Tories are great suckers for placing themselves at the head of imaginary armies (as their obsession with Europe illustrates).

I still think that a nine-and-a-half point plan for decentralisation would give Brown all of the 'vision thing' that he will ever need. It's achievable, it would be progressive, and it would ... er ... reduce the power of the PM and be resisted by the civil service.

Oh well....