Monday, April 30, 2007

Shared space

I've just realised that this has been in the drafts folder for a while (dunno why). I'm posting it now as it's a subject that I've raised in the previous post on libertarianism.

A good couple of posts from Kevin Harris here and here. Watch the Channel Four news piece that he links too if you’re in a hurry.

A while ago, I suggested that car-size should determine part of the rate of Road Tax because of the ‘eye-contact’ factor. I still think that it is the one obvious weakness in the ‘shared space’ idea, but it's not enough of a weakness to put anyone off it.

Libertarianism (2) - way of life or waste of breath?

OK. More on the previous libertarian / anarchist post (if the blogger software will permit)

Both terms are, I reckon, worth another look, because I think that – in most cases, their application is either fairly nonsensical, or just plain archaic. I’d suggest that they are no longer of any use outside of a history of social movements.

I say this, because, while there are the more colourful elements of both of these that still have a tiny, slightly deranged following, other (sensible) elements have a wide and popular acceptance in public debate (without ever being categorised under the A or the L words).

To illustrate this, it’s worth looking at the work of Colin Ward. He used to write a weekly column in New Society (and later, in New Statesman & Society before the &S was dropped). Prior to this, he edited a journal entitled Anarchy throughout the 1960s and first published Anarchy in Action in 1973. Anarchy in Action* has a fair few doses of anarchist pepper in it, but, in parts, it also offers a very positive and level-headed account of anarchism’s prospects. It’s a terrific book.

So, reading Mr Plump’s excellent account of the English variant of 19th century anarchism …

“…systems of equitable exchange were as important as the ownership of the means of production … break the state monopoly of money.”

And …
“…both production and exchange were not seen as the actions of atomistic individuals but as intensely social acts …. Collaboration has to be voluntary rather than forced, hence the idea of contract replacing law…”

… in Colin's view, this scenario was, in some way, ‘actually existing’ (to coin a phrase). He argued that most human interaction, most day-to-day transactions, most of the forms of organisation that we consent to, have emerged and are maintained spontaneously. This happens without formal coercion from the state or reference to the law.

There are plenty of isolated examples that spring to mind. The Credit Union, the co-operative (consumer or producer), Microcredit, the concept of ‘partnership’, Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) are the obvious ones. But there are other elements that Colin, in his columns, used to illustrate his point. For example, if you involve residents in the planning and development of their built environment, there is a consensus these days that it will result in less crime and more social capital.

Similarly, libraries or schools will work more effectively if they aren’t imposed, but instead, designed by a recognisable community.

In so many mundane ways, it is becoming clearer that good planning creates circumstances in which people behave co-operatively, whether it’s in housing / crime prevention or the 'shared space' compact between pedestrians and motorists.

It is also worth noting that lots of voguish individualist contentions (James Surowiecki’s case in 'The Wisdom of Crowds' that people can make better decisions if they aren’t tempted by groupthink is a good example) have anarchist antecedents.

All of these are powerfully libertarian ideas. But none of them need to exist within a framework of libertarianism. If Mussolini had wanted to keep traffic flowing more freely, he could have considered the ‘safer streets’ initiative. A less blimpish Tory council could involve residents in local design. Many of the positions listed above could be promoted by pure technocrats.

So, in the same way that anarchism / libertarianism have been largely asset-stripped by other political movements, it would also be fair to say that there are almost no actual libertarians left. Just opportunistic adopters of the mantle.

There are, of course, exceptions. I don’t know if he’d agree, but I believe that Mr Dillow is an authentic and persuasive 19th Century libertarian as described by Mr Plump, (I even suspect him of having a post in his drafts folder decrying the state monopoly on currency). Mr Worstall has the decency to offer his opponents a model that they can attack (Switzerland**) and Mr Fawkes wants this country to be run like Hong Kong is. No politicians - just a market.

But for the rest of us, we take sides in some elements of old arguments and ignore others. Aside from Mr Dillow, I don’t think that there is anyone alive who is arguing the kind of position outlined by Mr Plump.

So, with the honourable exceptions above, its time to just point and laugh at anyone who calls themselves either an anarchist or a libertarian. As I said in the previous post, there aren’t as many of them as you’d think.

*I write from memory here. I allowed most of my better books on anarchism to be … er.. liberated
** Can’t find it now - sorry. I remember him writing it somewhere tho' so I'm open to correction here.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A sin that cries to heaven for vengence

More skinny on this here.
And while you're here....
  • One game to go
  • One point behind
  • Two goal advantage on goal difference
  • Game back on
Who'd have thought it?

Libertarianism (1)

Shuggy is rightly a bit perplexed by a certain sort of libertarian. And, replying, the plumpest Popinjay offers a *very* good account of modern libertarianism’s progenitors.

It is a really *really* excellent post and you should read it (and apologies for taking about a week to say so – I bin busy)

If I have one small criticism, I’d suggest that neither of them considered the cultural factors – the form-and-content relationship that exists because of the emergence of the internet as a platform for public debate (something that has never been as uncoupled from the dynamics of power as it is today).

More internet = more libertarians. Or certainly, a higher profile for a certain type of libertarians.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the open source movement for example, while not being exclusively libertarian, appeal to a logic (respectively a individualist / mutualist) that has an appeal for some libertarians. Implicit in a lot of both the EFF / open source movement positions (particularly on copyright) is the view that – until now - value hasn’t been assigned fairly.
These factors may even have created a few new libertarians, and this lot are not *all* a bad thing.

Less attractively, so much Sci-Fi and cyberpunk literature tends to use tooled-up Stirnerite individualists as its quixotic heroes in wired and dystopian near-future. With any popular literature, it comes as no surprise that some of its readers are acting out narcissistic fantasies based upon the contents of their bookshelf. The politics is just an role-play extension of this, and it isn’t really meant to be taken seriously.

Sadly, it is in some quarters, and I suspect that these clowns are the libertarians that really annoy Shuggy (and me). What Flying Rodent (in Shuggy’s comments) calls ‘a whining sack of self-righteousness’. What the rest of the world, sadly, calls 'everyone who blogs'.

We should console ourselves that we have an ‘availability’ distortion here. We read political weblogs. Most people don’t. If an extraterrestrial visitor were to sample online debate and extrapolate the results, they would draw the conclusion that a terrible showdown was imminent. The entire political class would appear to be in revolt.

The same ETs would see the wider material world (in Western democracies, anyway) currently as a none-too-violent tussle between a variety of forces, with a large state as (for now) the immovable factor. Then they’d look back at this highly vocal minority of individualist libertarians and – once they realised that no social cataclysm was about to happen - they’d wonder why anyone takes them seriously.

More on this later I think?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Politics at it’s pettiest

Anyone who is looking forward to the imminent demise of democracy, collapsing into a fetid pond of negativism, solipsism and technocracy, will be pleased to hear that - following Rubbishgate - we now have another example of the sheer arrogance of politicians: It appears that they now have the audacity to attempt to show a film during an election!

Like you, I'm disgusted by this. Thankfully, their swagger has been cut short by the Lib-Dems of my very own native Broxtowe.

Thankfully, not only is it is now legally problematic to express a political opinion once you’ve been elected, it is also legally difficult to initiate a debate or make a political point during an election. The law is a fine thing.

The irony of this, of course, is that the public have a fairly low tolerance level for politicians anyway. Political outspokenness is a risk that these petty prohibitionists are removing from their opponents. It should be one of our inalienable rights: The right to hear the people we have elected talking a load of bollocks, (or doing so in order to get elected in the first place). Thus the advised use of the word ‘constipators’ here for those who stop them.

Perhaps it’s worth running a competition: ‘Constiptator of the year’ ?

Nominations (mostly from this blog’s archives)

1. The aforementioned Dartford Labour group
2. Whoever told David Milliband that he couldn’t use his blog for political purposes
3. Pretty well anyone who stops Councillors from expressing an opinion on a Council website (and many councils have some of these – they’re called things like ‘monitoring officers’ or some other Orwellian job-title with the word ‘compliance’ in it somewhere).
4. The aforementioned Broxtowe Lib-Dems
5. The obvious candidate – the odious Standards Board
6. Police authorities who want to silence copperbloggers:
7. People who organise constipator conferences
8. Mike Tuffrey - London Lib Dem constipator plus

Any more for any more?

Vote now!

(Update: There's more news from Broxtowe)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Keep schtum around Mum

Ivan sent me this. Said I should show it you.

(Beware, there's an annoying ad at the end)

Ta Ivan.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Broadband Incentive Problem

This article on the 'the broadband incentive problem and the economics of prime-time HDTV is worth a look.

I spent years in the late 1990s telling people - particularly commercial lobbyists - that they were underestimating the barriers to Web-TV.

Their arguments went as follows
  • Web-TV is almost a reality now. Any day....
  • Web-TV is hard to regulate
  • If you try you will choke investment
  • Therefore, you should abolish the BBC, rather than leave it to twist in the wind
  • This will secure investment into original audiovisual content
Ten years later, with a robust and secure BBC, I reckon they were wrong.

All over the place today

It’s Friday. And today, I will try to blog only in Nadsat. Here goes:

Viddy my chellovecks and devotchkas, today, being Friday, I completed my religious observances by studying scripture.
OK. I’m giving up on Nadsat now, but thanks to Facebook, I’ve now formally joined the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Changing the subject, for the second time in two days, (because of yesterday, in the comments here) I find myself breaking with this blog’s tradition of unbridled aggression towards David Cameron.

And again today, reading Shuggy’s agreement with David Cameron’s view about negative campaigning, I know that Glasgow’s most cantankerous schoolmaster has a point.

Shuggy also has a very good post about choice and religion here.

I’ve been planning to post something about non-religious Catholicism for a while. I’m a Catholic who doesn’t believe in god, and who thinks that the Pope and the clergy should be routinely ignored. For a long time, Jews have been able to claim this relationship with their religion, but I’ve never really seen anyone do the same for my RCness yet.

Like I say, I was planning to post about it, but I can't think of anything else to add to the foregoing.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Old tunes often the best

Steve Webb MP

“'s all about going to where people are, rather than expecting them to come to you.”

Edmund Burke (I know, I know, I’ve quoted this before, ad nauseam)

“ ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents.”

More here

Geeky tats


I worked in a pub in the mid-80s, and one of the regulars (a not-quite skinhead) went one better than any of these lot. He had all of Weetabix Skins tattooed (he assured me) somewhere on his body.

This one’s ‘Dunk’

(Image from this post - 'pseudo skins')

(ta Charlie)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Monday, April 16, 2007

Hughes view

Bob Piper quotes a letter to The Groan from the author of the sadly-defunct Hughes Views.

The power of any government is limited by all manner of forces, such as financial markets, the press, multinationals and trade unions. Many political theoreticians, including reputable journalists, overlook these constraints and assume unrestricted powers.

To anyone who understands the complexities of real politics and the realities of freedom of speech, the answer to Polly's question "why is there no queue of angry cabinet ministers itching to get on to the Today programme to denounce press hypocrisy" is blindingly obvious."

Spot on Mr Hughes. It does leave the hanging question, though, of who should make the first move. Should the press reform itself, or should government do something difficult to change a system that rewards journalists for taking the route of least resistance?

On the one hand, we have a media that has spent most of the years in living memory acting as an agent for the most dramatic political centralisation.

On the other hand, we have a political class that has never formally acquiesced to this shift in power. Indeed, I doubt if there are many politicians who would go on the record as saying that it’s a good thing.

However, history has a way of conferring power on those who can embrace it enthusiastically without making it too obvious. Appeasement is a pre-condition.

This raises the question: Does history have hidden hands that will take this process to its logical conclusion and make all liberal democracies indistinguishable from, say, Mr Putin’s current settlement in Russia?

There is a correct answer to this question. I just don’t know what it is yet.

The antidote to fishy bumper stickers

From here (nb: link comes with a pseudo-left health warning).

(ta Charlie)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Recruit subordinates - not rivals!

Saw this, via this very good feature that the Groan had about public servants blogging. Now, I’m aware that Parkinson’s Law is more often quoted by rightwingers than by us decent lefties, and that it is, in many ways, an amusing anecdotal version of Public Choice Theory, but there is nothing in The Council Worker’s blog that surprises me very much.

I expect that you all have your own explanations for the low grade of work that emanates from many (n.b. not all) public bureaucracies. Me? Well, I can’t wait for the postie to bring me this prod at an answer from Mr D.

Bad Manners

From The Register:

Collaborative technologies are failing because too many users are socially inept and have poor manners, according to a report from the Leading Edge Forum, a consortium of CIOs and academics.

The problem comes because users don't know which tools to use for which purposes, and don't consider the other people involved, so if employers want to get value from the technologies they buy, they need to provide guidance and social training, said Doug Neal, the report's author and an LEF research fellow.”

There’s a slide show as well:

More links elsewhere

Paraphrasing Paul;
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On thee our hopes we fix
Resign our Tone
A good short post from Mick Hartley. It could be entitled ‘how low level superstition protects us from clerics'.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Signposts off

The consistantly excellent Freemania on the Oxford Research Group report

Worst Fisk ever? (It's been up for six days and I've only just seen it - better late than never).

And here's the follow-up.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Footballer names

Forest used to have a player called Einer Aas, who was the subject of some weak jokes.

This lot are much better though.

That Code of Conduct again

A while ago, I had a stab at writing my own Code of Conduct - a set of anti-negativist guidelines to what approach this site should take. I think that it should be point of principle that every blogger that is in any way serious about discussing public policy should have one - but that they should have one of their own. Tim O'Reilly's template is useful, of course, but diversity is a virtue here.

Here's mine again with a few minor updates and corrections.
I will try to keep an open mind. There are some subjects on which I can comment with some authority. There are others on which I can only ask questions or offer speculative solutions. Wherever possible, I'll be explicit about this.

I will rarely delete comments. I have no rules on profanity. If you want to swear in my comments box, you can. I will probably not be very good at avoiding swearing in my posts. However, if you are simply abusive to me or anyone else, I'll delete it. Trolls will be deleted straight away. Off-topic comments may also have to go unless they're interesting. Anything that is obviously libellous, or innacurate in a way that could be damaging to someone else will also be either deleted or corrected with a few additional snarky comments of my own.

I will try not to criticise any substantial position that someone else has taken without trying to indicate what I think is a workable alternative approach. Wherever possible, I will try to demonstrate an understanding of the totality of power relations around any particular issue when I comment. Otherwise, I will ask for help.

If I disagree with a position that someone else has taken, I accept that it would be a mistake not to address the problem that they are aiming to solve and offer my own solution (unless I think that the 'problem' concerned is exaggerated or non-existent, in which case I should say why I think this). I will try and acknowledge contradictory facts fairly.

Personal gossip bores me and I'll avoid it unless it's just too juicy or amusing to ignore. I'll usually avoid promoting my own business interests, though I have a few qualifications to this rule. Firstly, as a co-owner of the business I work in, I have helped to shape the work it does. My enthusiasms have shaped some of our services, and promoting my enthusiasms may have the by-product of promoting our business objectives. Wherever possible, I'll declare interests.

Also, my work gives me some insights that I wouldn't have otherwise. I may use these insights on the blog, but - again - I'll try to acknowledge any interests I have.

I acknowledge that it is easier to attract readers and supporters by advancing popular or simplistic arguments. I'd rather have ten readers reading what I really think that ten thousand reading what I pretend that I think.

I will also try to provide my own suggestions on policy and amplify (or constructively criticise) the suggestions of others. I will try to raise the quality of debate by contributing perspectives that are not commonly discussed.

I will not always be serious. I will sometimes advance an argument in order to provoke an interesting argument. I'll post on all sorts of subjects, as I please. This code won't be rigourously applied to posts in which I'm trying to be funny, talk about football, horse racing, music or any of my pet hates.

By blog carries no quality guarantee. My jokes are often weak, and my logic is often flawed. I won't correct anyone else's spelling (unless there's a joke in it) and I will be rude to anyone who makes cheap points about mine. I don't have the time that paid writers have for redrafting and tidying up. This blog is a sandpit in this respect. I partly use it to find out what I think, so be nice.


Childish suggestion

Today, everyone should go over to Iain Dale's blog and post a comment saying...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

Google Earth maps Darfur genocide

"The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has joined with Google in an unprecedented online mapping initiative. Crisis in Darfur enables more than 200 million Google Earth users worldwide to visualize and better understand the genocide currently unfolding in Darfur, Sudan. The Museum has assembled
content—photographs, data, and eyewitness testimony—from a number of sources that are brought together for the first time in Google Earth."

More here.

French elections online - cont

Another good account here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The pit of iniquity

I didn't post anything during anti-clericalism week (hat tip Hak), and what I have found now will disappoint anyone who wants to see someone biting the heads off god-botherers and shitting down their necks.

But if you were brought up as a Catholic, and ever recall the fuss that more traditional Priests make about dropping communion hosts, it can provide a reasonably church-friendly excuse for one bit in the middle of this fairly ersatz clip:

In defence of Guido

I'm sure that there are plenty more oars that can be stuck into the discussion of Guido's appearance on Snoozenight, and (related) Oliver Kamm's blast at political bloggers.

There was bits to agree with - by the way - in Kamm's rather odd article. I particularly liked this:
"...Such is the ideological chaos of modern Conservatism. Osborne invoked the notion of the wisdom of crowds: knowledge emerges in a collaborative process rather than being dictated by experts. But political bloggers are not the required type of crowd. They are, by definition, a self-selecting group of the politically motivated who have time on their hands. In his speech, Osborne commended the work of Conservative-supporting bloggers. The notion that a political party becomes credible by being responsive to its activists is an error that Labour disastrously adopted in the 1980s."
... mainly because it's a common theme here. But there were also the obvious non sequiturs, and I can't see much to disagree with in Norm's review of it.

However, we are left with the question of Guido. I suspect that I'm the only left-leaning blogger who'd defend Guido at the moment. Here's why.

A while ago, DSquared fingered Guido as the slightly unacceptable face of negativism - it was a fine distinction - one that was way too fine for my tiny brain. And, in the comments, Guido liked it anyway. Personally, I can only see one distinction between the Tim Ireland / DSquared / Chicken Yoghurt side and Guido. In Tim / CY / DSquared's case, they make some criticisms that I agree with, and some that I don't. But I have no idea what they stand for at all.

Guido doesn't engage in debate at all. Not for him the ivory tower of 'I can criticise but I have no obligation to set out my own position.' Guido is a pure, conscious, instrumental negativist, and you can't help admiring his clarity of purpose.

He is, of course, a political enemy in every way. He is of the type of libertarian conservative that would like to see politics largely abolished. He has no interest in promoting reasonable discussion - quite the reverse. When others discuss the finer points of policy, Guido hears "blah blah blah." He calls things the way he hears them, and he finds a receptive audience on all sides of the political divide.

When I spoke to him a while ago, he told me that Hong Kong is the nearest political model to the one that he would like to see here. For Guido, negativism is a conscious political weapon. It's one that he uses very effectively because he has a positive aim - a model that he is prepared to promote.

OK. Don't get me wrong - I'm not aiming to overestimate him here - I'm sure that he didn't lie awake one night hatching a dastardly plot to undermine democracy. But he has led where his nose has followed him, and - fair play to him - he's had a lot more success in promoting his own brand of politics than any other blogger that I can think of.

Guido has seen the main chance and taken it. And he's done so because he has recognised that the removal of all barriers to entry into political debate will inevitably suck in a huge number of commenters who honour Matt_C's maxim (in the comments here) that "the philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to complain about it."

This includes the political negativists that make up a large slice of the high-profile political blogosphere. There's Guido, and there's Guido's er... (how can I put this as un-pejoratively as possible?) .. useful idiots. His objective allies.

And even if he did have his bottom served up to him on a plate by Michael White a few weeks ago, I couldn't help thinking that White - the purveyor of tedious Kremlinology par excellence - was simply pulling up the ladder that he used himself.

Guido is only one step up from much of the paid commentariat. He is what they see when they look in the mirror, and this will continue to be the case until this whole thing shakes out.

Personally, I'm fairly relaxed about this. I hope that - at some point - the pendulum will swing. I hope that the MSM will stop fetishising comment altogether and start paying for reporters again. I suspect that they will, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

In the meantime, which side are you on? Are you one of Guido's objective allies? Or do you have a position that you'd be prepared to advance and defend?

Oh look! A code of conduct!

Catch up

Been busy over the weekend putting up shelves. I'll be busy next weekend sweeping up the pile of broken crockery when my suspicion that plaster doesn't bear weight is borne out.

Here's what I read in passing during tea breaks though.

First off, a good post by FMoaK:
"Democracy, in the sense of ownership, control and accountability, should be central to the institutions that are supposed to ensure our collective well-being and security. However, just when it is most needed it has gone missing, displaced by a creeping authoritarianism."
I'd be interested to hear his take on the causes for the collapse in that democratic accountability though.

Gene has a good post on why the media in liberal democracies are incapable of defending liberal democracy against it's rivals. Gene offers argument where I just offered a bit of spleen.

And finally, posted a few days ago, but still worth a look;

Ellee Seymour on the French elections being fought in the blogosphere.

S'all for now.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Letters to the Editor

Here's something I do more and more these days.

1. Open my newspaper
2. Turn to the letters page
3. Find a prominent letter - one that advances the kind of opinion that will probably help you get laid - if made loudly enough in the right pub.
3. Read the opening sentence, then the conclusion.
4. Work out which element of the argument will be skipped over very quickly because it's absolutely crucial, and it completely undermines the author's argument.
5. Find that sentence - and underline it.

Today, just as a random example, I went here and read Professor Joe Sim's argument on the penal system. Nothing to disagree with there, initially. But you know there is going to be something along the lines of....
"But such language does not chime with the populist rhetoric articulated by politicians, the media and the judiciary. Furthermore, pragmatic expediency dominates the current debate on law and order which then allows politicians, in particular, to ignore the research which indicates that the public, and victims of crime, may be less retributive if the nuances in sentencing are explained to them." (My italics).
And who does the explaining? Perhaps Prof Sim will have a follow-up letter published tomorrow? One thing for certain though. It won't be anyone whose name rhymes with Wowessor Boe Dim.

Come on then!

Bob wants a fight.

He's right.


A vicious little arsehole who can count on total co-operation from the fuckwit Fourth Estate

This blog has had any number of posts outlining the view that political journalists are largely narcissistic shit-for-brains who have a demagogic view of their own role in 'speaking truth unto power'. Because of this, I am, apparently, a Blairite apologist.

So many political journalists seem to get by on the assumption that brainless negativist oppositionism = the promotion of a lively functioning liberal democracy.

Fuck 'em. And double fuck 'em after the way that they allowed every news broadcast over the last couple of days to be hijacked by this vicious little anti-Semitic prick.

I watched last night's BBC News at Ten with growing disbelief. I can't imagine any elected politician ever being given such an uncritical photo-op-laden snow job as this little fucker got.

There's an entire profession that draws a salary because they claim to hold those who abuse their power to account.

What a waste of money.

Sonny Rollins may read this blog at some point

One of the nicest things that's happened to me as a consequence of blogging is that I got a friendly nod from a band that I reviewed here a while back.

In a much less direct way (but I think that you'll agree that the performer concerned is in another stratosphere), it may have put me in contact with the musical gods.

Sam has just left a comment the previous post here,"Serendipity and pedantry":
I'm a producer for Radio Open Source, a nationally syndicated public radio program based in Boston.I read and enjoyed your story about tracking down Mack the Knife by Sonny Rollins.

We're having him on our show tonight (Sonny, not Mack), and we like to get ideas for questions from interesting bloggers. Do you have any burning questions that you've always wanted to ask Mr. Rollins?

If you do, please contribute to our comment thread here

(, and we'll scoop up your ideas and hopefully use them on the show. Just drop me an email (sam radioopensource org) if you have any questions or problems registering on the site.


Tragically, I have no burning questions for Mr Rollins (apart from 'why didn't you call Mack The Knife by it's proper name'?).

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Democracy. Very important indeed.

Dave has five propositions. Numbers three and five stand out:
(3) The far left is incapable of initiating a serious political formation to the left of Labour.

(5) Never mind advancing transitional demands as a bridge between reformist consciousness and the revolutionary programme ... the development of reformist consciousness in the British working class would be a major step forward.
That anyone could seriously doubt (3) is a mystery to me. I'd go further. Any adult that currently believes otherwise really must go and get their bumps felt for them. And, were I Dave, I'd refocus (5) and replace the second 'reformist' with two words - "advanced democratic".

Any questions? Then pop over and discuss them with the ghost of Comrade Kautsky.
"Democracy is the shortest, surest and least costly road to Socialism, just as it is the best instrument for the development of the political and social prerequisites for Socialism. Democracy and Socialism are inextricably entwined."
More Kautsky here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Go see...

I'm going to evening classes in French at the moment, so this site is going into the RSS reader and onto the blogroll.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Opposition-mindedness: A lesson for the Lib-Dems from Labour's history

There are plenty of individual reasons to lament Labour's Bennite madness in the early 1980s, but there is one aspect of it that particularly stands out.

The candidates for this honour are as follows:

  1. The 'Alternative Economic Strategy' - a protectionist 'socialism in one country'. I forget the exact phrase, but didn't Tony Benn try to commit a Labour government to '...import controls within hours, withdrawal from the EEC within weeks'? As an example of large-scale, concerted negativism, it is almost without peer. A policy that would have been disastrous to attempt and impossible to apply. A policy that no-one who actually wanted to run the country would ever bind themselves to.
  2. Unilateral nuclear disarmament - again, negativism of the highest order. Not part of a broader foreign policy, but a triumph of single issue lobbying from a mix of the Communist Party and pacifists of various stripes. CND members (unlike their cleverer END counterparts) were almost uniformly anti-EEC, so there wasn't any workable alternative to The Bomb on offer. Naive at best, suicidal at worst.
  3. The open-armed approach to the entryists of the Militant Tendency. The trots surely couldn't believe their luck on this one, and you can't blame them for trying. I've seen aspects of Militant's programme defended fairly well elsewhere, of course, but it was a fanciful idea that this programme would be one that would command the support of even Labour's traditional backbone areas, never mind those constituencies that fell to the Tories in 1979. The willingness to accommodate this grouping was a combination of unfocussed negativism on the far left, and a liberal centre-left that was so open minded that it's brains fell out.
  4. The attempt to move towards the mandating of MPs by constituency parties. It's hard to believe it now, but in the early 1980s, the Constituency Labour Party was a battleground. Chris Mullin’s publication 'How to Re-select Your MP' reawakened old wounds in the party.

In my view, the last of these four was the cardinal sin. It compounded the idiocy of the previous three and made them possible. Insofar as it made the Labour Party uninhabitable for many MPs, it was the direct cause of the SDP split and the subsequent unopposed Thatcherite destruction of so much social fabric. The most odious aspects of 'new' Labour control-freakery can also be traced to this movement of the early '80s.

It was a long time in gestation as well. In the early 1950s, Richard Crossman quoted Roy Jenkins complaining that "...every force of demagogy and every emotion is against us. In the constituency parties, which are now opposition minded, the Bevanites have it all their own way. I suppose that one must wait for the tide to turn, as it did in the 1930s, from the Opposition-mindedness of 1931 to constructive politics."

More than a decade in opposition followed. In the early '80s, after the perceived betrayals of the Wilson / Callaghan governments, this opposition-mindedness was again rampant. This time, its expression was Euro-negativism, CND and a supine attitude to Militant. The 'Bevanites' were pussycats by comparison to the negativists of the 1980s. Mullin and Benn wanted to replace MPs, in the words of Bernard Levin (I think?), "with dictaphones." Mullin actually graded every MP on a sliding scale, depending upon their willingness to either support, or trim towards, the AES / CND / anti-EEC demands of their most obsessive and asocial constituency party members (a reason to applaud Chris Dillow's view that opinions should be held lightly and – endorsing Richard Rorty’s view - ironically).

Labour had partly handed it's powers to an inward-looking group of Polytechnic drop-outs who had no conception of how to speak to, and form an alliance with, an electoral majority. To understand the position of Labour's leadership, think of having Jeremy Corbyn x10, as your back-seat driver. The kindest thing you can say about it was that it was an impractical rendition of democratic centralism. It was an attempt to construct a 'dictatorship of the polytechnicat'. It had no programme that it could sell to the public.

Yet many of these twentysomething urban guerillas managed to cling on to their positions within the party as the old bagage was gradually dropped. They trimmed and dropped the social radicalism but retained the reflexive determinism of the unreasoning political bully. Labour's tragedy is that it's historic compromise (unlike that of the German SPD) was not made by democratic socialists. It was made by careerist ex-CLPDers. Milburn, Byers, Hodge, Beckett, Mullin, and so on. Even Blair, and his closest acolytes, started out nodding towards the Bennite madness of inner-London politics in the early 1980s.

They ended up running an electorally focussed party of the 1990s, whilst never abandoning their distain for representative democracy. The single biggest faction in new Labour are these unthinking democratic-centralists. Where they advocated CLP mandates in the early 1980s, by the 1990s, they were advocating Party List System voting, centrally managed selection panels, and the highly centralised focus group-driven politics of new Labour. This time, the mandate came from Millbank Tower, and not from a bunch of hippy sparts.

So, why mention this now? Well, partly because it's a trick that Adam Curtis missed in his recent excoriation of wrongheaded liberalism. But, more importantly, the snouts that I talk to who watch these things are prone to observe just how much the Lib-Dems are starting to resemble the '80s Labour Party in some ways.

And, though I'm no Lib-Dem, I'm worried about this. Why? Because many of us pro-PR, pro-Euro Labour Party members have, until now, been fairly relaxed about the prospect of a hung parliament. It would seem to be one of the most likely electoral outcomes at the moment. Labour's poor poll-ratings may prove a mixed blessing because a Lib-Lab alliance could bring out the best in a Labour government?

But what if the negativists in the Lib-Dem constituencies refuse to allow their MPs to negotiate a coalition? They may not be able to formally control the MPs any more than CLPs could in the 80s. But MPs are often very responsive to their most ardent activists. Lib-Dems are telling friends of mine (sadly, unattributably) that they won't be able to make the case for a post-election alliance with Labour - even if the numbers stack up.

Mandates damaged Labour terribly in the 1980s. In my view, that damage has been largely undiagnosed and consistently under-reported. It's not just a phenomenon of the left either. Mandates destroyed the Ulster Unionist Party over the last ten years, and it may now do the same to the Lib-Dems. Mandated representatives are the enemy of principled and pragmatic politics everywhere. They make negotiation and reason impossible.

And who wins? The Lib-Dems certainly won't, but then it's not really clear that they have anything that their prepared to fight for anymore anyway.

No. The only winner will be the Bullingdon Boy.