Tuesday, December 28, 2010

19th Century Liberals

Via a blogroll request, here's 'March the Fury' - a self-styled socialist student blog from Cornwall with a good post on what the 19th Century Liberals could tell their political heirs in the Lib-Dems.

It reminds me of the post that I've probably linked to more frequently than any other - this one from Pete on 19th Century anarchism - with it's links to radical liberalism.

Taking notes

Less a blog-post and more of a request for a few pointers:

I've been thinking (idly) about how teaching works recently - after hearing the Freakonomics podcast on how collaborative filtering could revolutionise teaching (think commercial radio v Last.FM and swap the monolithic playlists / curriculum for a jigsaw of personalised lessons catering to our preferred way of learning and different aptitudes).

One question particularly intrigues me: has anyone ever conducted a study on how different people collect and organise their thoughts? For me, formal education always felt a bit futile until the Word Processor came along. My illegible handwriting combined with a dislike of passive lecture-attendance made my first degree a joyless chore that earned me an unremarkable 2.2 in the 1980s.

A few years later, having acquired a PC with a Word Processor (they'd practically been invented in the intervening years) I thoroughly enjoyed a part-time Masters degree in the mid-1990s. I found it a great deal easier to organise my thoughts and find out what my conclusions were. As I've said loads of times here before, the main reason that I use the blog is because 'I don't know what I think until I read what I've written.'

I work things out by drafting them into an article for others to read. That's my way of working things out. It helps me even if it does nothing for anyone else.

A few weeks ago, I was at a meeting with a creative agency and watched one of their team do some quite remarkable note taking that involved elaborate doodles. Not only did it help him stay on top of the meeting, he kept showing us his progress and we all could work out what we wanted as well.

On the other hand, I've always found that mind-mapping just leaves me more confused that I was beforehand.

Taking / organising notes is, IMHO, a hugely under-rated skill. It's the essential pre-condition to effective study or decision-making. Like musicians need to know their scales or athletes need core strength and stamina, it seems to me that we should all have spent more time understanding what kind of note-taking works for us. It could either be some kind of training in doing it properly, or some kind of diagnostic to find out what type of note-taking works best for each of us.

Has anyone seen any articles about this? I'd be interested to read them.

Update: This, via Jon Worth. Oddly, the RSA Animate series was one of the things that got me thinking about this in the first place.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Seeing and knowing

What we see (and see more of)...

... and what we know:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Top ten fails

Worth a quick look. A really nasty-looking encounter with a watermelon was the outright winner but this one was my favourite: The funniest joke in the world....

Saturday, December 18, 2010

High notes

Richard Pryor and Sammy Davis Junior offer the lovely (five-and-a-half octave vocal range) Minnie Riperton an appropriate level of sympathy.

All of them RIP, sadly.

Blogging v political careers

So Iain Dale is off. Not so long ago, Tom Harris also skipped the scene and Tom Watson - though currently as active as he's ever been - has quit blogging for periods in the past under different sorts of pressure. Hopi says it's all part of his Kind Hearts & Coronets-type plot of his to be the UK's No1 political blogger.

Iain is retiring - at least in part - hurt. He also says that it's time-consuming and getting in the way of other ambitions but it's plain that - as an unpaid activity - it's actually damaging his wider career prospects (there's a cruel-but-funny take on this here).

Tim has been involved in a similarly frictional relationship with Tory MP Nadine Dorries and, from what I've seen of the evidence (and maybe I've not seen all of it), it seems to me that Tim's account of the conflicts concerned is more reliable than Iain or Nadine's.

Whatever. There's one conclusion that I'd draw here that I've not seen anywhere else:

Tom H, Nadine and Iain have distinguished themselves by being more-active-than-average online. None of them have been able to do the useful things that social media allows them to do - at least in part -because the personal engagement crowds out the political / policy conversation (though I suspect Nadine would just be a little puzzled by the concept in the first place). If you place yourself in full view online, you leave yourself open to disruption. Keep quiet and you don't.

Again, without commenting on any specifics, we all sometimes behave badly. Venal sins, sins of omission, and sometimes, downright badness and dishonesty. Some of us more than others. The thing is, most of the time, we can wriggle out of it. We can avoid providing a line-by-line answer to our critics. We can mumble something that sounds like a half-excuse and make for the door. We can change the subject or tell people to 'let it drift.'

We also sometimes do something that looks wrong in a particular context. We sometimes do something that appears wrong to anyone who doesn't have the opportunity and capacity to understand a complicated explanation.

All of these are politicians' tricks, and we all use them. In an adversarial world, evasion is a constant. To some extent, it's even a conversational virtue and I doubt if anyone who ever had to make a hefty compromise would be able to honestly say that they've never ducked a question.

For this reason, I suspect, a lot of public figures avoid putting themselves in a place where they can be fisked - and this, in itself, is not a good thing in the wider public interest. Iain and Nadine's alleged shortcomings may have come back to bite them. But hundreds of other political figures have, quite simply, kept out of the space in the first place and can be a good deal less conversational with impunity.

Not that it should be punishable to be conversational in the first place - that's the problem.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Lib-Dems and the Bloggertarians

I hope this doesn't sound too much like bandwagon-jumping, but I'd just like to say how disappointed I am with the Lib-Dems.

I posted a distillation of the core message from this blog (since 2005) and my more-serious Local Democracy site (more recent) yesterday on Slugger O'Toole. It was cross-posted on Liberal Conspiracy shortly afterwards where it attracted a few 'typical elitist fear of us pwoles' type comments from the bloggertarian trolls that lurk there. It's the bizarre defence of the most dysfunctional and ineffective way of getting more participation in popular decisionmaking that stands out when right-wing libertarians advocate these crude plebiscites. If you really want more participation, where is the advocacy of participatory budgeting? Citizens Juries? Co-design and co-creation?

Nowhere, because it doesn't land you in the gated communities of Switzerland or California.

How does this connect with the Lib-Dems, I hear you ask?

My disappointment with the Lib-Dems isn't quite the same as most of stuff I've read elsewhere. Sure, they've proved what we always suspected: that they fold very easily under questioning.

They're performing the traditional mudguard role of junior coalition partners and they don't have the ideological steel needed to resist what should be a fairly straightforward temptation: to not give a minority government the mandate to carry out the most extreme cure to the mess that wanking bankers have left us with.

I suppose it's quite easy to get concepts like socially liberal and economically liberal mixed up, isn't it?

That last para could run and run. But none of it is a huge surprise really, is it?

To my mind, the biggest disappointment is in their commitment to liberal democracy. Like a lot of Lib-Labbers, I always thought that their advocacy of PR went hand-in-hand with a wider pro-democracy approach to politics. Sure - they're not socialists, they don't quite grasp how this whole libertarian bandwagon was primarily put on the rails to help the Tories to play them like a cheap fiddle.

But at least they were in favour of electoral reform. It's a rationalist republican principle that makes them the objective allies of democratic socialists everywhere. The Lib-Dems believe, as many some of us in the Labour Party do, that a better quality of democracy is a political end in itself. Comrade Kautsky would be OK with Labour people making common cause with them on this measure alone.

Or so I thought.

But in selling almost everything for a referendum on AV - AV, ffs - while happily nodding through the coalition's greatest crimes against good democratic thinking - we can see that they don't really have that much of a grasp of what we all believed to be a stand-out cornerstone issue for them.

The Lib-Dems don't understand liberal democracy. They're not it's defenders or it's advocates. They will leave it in a significantly worse state than they found it. And like the bloggertarian trolls on the Liberal Conspiracy comments pages, they really can't grasp that democratic reform has any other purpose than being part of a game designed to get more of your own class-interests onto the statute book.

For years, I dismissed the view that the Lib-Dems only believed in PR because it would get them a few more seats. It turns that I was mistaken in doing so.

I'm genuinely disappointed.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Unproductive finance costs

I had an email recently from someone called Chris Cook - I've just been re-reading it for its other content - but this line really stood out for me as an important challenge for the future:
[We need to] "apply the axe to 'unproductive' finance costs rather than to productive people in the public and private sectors: contrary to the neo-liberal rhetoric, public employees are generally productive....just not productive of 'shareholder value' profits...."

Friday, December 03, 2010

"the activists are Wrong but Romantic, the councillors Right but Repulsive"

A good post over on Liberal Conspiracy here from Don Paskini.

I've posted on a similar theme yesterday over at Slugger O'Toole. It's an interesting time. For long periods, the centre-left has regarded the wider left with suspicion on the grounds that the trots main strategy has been to attempt (really badly) to harass the centre-left to move in their direction - a direction that many on the centre-left would happily follow if it weren't electoral suicide. Often, the strategy the left has used included making itself look as stupid and unattractive as possible.

The Tory Ultra 'deniable outriders' have spent the past five years luring the centre-right onto their ground by making that ground more attractive and themselves into more of a (deniable) asset.

Copying them seems to me to be a much more constructive use of the extra-parliamentary left's time?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

False Economy

Those good people from MyDavidCameron and The Other Taxpayers' Alliance are behind the new False Economy site - and it's a very good example of intelligent campaigning based on a need not just to win over the crowds and drive effective protest (an idea that I'm a lot more sceptical about than most, anyway), but to provide a rapid rebuttal to the coalition's arguments along with disruptive arguments of our own.

There's a launch party and a potential Xmas No1

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Xmas box for your favourite blogger

In the unlikely event that I'm it, you can get me one of these from over here.

Because of my politics?

Or to remind me of John? I'll need something to sup from on Robbo Day on the 20th January.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Young people and politics

Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang is, I believe, missing the point in his three-step programme to ensure that young people are engaged in politics more effectively.

In summary, he wants....
  1. Votes at 16
  2. A better standard of education on political issues
  3. More effort from politicians to consult young people
I'd suggest that these suggestions will, in part, compound the problem and not solve it. Personally, I don't give a toss if most young people never get involved in politics - why would anyone want that? There seem to be far too many people doing that already. On the other hand, it would be very good if more people of all ages were engaged in democracy.

Democracy and politics are not the same things.

Here's my three-step programme:
  1. Politicians shift their focus from 'tell us what you want us to do' to 'describe the problem' - finding solutions is, after all, their job. And at the moment, they can't do it very well because they've only got a handful of academics, think-tanks, pressure groups and civil servants to fall back on for evidence. A good democracy involves millions of people in the provision of evidence.
  2. That we recognise that it is a very important public policy goal to research and find good practice in the facilitation of inclusive public conversations - ones that can be mined for evidence. Ones that allow us access to mild preferences as well as the barking of special interests. This will help politicians be effective at engaging with the public who are describing the problem
  3. There needs to be a political movement that understands how a good democracy works. This is a surprisingly uncontentious issue once you can step out of populist distractions. It has to be one that is politically cross-cutting. One that understands the threat from demagogic media-owners, pressure groups, 'active citizens,' the dangers of communalism, and political strategies based upon triangulation.
This is a political movement aimed at keeping political parties honest.

'That's a big ask' I hear you say? Well, last year, we had a very effective political movement that was aimed at the much bigger task of demanding that 600+ MPs do little else apart from present their receipts to the public.

What Emmanuel should be calling for is a national debate about the quality of democracy that we want.

I suppose that could included a beefed-up section of the citizenship curriculum to include this question?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Being beastly to the Lib-Dems - redux

In recent months, I've had a few goes at thinking through the way that Labour should relate to the Lib-Dems at the moment.

Like most of my stuff here, it's more a case of thinking aloud than any detailed analysis. However, Political Betting has been doing the numbers on it and reaching similar conclusions to mine.

One other thing. Ages ago, I had a lengthy post on Liberal Conspiracy in which I made the case that Labour's perceived authoritarianism was more a symptom of their managerialism and the crude clumsy populism that the party attempted to adopt than the product of any real political or philosophical reflex within the party.

The largely-unchallenged perception that we were an anti-liberal government helped to legitimise the Lib-Dems decision to get into bed with the Tories - particularly among their activist base.

It needs challenging now. This is another illustration - to add to the arguments I pulled together yesterday - of why a political party that fails to develop and agree a fundamental approach to democracy will struggle to get the more immediate issues right.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Labour's new leaf

I see Ed Milliband is planning a back-to-square-one rethink of what Labour is and what it's for.

This can only be a good thing - indeed, it's a once-in-a-generation opportunity under normal circumstances, and I'd argue that the huge change in the way we relate to each other and to the media over the past few years makes it something a good deal bigger than that again.

Labour has serious issues to deal with. It's managerialism over the past decade-and-a-half resulted in a huge investment that actually served - bizarrely - to enervate people working in the public sector and those engaged in other less commercial versions of collective action. We need to invest in improving our understanding of what management, what's wrong with public/private, and how incentives work.

New Labour got a lot of non-totemic things right. We often focus on the big noisy betrayals and fail to comment on the way that the public space was rescued and renegotiated in some quarters. Contrast the bloody-awful top-down way that teaching has evolved with the genuinely inspiring investment into school buildings and some other positive aspects of school management.

But in government, there were also lots of little things that I think illustrated huge intellectual failings. Little things like the (now shelved) promotion of petitions at a national level (I'm hoping that the local variant that councils will be statutorily bound to produce will go the same way shortly) and the clumsy have-your-say approach to inclusive policymaking.

These things all seem like small personal obsessions, but I'd argue that they hide the big problem that Labour has. We're going into an AV Referendum without a lively and conclusive internal discussion of what democracy is for - what the role of parties and elected representatives is, and how democratic reform must primarily create better government. As far as I can see, the only question of principle that we're being asked is 'will we win more seats under the new system than the old one?'

If I recall correctly, there was almost no response when we were in government to the crude and anti-democratic package of local reforms that the Tories were offering - at least in part because a large part of the Labour movement didn't actually understand what was wrong with them and saw them as a bit of populist gamesmanship that we should have pre-empted.

Labour now needs to understand what inclusion means and why its not just a target but something that makes public policy better. The right have had their hidden hands to do this job - create a foundation that all of their other thinking stands on - over the past thirty years, and this issue is at least as important for those of us who believe in a mixed economy.

We need a definition of diversity that goes beyond inclusion and tokenism. We need to understand what the opportunities are out there for things like participative service design or co-design. How can the relationship between active citizens, the media, government (in all of its forms) and the great mass of people who neither comment, participate or (often) vote. This is our Big Society question and one that we should be able to deal with much better than the Tories ever will.

Much is being made of how Labour will tough-out/duck the question of the relationship with the Unions, but again, this seems to be only addressed in obsolete terms. There is undoubtedly an important role for organised labour to interact with Labour (arguably, giving it *more* power) - but not without a renegotiation of organised labour's own structures.

Labour needs to give the Unions - and the rest of us - a clear steer about what it's red-lines are in democratic terms. All other reforms - either in terms of our policymaking and campaigning, or in terms of our internal structures - can only be done properly if this foundation is in place.

It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There's so much more to say on it, and I don't have the time right now. I'm sorry if I sound like I'm focussing on stuff here that's probably more suited to my other (more serious) blog or my current Political Innovation project but I try and be a bit more bi-partisan there, so....

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Cock Rock

As a yoof, I had slight Mod tendencies (not that committed or convincing, admittedly). And this made me live something of a lie. Because, deep down, I also quite like Cock Rock. I love Highway to Hell and Machine Head.

Now I've been offered a ticket for Airbourne. If I'm in town, should I take it?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Two questions from elsewhere

Anyone who has ever stumbled across public choice theory will be familiar with the Parkinson's Law type arguments - that public services tend to be captured by budget-maximising bureaucrats.

These faceless thieves allegedly cause the services concerned to decline into a mire of inefficiency that defeats the purpose for their existence.

Now here's a question: Are corporations dominated by bureau maximising bureaucrats to a greater extend than public services? Reading this, you could conclude that they are.

Next question: Are banks worth anything? Chris follows up his question with arguments for a 'state bank' - after all, if they socialise their risks.....?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The cuts won't work, they'll just make it worse

From my old mate Mark Perryman at Philosophy Football, this is his latest offering - just £9.99 from here.

I've said this before, but you probably don't read my longer postings so I'll say it again: as a twenty-year old ultra-Thatcherite Bullingdon Club member, Osborne could never in his wildest dreams have believed that he would achieve everything he went into politics for within six months of taking office. And he would have thought you were mad if you told him he wouldn't even need to win an election to do it!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Labour's strategic failure, continued... (Tower Hamlets episode)

I had a long-ish post here the other day that I should probably provide a shorter summary for before I add an addendum to it.

My argument is that Labour has cued itself up for three very severe structural defeats that will be difficult to reverse in recent months, because they've lost sight of what their mission is. Instead of a strategy to attain a sustainable progressive outcome, they've been transfixed with a tactical approach that guaranteed short-term electoral success (i.e. being able to win general elections on an ever-dwindling share of the overall vote until 2005).

My argument was that, if Labour had understood the centrality of a high standard of liberal democracy to achieving it's social democratic ends...
  • the LibDems would never have considered an electoral pact with the Tories on the spurious grounds that capitalist realism = liberalism,
  • the Tories would be unable to assault the notion of public service broadcasting and replace it with hugely valuable (to themselves) propagandists
  • we would have a coherent response to the CSR cuts - one that had a long-term provenance in the way that the Tories anti-state rhetoric has had in recent years
I say this because last night, Labour lost the Tower Hamlets mayoral election to a communalist candidate. That candidate was helped by tacit support from Ken Livingstone - Labour's next Mayoral candidate.

Now, it's not the end of the world if we sometimes lose local elections. If I had may way, we'd not have local Mayoral elections in the first place (it's another aspect of Labour policy that has been incompatible with liberal democracy).

Labour can neither bitch too loudly about losing to a communal candidate as we've not had an explicit and ideological rejection of the practice of communalism ourselves.

Neither can we bitch about the uneven application of party rules - especially where Ken Livingstone is concerned - because Labour disgraced itself in it's handling of the mayoral selection in 2000 and it still has active intervention from regional parties, unions and various central court jesters in local selection processes as Teresa Pearce learned to her cost a few years ago in the selection at Erith & Thamesmead.

Labour's real problems are not of a left-right nature. It's almost a spiritual failing. We're not that much of a good party any more, and we won't succeed until we become one again.

Just saying, like.....

The neo-liberal helecopter arrives

Over at K-Punk:
"....where, previously, neoliberals had used the crises in other political systems (state socialism, social democracy) as an opportunity to helicopter in their 'reforms', on this occasion they are using a crisis brought about by neoliberal policy itself to try to electro-shock the neoliberal programme back into life.

I heard one buffoon on television saying that "we've been in denial for the last ten years". If there's denial, it's happened in the last two years, and on the part of the neoliberals and their friends in the business elite, who - after demanding at gunpoint unprecedented sums of public money - are now brazenly continuing to peddle the story that they are the friend of the taxpayer and that it is welfare claimants, not them, who are the scroungers who have brought the country to the "brink of bankruptcy"."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Labour and the CSR - tactics and strategy

Over at Labour Uncut, Dan Hodges has a fairly pessimistic account of Labour's failure to set their stall out properly over the months since the election in preparation for the CSR. As far as it goes, there's not much to disagree with there - Labour got into a muddle and the response was weak.

But where I'd part company with Dan is on the question of how important this actually is. For me, that Labour MPs articulate this - “We haven’t got a line or a message” - as the problem is a large part of the problem itself.

Dan's post outlines what tactical response Labour should have deployed but quite often, he's referring to it as a missing strategy. There's a difference between tactics and strategy and he may be right that Labour have failed to agree on a tactics over the months since May, but the real problem is one that has existed since the early 1990s: That short-term tactical considerations have eclipsed - not trumped strategic ones.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I'd be happy to admit that Labour figures like Roy Hattersley, Robin Cook and John Smith may have allowed the pendulum to swing too far the other way - where Labour's soul was right but it didn't have the ruthless day-to-day response on headline issues.

New Labour was fantastic at understanding how the media worked and what people understood as their options. They were brilliant at maneuvering the Tories into a corner where they had the choice of either endorsing Labour's populist position or owning up to an option that they'd never be able to sell.

At times, it was like shooting fish in a barrel, they were so good at it. And John Major, Hague, Howard and IDS were the perfect for this kind of sucker-punching. But the Tories - both in opposition and now in government - agree with one of the only articles of faith that I ever heard from post-1994 Labour spokesmen: That elections are fought on the centre ground. They also have demonstrated that they know something that seems to have barely occurred to most senior Labour Party figures: That when you're in government, your first priority must be to drag the centre ground to where you want it to be.

Hattersley, Cook and Smith all, in their own way, had a politically literate understanding of what democratic socialism was. They had positions on the kind of arcana that sends even the chattering classes to sleep: Party democracy, electoral reform, what constitutes legitimate democratic deliberation, why Parliament matters, why the press need to be challenged and regulated more effectively.

The Tories have also grasped the importance of these issues - perhaps in a more atavistic and instinctive way than the way Labour's liberal left does it's thinking. The Tories have asked themselves: What are those objective allies that the left relies upon? Parliament has generally been more socially progressive that the public's reflexes have allowed it to be. We don't hang people, we allow immigrants in sometimes and we're in the EU, for starters.

The wider conservative milieu conducted an incredibly successful assault on the legitimacy of representative democracy in the closing years of the last government. One that Labour were unable to resist because it didn't occur to many of them that it was happening. And the results have been stunning.

As a twenty-year old ultra-Thatcherite Bullingdon Club member, Osborne could never in his wildest dreams have believed that he would achieve everything he went into politics for within six months of taking office. And he would have thought you were mad if you told him he wouldn't even need to win an election to do it!

Yet for Labour to focus on what their long-term strategic interests were - it would have been regarded as a distraction by most New Labour 'strategists'. They would undoubtedly have made the day-to-day work of top-down government a bit harder, but then a grasp of how party democracy could have been made to work would have brought many more hands to the pump. Labour's need to avoid 'embarrassment' during the party conference season trumped all other considerations.

The kind of responses that we may have got from some of Labour's older heads - had they still been around - wouldn't have been folksy and populist, and at times they would have jarred. This week, the Guardian newspaper was jeered at (by News Corporation journalists in particular) for leading on the BBC cuts on the day that half-a-million public sector jobs were going to be butchered. Middle class wankers, I hear you say, and I suppose it's a point of sorts. But New Labour (unlike Labour) spent no time understanding who the objective allies were that democratic socialism could count upon.

The Tories' outriders have, for years, pedaled the line that the BBC is some kind of Trotskyist enclave. It's a position that's easy to disprove, but it's not the important one: Public service broadcasting is the objective ally of those who want the spirit of liberal democracy to be strengthened. There are people on the left and right who fit into this camp (ffs, even Henry Porter grasps this one!). And those people, in turn, are the objective allies of democratic socialism.

Labour could - and should have made it impossible for the Tories' well times assault on public service broadcasting - an assault that will perhaps do the centre-left for more long-term political damage than anything else that's happened this week.

Listening to Alison Garnham of the Child Poverty Action Group on the recent Moral Maze Radio 4 programme (11.40mins in on the 20/10/2010), you can hear a fairly good position on what progressive taxation should look like (along with a defence of universal benefits). It's one that - if it had been articulated by New Labour and it's successors, it would have given Labour a methodical basis on which they should oppose the Child Benefit cuts. No-one in the Labour Party seemed capable of making Alison's simple points.

One of the reasons that the Lib-Dems were able to enter into a coalition with the Tories was that Labour's clumsy approach to questions of individual liberty legitimised a good deal of the informal coalition building between liberals and conservatives before the election. At the time I was moaning about how daft the wider left was in participating in it, but it's a flank that older Labour heads would never have left exposed in the first place.

The paucity of The Third Way as a construct was very illustrative here: It sort of implied that co-ops / mutualism or something was the Labour answer to the unpalatable poles of wholesale nationalisation or privatisaton. But in failing to deal - strategically - with the lack of legitimacy or good practice that new forms of collective action offered, they not only squandered the kind of opportunity that the centre-left will only ever have again if it gets 13 years of uninterrupted power - it also ceded it's best idea to the Tories, who have picked it up (after a fashion) with the Big Society idea.

Dan is right about the tactical failings. But the biggest problem is that the left has no organisation, no widely-articulated philosophical underpinning. We have no idea what we should be arguing for. That's why we bicker about how we argue against a very coherent government.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Been looking for this for a while

Twenty years, in fact. Then it turns up on YouTube.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Healey, 'the squeezed middle', and the challenge to Labour

(Disclaimer: Written in a hurry. Intended to capture an idea rather than make the argument perfectly)

I had an odd reply on twitter recently suggesting that I was involved in a bit of co-ordinated boosterism when I said something supportive of John Healey MP who has done exceptionally well in his bid to join the Shadow Cabinet.

It seems I'm not alone in hoping that he becomes a more prominent and influential member of the Opposition team (Left Foot Forward's Will Straw and Labour List's Anthony Painter have also been noting his finer points. They may all have been co-ordinating each other for all I know, but I wasn't!

I've known John for a long time, and only slightly (he used to say 'no' repeatedly to me when I tried to sell him things in his various Trade Union capacities before he was an MP, - if anything, I should be bearing grudges!). But his view that Labour needs to address a good deal of it's policy focus to the squeezed middle is a useful one for the party to get it's head around for all kinds of reasons.

His particular willingness to pick this up probably does stem from his time at MSF and later at the TUC, as this demographic - one that is over-represented among public sector workers in general and paid-up trades unionists in particular - is electoral low hanging fruit for the party. The messages that Labour will make from within their comfort-zone over the next couple of years are going to have an obvious appeal to these voters, many of whom didn't vote for us last time. A while ago, I outlined one of my hasty ten-point plans for Labour renewal (the things insomnia prompts me to do!) Points 2, 3 and 4 are ones that could be pursued within our comfort-zone - especially with our new fangled anti-NuLab leader!)

But this raises an important question for Labour and its diaspora. I'm in a hurry so I'm going to post two links in lieu of throat clearing:
  1. Chris Dillow on the degree to which political movements skew their definition of social justice to match the demands of powerful minorities
  2. Hopi Sen on the decline of Trades Unions - less in terms of the numbers of members that they claim and more in terms of their claims to represent a broad swathe of working people
And if that isn't enough laziness on my part, I'd like to link to a post written by someone called 'Why Labour's electoral college is the most mature and democratic means of electing a leader.' I think its a very good system and when I get a moment I'll say why. It's very much to the party's credit that it throws this decision open to millions of people who may not be nailed on Labour voters, but who are members of organisations that share the party's commitment to collective action and a degree of economic democracy.

It's only flaw is in Hopi's point about the narrowness of TU members, and this is something that a Labour big-noise with the ear of the Unions needs to be pressing home.

Unions charge about £10 a month for membership. This is a huge generalisation, but bear with me willya? They bundle a series of offerings together with what John Monks used to call 'the magic ingredient of trade unionism.' The thing is, unless you work in a unionised workplace or one where a spot of solidarity can make an obvious difference, it's hard to make the case for an outlay like this. There is a real opportunity to offer a telephone / web only contact service with cut-down access to TU services and commercial offerings priced at (say) £3. TU Lite anyone?

I've worked with some of the biggest Unions and, in my experience, in many cases, their attitude to aggressive recruitment has often ranged from piss-poor to shameful. In recent years, most of their expansionary energy has gone into mergers with a handful of super-unions growing to dominate the TUC.

I've seen plenty of evidence of TU officials resisting potentially effective means of online expansion because (in my opinion) they felt it would threaten the base of professional organisers. And while this is understandable from the organisers I suppose - we're all guilty of budget maximising in our jobs at some time or other - but I've often been surprised at the indifference from senior Trades Unionists about this. In my last workplace a few years ago (12 staff at the time) I had to repeatedly chase the T&GWU to get hold of membership forms.

We eventually got an 'organiser' (!) out to make the case for joining in about the sloppiest way imaginable, and it was almost impossible to get the completed form processed once I'd returned them. (Getting them to respond to any attempt to access 'member services' was no more impressive).

I'd also add that there are very honourable exceptions to this observation, but still....

Until Unions are prepared to re-package their offering in order to expand - perhaps offering lite online flavours of membership with options to join the political fund, they will continue to be confined to a declining base and will be failing in their professed mission to be evangelists for Labour politics.

And until this happens, Labour will be tethered to a section of the electoral college that isn't as legitimate as it could be. It will be losing an opportunity to improve our policy and selection processes. As it happens, it will also potentially be a political hostage to fortune if the Tories manage to make their Red Ed charge stick in any way.

So maybe one or two new members of the Shadow Cabinet will be able to pluck up the courage to go to the Unions and ask them to offer a bit more than the odd cheque as part of their commitment to growing the Labour movement?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Comedy gold

Big money getting involved in football clubs. There are some upsides:

I support two teams. Forest, and whoever Liverpool are playing.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Time for an open and honest debate about Migration Watch?

I nicked that title from this post here which offers an argument that I'd fully subscribe to.

Following in the very successful steps of the British Chiropractic Association in using the libel laws to challenge their critics, the right-wing think-tank Migration Watch has turned it's learned friends on Sally Bercow, a Labour activist.

David Allen Green, formerly Jack of Kent and his colleagues at Preiskel & Co are acting for Ms Bercow. For me, the rights and wrongs of this run behind the simple rule that you shouldn't use the libel laws to suppress open debate.

End of.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Obligatory Papal visit-related post

I didn't think I'd find myself taking much notice of the Pope's visit. In religious terms, I'm an agnostic and in cultural terms, I'm a Catholic in the same way as you can be Jewish without believing in God.

I hear the complaints about the historical abuses of the Catholic church along with the idiotic social policies (particularly on contraception) and understand the fury that it causes, but in personal terms, my contact with the Catholic church was largely benign. There is, admittedly, something deeply evil about allowing women who have had celibacy enforced upon them to have access to canes and schoolboys, but if you were at school in the 1970s, being caned was an occupational hazard.

So I'm bored by the Pope's visit. There's nothing in it for me. I'm irritated by it in the same way that Flying Rodent is (but probably with fewer resulting laughs). But there was one aspect of the whole thing that did make me jump out of my chair. It's this bit:
"Even in our own lifetimes we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live.....

....as we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny."
I started listing, in my head, the ways that this line of thinking was deluded before I stumbled on this post by Johnny that does it so much more comprehensively than I could have done.

The LibDems: keeping lines of communication open

Over on Freemania, Tom has what appears to be a good 1st draft for any Labour spokesperson in addressing the deficit.

As their conference kicks off today, I'm a bit concerned, however, that Tom isn't going far enough in terms of ensuring that we communicate how far we understand the LibDems predicament, and how far we're prepared to go in working with them if (and when?) the time comes when both sides think that it's the right thing to do.

If you're providing v1.0 briefings to any Labour politician, it also has to address how the Liberal Democrats have to be spoken of with a view to ensuring that a constructive relationship can be had with them - one where they always know that there is the option to abandon the coalition if it can be shown to be in the national interest, and one where bridges aren't burnt.

So I'd add the following:
  • In May, the LibDems felt that they had no option but to enter a coalition with the Conservatives in the national interest. They were right to do so, however galling it is for Labour to admit. Given the scale of the economic crisis, the instability of a confidence and supply arrangement would have been hard to justify. The figures made it very difficult to pull a majority together that included Labour and, as a party, an influential minority of our MPs were already ruling out the possibility of a deal anyway
  • We understand that they are the junior partners in a coalition that demands a degree of corporate responsibility, and Labour isn't here to take cheap shots at people who have tough choices to make
  • We think that the LibDems could have negotiated a better deal on social issues than they did - there seem to be a number of areas (not least, electoral reform) where they appear to have been sold a Pup. We understand the frustration of LibDem activists and back-benchers here.
We are approaching a point at which it is going to become clear that there are two responses to the current crisis. One is to act pragmatically in the national interest. The other is to adopt a vicious and opportunistic assault on the very idea of collective action and the enabling state. At that point, the LibDems are going to have to reconsider their relationship with the Conservatives, and if they need to act in the national interest, Labour will be there to help them.

Labour recognises the need to reassess many the assumptions that guided our day-to-day decisions in government. There are many aspects of public management that we could have handled better, but all of the evidence shows that Labour's policy approach was working very well - (and better than anyone knew in May) and that the ill thought-out ideological battering that the Conservatives are proposing is very likely to undo the progress that the economy has been making.


Personally, I'd add a bit of waffle around the need for the LibDems to at least be structurally progressive with tough demands around media regulation, I'd attack the bizarrely imperfect understanding within the coalition of what makes for good decentralised democracy (isn't it odd that a party whose defining demand has been electoral reform has such a shallow understanding of what makes for good democratic change?), and I'd acknowledge the opportunity that Big Society thinking has to reassess Labour's negligence in seeking innovation around collective action during our 13 years of government. But that would probably take the oul' eye of the ball, wouldn't it?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Top Left-wing Blog

I normally get a bit snooty about Iain Dale's Total Politics polls (and moreso since this blog dropped out of them a few years ago), but leaving that aside, congratulations to Will Straw and Shamik Das of Left Foot Forward for being chosen as the best left-wing blog this year - only a year into it's existance. It's certainly everything that a good group blog could be.

I've had a few modest contributions, but I've also thought about sending a few pieces in but decided not to. 'This one isn't good enough for LLF' I"ve said to myself at the time.

When tinfoil hat-wearers accept....

... an Invitation to Join the Government of Britain, it was always going to be a laugh.

I posted something on Twitter earlier asking if we can we make it illegal for anyone to use the word 'freedom' in the name of a political party / pressure group / think tank or even a blog?

In answer, via Mabel, I got a link to this excellent site that should be allowed to sidestep any such ban.

Peterloo 2010?

Chief Superintendent Derek Barnett appears to be suggesting - in a roundabout way - that his colleagues are there to act as the enforcers behind the Government's cuts agenda in the coming months. But at a price.

As Bad Conscience picks up the story, it seems that - when he pictures this service being performed in his own minds eye, he thinks of Peterloo.

Another thing to add to the list of things that Labour should have done better: Not reward the cops for this kind of crude budget-maximising. It seems to come so naturally to them, having been unchallenged on it for so long.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Local councils and (anti) censorship

Maybe it's something that everyone else knows, but I didn't. At the tail-end of this old-ish film clip about Shane Meadows 'This is England' film from a few years ago .....

... (now being sequeled with a TV series), Mark Kermode raises the question of why a film that incorporates an educational message should be given an '18' classification by the BBFC - on the grounds that it includes a bit of racist language and a few violent scenes.

Meadows makes the point that there are plenty of all-action flicks that qualify for a '15' cert while involving slaughter on a vast scale, and I'm sure I don't need to rehearse all sides of this argument for you again.

But for me, the interesting revelation is that a lot of local authorities chose to overturn the BBFC decision and instead apply a '15' certificate for local showings.

It's news to me that this can happen - and I think that it opens up all kinds of possibilities in terms of cultural autonomy. What I'd like to know (and I'll look into it if I get time - unless someone wants to explain it to me) is this: What is the process by which a local authority reviews the BBFC's classification, changes it and then communicates it to local cinemas?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Public speaking - a case study

Via Boing Boing: Here's a test for you. How long can you watch this video for before you have to turn it off?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Boris: Astute

As a piece of personal-positioning-cum-political-mischief-making, this article by Boris Johnson is well worth a read. In it, he...
  • casts doubt on the coalition economic strategy, perhaps anticipating it backfiring
  • endorses Ed Balls as the most competent leader for the opposition
  • applies a serious dig to both of the favourites for that job
  • underlines his position as candid friend to The City

There's lots to pick from there (read the whole thing) but this bit is worth repeating:
"...the People's Party is on the verge of making a historic mistake. They are about to elect one of the two Miliband brothers as their leader, when neither of these perfectly amiable north London intellectuals has ever said anything memorable about anything."

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Lone Wolf

This lot are really worth a listen. The best LP I've heard in ages. Well constructed complex and literate songs. I suspect that this lot will have a trajectory that goes outside the space that's normally reserved for rock bands. Listen to the whole LP here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Labour leadership: four gambiteers and none worth an X

I'm quite depressed and pessimistic about the prospects for the Labour Party at the moment. As far as the leadership contest goes, I'm almost-but-not-quite adopting the Derby County v Leeds United approach (hoping they all lose). Mil perfectly encapsulates my view on this here. Likewise, I don't think that pyramids are a very sustainable management model for political parties any more, and I don't think the Labour will sustain one very successfully for very long.

I keep getting e-mails saying 'Join my campaign against....' this and that and I made a mental note early on not to vote for anyone who imagines themselves at the head of some parade with the rest of us just anonymously plodding on behind. This only leaves me with Diane Abbott to vote for as far as I can see and - with all due respect to her - I don't think she's ever been under any illusions about actually winning the contest.

None of these four boys have ever been in a fight in their lives. They were all parachuted into safe seats by a party leadership that prized compliance more highly than anything else. If anyone imagines that Labour can beat the Coalition in an election by using some clever fix that puffs up some Union General Secretary here, and ensures that some Regional Secretary will fix them there, then they are in for a very large disappointment.

And if anyone really imagines that Ed Milliband's pitch as 'the left candidate' is any more than a bit of short-term chessmanship, I hope they will have a stern word with themselves next time they look in the mirror. I've not seen any attempt to address the question of how Labour renews it's historic mission to promote collective action or to improve the participation of the widest section of the population in their own governance. The questions haven't even been broached. There's no politics on offer really. Politicking isn't the same thing. I've seen little evidence that any of them have any convictions that couldn't reasonably be described as a short-term gambit.

The nearest thing I've seen to an impressive statement was Ed Balls Bloomberg speech - admittedly, a good fine sweep over the issues of the day. He's a good columnist. But having met the bloke (admittedly, a long time ago) he's also an arrogant and charmless tosser who wouldn't be capable of any form of policymaking that doesn't involve some tablet of stone authored by himself and imposed by way old-fashioned arm-twisting. Expect years of bickering and backbiting if he gets anywhere near the new frontbench (as I'm sure he will).

I've not seen anything conversational in any of the candidates. I've not seen any pretense that the party itself may have more brains or experience as a whole than any of these Sonnenkind can draw upon from within their small circle of temporary allies.

We do need a leadership contest. We need the concept of leadership - as it is currently understood - to be contested and defeated. New Labour's approach to leadership was based upon a crude and self-serving notion of what was possible within the confines of a hostile media. It involved everybody conniving in the pretense that a single line that united the party could be pushed out to a credible media.

We are like every other party. We're not united. We never will be. We're a loose alliance of people who would object to each other being in government slightly less than we object to Cameron or Clegg. The other parties are identical in this respect - the only thing that changes is the identity of the hate-figures.

We need people in leadership positions who are prepared to do the dirty work of running towards arguments rather than away from them. The Tories didn't even win the election and they're acting as though they've got a 150-seat majority. Unfortunately, we've had a set of processes within our party for nearly 20 years that wrung anyone with this sort of backbone out of frontline politics.

That's why I'm pessimistic.
I suppose Ed Milliband's shallow and unconvincing pitch to renew party democracy (it was so flimsy I didn't get beyond the first para - can't even remember where now) should appeal most, but I really can't imagine I'll vote for any of them at the moment.

At this rate, Diane will probably get my X as I labour under the illusion that it will somehow send a message to someone somewhere.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


I've just seen that - for particularly problematic fixtures - clubs are starting to get more creative than ever in trying to minimise the risks around football games.

The deal that Leeds United have with Millwall now is that Lions fans can only buy vouchers for the game. They have to exchange them for tickets at a designated motorway service station (to ensure that they don't travel by train).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Projecting disappointment

I've just seen this on the Wikipedia page about the late Syd Barrett:
His sister denied he was a recluse or that he was vague about his past: "Roger may have been a bit selfish—or rather self-absorbed—but when people called him a recluse they were really only projecting their own disappointment. He knew what they wanted, but he wasn't willing to give it to them."
A few weeks ago, there was a thread on Slugger about Van Morrison and how his relationship with his audiences can often be abrupt and uncooperative. If you turn up to one of his gigs expecting a particular approach to his back catalogue, and that's not the one he's prepared for you .... well, tough luck.

The thing is, no-one would expect to go to see - say - Captain Beefheart (below) - and know what they're getting beforehand.

Van's (or, rather, his audience's) problem is that his recordings are, for the most part, serious attempts to do something interesting as well as sell-able. Unlike most musicians who have the capacity to do this, almost of Van's stuff has a large mainstream appeal. Some bits may disappoint the more critical fans, but none (I suspect) irks the larger less discriminating audience. It's the ease-on-the-ear of the recordings that creates the tensions with the audience, if you get my drift?

I saw him recently at the Hop Farm festival and it was almost heart-stoppingly good and memorable. It was quite a 'band-leader' experience in an odd way - he went around getting different musicians doing different things - pointing at them and conducting them and directing the show - I really think a lot of it was improvised.

There was one great bit in 'Baby Please Don't Go' where he pointed to the guitarist (who looked like he may not have known the song!) played the middle-8 riff to get him to pick it up (see almost at the end of the video I've found - below - 5 mins in), and then he pulled the harmonica out and played that part himself. He then took it into Mose Allison's Parchman Farm and the band looked like they were keeping up with him a bit - in a good way.

It was quite blissed out stuff a lot of time and he finished on 'In the Garden' with that 'no Guru, no method....' built up to a chant.

No encore or anything and as soon as he finished his vocal he was off the stage leaving the band to finish the set for a few minutes. I had friends who were working backstage and they said that as soon as he was off, he was into the waiting car and heading for the airport - probably on the motorway as his band played the last note.

Oh, one final thing: I was going to use this John Martyn video to make another point in this post but I've decided that the post (unlike the video) isn't worth showing to you (though you'll have to excuse the racial slur on the Irish at the end):

Saturday, July 31, 2010

I'm sorry - I'll read that again

Smash the H-Blocks!

Er... sorry, that should read 'Don't Smash the H-Blocks'

(Nicked from the comments there)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Photo Opportunity

NI Unionist blogger Lee with a gentle warning to the DUP's Nigel Dodds.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Big Society: An opportunity for Labour?

This post by Anthony Painter on Labour List is easily the best commentary I've seen on how Labour should respond to the Tories' Big Society programme, insofar as it is a programme at all at the moment:
"[Labour] ...needs to be listened to again. That means a bit more honesty about where the party went wrong both in the context of the nodding dog leadership debate and the party more widely. It wasn’t just incumbency taking its toll or the unpopularity of the leader. It was also the fact that Labour was seen to have spent too much, too wastefully and had become a meddling, interfering government and a not particularly successful one at that. Acknowledging shortcomings is the first step to being heard."
"Labour needs to develop a way of talking about politics that is metaphorical, empathetic and tangible. The Tories play on simple themes such as the household budget as metaphor for the national budget. Well, most people would take out a loan for a car that enabled them to get to their job and enjoy their leisure time more or a mortgage to buy a home. That’s an investment and governments must invest also for a return. The left must do metaphor better.....

....Labour should not be afraid of articulating the importance of responsibility - for us all. Where it critiques the coalition, it must be on the basis of impact on people not policy detail.... Labour will only be listened to if its solutions are credible. It must articulate why the services and investments are important for all of us as individuals, for our communities and the nation. It must be clear how it would cut expenditure - or increase taxes - over what time and by what amount to make the bigger arguments. This is part of being heard again.

Labour must not look gift horses the mouth. Where the coalition is playing to an empathetic framing as it has on criminal justice and the Big Society - in thematics at any rate - don’t blindly oppose. Civic involvement is good for nurturing an empathetic mindset so encourage the Big Society and pledge to expand it and improve it. The easy option is to mock it. But what could be more compatible with an empathetic mindset than people becoming active in their local communities? Don’t forget, we are talking fundamental ways of thinking here: weaken the empathy then leave space for a conservative ideology to tighten its grip and that will have an impact across the whole of range of issues." (My emphasis)
Labour has a number of problems and opportunities arising out of the current situation. The Big Society programme highlights one further serious failing of the last Labour government: That it was captured by a managerial bureaucratic caste that was rigid and wasteful - one that refused to foster or acknowledge the existence of a public service ethos preferring outsourcing, inspection, bean-counting and permanent managerial upheaval. One that had only one measurer of value: Auditors.

There are no end of problems that the Tories will have with the implementation of this concept, not least it's near-addiction to Walter Mitty-type schemes promoted by mythical entrepreneurs and it's faith-based conviction that private sector investment will step in to replace the state spending that they are withdrawing (it really won't, and it's totally baffling to hear anyone claim otherwise).

There is a more sustainable Christian Socialist approach (one that you don't need to be a Christian to value, I'd add) that has prior claims to a lot of the Big Society ideas - but we (and presumably, the Lib Dems) can see where these ideas are simply a shill for privatisation and a Thatcherite buying-off of taxpayer lobbies.

We can also take some inspiration from this coalition government. We spent thirteen years governing as though we had a one-seat majority. It was ludicrously defensive and cautious. This lot haven't even won an election and they're already acting as though they have a 200 seat majority. There is an élan to this government that we never had - and I suspect that this is because they've resolved to take the FDA on and defeat them in a way that Labour never dared to (and should have done).

The Big Society idea - as it is articulated - is one that Labour needs to embrace. It has the potential to wean us off some of our more unattractive associations and help us to address the problems created by a politics that confuses individualism with liberty and democracy.

So, you might say, 'be nice to the Lib-Dems and embrace the whole Big Society idea - hardly the work of a defiant leftie?'

Maybe I'm getting old?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Attacking the Lib-Dems: Dos and don'ts


Attack them for signing up for .... (insert regressive Tory-led policy here)

Do ....

Challenge them as to why they couldn't at least have got an agreement to ..... (insert cherished Lib-Dem progressive measure here)

The former will lead them to seek justification for their actions and elicit a defensive response. The latter will create problems between the leadership and the membership.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On being beastly to the Lib-Dems (continued)

Shuggy, in the comments, points approvingly to Blood & Treasure's take on how the Lib-Dems should be treated.

I'm not sure that they've accomplished their mission and should be treated as though they no longer exist - for a number of reasons, and rather than offering you a long post now, I'm going to let these observations out a bit at a time over the next few days.

My point for today is about how we understand what a political party is these days.

I don't buy the argument that the Lib-Dems (like their predecessors with the word 'Liberal' in their title) is simply a project "designed to get a share of power for their senior managers" - or rather, I do buy the argument to a certain extent (I'm sure it applies to Nick Clegg) but think that it applies to elements of all of the main parties.

It seems to me that a political party today is a coalition of different minority political interests that dislike the combined coaliton that makes up other parties more than they dislike the moderated coalition that makes up their own.

If the electoral system changes, I suspect that those coalitions will simply reconfigure slightly as different groupings become more prepared to hold their noses and get into bed with old adversaries in return for a crack at achieving a cherished goal / a sniff of power / getting their pictures in the paper.

The corollary of this is that each political party has been captured - however temporarily - by an unrepresentative social caste usually on the basis that it has persuaded the wider membership that their leadership will result in more electoral success.

This in turn effects our thinking on the question of being beastly to the Lib-Dems. If we keep shrieking at them, telling them that they're a bunch of Birkenstock Traitors, and so on, we run the risk of pushing the wider party into the ballast of Clegg's boat.

Surely, a more productive step would be to highlight the policy-areas where Labour has more in common with the Lib-Dem rank-and-file, while at the same time pointing out what a poor deal they've had from the Tories and how, if the electoral maths were to stack up in future, they would find that they'd have to make fewer compromises and achieve a good deal more by dealing with Labour?

All of that raises the question for next time: What do the Lib-Dems want?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Have a look at The Samosa?

I keep running into Anwar in London - he's a Manc of Pakistani extraction who blogs at The Samosa largely about the relationship between the Pakistani diaspora and Pakistan. This post for example:
One does not need to study Pakistan long or know it in any depth to realise that there is a huge need for reconciliation with India and a lot of unfinished business for both sides. Both sides must acknowledge the mutual hurt that still exists from the bloodshed of partition, and accept the shared culture, soil, peoples and history of the huge land mass and civilisations that make up India and Pakistan.

I spoke to a retired minister of defence who acknowledged that the majority in both establishments want this; it is how they get there that is fraught, given the above and of course the issue of Kashmir. This region needs as much attention as Israel and Palestine. The solution to Afghanistan is in large part also to be found here.

Being beastly to the Lib-Dems

I was on the House of Comments Podcast a few nights ago discussing Labour's approach to the Lib-Dems here. The shorter version of my own position is that, while it may be fun to bang on about Birkenstock Traitors, and it's a good bit of tonic for Labour's troops, that Labour's fire should all be concentrated on the Tories for reasons that seem, to me, to be obvious.

The reason I was on the podcast in the first place was to introduce a project called 'Political Innovation' (no link yet).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A question for people who work in financial services

My understanding of the details of how a lot of funds work is fairly basic, so I'd like to know if the following makes sense - would it be possible?

A lot of people have pensions, savings and endowment funds that are described as 'with profits' funds.

Am I right in understanding that the provider takes the monthly contribution and invests them across a basket of quoted companies that the provider believes will do well - striking the right balance between profitability and risk-aversion?

If so, would it be possible / easy for such a provider to launch a new fund - or offer an option to existing customers to switch to a modified fund - in which they could take a small degree of control over the fund. For instance, I could accept that Legal & General will make decisions on how 95% of my money is invested, but I could then direct them on the remaining 5% - and, say, ask them to invest it in a Football club of my choice (for example - I'm sure you could come up with an ethical alternative or one where the investor could chose to take a bit of a longshot).

Would it be possible / practical / affordable to do this? And could government do anything that would make it easier for the financial services industry to do this?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Football and Capitalist Realism

Via Will in the comments here, go and read this.
"Fans dream now not of their club being revivified by some Brian Clough-like managerial genius, but of it being saved by the largesse of a bored plutocrat. Barcelona famously have no shirt sponsor, and display the logo of UNICEF on their jerseys. United’s shirt sponsor is AIG, the insurance company at the heart of the financial crisis (according to The Economist, AIG’s “tentacles reach into every part of the economy.”) The neoliberal anti-utopia disintegrated with the bank bail-outs, even though it survives in an undead form as a set of defaults which continue to dominate social reality."

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

F U N E X?

Busy. Here are two tweets to be going on with:
  1. People say 'footie' if they don't like football but want to ingratiate themselves with people who think they should like it. This is a rule.
  2. To chose your voting system based on the result of a referendum is like using trial by combat to decide who wins the Nobel Peace Prize.
And I'm amazed that I got to be so old without ever seeing this guide to speaking Swedish:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Enlightenment thinking and political renewal

This is a very good post - well worth a read. Particularly the bit about consumer-politics.

One of the most obnoxious infections that hit New Labour was it's fear of presenting policies that contained components that would be resisted.

It took until very late in the term, for instance, for them to pluck up the courage to propose telephone levies - a policy that they were then not equipped to defend when it was attacked.

More on this later when I get time maybe.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A better type of electoral reform than the one that is being demanded?

Why not give every voter the option to break their vote into ten parts so that they can spread them around a bit?

This would surely allow people to respond to candidates more accurately?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Connectivity - good or bad?

A really interesting exchange about how far connectivity is a social good.

Stroke City: Another big day

If there hadn't already been enough happening around Ireland's North West coast, today, the good people behind the Derry-Londonderry UK City of Culture bid will be delivering their pitch in Liverpool. They're up against Sheffield, Norwich and Birmingham.

Now, with all due respect to them, these rivals will - I suspect - be handing in very managerialist bids. Ducks will be got in a row, business cases will be made and - who knows - this could result in the legacy of a new carrot-cake-and-coffee cinema!

Culture is where big important and exciting things happen. In Derry, they nearly fell out with each other over whether they should be bidding to be part of the UK City of Culture and then the usual squabbles went on quietly about the name and so on.

Derry has petty rivalries but sits, historically, on a gaping historical chasm that separates far more than just nationalists and unionists. It's a great little town and one that got into the souls of anyone who grew up in this country in the 1970s.

Our local Catholic church used to run schemes where kids of my age were brought over from Derry for a few quiet weeks away from carnage that was happening around them. Derry has stories to tell and narratives that need to be played out.

It's current iconography - whether it's Free Derry Corner or the murals showing kids in gas-masks priming up Molotov Cocktails, - is one that needs to be mashed up and worked over. One of the most stunning artifacts I've seen in a long time was the way that one of Anthony Gormley's manikins was necklaced (pdf) for some imagined sectarian transgression. It's one of the most stunning responses that I've ever seen to a work of art.

Any cultural focus that Derry gets over the next few years can make a huge difference to the city - and it could teach us all a few things we don't already know.

I hope the judges can get to understand this potential.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Summer gig planning

Richard Thompson is hosting the 2010 Meltdown. There aren't many of those gigs that I'd turn down a free ticket. That's how you can show your gratitude for the splendid blogging you find here periodically.

As a consolation, I'll be seeing him among the fantastic line up at the Hop Farm festival (apologies for the flash-laden site) at the start of July.

Other attractions there include Van Morrison, Damian Dempsey, Bob Dylan, Dr John, Ray Davies, Pete Molinari, the Magic Numbers and the Afro-Celt Soundsystem. That's pretty impressive I reckon.

Go. For the weekend. Take a tent.

Labour needs to speak human. And four identikit blokes alone would have blocked it doing so.

I can't remember the last time I didn't care for one of Hopi's posts, but I'm not keen on this one. My problems are with the phrase 'hard left', but also with this line:
"...this process will be used to push forward a policy agenda that will be massively out of sync with the vast majority of the Labour party, and although it will be heavily defeated, it will have an imprint on the party that will last."
This is a very risk-averse argument that doesn't acknowledge any upside to challenging the party's orthodoxy. There are plenty of us who regard ourselves as being on the left of the party without being on the hard left. Yet we have been politically marginalised by a process that should have only been designed to exclude elements of the left that really weren't interested in any compromise with the electorate. Instead, it was also designed - deliberately or otherwise - to exclude elements that were at odds with a narrow (and now, outdated and unpopular) compromise with neo-liberalism.

People with interests in particular policy-positions will be able to point to the way that political factions on the right of the party have been able to shoehorn-in particular approaches that were neither an electoral asset, good policy, or in sync with the vast majority of the party. Insert your own rant here about PPP, lax financial services regulation or a general bias towards private sector involvement in the delivery of public services where the public interest would have been better served by agnosticism.

My problem is a more general one. The Labour government was never a good government in many ways. Sure, it prioritised the concerns of the many and not the few in lots of good ways and it's leftish critics often picked the wrong battles.

But it's hard to deny that Labour had it's reputation for competence deservedly trashed*. The people that became MPs were often puzzled spectators on the whole question of public administration. They often seem to lack the basic grounding in good governance, and are prepared to be bullied by their whips into a spiral of short-termism. They had no idea about how to get government departments to do what they are supposed to.

They didn't get selected for their grasp of public administration, after all. They were chosen for their compliance. And when a headline kept them awake, they arrived at work the next morning ready to add yet another ropey reflexive patch to bad legislation. Instead of fewer, better, bills, before Parliament, we had more and more worthless legislation that is often being replaced on the floor of the House of Commons before it even reached the statute books. Rigged selection processes. Low-grade MPs. A highly-centralised politics of diktat.

Those four male candidates that we're looking at currently all represent this highly reflexive and short-termist approach to politics, and it's an approach that has been nurtured - not challenged - by this form of party management that seeks to always avoid challenges, terrified that the media that will portray us as disunited.

This over-stated fear, and our response to it as a party - has had unintended side-effects. Those four blokes need to face what Don calls 'reality-based soft-left arguments'. Arguments that prioritise the need to build the case for collective action - surely the defining mission of a Labour movement?

It would be very hard to demonstrate that the four male candidates in this election - lifted from a narrow social and cultural clique - are in sync with the vast majority of the party and they are the product of a party that has always and only been obsessed with short-term presentation and tactical - instead of strategic - social democratic politics.

I don't buy the idea that electoral liability and left-ish are always the same thing, indeed there's a strong case now that Labour's inability to speak human is the product of this lack of internal discussion. Diane Abbott's inclusion in the race offers the possibility (not the certainty - I'll concede that) of this happening. Either way, without it, we're in trouble.

*The paras following this point are a bit of a cut-and-paste job from an older post here.