Home > General Politics > CoML: Animal Rights and odd bedfellows

CoML: Animal Rights and odd bedfellows

Convention on Modern LibertyI hope to write a few articles discussing different aspects of the Convention on Modern Liberty, beginning with the bedfellows we seem to have chosen – some of which rather dislike one another. My recent copy of SchNEWS (no. 666, issued on Friday 13th February!) discusses the Convention in none-too-flattering terms. Henry Porter, co-organiser, remarked that none of the participants wish to get rid of the State, but SchNEWS points out that actually many of the people bearing the brunt of the anti-liberties legislation are anti-statist – from animal liberationists to anti-militarists to no-borders activists.

While I don’t really share the views of SchNEWS, I think the tone in which it addresses the CoML is important. I think it reflects something of a disconnect between ‘grassroots’ activists and the ‘personalities’ who will be organising and no doubt dominating the Convention. We’re all concerned with the state of civil liberties, but many of us aren’t really comfortable taking part in an event a large part of which seems geared towards flattering the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, who headline a lot of the sessions.

In SchNEWS’ case, one of the issues is that the Countryside Alliance are co-sponsors of the event. Issues of hunting and animal cruelty cast me in the unlikely mould of a moderate. Some of the stunts pulled by the Stop Huntingdom Animal Cruelty group irritate me. They seem unwilling to accept, despite evidence and while presenting flawed evidence of their own – backed by the word of arts graduates rather than scientists – that some degree of animal testing is an important tool in pursuing cures for various human ailments.

Our good friend over at Directionless Bones recently carried a post suggesting that arguments based around human health were somewhat hypocritical, since governments and companies are perfectly prepared to ignore human health issues which can be addressed. Domestic homelessness, substance abuse, not to mention the vast tracts of the world without clean water. The companies are built around the very market mechanisms to which I am opposed, but that is not a reason to discontinue work which saves lives.

All research – on animals or not – is based around that mechanism, until we have a movement of such cogency and power that will act to overthrow it. Even then, clean drinking water, universally available contraceptives and so forth won’t cure Parkinsons or other diseases.

Similarly, on the other side, I have always quite enjoyed hunting. Tracking down rabbits or shooting woodpigeon with an air rifle, out in the middle of nowhere, is a great way to get some fresh air. You can learn things about cooking – over campfires or at home – and about the countryside, including how to survive. Nevertheless, the site of a pack of dogs chasing down a fox, followed by various humans armed with shotguns makes something in me rebel. Neither a sport nor a learning experience.

I would not for a moment suggest that each region shouldn’t control the populations of foxes and badgers, in the same way that they control the population of rabbits – by killing them. This does not require dogs, however; it simply requires someone to be paid to manage the land.

You might ask, what has any of this to do with civil liberties? On the one hand, there are some draconian sentences being handed down to animal rights activists. The incident with the Indymedia servers and the arrest of their internet host on Monday rankles with my sense of fair play and demonstrates the lengths to which the police will go, with some of their new powers. Cases where the police unlawfully stop people exercising their right to protest aren’t unusual – nor, seemingly, is conspiracy amongst Police officers themselves.

Countryside Alliance, on the other hand, is hoping to get the Hunting Act repealed by the next Parliament. Its Liberty and Livelihood march attracted some four hundred thousand people in 2002; bound up in this march was a perception that the Hunting Act was an example of a government overstepping its bounds. Slogans such as “I love my country, I fear my government” were to be seen on the march, as were slogans inviting preference for British goods or bewailing the languishing state of the countryside versus the cities of England.

It says something when both animal liberationists – many of whom are also involved with organisations such as the League Against Cruel Sports – and pro-hunting lobbyists can get on the same bandwagon. However, I’m very firmly of the opinion that the alignment of the Countryside Alliance with the Convention on Modern Liberties is something of a danger signal. The Countryside Alliance might also be seen as a political lobbying group for private landowners, rural businesses against tax and for less restrictive planning laws.

Why would we jump into bed with this group? Similarly, why would we allow Conservatives to take stands at a Convention on Modern Liberties? David Cameron has already admitted, on numerous occasions, that he will not be seeking to overturn a lot of the government’s legislation – and indeed, it was the Thatcher government where the trend of legislating for every tabloid headline truly started. Equally, the drive for tougher sentencing and reduced judicial discretion has often come from the Conservative benches.

Or the media. Every time a judge finds something redeeming about a rapist or a drunk driver and reduces his sentence accordingly, the tabloids scream. Every time there appears a chance someone charged with terrorism might be coming home from Guantanamo, the newspapers jump all over it…and from there it’s only a short trip to “Soft Touch Britain” rhetoric. These pressures will not disappear with a Conservative government – however much people like Paul Kingsnorth and other liberals may have fallen in love with the idea.

These are all themes I’ve mentioned before, but they’re thrown into stark relief by the attitude of some activist groups to the Convention. What the Convention is not is a programme of direct action – and that is significant. In our search for a broad coalition on civil liberties, first of all we’ve forgotten that the fight is not purely ideological. We’ve forgotten the database economy – as Unity argues in a piece of superb clarity. All the bloggerati and lobbying of pro-liberties groups won’t combine to equal Tesco, Sainsbury and the other giants who benefit.

Conservatives are just as in hock to these groups as Labour. For all that Henry Porter might pontificate about Labour MPs using their time on an important committee to read letters instead of pay attention to critiques of Labour policy, it was a Liberal government who first introduced the authoritarian Official Secrets Act, rushed through in a sparsely populated chamber, one Friday afternoon. All of this should remind us that it is not simply one party that should be distrusted, it is the whole mechanism of politics on which those parties stand.

A Convention on Modern Liberty that focusses on the main parties is going to fail because it will be blind to this crucial issue. For the same reason, any answer which is focussed on voting out those MPs who don’t stand up for civil liberties is bound to fail also. It simply pushes people towards sham alternatives. Even if we’re talking about the Liberal Democrats, some of whom have good records on civil liberties, as an ‘alternative’ they aren’t going to be in a position to have much of an effect for quite some time.

So instead of pushing people towards a parliamentary answer, which remains at all times trapped within the logic of a media and business lobbyists who disdain liberties – one for the purposes of whipping up moral frenzy and the other for a quick buck – why don’t we begin building an activist response to the issue? This may not overturn the Coroners and Justice Bill immediately, but, on the other hand, it might begin to challenge that very logic which we’re working against.

Strand one would involve harassing MPs. A sufficiently well organised and funded campaign could start by sending lots of letters to them, especially to their home address, to remind them just how much we hate spam; it could arrange protests outside their constituency offices whenever their surgery hours are scheduled, whenever votes are coming up. Strand two could network local government workers, health workers and others involved in creating our uber database to resist implementation of the laws passed.

Our coup de grace would be, in the case of the Coroners and Justice Bill, to arrange a boycott by the Coroner’ Society of England and Wales, especially if this could be backed by well-funded legal challenges every time the government tried to use its new-found powers. Getting prominent figures on board is an important step in creating the credibility necessary to exert influence over professional bodies, trades unions and other groups we might need in a bid to stop the implementation of laws.

I suspect an added bonus to such an approach – targeting MPs at home, organising the public sector and getting bodies like the BMA or Coroners’ Society to go along with us – would be a separation of wheat of chaff in respect of which parliamentarians climb on board. Many would probably be alienated by any potential campaign of direct action or civil disobedience – the latter of which is particularly relevant in the case of laws clamping down on our rights of protest and dissent. Photographing police is one example of such a campaign.

Yet we should welcome this. If we can keep out the opportunists, it’ll make the political statement of that campaign all the stronger. To broaden our appeal, we shouldn’t be afraid to take a leaf out of the Countryside Alliance’s book. It went from being a primarily pro-hunting organisation to attempting to speak on behalf of rural England, on every grievance that could be thought of. Our equivalent would be generalising from infringement of liberties to linking underfunding of public services with wasteful and invasive measures such as ID cards.

That would be an especially powerful weapon, since local government workers will be called to implement many of the new plans – like Councils that will soon be snooping on calls and emails. With those workers on our side, we have a powerful bargaining chip which no number of media whores and lobbyists will equal. More importantly, organising in this manner dictates a ground-up method, rather than “interested individuals” being invited to take part in a day’s event or longer campaign. Accountability, if we’re to seek it in government, should also be a watchword for our campaign on modern liberties.

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Categories: General Politics
  1. Chris Gale
    February 16, 2009 at 6:19 am
  2. February 16, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Thank you for your input, Chris – it was actually remiss of me not to check out your site on the issue.

    Anyway, thank you for flagging up the role of the Countryside Alliance’s forebears in supporting the Criminal Justice Act, and in the introduction of aggravated trespass.

    Though, I would in turn stress that the Convention probably IS more than a front for the barbarous. Most people probably won’t be there for the animal rights issues.

  3. February 16, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    I’m not a liberal, and I haven’t ‘fallen in love’ with the idea of a Tory government. But other than that, you’ve got me bang to rights.

    This post just demonstrates to me how disconnected the Labour party – even the so-called ‘grassroots’ – are from the country. If the best you can do in response to the forthcoming Convention is to whine about some Tories and CA folk being involved … well, words fail me. Doubtless the Convention will be something of a talking shop, but the whole point of it, as I understand, is precisely to bring together groups who otherwise might not talk to each other, in response to a wide and deep threat posed to civil liberties by this dire Labour government.

    I remember campaigning against the Tories’ illiberal Criminal Justice Bill back in ’95. Two years later I voted Labour because I believed they would be less illiberal, more tolerant and more enamoured of freedom.

    Big mistake, clearly. This has been the most illiberal government for generations – your nemesis the Evil Thatch included (for my money it has been more right wing than hers too.)I can’t wait for it to be swept away as Major was in 97. I will join the parties in the streets.

    This is not because I want a Tory government – I don’t – nor because I expect the Tories to be liberal – I don’t. It’s because I can’t see them being worse. And if they follow through on their promise to scrap ID cards they may even be better. Meanwhile, your lot will have a generation in the political wilderness to try and work out why scrapping in a decade what people fought for for centuries is a bad idea.

  4. February 16, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Well, forgive me if I don’t join the rejoicing. None of what you have said indicates to me why it’s a good thing to be encouraging the Lib Dems and the Tories to speak to each other on this issue. Perhaps the Tories will repeal some of NuLab’s laws…but will the ‘some’ really justify the host of other measures the Tories are likely to jump at the chance to implement?

    The problem with the narrative about civil liberties is that it’s not the only narrative. It’s important – yes, of course – but there are other liberties too, which the Tories will happily sweep away. The privatisation of education will continue apace; social mobility will continue to decline and wealth disparities to increase. These things are important because use of the more formal liberties often depends on them.

    If we manage to get rid of the ID cards, what use will it be if millions of people still can’t get decent housing, or if the only people to use the subsequent liberties of protest are the very narrow cliques that set up things like the CoML?

    Finally, I don’t why you refer to me as “so-called ‘grassroots'”, but if you are not a liberal, what are you? You’re not a socialist, judging by your dilettante flirtations in One No, Many Yeses and you don’t seem to be a Conservative. Similarly, in your ode to the English countryside, you have that maundering, semi spiritual nationalism common to liberals.

    So forgive me if I judge you a liberal.

  5. February 16, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    What am I? Well, if you really need labels with which to ‘judge’, I would describe myself as a radical in the English tradition. For the common man (and woman), suspicious of elites and with a healthy disrespect for both state and corporation. Which is why I have an especial disrespect for Labour, which currently combines the worst aspects of both. I’m also an English nationalist and an environmentalist, both of which I would rather be, any day of the week, than a neoliberal in social democrats’ clothes: the guise your beloved Labour party has been posing in for so long.

    As for the enemies of the Labour state talking to each other … you still don’t get it, do you? Everyone is talking to each other about how to terminate the life of this government in as short a time as possible. They’re desperate. Loss of liberty is hardly the only problem they’ve got thanks to Brown and co.

    “The privatisation of education will continue apace; social mobility will continue to decline and wealth disparities to increase…”

    There you are: hoist with your own petard! Since all these things are already happening, as a direct result of 12 years of Labour government, it’s not an especially convincing argument, is it? The Tories may well CONTINUE the privatisation of health and education, the yawning wealth gap, the lining of capital’s pockets, the destruction of local culture and economies, the ravaging of the environment in the name of growth … but I find it very hard to imagine them making it any worse than your lot have already made it. Neither, sadly for you, can anybody else. Hell, even the Scots have deserted you!

  6. February 16, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    I don’t know who this plural “you” that you’re using refers to. If you have actually stopped to read anything of mine, you’d realise that this Labour government has no bigger critic than me.

    My point above is that the Liberals, Tories and Labour can’t offer a wand we’ll magically wave to fix the situation. Voting for parliamentarians isn’t going to change the ceaseless eroding of our liberties; a process which has been ongoing since the early 20th century.

    As for being hoisted on my own petard, I’m not denying the problems with Labour – seriously. But the Tories are worse. And as I mentioned in the article above, the paradigm for the sort of behaviour we’re witnessing was set by Thatcher. In that, Blair and Brown are both Thatcherites – but then that’s now so commonly thought it’s a cliché.

    This is why my alternative bypasses the parliamentary groups except to create an oppositional relationship between an activist campaign and these parliamentary groups. One would have thought that a “Radical in the English tradition” might understand such a thing – whether from the point of view of the Levellers or the Chartists and so forth, all of which fought parliament for their own rights and liberties.

  7. February 17, 2009 at 8:54 am

    … all of which is precisely what the Convention is supposed to bring together: people from and from outside the parliamentary groups, to create a broad coalition in support of liberty and freedom. It’s the best chance your going to get to put your money where your mouth is – but, as you’ve made clear here and elsewhere, your real agenda is that ‘Tories are the enemy’ and you’re not going to talk to any parliamentarians who aren’t paid up members of the Labour party.

    I can’t take seriously anyone who claims to be anti-authoritarian or radical in any way who is still a member of the Labour party. Sorry. If there’s an enemy of freedom, equality and liberty in this country at the moment it is this government, and anyone prepared to get together to highlight that is worth speaking to, with the obvious exceptions (fascists of all colours, etc)

    If your most convincing reaction to criticism is simply to say ‘the Tories will be worse’, then you don’t have much to offer. Have a pop at the Convention if you like, but at least they’re doing something other than whingeing on blogs about how awful the Miners Strike was (how old were you back then …?)

    But then what would I know? I’m just a pillock.

  8. February 17, 2009 at 9:34 am

    You are a pillock, as your argument clearly makes out. You have neither read what I am actually advocating – beyond my ‘pop’ at the convention, nor do you have any understanding about what the Labour Party is. Your attitude is like equating all Tories with Monday Clubbers. I’m a Marxist and so far to the Left, I could make a stab at painting them as such, but my views are more nuanced. Similarly all Labourites are not New Labourites.

    Re-read my article and arguments for the following points.

    1. Some Liberal MPs are on our side, i.e. have a good voting record.
    2. The Tories, New Labour and the Liberals can’t help us anyway.
    3. The Tories, when in government, will be subject to the same pressures as NL.

    Now, please, where have I suggested that I’ll not talk to any parliamentarian who is not a paid up member of Labour? If my ‘real agenda’ seems like it is to show the Tories up as the enemy, well, the Tories are the enemy – but they are the enemy because a) they can’t help us and b) it’ll be healthier for an activist movement to have independence, so that WHEN they don’t help us, we’re ready to swing into action.

    Finally, with your remarks about the Miners’ Strike, and your comment on my age, you come remarkably close to trollish behaviour. I wasn’t complaining about the Miners’ strike. I was drawing an analogy. I suggest you look the concept up in the dictionary.

  9. February 17, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Ah, this is fun, and will almost certainly get a good write up in my next interblogging league review.

    Paul K, I have to agree with Dave that your understanding of what the Labour party is remains several degrees to the unnuanced of nuanced. Just for example, I’m an ageing Labour councillor in the middle of nowhere who does not condone the shift to the neoliberal of the national party, but see it all in broader Marxian terms of the (temporary without being determinist) hegemony of capitalism, whereby the continued and growing infringement of ‘civil liberties’ is all a part of the state’s support for capital accumulation. As such, I try, alongside the likes of young, clever firebrands like Dave to create the potential for different, socialist approach within the Labour party, while respecting the efforts of others who, for tactical or emotional reasons, choose to operate outside of the Labour party. And there are a lot of us – currently pretty effectively subjugated by the national party but perhaps not always so. For the evidence of this, try the pretty straightforward studies of Labour member attitudes carried out by Paul Whiteley and Patrick Syed (though the most recent one is a bit dated now, I accept).

    As for Dave’s key point – which I’d summarise, more clumsily than he ever does, that the very materiality of inequality and power imbalances need to be challenged and beaten before a) a new post-neoliberal conception of ‘freedom’/’liberty’ can be established b) actual ‘civil liberties’ in the proper Habermasian ‘ideal speech’ sense can be established, here again I agree with Dave.

    Taking this a little further, our joint contention would (I think) that your current ‘subject position’ as radical democrat or whatever actually lacks intellectual coherence because it does not address the core of the issue – power and material imbalances.

    Yes, of course I admire you for sitting in a tree, just as I’m sure you admire me for being battered by truncheons at Wapping in defence of a civil-liberty-focused-press-that-we-lost, but the activity we all engage in needs to be underpinned by a sounder epistemological foundation than I contend you currently have, and I suggest that in some ways the ‘radicalism’ that you construe, where all parties can come together to agree the quasi-legal veneer of things but not to bash out the material fundamentals, is actually counter-productive in the longer term though it feels good now and is well-meaning. For Dave’s initial critique of this of the subject position you espouse (I contend) see his posts on a) Radical minorities b) at a more theoretical level, his review of Laclau and Mouffe (and my follow up if you really get into it).

    True, I am second guessing much of what you think (and unthinkingly assume) and I have not read your stuff, including Real England (though if you send me a free copy I will).

    I do not do ‘pillock-calling’ like Dave, and am much more prepared, with the unhappy levels of sometimes undue tolerance that great age brings, to value the well-meaningness over and above the well-directedness. So no, I disagree with Dave that you are a pillock, but hope you’ll evidence it by engaging more closely with Dave’s argument than you currently appear to be doing. Action may speak louder than words, but it’s good if it’s the right action (cf. Tony Blair and his acknowledgement he got Iraq wrong, but with the defence that he really thought he was right).

    Oh, and then join the Labour party. You might like it.

  10. February 17, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Thank you Paul for at least having some common decency. Though I would take issue with your views on the alleged sophistication of Dave’s political views. If he or you are surprised by my intemperate response, then you would be advised not to mention me insultingly and inaccurately in your blog posts.

    I am quite prepared to admit to not having a ‘nuanced’ insiders’ view of Labour politics, though I come across plenty of Labour people as I do the rounds. What I do have is a view on what the Labour party DOES, at both national and local levels. I have met many well-meaning local Labour people who can’t bring themselves to leave the party out of loyalty to what it used to be. I can understand that, but it is beyond me how anyone who considers themselves a ‘Marxist’ can be a member of what is now clearly an unashamed party of capital.

    As for ‘epistemological foundations’ – your reply is thick on the theoretical, Paul, but the point here is that there is an urgency to the freedom agenda. Something needs to be done about the constant erosion of personal liberties by this Labour government. The Convention, though it may not be ideal and is not everything, is at least doing something. Nobody else is.

    Where is the left on this? Where is your Marxist response? Who is organising elsewhere? There is a deafening silence. Perhaps you should worry less about theoretical frameworks and more about who has the right to read your emails and film you in the street.

    Dave – there’s no point in you getting huffy. If you’re going to chuck insults around like a schoolboy, you’re going to get schoolboy responses.

    You say ‘the Tories can’t help us.’ Well,they helped us by voting against 42 day detention. They are helping us by standing up against ID cards. On the one hand you claim not to be instinctively tribal, then you reiterate that ‘Tories are the enemy’. Yes, they will be subject to the same pressures in government, and may even do the same things. But they may not. And the Tories are at least talking – sometimes robustly – about liberty. Labour has contempt for it. You may believe you can change this within your chosen party – and good luck to you – but sneering at those who try to tackle an immediate problem in an immediate way is not helpful or constructive.

    Your comment about the miners’ strike deserved the response it got. The miner’s strike was over a quarter of a century ago! It’s no better a guide to how today’s Tory’s will act than Michael Foot’s behaviour was to what Gordon brown’s will be.

    Misty-eyed views are not a helpful guide to where we are, whether of Tory or Labour. You are right that both main parties are implicated in the erosion of liberty. But we are where we are. If you can demonstrate that Labour have not been the most illiberal government of the last half century, I will be interested to see your arguments. But I doubt you can.

  11. February 17, 2009 at 11:28 am

    It’s not part of my argument to demonstrate that, and none of my thesis require me to argue that Labour hasn’t been ‘the most illiberal government of the last half century’. I’m not huffy, I’m just pointing out, step by step, how you are attempting to straw man my argument.

    I agree, misty-eyed views are not a helpful guide to where we are – but my contention in these last few comments has been that it is you presenting this misty-eyed fantasy world where the Lib-Dems and Tories will come together to destroy the NuLab menace, followed by dancing in the streets as tyranny is overthrown. If that’s not a school boyish, four legs good, two legs bad view of the world, I don’t know what is.

    The only point, so far, where you’ve engaged with my argument has been to declare how actions a quarter century ago are no guide to actions today. I beg to differ; the history of politics is the history of ideological evolution in a specific context of materiality and power, as Paul said to you – and which you dismissed as theory.

    Just so was Jim Callaghan’s government the first turn towards Labour monetarism, just so are the Tories of 25 years ago, or of Major’s era, the Tories of today. David Cameron may only recently have arrived in parliament, but the people standing behind him didn’t. David Davis, Michael Howard (!), Ken Clarke, William Hague and so on and so forth.

    On the subject of 42 days, so quickly have we forgotten just how perfidious the Tories are, in our rush to be courted. Labour too, by the way. Prior to the general election, the Tories promised to abolish top-up fees, hoping to secure a bigger proportion of the 18-24 vote. Do you think they really would have? With so many elements of their own party talking about abolishing the cap altogether, including their former education spokesman, Boris Johnson?

    Cameron himself has stated that he will not repeal a lot of New Lab legislation. So the liberty which the Tories espouse is largely ephemeral. Moreover, whatever the Tories do on the headline issues, such as ID cards, you can bet that if faced with a genuinely popular and dangerous activist movement opposed to them, Tories will never shrink from cracking heads.

    We didn’t learn that twenty five years ago, we learned it a hundred and seventy years ago. Oh, they’ll regret that the protestors we causing damage to businesses and so forth, they may be armed with a high court injunction, but that will not change the fact that they’ll be one more government that will erode our liberties, if it sees favourable headlines as a result.

    You may have supported Labour in 1997, but you obviously haven’t learned the lessons of the last ten years. The lessons aren’t “don’t vote for Labour”; Labour campaigned against the privatisation of education, then did it themselves, even more perniciously.

    The lesson is: unless an active, political movement, supported by you interested media types and backed by trades unions and other organisations with their base in the working classm, exists to oppose the political elite (which you’ve claimed a suspicion of), then that political elite doesn’t give a fig what it promises.

    A warning bell for the Tories should be given in that most have been absent from the votes on much illiberal legislation, outside of the headline votes. Ever wonder why?

  12. February 17, 2009 at 11:38 am

    I may be mistaken but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned you in a blog post, have I? Apologies if I have, have forgotten, and insulted you.

    I stay (and I’ve not been in very long) in the Labour party because:

    a) The party needs people like me, to argue hard from within, if it is to remain a socialist force for the future. The jury is out on that one of course (and I won’t bore you with the details of the newly emergent Labour representation Committee (mark 2006) as a force for such socialist change from within) and if it doesn’t work in time then I’ll leave and do other things instead, but at the moment I think there is tactical sense in remaining within.

    b) The Labour party is not all national stuff. i’m a local councillor, and in my own small way, I seek to tackle injustices thrown at my constituents (especially the skint ones) by my rampantly obnoxious Tory Council. No, my actions won’t change the whole world, but they are important to a finite number of people nonetheless, who appreciate the fact that I am an utterly bolshie bastard who chooses to use the legitimacy of his Labour party councillor ticket to be a bolshie bastard on their behalf. See my blog for bolshiness towards the local Tory regime, and how I also seek to extrapolate the very local to the more general (and yes, at times unashamedly theoretical because I came to proper learning late in life and value it for what theory has, I assure you, given me in my reflexive understanding of practice).

    I’m actually quietly saddened that you, clearly an intelligent and committed-to-stuff bloke, should dismiss the notion of epistemological foundations with such disdain.

    For real action that Dave and I have been involved in, see his stuff on the Left New Media Forum and try not to dismiss that, albeit it’s early days with it, is ‘at least doing something’. Yes, its primary focus as it gets going is likely to be around worker struggle/anti-capitalism etc, but that comes from the epistemological foundations I mentioned above, and the Forum is open to a ‘broader church’ of subject positions and will provide the infrastructural and financial support (initially from fundraising bids to sympathetic foundations) for people who want to promulgate ‘anti-Labour’ views on the specific of civil liberties. So, yes, it’s very real and it’s very now and it’s very supported by people like John McDonnell and Jeremy dear (our referees for the funding applications).

  13. February 17, 2009 at 11:44 am

    I think he was referring to my own mention of him, and possibly that of Don Paskini, when he talks about mentioning him inaccurately. I actually think I have him bang to rights, judging by his comments hitherto.

  14. February 17, 2009 at 11:57 am

    So Paul K thinks I’m Don Paskini? I’m actually quite flattered. Just don’t tell Don Paskini. Certainly I visit your blog and Don’s for lessons in being wonderfully and entertainingly rude to people, which is the key joy of the blogosphere (as Tom’s said somewhere, in person I’m sure the banter would be much more polite). And I’d hide under the table.

    Paul K – at least Dave hasn’t accused you of intellectual masturbation, though it’s possible he’s just warming up this morning.

  15. February 17, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Hi Paul (C),

    You can be Don Paskini if I can be Bickerstaffe Record :)

  16. February 17, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Sorry Paul, I didn’t mean to sound as if I was accusing you of name-calling (or of being someone else). Your responses make sense to me, and your reasoning seems sound; though obviously you have a much more optimistic view of the future of the Labour party than me.

    Dave – if you think you’ve got me ‘bang to rights’, I fear you haven’t been listening. I didn’t need your long screed on the illiberality of the Tories; it’s taken as read. I’m only surprised that you don’t draw the obvious conclusion from your argument: that this is a problem with the British establishment, whoever happens to be running it.

    I think your vision of a strong, activist base holding the government’s feet to the fire is charming but naive. It’s never happened, in living memory, and it certainly won’t happen now. There’s barely a working class in Britain any more, let alone an organised one.

    Any party that vies seriosuly for political power in Britain is interested in cracking heads. Nonetheless, if we’re going to get into the evolution of political parties, one could equally well argue that a genuine conservative (of which there are one or two left in the Tory party, amongst all the neoliberals, and who arguably may be re-emerging as a force) has more of a commitment to the personal liberty of the individual than a genuine socialist; certainly in the British context.

    Tory and Labour both prove authoritarian when in government; but I can see no reason, epistemological or otherwise, to suppose that the Tory party currently would be worse than Labour. My point about the miners’ strike example was that if the best you can come up with to convince me otherwise is a one-off industrial dispute which happened when I was 11, then … well, I remain unconvinced. Parties change. Labour has changed, radically, form a socialist, or at least socially democratic party, to a neoliberal one. The Tories changed radically when they elected Thatcher as leader, from a bunch of Keynesian conservatives to, er, another bunch of neoliberals. Parties change as times change, especially parties as opportunistic as the Tories.

    In fact, I remain unconvinced by British politics as a whole. The whole shabby spectacle of elites vying for power is recognised as a joke by most people, and rightly so. As I explored in my first book, the global market in any case renders any genuinely radical political project null and void, whether they are attempted in the UK of South Africa.

    If you want to believe, against all the evidence that I can see, that a popular working class movement is some day going to arise and elect a radical Labour government which will actually fulfill its promises rather than kowtow to capital, then I admire your optimism, but I don’t share it. It sounds to me like the ex post-facto rationalisation of tribalism rather than a glimpse into political realities.

    I agree with Paul that Labour councillors at local level can do some good things (as well as some very bad ones; where I live the Labour councillors are largely venal and spineless, and spend most of their time rolling over in front of corporate developers). But for a genuine radical, there have to be better places to be.

  17. February 17, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    I’m not interested in signing you up to the Labour Party, Paul. Again, this blog has a long history of advocating co-operation between the Labour Left and whatever Left exists outside of Labour. I’m a member of the Labour Representation Committee, which organises such co-operation and which was a key player in the Convention of the Left that was set up to run almost as an alternative to the last Labour Party conference.

    I’m not even going to comment on this notion of me wishing to elect a ‘radical Labour government’…it makes me wonder if you’ve been reading anything I’ve said.

    To move to more substantive issues:

    First of all, I have pointed out that the case of liberties is a problem with the British ‘establishment’. I haven’t used that word ‘establishment’ because the British establishment is not limited to people, or structures of power. It has an ideological element as well, which I don’t think the word adequately conveys.

    Take the next step, however. Your next step is to deny that anything can be done. My next step is to suggest what has to be done, the upshot being there is no alternative (oh irony of ironies!). Either we build the activist movement you sneer at as being naive or we (and who that we is, I’ll come to in a moment) remain forever the pawns of these political elites, the vagaries of global capitalism and the corresponding ideology and intellectual fads which tie those things together.

    It is the working class which much build that movement. I don’t know how you can maintain that there is no working class, unless you are using a really bastardised version of the term to mean ‘manual’ or ‘unskilled’ labour, which has declined as deindustrialisation has progressed. I’m using it (what else?) in the Marxist sense of: those people who create surplus value but do not control the uses to which it is put. In that sense there are more of us than ever.

    We are disorganised – but we are disorganised as the result of a concrete, historical battle. One part of that was the Miners’ strike, but it goes far beyond that of course – and extends even to the era of ‘consensus’ politics between these so-called Keynsian Conservatives and their Labour equivalents. The reason the Miners’ strike looms so large in labour history is that it was a key turning point.

    Many historians use that phrase of it, but I don’t mean it as some form of irreversible epoch-change, such as the invention of the telephone. It’s not a case of once-done-you-can’t-go-back. Formally speaking we can’t change the past, but we can rebuild the movement that was involved in the struggles of the 1980s (which went far beyond the Miners) and fight new battles. One of those battles will be about our liberties.

    Your accusations of ex post facto rationalisation strike me as rather absurd. I’m not advocating a defence of the Labour Party; indeed, I’ve often clashed with fellow members about the realities of our chances of conquering the Party using internal structures which are basically set up to obfuscate any sort of democratic will of the active membership, whether by use of plebiscites, or union bloc votes or depriving Conference of its former powers.

    The Labour Party is a fact of history; if it is lost, it is lost. I have no emotional attachment to it and frankly I’d rather not be in the same party as James Purnell. I am not convinced it is lost while there is such a large movement of working class activists and the remnants of the organised working class based around the LRC, which I mentioned earlier.

    With this, we begin to get off the original point. My contention was not that the Tories will necessarily be worse – although they could be, we have no idea what events the future holds for terrorist attacks on this nation, plus corresponding media whipping up of public outrage etc. My contention is that building a movement to change decisively our situation in regard to civil liberties is harmed by being so close to the Conservatives, and to a lesser extent the Lib Dems.

    This I have addressed still further in the article above entitled “Convention on Modern Liberties: a brief reply”.

  18. Sam
    February 20, 2009 at 8:50 am

    “see it all in broader Marxian terms of the (temporary without being determinist) hegemony of capitalism,”

    Err, you’re a bit thick to be in Labour then aren’t you? Or do you believe it is constructive to be in a party where 99.99% of the other members think you’re talking absolute bollocks?

    Perhaps you know you couldn’t get elected as a member of any of the far-left parties that actually share your views. How does “power before principle” fit into your Marxian worldview, then?

  19. February 20, 2009 at 9:42 am

    And you know 99.99% of Labour members do you?

  20. Sam
    February 20, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Go on, smug face, how many of them are Marxists? And read your intolerably long-winded rants on how you justify your membership of the corrupt war-mongering privatising Labour party with your faux-Marxian analysis?

  21. February 20, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Well, organised within Labour, there’s the AWL, the IMT and other alphabet-soup groups. Then there’s a large number of independent-minded Marxists who are members of Labour via the Labour Representation Committee.

    As for who reads my blog, I care why? Though you’d be surprised; I’ve gone to different constituency and wider Labour meetings and been approached by people who read and enjoy this blog – even if they don’t comment.

  22. Sam
    February 20, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    OK, and can you quantify the influence any of your alphabetty-spaghetti groups and your piddling LRC have had on government policy? You are in government after all. Or do you treat it all as one intellectual exercise, the revolution is just around the corner, this is all fits into your bizarre Marxist teleological trajectory of the hegemonic substructure blah blah blah snore snore snore?

  23. February 20, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    I don’t have to quantify anything; you said 99.99% of Labour members think Marxists are talking bollocks. You are wrong, since more than 0.01% of the Labour Party is Marxist, and a greater percentage than simply the Marxists listen to Marxian-influenced commentary.

    This also ignores that whatever remains of the Communist Party is essentially an appendage of Labour. Not that this is something to be proud of, I’m just pointing out that you can stuff your hyperbole up your arse.

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