Archive for October, 2009

Exclusive: third candidate in running for Euro presidency

October 31, 2009 1 comment

imagesIn an interview with a prominent politician which is likely rock senior establishment figures within and beyond the European Union, Though Cowards Flinch (TCF) can exclusively reveal that a third candidate has expressed an interest in being invited to express an interest in entering the race to become European president.

The news comes as senior officials at the EU express confidence that Vaclav Klaus will ratify the Lisbon Treaty on behalf of Poland, despite David Cameron’s last minute antics, and that the Treaty will come into force, thus opening the way for the appointment of a first permanent president.

To date, only ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and current prime minister of Luxembourg,  Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured), have expressed interest in the not-yet-job, although Tony Blair has been careful to do so by not expressing an interest.

Yesterday, however, our reporters caught up with famous blogger and savvy politician Cllr Paul Cotterill (PC), and here we report on what was said:

TCF: As you are very wise, can we ask your views on the European presidency?

PC: Certainly, I’m happy to condescend to you with a few thoughts.  First though, we need to be clear on what European presidency you’re talking about?

TCF: Erm, the EU one?

PC: Ah well, there are three of those, if we assume full ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, and if we ignore for interviewing convenience the various other presidencies of the General Court, the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors and so on. 

First there is the presidency of the Commission, and then there’s the presidency of the European parliament, the functions and roles of which are set out in the consolidated verion of the Lisbon Treaty freely availble on the world wide web

The other presidency, to which I think you may be referring in the context of the current widespread media coverage, is the presidency of the European Council.  This presidency will be a two and a half year term, reneweable once.  The President of the Council is chosen by the 25 heads of state within the EU, thus meaning that the future of Europe can effectively be determined by 13 people in smart suits acting in unison over a big dinner.

The ramifications for this are enormous, clearly, and include the possibility of stupendously luxurious showers being installed at massive expense and then not used in many large buildings across Europe to which ordinary people have no access.

The new President of the Council does not need to be anybody with an electoral mandate at all, the only requirement in fact being that s/he does NOT hold national office (Article 15, para .6).  This enables the 25 ministers to appoint absolutely anyone to the office, including me, for example.

TCF: That’s very interesting, and you are very wise.  Is there anything else you’d like to add?

PC:  Well, I can see clearly enough what you are trying to get at there. 

For the record, therefore, I can confirm that while I am not formally expressing an interest in the presidency, my strong and highly  hounourable  sense of public duty would of course mean I would feel bound to listen to any public calls for my candidature;  it would simply not be reasonable to ignore the pleas of several million Europeans for the kind of intellectual authority and leadership that my presidency would bring.

I have set out my stall on what a modern European Union should seek to achieve.   I recognise that this differs markedly from the current capitalist desire to embed further the neo-liberal and anti-democratic principles already set out in the Treaty of Rome, and I recognise that, under my putative presidency, the Lisbon Treaty would in fact most likely be ‘unratified’ in favour of a new Treaty (provisionally the  Treaty of Bickerstaffe) which embeds socialist institutions and operates in favour of the working classes and the disposessed both within Europe and (as a result of my adherence to Kantian principles of cosmopolitan universalism), beoynd its artificial  borders.

Further, my current position as local councillor in one of the ‘lowest’ tiers of local goverrnment in Europe clearly provides legtimacy for my candidature both through my electoral mandate, and as evidence of my willingness to enact properly the principle of subsidiarity which are supposed to be at the heart of the insitutions of Europe, but which are in fact currently siply a sham and are merely a convenient sop to the working public in the context of the continued hegemony of capital.

Clearly, therefore, I would be the choice of the people, if the people had the power to choose the president. 

However, I must stress that, in keeping my normal and well-known unassuming humility, this is not an expression  of interest; it is merely an expression of interest in being asked by the leftwing new media to express an interest at the appropriate point.

TCF: Thank you for your wise words.   TCF supports your non-campaign, and we wish you well.  When this news of your non-candidacy gets out, we believe it will spread like wildfire, and you will be swept to the presidency on a wave of popular sentiment which will crush the asprations of the current non-contenders for the post. Happy, egalitarian and prosperous days will then ensue.

PC: That’ll be nice.

Categories: General Politics

Massie vs Phillips & the trolls

October 30, 2009 Leave a comment

2Just a quickie because I’m up against a deadline and haven’t even got to comments on my own posts yet (later today, honest)……

Alex Massie has tried to persuade some of the Spectator’s flat-earth trolls that his wild-eyed, foam-mouthed colleague Melanie Philips is, on the matter of Andrew Neather’s Evening Standard rantings, about as wrong as a journalist could possibly be about anything.

Judging by the ranting, foaming comments to his post, Massie has failed miserably

He has failed because, although he is at least vaguely sensible (as opposed to Philips, who is not), he couldn’t be bothered to gather any evidence whatsoever to back up his view that immigration policy in the early 2000s was not in fact a big plot to swamp the country with people with different ‘cultures’, heaven forbid.

He has failed because he doesn’t read Though Cowards Flinch, the silly sod.

Alex, over here, mate.  Here’s the evidence.  Buy us a pint sometime.

ps.  We also emailed Jack Straw.  No reply.  No surprise.  Does no-one want free help?

Categories: General Politics

Owen Jones’ Five Point Plan and our Left New Media project

October 30, 2009 14 comments

Owen Jones emailed me last week to ask if I’d look at his article, “Left out of the picture”, which is over at Socialist Unity. Owen describes a basic plan for left-wing reorientation, another Future of the Left-type article, and I figured that the least I could do was to examine what Owen’s suggesting and see how I think it measures up.

Let me begin with this, though. Since the mid-1980s, the Left has been having a debate about why we were beaten. That should emphasize just how traumatic our defeat was, how utterly routed we all were in the face of aggressive neo-liberal reforms, backed by state sanctioned stong arming.

Twenty five years later, the Left is still pretty disorganised but both over- and under-estimating the extent to which this is the case have real dangers. The only way to correct such over- and under-estimation is a hard, historical look at the state of class struggle in the 20th Century UK.

Whilst I understand the dangers of seeming like the pub bore, earnestly wittering on about the same few topics, I cannot overstate how important a sense of proportion is. For example, we might speak of the death of the Labour Party from the grassroots upwards – but we can’t know that this is the case without looking back to see how many people were meeting in constituencies ten, thirty or fifty years ago.

How many workers are on strike, year on year? How have patterns of unionisation and union density shifted and why? What are the dominant types of work and how might this affect our organisational plans? What do full time union staff spend their days doing, while on the union payroll and what might they otherwise be doing, or what are they doing wrong, to leave trades unionism numerically stagnant?

What goes on at Socialist Party, Socialist Workers’ Party and Labour Party branches? What are the dominant forms of activity and how might these be better orientated so as to improve organisation? What do the ‘leaders’ of the Labour Left, like John McDonnell, or the union Left, like Bob Crow, do with the time and resources they have by virtue of their positions?

There is an empirical element of all of our pontifications, on the Left, that is often lacking. I am as guilty of this as anyone – but it can be rectified. It must be rectified if the endless debate on the ‘future of the left’ is ever to bear fruit. So here is my first proposal, which I think runs concurrently with some of the things Owen has suggested. We must have this empirical information and it must be accessible to everyone.

That was the space, as I conceived it, for our attempt at the Left New Media idea under the auspices of John McDonnell MP. Coupled to that, the impressive number of academics tied to socialist political parties, from Professor Callinicos right down the line, must help by directing their time, skill and energy to creating a picture intelligible to the evidence and the theory of socialism, of where we stand and where we might go. All too often it does not feel that this is what is going on.

For it is all very well to say “We need more trades unionists” or “We need more party members” or “Recruit to support X against the Labour bureaucracy!” but we’ve been doing the same thing for years and it evidently hasn’t got us anywhere. Why? Is it because our attempts to organise are isolated and uneven? Are they unsystematic? Basically, what is the problem?

Any Leftist could come up with these questions, which are important. And a facility should exist to help us draw together evidence from all around the UK and synthesize it. This facility does not exist. The knowledge and institutional memory of the organisations of the Left is partial only. This is not step one, a prerequisite. It must be done continually alongside everything else we do, conditioned by our experience of class struggle, or it is useless.

Now, on to Owen’s points, of which there are five.

[1]…All too often the left is preoccupied with issues that appeal to middle class and student activists. Generally speaking, these are things happening thousands of miles away or abstract theoretical questions. We shall never win mass support if these continue to be our obsessions at the expense of issues that actually concern our base. We need to establish a presence in working class communities.

This is something I say all the time. Most recently I said it with regard to the Kent Socialist Students’ meeting on Afghanistan. The working class are concerned about Afghanistan and Iraq. That is pretty clear. Here in the south east, no few people are parents or relatives of soldiers who have been sent to fight. So it’s wrong to proscribe all anti-war work, for example, as something which is happening thousands of miles away and about which only students and the middle class are concerned. There is a clear class element to the war.

However, equally, since we only have a limited number of activists in a given area and a limited amount of time to spend on given campaigns, we must choose carefully what to organise on. Plenty of shops – even those employing several dozen people – are completely un-unionized in Canterbury, for example. Jobs are being threatened by the council, not to mention our posties are out on strike but our student group is not making the argument that, if workers don’t oppose cuts, their jobs are likely next. This demonstrates a disconnect.

This is the trade-off which Owen describes, though again I would emphasize that it’s not so stark as that. A strong anti-war movement has provided support to workers and influenced consciousness – as during the FBU strike, where soldiers had to man the Green Goddesses. I would simply contend, as Owen does, that we need to push both issues of national import, like the war, and issues of local import, like unionization – because these apparent opposites are actually the same thing and will feed off each other if we work them both.

Coming back to my earlier point, however, are we not doing this? We only have sporadic reports from individuals who choose to publish their activities online and our own experience to use as evidence on which to judge. Insufficient data.

Second, we have to start talking about issues of concern to working people that we have not traditionally been comfortable with. Take immigration: it regularly tops opinion polls as one of people’s main worries. We can’t just dismiss this as primitive racism that simply needs to be fought. [...]

Third, the left has ceased trying to appeal to the working class as a whole. All too often we focus almost exclusively on small minorities instead. Part of this is the legacy of the New Left of the 1960s, a movement which essentially felt that the working class had lost its revolutionary potential. They replaced it with oppressed minority groups like ethnic minorities, gays, or even students

Owen is right in that we need to talk about immigration. Yet I don’t really think that we ignore it. The problem is that the proposals of the Left are not simple, and are based off a radical critique of the State and capitalism that is not self-evident. Indeed terms such as “capitalism” have fallen off the radar of Joe Public to the point where leaflets handed out by Socialist groups, which may have been easily intelligible in the 1970s, are not quite so intelligible now.

Here is another issue over which understanding the practice of groups across the UK would be useful. Do we have sites sharing a selection of socialist leaflets, details of what type of activities produce our desired ends? Not really. We simply print stuff off, guillotine it into A5 and hope for the best. Which is fine and dandy, but we need to know that if we put out a message blaming the bosses for trying to import cheap labour, and damage the lives of ALL workers, immigrant or indigenous, that it hits home.

Additionally, an issue like immigration is hard to organise over. We’re not calling for it to be banned, we’re calling for workers to be paid decent wages – all workers. So maybe the problem isn’t at all that our explanations go over the heads of a lot of people, but that standing on the street handing out leaflets is a shitty way to organise. Instead, perhaps, we should be going into workplaces and handing out leaflets to workers directly, with the goal of organising for local negotiations and potentially strikes to improve wages etc.

That way, when somebody says “I want to get those fucking nogs out of here”, we can say “Actually they’re treated shit too, and if they work while you’re on strike, you’re fucked, so why not bring them on board and we’ll all help each other?” We may not convince the most outspoken of anti-immigrationists or win every battle every time, but we’ll make sense to some people – and having some people in each workplace is vital. These are the questions we need to address when talking about how we approach immigration as an issue.

It is my belief that the soft Left shows its true colours over issues like this, where it prefers a touchy-feely approach to simply pointing a metaphorical gun at the head of bosses and demanding money and concessions with menaces, which in turn is likely to bind together all ‘races’ better than all the multicultural guff in the world. Which links to Owen’s third point; we explode the question of focussing on minorities by focussing on issues that confront the whole working class – dissolving identity politics into broader struggle, whilst still recognizing the importance of anti-homophobia battles and so forth.

Fourth, when the left does talk about working class issues, our target audience is generally unionised public sector workers.

Owen is bang on here too. The problem, of course, is that a vast number of private sector workers are not unionised. And they need to be. One of the greatest tricks by General Motors in the US was to declare bankruptcy and then sue to void all the collective bargaining agreements made with unions about things like pensions, wages and so forth. So essentially the company escaped its obligations to the workers who were the lifeblood of the company, both then and for generations past. This is what private companies do to workers.

So why aren’t we pushing for unionisation? Buggered if I know. I don’t understand the inertia. Is it because workers don’t want to listen? Is it because the existing union bureaucracies aren’t actually trying? A lack of information kills this debate dead – and whilst we have a lot of promising trades union sites growing up on the web, and while we have our own experience, and while we can try ourselves to see what works, we’re overstretched as it is trying to fight fifteen other campaigns. So we need to find out what works and target our efforts.

Finally (and perhaps at the root of the problem), the people who make up the left are simply not representative of today’s working class. Most British workers are employed in the service sector. To say these workers are under-represented among the left’s ranks is an understatement to say the least. Put simply: the left has too many people like me.

I feel this problem keenly. Whilst I am technically working class in that I sell my labour for wages, I’ve been to Oxford and it’s like a disfiguring disease – you can really tell. Not to say I’m not personable and good at recruiting, because actually I am. And I don’t talk about Habermasian public spheres and dialectical negations of the negation when I’m knocking on people’s doors. But I’m hardly representative of the concerns of the broader working class – essentially I have to guess what might work.

Owen is right that we need to correct that. Sometimes, actually, I think that the SWP had the correct approach when it ordered some of its cadres to enter certain occupations in order to organise them all the better. This requires a supreme dedication, to give up whatever job you really want to do, in favour of a revolutionary activity in a job you may not be all that bothered about. But maybe this is the sort of thing we need, because full time union organisers and lecturing people on the high street evidently aren’t getting the job done.

Yet to conclude on a key note, I do not know nor can I guess whether these five points make up the primary problems with socialist organisation in the UK. I can see ways to address each of them, and I can see how doing so would improve socialist activism across the country. I can see how doing so would improve our chances of actually emerging victorious from a few fights, or at least being defeated but through each defeat laying the organisational basis for future success. No doubt there are other things beyond Owen’s five point plan.

Personally I feel a bit let down by the Labour Representation Committee, of which Owen is a member, that an organisation with such radical potential to appeal to a large chunk of the socialist Left, not to mention to engage a lot of unionised workers, has been such a dismal failure hitherto. Besides having the only decent parliamentarians in the country, and doing some really good work when it comes to immigrant workers and youth wages and so forth, the LRC is no further on now than it was when I first joined back in 2006/7.

It is entirely possible that this feeling is as a result of not living in London, where the LRC, like most socialist groups, tends to have its strongest base – but the isolation of the regions in British politics is something else that the Left will simply have to overcome – and while people likeVice Chair Susan Press do good works, it’s not nearly enough. Truthfully Owen’s five points should have been in operation years ago, and someone like John McDonnell and his sterling team of assistants should have been holding people’s feet to the fire to get every available individual involved in organising.

I’ll be happy if that is what comes of Owen’s proposals, made as they are a few weeks in advance of the LRC national conference.

Corruption counts

October 30, 2009 4 comments

imagesAs readers will be aware, I don’t care much for the doings of the big Credit Rating Agencies like Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s, what with the rampant corruption and the fact that this corruption has  in no small part been responsible for a massive recession which has seriously damaged the lives and prospects of many millions of people.

 Call me old fashioned, but I’m touchy about that kind of thing.

 So it’s with some added touchiness that I read in the FT:

 ‘In spite of widespread gnashing of teeth over rating agencies’ role in the crisis, both companies are even thought to have increased their fees this year. Furthermore, proposed regulation looks less onerous than first feared. McGraw Hill estimates that regulatory costs, such as more compliance personnel, will be half what it originally thought. Boing.’

Perhaps the additional fees are needed to cover additional cover-up costs.

And to think I used to believe the system might be reformed (see further anger here, plus interesting comments revealing both agreement and some astonishing arrogance).

 Anyway, I hope they get crushed by Kroll.

Categories: General Politics

Robinson on parade (forestalling the Prodiban remix)

October 29, 2009 3 comments

I hope Splinty will forgive me for somewhat (badly) plagiarising his style with the following article, but they say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. So what are we to make of First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson’s demand on Tuesday that the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly must be tied to the abolition of the Parades Commission? Some elements to the whole thing are just surreal. Robinson moved the following motion:

That this House recognises that the right of free assembly and peaceful procession is an intrinsic human right and an important part of the British heritage; acknowledges the cultural significance of parading in Northern Ireland and its tourist potential; regrets the attempts by a minority to interfere with the right to parade peacefully; and accepts that it is a political imperative to resolve such matters, especially in a context where it is proposed to devolve policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland.

The debate itself is well worth a read, if just for the clear image it creates of the indignation honourable members were feeling and the evident sporadic outbreak of itchy bum syndrome on the part of Mark Durkhan, Jeffrey “O’Donnell” Donaldson, Sammy Wilson and co. It even has some classic remarks by Iris “Homos are going to hell” Robinson, where she manages to blame every problem since the Anglo Irish Agreement on the SDLP, poor sods.

All of this takes place in the context of the Ashdown Report – a review by Paddy Ashdown into the parades in Northern Ireland, the broad conclusions of which must be the worst kept secret in history. One of the key recommendations is the abolition of the seven member Parades Commission and the yoke it has placed on God Fearing Ulstermen by interfering with their right to riot, drink, burn the Pope and indulge in the occasional pogrom.

For those who aren’t followers of the circus that is NI politics, there are four main parties. The DUP and UUP (now UCUNF, with extra oomph) are the parties supporting the union with Great Britain, though not at the price of ever being seen to agree on anything. Sinn Fein, the Republicans, currently share power with the DUP. These three and the other nationalist party, the SDLP, all have positions in the Executive of the government.

Said government as yet has very limited powers when it comes to matters of justice and policing. The four major parties all want the power, one suspects because it shows that they are Getting Things Done. Damned, however, if they will co-operate to actually get it. The reaction of the SDLP has been amongst the most amusing, with their increasingly shrill proclamations that handing a Sinn Fein/DUP majority Assembly these powers is tantamount to Armageddon.

Quite how schizophrenic the SDLP is over the whole thing was clearly revealed by Alex Attwood in response to Robinson’s remarks. [Mr Robinson's] “obstruction of devolution of policing and justice with the abolition of the Parades Commission has been facilitated by Sinn Féin.” This view flatly contradicts the policy document the SDLP released in August this year, which on the contrary was worried the DUP weren’t being obstructive enough and wanted, “To warn against devolution of justice on DUP terms which will further damage the Good Friday Agreement.”

Sharing that particular bed with the SDLP are the extreme Unionists – the Traditional Unionist Voice (aka Prodiban, with apologies to Splinty for infringing his copyright). Vice Chair of the TUV, Keith Harbinson, quickly grabbed the nearest journalist:

“There is grave unease within the membership of the Loyal Orders at the prospect of policing and justice being devolved to an inclusive executive where those who continue to justify the murder of policemen and judges hold sway,” he said.

Making the whole show more surreal was the accusation, flung at SDLP leader Mark Durkhan on Tuesday evening that the SDLP, by opposing the right of said God Fearing Ulstermen to rape, pillage and loot wherever their loyal drums took them, was in favour of a segregated Northern Ireland, while it was the DUP which was in favour of a modern, multicultural inclusive society. One can only magine the collective spraying of weetabix across the room when the ‘civic unionists‘ of UCUNF read that the next morning.

The DUP are indeed an inclusive party after all, so long as you’re not homosexual, left-wing, or (god forbid) Catholic.

My thinking is that the DUP want to get rid of the Parades Commission to protect their right-flank. This was something they conspicuously failed to do when the St. Andrews Agreement was negotiated – and which is a continuing bug bear amongst the Orange Order and other grassroots organisations of Unionism, the sort of areas from which the Traditional Unionist Voice is leeching DUP members who are opposed to power-sharing with terrorists, scroungers, women and Sinn Fein. Robinson is keenly aware, perhaps, of the impending general election where several DUP Westminster seats could be under threat.

A preview of the Ashdown Report was released some months back, which pointed towards a replacement of the Parades Commission, to bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the EU, where local authorities decide the routes of parades and additional restrictions. It was precisely this that had Mark Durkhan practically bouncing up and down at Tuesday’s debate while Peter Robinson flatly obfuscated the perfectly fair point that giving this power to local authorities steps away from involving Residents Associations and local Orange lodges directly, with the Parades Commission adjudicating. Local politicians, one suspects, will be much more likely to take a more involved, less ‘impartial’ approach.

Now Gerry Adams has come out to say that linkage between devolution of justice powers and the abolition of the Parades Commission is not acceptable. Presumably this is Gerry protecting his left-flank from groupuscules such as Eirigi, that have attempted to grow roots within the residents associations – indeed reviled arch-nemesis of the Portadown Orangemen Brendan MacCionnaith has become their leader.

Yet where in all this mess is a solution? The Parades Commission is obviously not an ideal solution, as continued friction – felt keenly at the grassroots who have to endure the marches / endure opposition to the marches – has provoked violence that established political leaderships have struggled to keep a lid on. For all the commercialisation of “Orangefest”, it’s not really fooling anyone.

The only solution, so far as I can see, is continuing to allow the local groups to hammer out a deal, and in the absence of a deal, forbidding the contentious parade in question. That implies the continued existence of a parades commission, because Orangemen simply would not support allowing residents to decide for themselves who marches through their area – especially with the problem of Catholic ‘encroachment’ into formerly Protestant areas (what the rest of us refer to as demographic changes) still an ongoing phenomenon.

Similarly, communities who are opposed to parades in their area would refuse to abide by the decision of councils run by a majority of the other side. Forcing groups to co-operate from the ground up seems the best possible plan in a bad situation – and though it has a mottled history, in places like Derry it seems to work a bit. Couple this with a political approach (that is, a socialist approach) to link together Catholic and Protestant working class communities in their common interests (idealistic as that sounds, stranger things have happened) and I’d say we’re broadly on the right track.

Does reason, does Philosophy matter?

October 29, 2009 6 comments

This was the question which Matthew Paris submitted to John Rentoul and Oliver Kamm’s series “Questions to which the answer is no”. Chris Dillow briefly wrote the whole thing up and seems to firmly agree that neither reason nor philosophy matter, because through elections etc, ‘unreason’ has a much greater effect than reason is likely to – especially because the fanatical in politics are a rather self-selecting group.

On the contrary, I think that both reason and philosophy do matter. But a few premisses need outlining. First, the opposite of ‘reason’ is not stupidity. It is ‘unreason’, which is not the same. Second, ‘reasonable’ is not a derivative of reason in this context – reasonable means moderate, the opposite of extremist or fanatic. Third, reason is synonymous with rationality or logic, since Paris cites its philosophical context.

Several things flow from this; first, we can’t dismiss reason on the basis of how many ‘stupid’ people there are in the world, nor how many fanatics or extremists, nor on the basis of what effect such people have when compared to the intelligent, the reasonable and so on. I suppose we could compare all those who make decisions on the basis of the laws of logic with those who don’t and see who wins – but I don’t think that works either.

Why not? It is my view that there is an empirical basis to logic, to reason, that these are based in observable reality. It is my view that the human species has an intrinsic capacity to experience, and to convert that experience into general laws liable to guide future behaviour. Essentially this is the starting point of reason; reason flows from reality and the validity of the general laws of reason depend on their ability to explain reality.

My reading on the subject is very basic, as yet, but this is how I believe Marxist epistemology understands logic, much as it understands the dialectic – as something which flows naturally from reality, according to material laws that exist whether we are there to observe them or not. This being the case, everyone has a basic sense of reason. More or less systematized, more or less internally consistent, it doesn’t matter. Any use of experience and general knowledge to explain and predict events implies the use of reason.

This doesn’t mean that people can’t still be wrong. Yet in no-one, especially not in the people cited by Chris as ‘stupid’ – e.g. BNP supporters – is reason absent. Superstition is a form of reason, using incomplete ‘experience’. Assuming that the experience of the human race, our powers of observation etc, are limited, thus reason too is limited for everyone, for some more than others. But it’s still used, is still important.

Chris is correct that there are powerful forces which seem to select less reasonable arguments – e.g. the airtime the opponents of immigration get, compared to the supporters of free immigration. Yet I don’t think that the ‘extremists’ pushing their argument  hard matters quite so much as Chris seems to think, thus allowing less reason to triumph against more reason. There are other factors at play.

I would contend that arguments are selected for on the basis of power-relations, and the purpose such arguments can serve. This is not to talk of a conspiracy for fascism or anti-immigration, so much as the changing circumstances dictated by the processes of capitalism and class struggle simply change the experience of individuals and, by a process of reason, push them towards a particular ideology – of which most have pre-existing standard bearers.

This is, I would suggest, what happened in Weimar Germany. It is what happened in Czarist Russia. It is how Protestantism took off leaps and bounds in Reformation Europe and became the ideological mainspring of a vibrant, dynamic capitalism. And so on. I do not mean, by this, to dismiss the capacity for contingency in history, nor human agency, but every side has fanatic supporters. This fact, nor their number, does not determine which side wins. Nor does the victory of any side with fanatics suggest that ‘reason’ is less important than fanaticism, or unreason.

A last note. Readers of this piece will pick up tail-ends that I haven’t nailed down. I could, for example, have attempted to deny that fanatics or extremists are the most important element to powerful historic movements, thus by other means invalidating the idea that ‘unreason’ is more important than reason (even if we except that ‘fanatic’ = ‘unreason’). Or I could have explained fanaticism and more media attention each as effects of another cause, rather than one being cause and effect of the other.

There’s also an element to Hannah Arendt’s Totalitarianism trilogy that would have fitted here, as she discusses the irrationality of Nazism and its triumph. But I think that would cheapen such important work.

I leave it to the reader to think of more elements to link in – this was just a basic foray, as I have been trying to nail down some of my own epistemological views on logic and Marxian dialectics.


October 28, 2009 11 comments

Last week I had a chat with a friend about the concept of eugenics, and it revealed just how much I have to learn. With some on the American Right (that’s you and your associates, Mr Beck) accusing the Obama plan of engaging in eugenics, and the comparison of Obama with Hitler being all over the Right-wing media and on not a few protest posters, I figured that the time was right to nail my colours to the mast, even at the risk of seeming simplistic.

I support certain forms of eugenics.

Allow me to be clear in what I mean, because a large amount of rubbish passes for eugenics. I’m not talking about banning or discouraging the reproduction of people with genetic weaknesses. I’m not talking about encouraging the procreation of those with inheritable ‘good’ traits. People should be permitted to have sex and reproduce as much as they wish, with no restrictions.

Yet as we improve our knowledge of genes and their interactions, and improve the technologies that permit the selection of certain characteristics, there is no reason why we could not begin to apply such knowledge to creating people who are super-intelligent, super-strong, likely to live a long time and so on. Such people would then be socialized in the usual way – by being born and being educated and so on.

The strangeness of the concept aside, it should tell us something that the debate about eugenics usually tends to come down to the same old battle lines. For example, libertarian transhumanists want to permit all sorts of cybernetic or genetic modification so long as it is guaranteed by the market. As a socialist, I’d prefer universal access to such self-enhancement treatments on a voluntary basis.

As befits our post-modern epoch, there are also those continually trying to use every new discovery to invalidate conceptions of the class structure of society. Thus with ‘biopolitics’, where sociologists like James Hughes seem to think that eugenics and similar modifications will tackle the root causes of inequalities of power. Perhaps someone should introduce Professor Hughes to Messrs Mouffe and Laclau.

I think my argument, basic though it is, ultimately comes down to this: humanity has been editing its own genes and its own abilities since we came to be. Agriculture, something we accept daily without thinking, changed the human species irrevocably, but yet it was not ‘natural’ – we adapted nature ourselves. The nature eugenics promises to adapt is merely inside ourselves – and I don’t see much principled difference.

With any advance, there is always the question of who will get to use it and how. That is true of everything from the first productive surplus, back in the mists of time, to the extreme heights of what we can do today. So this new battleground of the same old ideologies merely gives us one more thing to attack the capitalist markets for (potentially) confining to a small minority, the already-wealthy.

Here the power of eugenics or cybernetics meets its natural limit; it cannot do more than capitalism can do. Inequality may be widened still further by its deployment, much in the same way that without redistributive measures such as our national health service, inequality would be wider than it is. But the inequality would progress along the same lines as any other, as far as I can see.

The potential for breeding a slave race of exceptionally strong but intellectually limited humans (or some other variation) is not really a viable one, I would suggest, on same basis which caused the latifundia to fail; limited productivity and the need for constant central stimulation, rather than the dynamic system of capitalism where the hegemonic ideology potentially turns every individual into their own productivity manager.

We can change that, and consciously put ourselves in control of the process, only by overthrowing capitalism. A eugenics option on the NHS would count as a redistributive measure, if the reality of genetic engineering arrives, and we should support it – but we should support it while pointing out that our society will continue to produce inequalities, and that in any case, redistributive measures are often repealed.

So things come down, once again, to class struggle, which cannot be superseded by the ‘radical democracy’ which Professor Hughes implies.

Power is not just unequally distributed because of our uneven biological development and cannot be correctly distributed by tampering with that development – in this regard Hughes ‘biopolitics’ has become another form of identity politics which fails to challenge the core issue. The condition of the human race is sustained by the means whereby we reproduce and perpetuate our social organisation; our means of production, the private ownership of capital and all the hegemonic tools which flow from these.

Immigration policy: when evidence actually counted for something

October 27, 2009 30 comments

imagesThe rightwing blogosphere and mainstream press is predictably awash with outraged bile at the ‘revelations’, from an Evening Standard journalist, and one time Special Adviser to the Labour party, that Labour had an evil secret plan to introduce a multi-cultural Britain just to rub the Tories’ nose in it.

 Let’s set aside for a moment the little inconvenience that the Special Adviser/journalist, Andrew Neather didn’t really mean what he said, and that in today’s Evening Standard he seeks desperately to set out what he did mean.  If he’s been hoist by his own desperate-to-sound-terribly-relevant-and-advance-my-career-at-the-expense-of-my-poltical-integrity petard, then there’s little I can do about it, though I do feel a bit sorry for him.

 Where the Standard and the Telegraph lead, so follow Dale and his trolls (go on look at the 172 comments, I can’t bear to).  And where the Telegraph goes, so goes that ever so balanced think-tank Migration Watch:

“Now at least the truth is out, and it’s dynamite. Many have long suspected that mass immigration under Labour was not just a cock up but also a conspiracy. They were right. This Government has admitted three million immigrants for cynical political reasons concealed by dodgy economic camouflage.”

And where the ever so balanced Migration Watch goes, so goes that loveable old Labour maverick, Frank Field:

“I am speechless at the idea that people thought they could socially engineer a nation on this basis.” (to the Standard); and

“We welcome this statement by an ex-adviser, which the whole country knows to be true. It is the first beam of truth that has officially been shone on the immigration issue in Britain.” (to the Telegraph)

Frank Field, eh?  What a twat!

 And so on it rolls. 

 Today, the Evening Standard calls for a ‘probe’ into the revelations, apparently unconcerned that Neather, writes on the very same day and in the very same paper that his views have been utterly misrepresented (I don’t suppose Dale will be quoting from that too much).

 And when you’re on a rightwing troll-roll like this, why bother with anything so inconvenient as the truth?

 For the unpalatable truth is that to assign the ‘multicultural’ motive to the Labour party’s immigration policy is simply ludicrous, and so far from any vaguely sane interpretation of actual events that it would be laughable – if they weren’t getting away with it.

 By fortunate coincidence for people who like the odd bit of reason and common sense to go with their politics, in the very same week that Andrew Neather sought to use the BNP’s appearance on Question Time to advance his own commentariat career, a young academic published a paper in the UK best-respected political science journal, summarising the findings of his PhD; in it he tells us what really took place, and in so doing utterly debunks the right’s ‘ZanuLiebour’ fantasies.

 Dr Alex Balch’s paper is called ‘Labour and Epistemic Communities: The Case of ‘Managed Migration’ in the UK.’ 

For those with the correct passwords in academia it is available here, or find British Journal of Politics and International Relations (2009) Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 616-636).  

 I have asked Alex, with whom I once had a couple of beers in the Cambridge Arms in Liverpool (but that’s another story), to see if he can allow free access to his work given its sudden and unexpected relevance, and he’s seeing what he can do.  For the time being, you’ll have to trust my review of his article and the quotations I use.

 What Dr Balch’s paper shows very clearly is that immigration policy, or what came to be called ‘migration policy’, was driven almost exclusively by considerations of economic growth and labour shortages in key areas, and had pretty well nothing at all to do with multi-culturalism.

 Balch says of Barbara Roche, MP (Home Officer Minister, 1999-2001):

“She was very keen to differentiate the question of policy towards asylum seekers from a new policy of ‘managed migration’. This new policy focus would be open and responsive to evidence and expertise on migration in general, but the question this research was supposed to address was clearly formulated in purely economic terms”

 He then quotes a speech by Roche in 2000:

 “In the past we have thought purely about immigration control … Now we need to think about immigration management … The evidence shows that economically driven migration can bring substantial overall benefits for both growth and the economy.”

 And far from their being the kind of subterfuge that the right would now have us believe in, this is what Balch has to say about Tony Blair’s personal involvement:

“The story goes that without the hindrance of political considerations Blair was convinced by the arguments for managing migration in the economic interest of the country and recommended that the report be published. Clearly, the narrative chimed elegantly with the pro-business agenda, and openness to cultural diversity and so-called ‘Third Way’ global capitalism.”

An openness to ‘cultural diversity’ which ‘chimes’ with the main economic growth theme is hardly the same as a devilish plan to swamp the country with people with funny languages and abhorrent ways.

Thus, the REAL story set out in the article, and in Alex’s PhD, is one of a then new Labour government, and at least some of its newly emboldened and temporarily empowered staffers/officials, trying to enact its commitment to ‘evidenced-based policy’, and to do so openly – more openly, indeed, than its civil servants were comfortable with, as this quote from one civil servant interviewee makes clear:

 “There were people in the Home Office who were saying ‘come on, we’ve got to change policy—the old approach of simply keeping people out is not tenable’, and there were the operational people in the Home Office at IND who were effectively saying ‘there is only one political imperative: keep people out!’, but the people at Queen Anne’s Gate were arguing that it is more complex than that, more nuanced.”

 Such was the relative openness of the new approach, in fact, that it became competitive:

 “Whichever way publication was eventually sanctioned, there was then a political clamour to champion the new approach and assume ownership.”

 Is this the narrative of subterfuge?  Is this the stuff of action which, 10 years on, warrants a ‘probe’?  Is the right talking talking utter, uninformed bollox?

 The real tragedy, of course, is that Labour lost its way, and the courage of its initial convictions. 

 Instead of politicians continuing to take on board what experts had to say, and using the information to take honest decisions in the best interests of the country, the backslide into the world of ‘political imperatives’ started in the mid 2000s. 

 As Balch notes, while the government took the decision in the light of the evidence available NOT to “impose transitionary arrangement on A8 nationals” (from East European countries due to enter the EU) in 2002, by 2007 (when Romania and Bulgaria became EU members) the way of doing things had changed:

 “In contrast to 2002 this decision was taken against expert opinion.  Here the managed migration frame was displaced by a political imperative to respond to public concerns over immigration levels (despite the likelihood that A2 migration would be on a different scale to A8 migration).” 

And so it is depressing, but not unexpected, to see today’s reaction from Jack Straw spokesman for a call for a ‘probe’.  Instead of being open about what the new policy of the early 2000s was all about, the concern is to play to the rightwing crowd:

 “This [the call for a 'probe'] is complete rubbish and the proof of that is the fact that Jack Straw introduced and was implementing the Immigration and Asylum Act at just this time, which tightened up controls.”

 The real tragedy is that the likes of Dale are now able to get away with fact-free rants about immigration policy, and that he can simply take as given that his readers will assume that immigration as a concept is wholly detestable, and that any gains made a few years ago in the argument that immigration might enrich the UK have been so wholly lost.

 The real tragedy is that Alex Massie’s unexpectedly admirable piece in the Spectator today, in which he argues both free-market and moral case for freedom of movement of labour (see my own contribution here) is disregarded as the ranting of someone out of touch with the real world, and as evidence of the new editor’s independence’, rather than a serious contribution to the immigration debate (though hats off to Hopi for supporting it).

 Dr Alex Balch’s research paper is as detailed and authoritative as you would expect from someone gaining their PhD from it.  It’s set within a solid epistemological framework of new institutionalism, and sets out to show how ‘epistemic communities’ influence the reframing of policy.

 Alex’s research paper not a hysterical knee-jerk reaction to the BNP being on TV, combined with the spotting of an opportunity to batter the Labour party via the words of a shoddy journalist who has made up his version of events to suit his editor’s line and his own career prospects (notwithstanding his laudable attempt today to say sorry). 

 For those reasons, I think the right is likely to see little value in Alex’s research paper.

As Alex himself sets out, quoting a Home Office civil servant on governments prior to 1997:

 “Immigration law in this country has developed mainly as a series of responses to, and attempts to regulate, particular pressures, rather than as a positive means of achieving preconceived social or economic aims.”

With a new Conservative government, or even a new New Labour government, we’ll have more of that to look forward to.

Perhaps that’s why, as a serious researcher into migration policy, Alex is currently in the United States.

Categories: General Politics

BBC editorial choice

October 25, 2009 4 comments

I’ll come back in a day or two with a Grasmcian analyisis of thimagese BBC’s editorial decision to give the BNP a massive leg up, but first here’s the BBC and it’s editorial decision to try and shaft the postal workers.

 Here, about 11 mins 20 sec into the main evening time new programme on Radio Five Live on Friday evening, is a carefully selected business owner talking about how the postal strike has affected her:

Presenter (P): This [the postal strike] is really hitting you hard, isn’t it?

Business owner (BO): Yes very hard indeed.  Our orders are down about 50% on their normal rate.

P: What the kind of business you’re in?  Let’s first of all talk about that.

BO: Well, we sell gifts and Christmas accessories, so the Christmas period is crucial to us.  It’s the time when we take about 45% of the takings in the year.  So it is absolutely crucial to us.

P:  Are you in that period already? 

BO: Well, it does start around the end of October.  People tend to shop a bit earlier on line because they want to make sure they get the items in time for Christmas.

P: So you truly believe that this is business that’s lost rather than delayed.

BO: I do believe, yes.  When I look at he figures for last year we were doing really well.  We were 30% up on last year but then in mid October they were down on last year so I’ve kind of worked out that they’re about 50% down. If you take into account that it should have risen.

P: Right so if they do strike again next week, how much of a chunk does that take out of your business?

BO: I haven’t worked that out but I just hope that something’s done to avert it because I haven’t been able to pay my staff’s wages this month and that’s due to the reduced turnover.  I’ve had to prioritize payments and the people that the people that were threatening legal action will be paid first and the wages will be paid next week, hopefully.

P:  Yeah, I don’t doubt that you’re having difficulty but I would just want again how much of that is down to the strikes that have taken place this week and how much down to the very gloomy news that Peter [a fellow presenter] touched on at the beginning of the programme that we have an economy that is struggling.

So let’s just look at that.

The BBC research team for its flagship radio news programme has selected for extended interview a business owner whose business is struggling to the extent that she’s got legal action letters from her creditors, and who has made payments to them in preference to her workers.  The editor allows it.

To be fair to the presenter, even she seems surprised at the selection, and tries vainly to untangle issues about a business on the edge of bankruptcy from what the interview was supposed to be about.

It’s not the presenter’s fault.  Surely the question is about the editorial decision to select for interview someone whose business is failing either because of the recession (and lack of bank lending to keep her afloat), or perhaps because what she sells is really crap.

Bias against the working class is simply what the ruling class does well – so well it comes naturally. 

And as we’ll see from my forthcoming masterful Gramsican analysis of the BBC’s decision to do the BNP in the way it did, when the cosy liberal superstructure to the ruling class try to do things differently, they can easily make things worse.



Categories: General Politics

Lack of democracy in action

October 23, 2009 4 comments

Last week I wrote an utterly turgid post setting out some of what’s in the Lisbon Treaty, and how it makesimages7 the European Union even more undemocratic than it was under the Treaty of Rome. 

Gawd, it was dull.  No-one commented, and I don’t think even I’d have read it if I’d not had to proof it.  And I’m a sad geek.

But just because it was dull doesn’t mean it was wrong.

Today, the FT reports:

‘The European Central Bank has dealt an unexpected blow to contentious European Union plans to regulate hedge funds and private equity groups, warning yesterday that the proposals would put the industry at a significant competitive disadvantage.’

It is dealing this blow to plans to improve regulation and trasnparency because it can do so much more easily under the Lisbon Treaty than it could under the Treaty of Rome.  That is, it can do so without interference from any of those pesky elected people.

A refresher.

This is what the Treaty of Rome says (my emphasis):

‘The Council may, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the ECB and after receiving the assent of the European Parliament, confer upon the ECB specific tasks concerning policies relating to the prudential supervision of credit institutions and other financial institutions with the exception of insurance undertakings (TEC, article 105, para. 6)’;

This is what the Lisbon Treaty says (my emphasis):

‘The Council, acting by means of regulations in accordance with a special legislative procedure, may unanimously, and after consulting the European Parliament and the European Central Bank, confer specific tasks upon the European Central Bank concerning policies relating to the prudential supervision of credit institutions and other financial institutions with the exception of insurance undertakings (Lisbon Treaty article 127, para 6).’

Get that?  The supposedly democracy-heavy Lisbon Treatt takes away the power of the European Parliament to tell the ECB what it should and shouldn’t do. 

The bankers will get their way, whatever those elected people say.  It’s ok.  It’s in the Lisbon Treaty.

Categories: Gender Politics

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