My quick go at the Labour poster competition thing. All I could think of, but it is late. Sorry.
Paul Sagar at the increasingly impressive Bad Conscience has a long, erudite but funny post up debunking Phillip Blond and his pretensions as a proper philosopher.
I agree with pretty well all of it, apart from a) the bits I don’t understand because they’re too erudite for me; b) the bit I disagree with.
What struck me most though, when reading Paul’s post and the post from Giles Wilkes that inspired him to sharpen his hatchet, is that Blond and his think-thank ResPublica has apparently been completely abandoned by the Tories.
Why else would Blond be hawking his pseudo-intellectual wares around the US just a few weeks before a general election which he hopes will bring a party into power over which he has the same intellectual influence as Anthony Giddens had over New Labour.
The reason for him being dropped like a stone is obvious enough, and has been commented on widely; the Tories, taking fright at their narrowing poll lead, are ignoring Blond’s protestations, lurching back to the right, back towards their core vote, and there’s no room for Phillip Blond there.
What interests me more is the way in which Blond is being sidelined, and the extent to which Tory HQ is intentionally silencing him.
Back in July 2009 I noted that:
One of the hottest topics of debate at the moment is Phillip Blond’s influential new book ‘Red Tory‘. Everyone out there read it?
No? Well what are you waiting for?
Oh yes, one problem. It’s current set for publication in January 2010, according to Amazon.
Dave Osler, in his drippingly sardonic review of Blond’s Guardian piece about Red Toryism, can be forgiven for putting it on his summer ‘09 reading list; there’s been so much coverage of this notion of Red Toryism over the last few months that, if you weren’t anal enough to check, you’d think something a bit more substantive than a strangely jumbled few hundred words to the Guardian and an interview or two with current affairs magazines might be available.
January 2010 has been and gone, of course, with no book.
When I looked at the Amazon site the other day, there was a note saying that the book was not yet available, but when I checked again today, the publication date of 02 April 2010 had appeared.
As of yet though, a quick Google search suggests, there is no publicity about the impending release of the book emanating from any Conservative-supporting source whatsoever, other than a fairly downbeat review from Benedict Brogan in the Telegraph.
Things may of course change this week, but the very start of a general election campaign does seem an odd time to choose to publish a book which should have been informing the Tories’ manifesto, had Blond’s star been as bright as it once was. (Giddens’ Beyond Left and Right, to which Blond’s book cover pays intentional or unintentional homage, was published in 1994.)
Back in Summer 2009, Blond was the great new Conservative thinker. Even as late as November 2009, Cameron still had time to drop in and see him, though as Brogan says:
Cameron attended the launch, but only briefly, in what looked like a staged dalliance rather than a long-term marriage.
Now he appears to be on American ‘gardening leave’. Was he pushed onto the plane or did he jump?
I bet he’s pissed off, though he’d put it more pseudo-intellectually to Cameron if he could get into see him now.
And Cameron might respond accordingly:
The case of Hoon, Hewitt, Moran and the execrable Stephen Byers in the journalistic sting operation around “cash for influence” is being used as a stick with which to beat Labour. Probably something to do with the seven Tories who steered well clear of the operation. What strikes me, however, is that surprise in any form just demonstrates ignorance.
If we look at the Tory Shadow Cabinet for a moment, Andrew Lansley, in charge of the Tory drive to increase privatised healthcare provision, accepts donations from the chairman of Care UK. Alan Duncan, one-time energy spokesman, took money from the chairman of oil traders Vitol. Osborne is in it up to his neck with hedge funds.
Grant Shapps, housing spokesman, was funded by mortgage brokers. Theresa Villiers, once shadow Chief Treasury Secretary, was backed by investment banks.
And, when they leave office, after a term of government, they’ll be rewarded with positions on the boards of various companies. More dignified than Hoon etc trying to pimp their ‘achievements’ for money, certainly, but no different in principle at all. These companies aren’t recruiting parliamentarians for philanthropic reasons.
Both parties are in this up to their necks. There’s no use the Tories using the opportunity to make a partisan point – there’s no partisan point to be made. Ex-politicians go to work for private industry. From shadow cabinet to cabinet to PM to the President of the United States himself. It just turns out that Labour hacks are a little more gullible.
I’m just shocked Hoon hasn’t pulled out the “patriotic duty” card.
On Radio 4 this morning, Hoon was queried as to his use of “inside information” to help American arms manufacturers take over European companies that would be made vulnerable by a reduction in EU defence spending.
It seems like there’s an easy answer to that: European jobs and security depend on this American “investment” and “research expertise” if European governments decrease spending, don’tchaknow!
As for Stephen Byers helping price fixing companies to “get around the law”, well there’s two options. On the one hand, he could claim that his is a revolutionary exposition of the basic monopolistic drive of capitalism.
Or he could attack “meaningless regulations” for holding back the spirit of British enterprise and causing British business to fall behind the rest of the world. There’s perfectly acceptable corporate guff public policy narratives for all situations.
Frankly, the world seems a little bit crazy when Labour ministers speak proudly of making cuts ‘bigger and deeper’ than Thatcher did in the 1980s.
It seems even crazier when John Redwood, a right-winger even amongst Tories, defends the Thatcher government in these terms:
One of the myths perpetrated by Labour and the BBC is that Margaret Thatcher came in and cut public spending. She did not – spending on the main services grew rapidly under her control.
She did cut plans in 1981 to help the recovery, but the overall figures for total public spending including capital, current and debt interest were:
1978-9 (last Labour year) £71.2 billion
1980-81 (first full Cons year) £120.2 billion
1981-82 £130 billion
1983-4 £137.5 billion
What to make of it all?
Well, first Redwood is right. Public expenditure did rise in the way he sets out in the early 1980s, and there is a bit of a myth that she slashed public spending as soon as she took office.
He’s also economical with the truth, as his mates in the Commons might term it.
This is shown in the following graph from this IFS report (see also the graph on p.18 of the report):
Composition of Total Managed Expenditure as a percentage of national income, 1948-49 to 2009-10
The graph shows that, while public expenditure rose in the first Thatcher parliament by around about 2% of national income, a significant percentage of that increase was made up of spending on social security, itself a direct result of the huge rise in unemployment, which continued to increase throughout the early 1980s despite the end of the recession in 1981. Conversely, ‘other current spending’ was squeezed.
(If anyone has access to the actual raw data rather than just these graphs, I’d be happy to see it).
Thus, while Redwood is right technically to say that spending on ‘main services’ grew in the early 1980s, he is wrong to imply that what most people consider to be ‘public services’ – health, education, council services etc. - grew significantly in the same period. The spending that grew was only what had to be spent as a result of poor Tory economic policy.
Of course, this allows Alistair Darling and Liam Byrne off the hook, because they will later be able to claim that there cuts in expenditure were greater than in the Thatcher post-recession period, even though ‘real’ public services may not be as badly hit as they would be under the Tories. Why they would want to make the claim in the first place is a different matter, and a matter of regret.
He took some time away from golfing. He has now decided to return, but many people consider what he has done to be despicable, and he is afraid that he will be unpopular with the golf-loving and wider public. He is therefore pursuing a careful media strategy, which involves saying he regrets greatly what he has done in very controlled circumstances.
This is a clever strategy, because when he comes to do a more open press conference, he will , as and when asked about his behaviour off the golf course, be able to say that he has spoken about these matters in previous interviews, and is keen instead to talk about his chip shot at the 13th.
Thus, he hopes to re-integrate himself into golfing society, and that everything will become as normal as possible thereafter.
This is also the basic strategy of the BNP, and in particular their racist leader Nick Griffin.
Nick Griffin has, in the past, been very publicly dismissive of the holocaust, suggesting that it is a convenient fiction invented by, presumably, Marxists. Or Zionists, or perhaps black people. The details need not detain us, because what is important is that most people regard this as a wrong, even abhorrent thing, to have said.
So Nick Griffin has adopted a ‘normalisation’ strategy, akin to that of Tiger Woods.
It has also been partially aided and abetted this evening by James MacIntyre, who has written a well-meaning but confused piece on his New Statesman blog in praise of Iain Dale, and his rigorous interviewing technique.
James MacIntyre describes his general position towards the BNP as one of ‘non-engagement’, but then goes on to set out a different position, in which it is acceptable to engage with the BNP as long as it is done well and their lies are exposed. He praises Iain Dale, therefore, for the rigour of his interview.
This, unfortunately, misses the point.
It does not matter how well Iain Dale conducted the interview, not least because in a small magazine like Total Politics, very few people will read it.
What does matter is that Nick Griffin, by allowing himself to be interviewed on the matters on which he is most controversial and from which he now seeks to distance himself as part of his normalisation strategy, will be in a position to say to other interviewers that he has already covered these matters fully, and would prefer to talk about other matters – perhaps about his chip shot at the 13th, but more likely about how the BNP is being victimized by Marxists.
It does not matter that Iain Dale, and indeed John Harris, are ‘fundamentally decent’ people – I do not doubt that they are. What matters is that they, and now James MacIntyre, have assisted the BNP in their normalisation strategy.
James MacIntyre in particular, as a self-professed ‘non-engager’, needs to think through the logic of his position, and ask himself honestly why he is making these exceptions to his rule.
Is it really all about the BNP, or is there just a little bit of a media love-in going on, where he is keen to show how open-minded and noble he is, noble enough even to praise one who has apparently crossed him previously.
More importantly, he needs to look at what ‘no platform’ or ‘no engagement’ means in the real world, where one small, awkward platform leads to another bigger, more comfortable one.
The racists at the BNP are clever as well as evil, and we need to be as clever back.
In the commentary on the BBC this morning about the budget and the prospects for reducing the deficit there was an important unmentionable – the trade deficit.
On Tuesday I was listening to Blunkett speaking in Glasgow. In the course of this he mentioned how in ’47 Keynes was sent over to Canada and the US by the Attlee government to negotiate a loan to carry the country over the cost of post-war reconstruction. Blunkett said how difficult it would be to imagine Churchill in 1952 promising to eliminate the government deficit by ’58 and pay it off by ’62, saying that in fact it was not until 2003 that the UK finally paid off the loan from Canada.
But these loans did colour the politics of the Attlee and Wilson governments. The pamphlets that Wilson wrote as a minister during the Attlee government show him obsessed with how to rebuild industry to get the exports needed to pay off these loans. The recent obsession with Britain’s ‘high tech’ industries mirrors this in some ways.
As Prime Minister, Wilson continued to focus on the balance of trade and the need to foster export industry, as indeed had the intervening Tory administrations. But post Thatcher, the trade balance vanishes from politics. It ceases to be an issue.
Thatcher had the advantage of North Sea oil. That allowed her to destroy manufacturing industry in order to destroy the social poser of the industrial working class. Manufactured exports and those who made them were no longer vital.
Oil allowed the return to dominance of the financial interest in Britain. It had been dominant in the ’20s and ’30s, but post-war indebtedness brought the manufacturing interest back to the fore. Even the Tories led by Macmillan, an MP from a northern constituency whose formative political years had been during the industrial depression, went along with the priority of manufacturing.
Under Brown the trade deficit was forgotten, even though the oil was running out. When he gave independence to the Bank of England, the goals of the monetary policy committee were just about inflation. There was no obligation on them to maintain an exchange rate compatible with balanced trade.
There was a myth about in those days that central banks could not manage exchange rates – the Tories debacle over the European Exchange Rate Mechanism was cited. But this was one sided. The Bank of England may be unable to maintain a consistently overvalued Pound, but it can reduce its value.
China’s example shows that a central bank can even keep an undervalued currency low.
We have had 30 years of neglecting the balance of trade see figure. The balance of payments deficit is a major contributor to the budget deficit. Basically it means that there is an outflow of funds abroad, and either private individuals and firms or the government must borrow to offset this. So to reduce the deficit there would have to be a major structural change in the economy to regenerate export industries.
It is remarkable that this basic reality is not better acknowledged. The Tories go on about the danger of the UK losing its AAA rating and what a disaster that would be. Well if it does happen then so what? The UK government borrows in Sterling. It is not taking Dollar loans as in 1947. It can go on doing that, but the consequence might be a significant fall in the Pound.
This is precisely what is needed to make manufacturing exports from here viable again, in the face of high labour costs amongst a well-unionised and demanding workforce.
Whichever government comes to power will be eventually forced to address this, and in the long term the necessary regrowth of industry can only benefit the Labour movement.