Archive for April, 2011

The occupation of Trafalgar Square and other concerns of space

April 30, 2011 6 comments

The face of Roxeth has changed, it’s lanes, it’s trees, it’s birds have gone. And to compensate for loss of open space […] its children have electric light, orange juice and cinemas […] the changes from fields towards slums are called progress. (T.L Bartlett – Birds of Roxeth (1900-1948))”

The Coalition government should be remembered for one thing: the destruction and loss of space.

It’s no surprise, then, that protest against space loss should colour an anti-government movement.

Protests and occupations by students, for example, have highlighted space as a talking point of their struggle.

Anti-cuts movements across the country have bellowed the concern: “save our spaces”.

Demonstrations over library closures have noted the potential lack in learning spaces, otherwise free for use. And the willingness of private providers to capitalise on public spaces gone to tender, in an approach ironically titled big society – no different in ethos to Thatcher’s opinion that there’s no society – gives us a sour flavour of things to come.

At the moment I am in the middle of Trafalgar Square, London, in a demonstration that has become dubbed “an occupation of public space”. It immediately becomes oxymoronic that a public space need be occupied – but this is the reality. Increasingly the space that exists primarily for citizenry is becoming privatised. Though to oppose this development is not a new idea.

In a small pamphlet called “meanwhile”, author John Berger told us that modern civilisation can now, justifiably, be characterised as a prison. The way in which to perceive the world is not as a free person looking into (over-) governed spaces, but as a ‘subject’ trying to look out. The point, therefore, is to try and free up “subversive” spaces as a hub of freedom among the oppression.

The trendy American liberal crowd, Naomi Klein being one example, talk about subverting corporate spaces, and to some extent they have a point.

Though the problem with trying to fight a vacuous government is that it is easy to use vacuous weaponry. Subverting spaces, in and of itself, demonstrates no given demands – and it is a symptom of post-political “resistance” (which might be, as star trek foresaw, futile).

The point, as a point of future policy demand, is not only to subvert space, but to positively subvert everywhere.

The government can crumble, but it won’t give to a group of people unable to agree on a set of positive demands. This is the most important point of all, and should be most important to those who have become part of resistance movements.

How, I ask, can we win, if we don’t yet know what it is we want?

The Black Report, the NHS Monitor Letter, and the secret assault on the NHS

April 30, 2011 8 comments

News spread yesterday morning of the NHS Monitor letter sent to all existing Foundation Trusts and applicants, telling them that they needed to look for ‘savings’ of between 6%  and 7% per year, around 50% higher than their earlier projection.

My first thought was to compare this to 1980, when the new Thatcher government deliberately sought to suppress the Black Report, the first ever comprehensive review of health inequalities in Britain, by ordering its publication on a Bank Holiday Monday. 

Back then, in the days before rolling 24 hour news, this was a pretty effective tactic.  Fast forward 31 years, and I couldn’t quite believe that the government was trying to get away with this kind of thing.  Labour HQ obviously felt the same way, and John Healey was wheeled out to be outraged at how the Tories were using the Royal Wedding to ‘bury bad news’.

It turns out, though, that this is much worse than a case of burying bad news which – let’s face it – wasn’t something Labour was averse to.

It’s worth taking seriously the key points that the FT (and ex-Health Service Journal) reporter, who broke the story, makes about the NHS Monitor letter.

First, this isn’t just about a straight 6-7% ‘saving’:

Compounded over the five years for which Monitor has published projections, the efficiency target for hospitals is 37 per cent.
This is a simply astonishing figure, and is in the same range of cuts being imposed, at enormous human cost, on local authorities.  It is simply not possible to find ‘efficiency savings’ of this scale without massive job losses and consequent reductions in both quality and quantity of care.
Second, this is all about privatisation by the back door:
The numbers are more than just a description of the financial pressures faced by the NHS, however. They are also the figures the regulator will use from May 1 to assess the robustness of applications from NHS hospitals to become independent foundation trusts and for any takeovers planned.

By, in effect, raising the bar for those assessments, Monitor may have made it more likely that struggling NHS organisations will be offered to private companies rather than merged with existing foundation trusts.

Third, there is absolutely no democratic oversight of these cuts. 

NHS Monitor wrote to the Trusts and applicants on 27th April about its new assessment criteria that will be introduced just 4 days later on 1st May.

At least with cuts to local authorities, when they were announced in December they were announced in draft form, and there was an opportunity for councils to comment.  While there was an expectation from government that comments should only be about the maths and data used to work out the funding package, some councils e.g. Burnley did take the opportunity to lobby successfully for more funds in the short term.

Here, there is no such opportunity, because cuts are being imposed under the cover of assessment criteria.

There is of course more detail to the emerging story than I can cover here, but the bottom line is that key NHS hospital provision is being run into the ground, ready for sale, and this is being done by a QUANGO far removed from the eyes of the voting public, but at the behest of the Treasury.

Fortunately, we still have investigative journalists like Sally Gainsbury at the FT – fast becoming the best paper around at uncovering Tory misdeeds – or none of us would be any the wiser.

I know what’s going on my last-minute election leaflets.


Update: More from the excellent Richard Blogger on this.

Categories: General Politics

Is Pastor Jones the new Salman Rushdie?

April 28, 2011 11 comments

During a recent episode of the freethinker podcast Pod Delusion, Sam Harris offered what was his take on Pastor Jones and the burning of the Qur’an (at around the 11.40 mark). He said:

The peevishness and the combustibility of the Muslim community is so obscene on this point that we have to protect the Qur’an burners … I’m not in favour of burning Qur’ans, I’m not in favour of burning any books, no matter how bad they are, but the people who are bruning Qur’ans are making a point, and the point … should be well taken, to say that you can burn any book in the world without fear of reprisal except for this book – and that’s ridiculous and unsustainable and we should not be held hostage by the threat of this kind of reaction.

Everything [Pastor Jones] says on this subject is what I’d say on this subject – he’s diagnosing the problem quite accurately … the same people who are condemning him are the same people who condemned Salman Rushdie when he published The Satanic Verses or who condemned Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a bigot … .

According to Harris, Jones is simply the author of a thought experiment which says if we burn this book the whole world will go up in flames – which is sinister, but is it enough to arrest him for? And further, is it enough to blame him personally for the protests by certain Muslims in Afghanistan?

But isn’t what Jones doing a hate crime? After all it would not appear he is simply making a calculated thought experiment – he is saying Islam is evil, and this is inflammatory. Addressing a rally, he called non-supportive Christians “cowards” and explained:

“the Christians … should have said ‘okay, we’re not really for the burning, but what he’s saying [that] Islam is evil, Sharia Law is wrong, radical Islam is wrong,’ they should have stood with us but they just didn’t have any guts.”

Salman Rushdie’s work was satire, not a judgement on whether Islam was evil – after all, would one who thought Islam evil bother arguing that Islam needs a reform? Only, I suppose, if they’ve no idea what they’re talking about – which I’m certain is not true of Rushdie (though I’d question his assertion).

The obvious next question is: should a person be criminalised for an opinion? The act of burning a book is in bad taste, and even if that act is likely to motivate unpeaceful demonstrations, can we really hold Jones responsible for that, in the same way as whether Rushdie was responsible for the 15 Khordad Foundation who offered a reward of $US1 million or 200 million rials for his murder?

At first I want to say any speech should not be a crime, but to be sure hate is a problem that has wide societal problems, the solution to which is unsure.

With Rushdie, the punishment was so over the top it almost seems to have come from a parallel universe. But Pastor Jones’ wingnuttery makes it almost impossible to sympathise with him under any circumstances – having said that, this is not how the law operates, and we cannot judge a person’s actions by their otherwise rhetorical stupidity. On reflection burning a Qur’an should be frowned upon, but to the extent where it is a criminal offence, I worry about.

As for whether he is the new Salman Rushdie? Definitely not!

Top 10 catchphrases it’s perfectly ok for Miliband to say to Cameron

April 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Apparently it is now perfectly permissable to use any catchphrase from popular culture at PMQs without causing any offence whatsover, because it’s all light-hearted. 

Ed Miliband is therefore completely entitled to direct some or all of the following towards Cameron at PMQ’s next week:

1.  Look, he’s oppressing me/Your mother was a hamster etc (Monty Python)

2.  You’re fired (A Sugar)

3.  Listen carefully, I will say this only once (Allo, Allo)

4.  Exterminate! Exterminate! (Dr Who)

5.  Yada, yada, yada (Forgotten where that’s from)

6. Bovvered?/Wha’ever (‘Vicky Pollard’)

7. You Plonker (Only Fools and Horses)

8.  You bastard (Peter Griffin, Family Guy)

9. Victory will be mine (Stewie, Family Guy)

10. Fuck off out of the Chamber (Gordon Ramsay)

I’m sure readers better briefed on televisual matters will have other suggestions.

On no account, however, should Miliband use the popular exhortation to action often used in Only Fools and Horses:

This time next week, you’ll be millionaires.

This would be inaccurate and highly insulting.

Categories: General Politics

Scaling up the legal challenge to social care cuts (1)

April 28, 2011 3 comments

As I move towards the end of my period in elected local government, one of the things I’m starting to focus my energies on is the development of what I hope will come to be an effective and widespread movement of legal challenge to cuts by local authorities to social and care services for people who need them most.

In Lancashire, Disability Equality North West has taken the lead through the issuance of initial ‘letter before action’ and now cases have been lodged with the courts as application for full judicial review.  There are other similar cases in the pipeline being examined by solicitors at the moment.  All cases are going forward in individuals’ or families’ own names as this allows for legal aid to be secured.

If the cases proceed to full judicial review and are then successful, the Council will be required by law to reconsider its plans, though they may in the end make the same decision.  In the meantime, the courts have agreed (apparently uncontested by the Council) that the cases already ‘in play’ will not suffer cuts while decisions over judicial review are pending.

These developments follow an early judicial review successfully brought in Birmingham.

While news and/or progress is patchy, it also looks like similar developments are taking place in other parts of the country, and there is the beginnings of a network of organisations/groups looking to increase the scale and effectiveness of the legal challenges.

The challenge now is to ensure that the message gets out there, to people in vulnerable positions who would never otherwise consider recourse to the law, but who might benefit from it if appropriate support is given.  This isn’t just around the first round of cuts by councils’, but also about the coming changes to DLA and perhaps also to decisions made in the aggressive ‘fitness for work’ interviews.

In addition, we will need to home in on what the PCTs are up to with the cutting of grants/contracts to voluntary organisations meeting the needs of the disabled and vulnerable.  The focus has been so much on councils’ decisions that there has been a tendency to overlook the dodgy decision-making by PCTs with little or no understanding of what is required of them under law.

However, in some cases time will be against us.   Judicial Review needs to be set in train, except in exceptional circumstances, within three months of the decision point, and with many Councils having taken their decisions in March the clock is now ticking. 

From my own side, I’ll be doing what I can to develop awareness in my own area of possible recourse to the law for individuals, as well as doing what I can to support the development (through my funding know-how) of a campaign/case management infrastructure, which both maximises the number of cases going through the courts and seeks to use court actions as an impetus for wider ‘resistance’ activity.   While the judicial review cases may only generally delay decisions made by public bodies, pending ‘proper’ consultation, the objective has to remain the full overturning of these decisions, and the proper funding of social care in line with need.

As I noted many months ago, before much of the Left had woken up to the cuts were really going to happen, legal challenge may not be very glamorous if you’re a revolutionary, but it is likely to be an essential part of the armoury of resistance if you’re interested in engaging with people that the cuts are really hurting most.

My intention is that regular updates will follow this broad introductory post.

Hegel versus reason or, should we abolish the Monarchy?

April 26, 2011 1 comment

Do you ever wake up screaming and think maybe I’m a social democrat after all?

I do.

When I read Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and find myself, not just disagreeing (that’s fine, many Marxists read it, disagree, but still pursue politics in Hegel’s name), but being unable to make a Left case for what he has said, I start to worry that all those people were right when I was younger, telling me that when I grew up I’d stop being so politically radical.

In Hegel’s text he notes that a constitutional Monarchy should be seen as a radically modern form of governance. For him, a stale sovereign will overcome the problems attached to governance based upon arbitrary wills of individuals in civil society. 

In short it resisted the Cartesian-Kantian notion that human reason is the sum of human consciousness, which consequently is self-consciousness – and a system based upon self-consciousness, though based on reason, breeds division not unity.

However this didn’t stop Hegel from appealing to the true radical core of the French Revolution – quite the opposite in fact. As Eli Diamond in his paper Hegel’s Defence of Constitutional Monarchy and its Relevance within the Post-National State (pdf) notes:

Hegel believed that a restored monarchy, as constitutional, would not compromise the principles of the Revolution, but stabilize their true realization. (p. 112-113)

So in submitting the will of divided individuals to a sitting Monarch, the pursuit of radical interventions could take place in a way that didn’t destabalise a constitution based upon union.

Is this anti-democratic?

At the heart of what Hegel is saying, there is a layer of our governance that should not be touched by individuals in a civil society; this by definition makes this layer of government undemocratic, but according to Hegel we should suppress accountability for the good of unity.

Does it dismiss elected heads of states out of hand?

Since Hegel is making a distinction between constitutions “based on nature and those based on freedom of the will,” then it is fair to say that he is dismissing elected heads of states out of hand since an elected head of state will be voted for via the freedom of the will.

Does Hegel’s belief deny out of hand a Monarch receiving, say, minimum wage?

It does not, interestingly, which is something to consider for our Royal Family today – if indeed they are needed to provide a government based upon unity, then why doesn’t the state manage all their staff, as opposed to the Royals including them on their Civil List, all transportation be considered for expenses claims and for those (unlike Charles) without jobs in the private sector, the minimum wage be granted?

Isn’t the state itself a kind of guarantor for which divisions and particular interests are maintained?

The penultimate question is whether the state itself doesn’t guarantee divisions are curbed, so as not to jeopardise unity. The answer to that is yes, it does. For me, the point of the state is to harness the pursuit of the Good, and Truth, but not be so arrogant as to pretend it knows what those things are (thus elections). If the Royal Family today symbolise anything (and we know they don’t do anything for trade and tourism – that excuse is bollocks) then it is the unity of the state in a civil society, while we the public elect Prime Ministers through our wills. But if we removed the Royal Family today, the fact that our state would remain in tact, without a symbolic head of it, would mean that unity stays in tact too.

Hegel’s shortfall was in failing to see that the modern state, by itself, symbolises the unity he once attributed to a sitting Monarch. Therefore it is my contention we remove the Monarchy.

Why I’ll be having a good ol’ royal wedding knees up

April 26, 2011 9 comments

I’ll be at a royal wedding celebration on Friday.  I’ve been invited to one up the road, and I’m already saving up for some lager.

Given the manner in which I have disappointed comrades in the last few months with my political pragmatism/betrayal of socialist principles (delete as appropriate), this may come as no surprise.

As for justification of my newly revealed royalist tendencies, I can do little better than add a few thoughts to Simon’s excellently balanced post at Latte Labour on why he’ll be protesting against the royal wedding.   Simon makes excellent points for and against protesting, but I think his final judgment is wrong.

Of course I’m not a supporter of the monarchy.  Given a free vote in a referendum I’d certainly vote for abolition.   But the creation of a republic is not top of my political agenda.  The same applies, clearly, to Julia Gillard.

In the case of the royal wedding,  any argument about the extent to which a continued existence of the monarchy is or isn’t damaging to British (or perhaps more pertinently, Commonwealth) democracy is much less important than the question of why and people are actually having street parties.

Talking to people about what’s being planned locally round my way, it has become fairly clear that the parties are not the same as the ones that were held in 1981.   The early 1980s reverence for royalty has largely gone, and been replaced by a knowing irony about it all, fused with a celebrity age inquistiveness about the two ‘hot’ celebrities of the moment. 

The key reason my friends are having a party is because they’ve got an umexpected day off, and they like barbecques with beer when you don’t have to go to work next day.  The royal wedding is a good excuse for this, a bit like the state-sponsored promotion of catholic burning is a good excuse to get together every November. 

I think for lefties to protest about the royal wedding, while it is justifiable in one set of political/constitutional terms, risks more than ‘looking like an arsehole’, to use Simon’s eloquent terms. 

It also risks looking patronising towards a whole section of the population. because it  appears to assume that ordinary people up and down the country are being successfully subjected (geddit?) to a narrative of continued subservience to their betters, whereas in fact those ordinary people are actually pretty clued into what’s going on.

This doesn’t mean, I hasten to add, that the same principle of ‘listen to where the working class because they are right’ should always apply to the Left.  

When I get round to it, I’ll be writing at length about Blue Labour and imimigration, and in this context I’ll argue quite happily and unashamedly about rightwing hegemony and the need for ‘conscientization’ (while also taking on board Lenin’s useful recent piece on Blue Labour’s deliberate contortion of what the working class actually thinks about immigration). 

Yes, there are conceptual difficulties here associated with the notion of a leftwing vanguard imposing a consciousness from above, but these difficulties are worth tackling when it comes to tackling what may be a dangerous new rise of nationalism within the so-called labour movement.

But these are not difficulties that it’s worth tackling when it comes to the royal wedding. 

Better, I contend, to give credit where credit is due, accept that in general people know pretty well how the monarchy sits in the 21st century – an odd but increasingly Hello-friendly anachronism which over the next generation may well be reduced in scale and constitutional importance through a process of  ‘attrition-by-fading-celebrity-lustre’.  A bit like Kerry Katona, but with less burgers.

Better, ultimately, to have regard to Owen’s earnest exhortations for lefties to have a laugh at times, over and above Simon’s earnest advice on the need for slightly reluctant bolshiness, and get down the Co-op for some lager before it runs out.


Categories: General Politics

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