Archive for the ‘General Politics’ Category

Labour’s public service reform planning: a return to Laski

June 16, 2014 3 comments

Giles Wilkes, now out on licence from Whitehall, has compared the fiscal plans of Labour, the LibDems and the Tories.   He  finds that the LibDems and Labour’s plans are “credible”, while the Tory ones are not.  This is not a surprise, but it’s good of him to do the adding up.

What interests me more about his piece, though, is not Giles’ attempt to establish common ground for a Lib-Lab coalition, but his casual dismissal of the whole idea of public services reform:

No doubt this debate will continue to be evaded over the next few months.  Some will claim tax rises; others will claim unspecified or unrealistic benefits cuts.  Others will hope not to have to spell things out, and others will claim magic further efficiency savings (my emphasis).

So is there any hope of getting more for our money from public services?

Yes there is, and Giles is wrong.

As is Rick.  And as is Anthony.  And as is Andrew.  As is Richard.  As is Hopi.  As is Atul.  As is, utterly and totally, Janan.  All cleverer than me, all wrong.

All of them, in their own way, seek to take the moral high ground, by arguing that cuts and or tax rises are inevitable, and that Labour is either damaging itself electorally in the short term by not telling the truth and therefore not exuding economic competence (Anthony, Atul, Andrew, Hopi) acting dishonestly by avoiding that inevitability, in a way which will hurt electorally later when the cuts and taxes do come (Rick, Giles, Janan).  Meanwhile, over in the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) corner, Richard argues that Labour are preparing to make savage cuts because they’re too cowardly and/or ignorant to get MMT.[1]

But what apparently none of them have noticed – or perhaps preferred to ignore – is that Labour is seriously committed to public services reform, and has for the past few months been carefully working up a programme for government which will deliver both desirable and affordable public service outcomes over the long-term.   I’ve already covered the main elements of this programme, which hinges on what Jon Cruddas has (now more than once and quite deliberately) referred to as “investment in preventing social problems“, a commitment to making ‘relational services’ actually happen through that investment and a mix of decentralization and innovation within the treasury which allow us to bring in the initial resources for that upfront investment, on the costed basis of huge downstream savings to the public purse.

What interests me here is not the emerging detail for that programme – and there will be more of that in the IPPR report to be released to great Labour fanfare on Thursday and then over the summer – but why and how such eminent commentators have failed to notice that the zero-based review, which is largely about departmental efficiency and is being managed by Chris Leslie, is dwarfed in importance by the policy review process being chaired by Jon Cruddas and the Decentralization Decade project being run, again, by IPPR, in conjunction with Price Waterhouse Coopers and others.

The answer is, I think, quite straighforward, and welcome.   The public service reform planning process has been set up and delivered out of sight of the myopic commentariat, who may claim to understand how Labour does or should work (I don’t include Giles here) but is in fact utterly ignorant of what’s been happening.  The Labour policy review, which has mostly been about public services [2], has been a mostly in-house affair, co-ordinated through the Your Britain website, and the many, many submissions that have been made by CLPs and other informed bodies, then weighted for support, scored, assessed and taken into account by Jon’s team, have been well below the commentariat radar.  IPPR too, who as Labour’s closest  and most capable think-tank have pulled a lot of the thinking on relational services together, have for the most part operated out of the limelight, though this will start to change this week (as above)

This is policy development as it should happen, and a refreshing change from the diktat days of New Labour.   This time around Labour has harnessed the power of the web properly, and within a clear set of parameters gone about taking on board the informed view of party members and others sympathetic enough to the cause to want to have their informed say.

Yes, I would have liked to have seen somewhat different parameters set in the first place, and that might have been the case but for the somewhat toxic legacy of In the Black Labour (to that extent I do agree with Richard Murphy and others), and yes, some of the timetable has been a bit out of kilter, with the need to draw forward some commitments before they are fully costed and agreed [3].   But with those caveats (and when we’re in power and doing public service differently, the parameters can start to shift), it’s been great to see a Labour party policy process which, more than any time in my lifetime, has had proper input from public servants in the labour movement, at the expense of those who think its their right to be told what’s going on, and who are completely flummoxed by a process which doesn’t pander to the think-tank elite, but largely bypasses them.

A return of Labour party policy to the labour  movement – who’d have thought it? I am reminded, in fact, of Harold Laski’s 1924 views on how government should be run (before the internet):

But predominantly the corrective [to posh people in Whitehall knowing bugger all about real life] is most largely to be supplied by the system of advisory committees  discussed above.  For there the official will be compelled to measure his knowledge and experience against a much wider variety than is now the case.  He will less and less draw his conclusions from reading of reports, the arguments he can think of in an office; he will more and more tend to build hem out of personal contact wiith business men trade unionists, doctors, school teachers. (p.400)

Perhaps Ralph did read the right bedtime stuff to Ed, after all.



[1] In his piece, Giles is also caustically dismissive of the MMT and similar positions, which surprises me a little:

There have been those on the Right somehow denying that there has been any austerity, and those on the Left somehow acting as if the idea of eventually bringing your budget into some sort of balance is a wicked contrived plot.  Yes, why on earth should a government inheriting a £159bn deficit be thinking at all about public spending restraint? Must be a conspiracy.

Before his Coalition SpAD sentence, he seemed a little more open to the pretty reasonable accounting identity argument now put forward by Richard and, more importantly, Chris Dillow.

All we get is a shifting balance between private and public assets and debts, in the absence of a massive international imbalance. Which means we can always afford to resolve either private or public indebtedness with a political solution, if we are brave enough.

But why exactly is 75% of GDP in public debts, owned by the private sector and paying just 4-5% interest, a problem – when the private sector needs such instruments?

That is a question Conservatives bury under the term ‘burdening our children with debts’.  It is just as much ‘providing our pensioners with assets’.

For myself, while I think the whole accounting identity argument holds water, I just think the thinking hard bit of the UK left needs to accept that we’ve lost that battle for now, and that we should focus on supporting Labour, either as activists or commentators (preferably both) to work its way towards and then sell to the electorate the kind of social investment programme I outline above, and for which I have stressed the urgent need elsewhere.  This includes arguing for social investment, through stable employment, as part of Andrew Adonis’ growth review, another bit of Labour’s  careful government programming work.

[2] I am reminded here of Janan’s pithily correct “all politics are fiscal” in his otherwise excruciatingly poorly informed attack on Ed Miliband’s and Labour’s plans.

[3]  As James Mackenzie has pointed out to me, one of the key drivers for the speeding up of the timetable for announcing Labour’s programme for government may well be the risk of a Yes vote in Scotland.  I hope, contra James, that it’s not too late.

Cruel to be kind

June 10, 2014 2 comments

There has been a twitterstorm over the weekend about the studs placed strategically in South London to stop street homeless people bedding down there.  For the most part, “barbaric”, “inhumane” etc. are winning the day.

One of the more interesting contributions, though, is from an anonymous student nurse in the capital, who has worked in the field of street homelessness. S/he defends their use:

As horrific as it must sound, sometimes you have to remove a person’s sleep site in order to engage that person. Rough sleeping is incredibly harmful, it affects a person’s physical and mental health and most importantly their personal safety. Each night you sleep rough you are risking getting a kicking because people do that to homeless people.

I guarantee that the outreach team in Southwark know about this site and have been trying to stop people rough sleeping there for some time [ as it turns out it's new and they may not do], not because they lack humanity or a sense of community but because rough sleeping kills people. On average, homeless people die 30 years earlier than the rest of the population. It’s a slow suicide. .

It’s an interesting and articulate defence, but it’s not one I agree with.

This is because the starting premise – that you have to stop people sleeping rough for their own good – is wrong.*   Equating a choice to be street homeless with suicide may be a usefully emotive way of backing the argument, but it is not valid, and shows a fundamental disrespect for someone who has chosen to stay on the street, albeit a disrespect born of decent motives.  The choice to stay on the street may, to almost everyone else, be the wrong choice, but it remains someone’s choice.  Attempting, by whatever means, to remove that choice, is always a disempowering action with negative consequences in the long term.  While it is valid to override choice in real suicide situations – on the basis that being dead is to ensure disempowerment for ever – it is not valid in all but the most extreme situations e.g. sub-zero temperatures (when in any event street homelessness does tend to lessened by dint of the instinct to survive).**

So what’s the alternative?

Well, Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach is one way forward.  This is fundamentally about valuing people’s choice over what kind of life they want to live, and supporting them as they develop the range of ‘functionings’ they need to be able to live that life.  In order to do that, it’s essential to value the functioning capabilities people already have, including, in this case, the capacity to survive on the street by finding sheltered spaces in doorways.  That’s the start of a proper engagement process, whereby further choices can be established and support provided to enable people to develop the appropriate capacities to make those choices real.

Of course, that’s hard for a homeless outreach team to stomach, not just because they know better than most how tough it is on the street, but because almost all public service provision in this country is based on the ‘cruel to be kind’ model, and that is the pervasive culture.  This is none more so than in children and family social services, where large numbers of parents (usually mothers) are actively disempowered on a a daily basis, because no-one values the fact that they cope, however imperfectly, with all the shite life throws at them.  Instead, they are defined as failures, who have made the wrong choices in life, and need to be corrected.

Putting spikes in the ground, or building benches on a slant, will not resolve the factors that driver street homelessness. Respect, and the resources that follow in the wake of respect, will.



* Here I leave aside the debate about whether or not there are enough beds for the street homeless.

**I do accept the blog author’s argument that the potential for getting a kicking may on some occasions be high enough to warrant intervention against a person’s will, if the threat is real and immediate. In these circumstances, as with suicide, there are already legal powers to take someone to a place of safety.

Categories: General Politics

Law breaking for legitimacy: the thin end of the euro-wedge

It’s beginning to look like Jean-Claude Juncker will not become President of the European Commission after all.  Paul Mason from the left seems pleased, and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard from the sane wing of conservatism will not, I think, be shedding any tears.

But Jurgen Habermas has a different view, worth listening to.  He thinks that leaders of member states coming together to block Juncker’s election as Commission President by the European Parliament is very bad news indeed.

On the whole, I agree.

This is not because I think Juncker will be a good President – on this I agree with Mason and Evans-Pritchard that he is a  member of a self-serving elite devoted to a massively counterproductive continuation of austerity.

It’s because I don’t like the idea of state leaders thinking they can ignore the rule of law as a means of bolstering their political fortunes.

Let’s be clear what’s going on here.

If a Juncker Presidency is not recommended to the European Parliament by the heads of state at the forthcoming European Council, then these heads of state will have deliberately and knowingly breached article 17 (7) of the Treaty of European Union [1], which requires that the European Council takes into account the results of the European elections.  They may be able to talk their way round it if Junker decides, as seems likely, to withdraw his candidature before the European Council as a way to save face, but this will only be a technicality.

The Spitzenkandidat process – whereby the main European parliamentary grouping have selected their preferred candidates (Juncker for the EPP, Schulz for the SPD) as their part of the implementation of the treay – has been very clear for many months now, and it is only at this very late stage that national governments have started to suggest that “taking account” of the election results, in which the EPP gained the upper hand, might involve simply discounting them in favour of ‘candidates’ who have been nowhere near the process to date.

Moreover, there is a legal mechanism within the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU (article 234) for the European Parliament to make the President and his Commission resign should they lose the confidence of the Parliament,  meaning that national governments could work with others in their political groupings to put an end to a Juncker presidency if he turned out to be the disaster they’ve suddenly worked out he might be.  Indeed, They could even persuade enough MEPs to vote against Juncker after the European Council itself has proposed him – a bit odd-looking, but perfectly legal.

But that route has been ignored in favour of a bigger states vs. European Parliament powerplay, which prefers simply to ignore the rule of law in this case. (In Cameron’s detail-lite case, he possibly simply doesn’t know, just as he probably didn’t know that by taking the Tories out of the EPP, he removed himself from any influence on which Spitzenkandidat the EPP went for at its Dublin meeting in March).

What this likely breach of law is really all about is the panic of members states at the rise of the populist anti-EU right in the recent EU parliamentary elections.   Cameron, and now it seems Merkel (I reserve judgment on Renzi) are desperate to show that they are on the side of ‘their’ peoples, and thereby bolster their own legitimacy as democratic representatives.  But breaking the law is not a good way to do that.

Of course law shouldn’t be set in stone, and Habermas is very clear [3] that there needs to be a healthy tension between legality and legitimacy, with a space for forms of civil disobedience in cases where the law loses legitimacy, in a way which creates a process for the renewal and relegitimation of law . But this is the preserve of civil society, not the existing elite.  If demonstrations erupt against a Juncker presidency, linked to a wider movement against austerity, then the European Council might have a legitimate part to play in meeting the expressed will of the people, and reforming the treaties as appropriate (though as  noted, the scope for the Council to dismiss the Commission creates a legal route to meet that will anyway).*   For national elites to seek their own legitimacy in the eyes of their people by ignoring international law  is the thin end of a very big wedge.

If the anti-Juncker plan is carried through by Merkel, Cameron and others, I do hope the European Parliament will stand its ground and vote against their recommendation for President, wohever that may be, as an act of principle.  Sadly, I can’t see it happening.

Shame the Labour party stopped me being an MEP.  I’d have stood with Jurgen for a socialist AND democratic Europe.


[1] Article 17 (7) of the Treaty of European Union reads:

Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members. If he does not obtain the required majority, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall within one month propose a new candidate who shall be elected by the European Parliament following the same procedure.

[2] Article 234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union reads:

If a motion of censure on the activities of the Commission is tabled before it, the European Parliament shall not vote thereon until at least three days after the motion has been tabled and only by open vote.

If the motion of censure is carried by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast, representing a majority of the component Members of the European Parliament, the members of the Commission shall resign as a body and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall resign from duties that he or she carries out in the Commission. They shall remain in office and continue to deal with current business until they are replaced in accordance with Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union. In this case, the term of office of the members of the Commission appointed to replace them shall expire on the date on which the term of office of the members of the Commission obliged to resign as a body would have expired.


[3] Its interesting to see Habermas, in his interview with the Allgemeine Zeitung, positively welcome the rise of the populist vote in the European elections as a shock to the governing elite:

Der Rechtspopulismus erzwingt die Umstellung vom bisherigen Elitemodus auf die Beteiligung der Bürger.  Das kann dem europäischen Parlament und seinem Einfluss auf die europäische Gesetzgebung nur guttun

[Rightwing populism requires the adjustment of hitherto elite modes of governance toward citizen participation.  That can only be a good thing for rhe Europen Parliament and its influence on European lawmaking]


For further reading, see Bruce Miller’s useful post, including some useful translation of Habermas and others, and more generally Matthew G Specter’s Habermas: An intellectual biography, kindly sent my way by Chris Brooke.


In the Pink Labour

I wasn’t at the Progress conference this weekend just gone.  Why on earth would I go to listen to Sunny Hundal talk about public service reform, when I could be getting on with mowing a garden untouched for the election period?*

By all accounts (here’s one), there was a bit of doom and gloom, following on from Peter Kellner’s intervention at the start of the day, which told from an (opinion) polling point of view of the uphill struggle Labour now faces to get anywhere near victory.

For myself, I don’t get all the doom and gloom.   I think that if we deliver on what we propose to deliver on in the next 9 months before the short election period, we will go into that period with a very confident and enthusiastic ‘groundwar’ team of thousands, we’ll win the election  and – most importantly – we’ll be in  good position to deliver on our promises within the first half of the parliament.

We are becoming, if I might be permitted to have a go at choosing a new colour for the party – In the Pink Labour (ITPL).

So why would I, hitherto somewhat sceptical about the party direction, so confident?

I’m confident because the party has steered an intelligent course between competing pressures and sources of advice and is now coming to the point where it can announce a deliverable programme for government which will appeal to the voters that must vote Labour if we are to win.  The ITPL course might be most conveniently described in relation to other colour schemes that various groupings have tried to impose on Labour, or define Labour as.

In the Black Labour (ITBL)

This grouping, from 2011 onwards, sought to impose the mantra of ‘fiscal responsibility’ on the party, arguing that the only route to electoral victory was to regain trust lost in the wake of the financial crisis.   Primarily, this means accepting major cuts to public service/spending, and striving for optimum  ‘social justice’ with what spending remained.

This prescription found early favour both  within the higher echelons of the party and within Progress because – despite the macroeconomic illiteracy that lies behind it – the rhetoric of responsibility, of looking like ‘grown-up’ serious politicians in contrast to the supposedly juvenile antics of the anti-austerity brigade, was attractive.  For a while, ITBL ‘thinking’ was all the rage.

Soon enough, it became clear that the whole ITBL project was undeliverable even in its own terms – that the social outcomes to which its proponents claimed to aspire are impossible to deliver without significant investment of the type not allowed under the self-imposed fiscal responsibility rules.  But the consequence of this 2011-2012 dalliance with ITBL have been been far reaching.  Instead of Labour positioning itself to make a sustained anti-austerity case, and from there a defence of the underlying virtues of an effective social democratic welfare state, the party and its think-thanks (notably IPPR) have had to developed ways to sell additional spending on social outcomes as ‘investment’, which over time will reduce recurrent expenditure.

It is largely this need to row quietly back from the excesses of the ill-thought out ITBL period that has spurred the party on to the three-sided review it has been engaged with for nearly a year now, but one key aspect of which currently properly get going until 15 months out from the general election, this being roughly the point when Treasury and other departmental officials become obliged under convention to look seriously at opposition plan for government and comment on their deliverability.

The review consists of the department-by-department zero-based spending review, the broad policy review co-ordinated by Jon Cruddas (deadline for members and other submissions is 13th June) and,as importantly, a review of what can be done with the mechanisms of Treasury to facilitate the drawing forward of spend on social outcomes (with lower state spending in the future projected as a result), with a significant element of this review being around the potential for a ‘decentralisation decade’.

None of this makes the headlines, of course, but it opens the way, come later summer/Autumn for Miliband to build on his policy-heavy Queen’s Speech response and the other policy nuggets already announced.  It promises to create the momentum needed to bring back on side those who have drifted from Labour on the basis that it hasn’t resisted the Tory cuts machine like it should have done (see below), while also allowing those who tied themselves to the ITBL mast to retain the impression that their original concerns with serious fiscal responsibility continue to be addressed because the programme for government remains costed, albeit on a multi-year investment basis rather than the more short-sighted basis of ITBL’s original proponents.

More importantly, once in government, it creates a real opportunity for Labour to move at least some of the way towards the kind of supply-side socialism envisaged by Chris, although there are dangers, which emerge from the budgeting process used to get us this far, of the whole project remaining one of central command and control, and one vital aspect of supply-side socialism (empowerment of workers in the workplace) becoming sidelined.

White Flag Labour (WFL)

Coined in early 2012 by economist Howard Reid, WFL takes the diametrically opposite position to ITBL, and indeed takes ITBL as a key reference point:

In the Black Labour is actually “White Flag Labour”; a tame surrender to the misguided economic policies currently wreaking havoc on the UK‟s economic and social fabric, rather than the well-worked-out and comprehensive fightback we so desperately need.

This broadly reflects the position of a wide range of self-defining left-wing activists, both within and outside the Labour party, including Compass (who published Howard’s essay).  Back in 2011/12, I would have put myself in that camp, believing that it was still possible to argue the anti-austerity case straightforwardly, taking on the ‘credit-card’ myth-peddling and forging a distinctive post-Keynesian economic project.

But that was then.  Howard and colleagues (including myself) never had the institutional or social clout within the Labour movement to push forward that case, and for a time ITBL won out (as above).  Now, the challenge is to persuade those still devoted to the White Flag idea – here’s a recent example – that Labour has got round to their position social and economic investment by a very roundabout route, and that rather than argue about why it didn’t come along the straight path, the best thing to do now is to acknowledge that we can go the last mile to the general election together.

In many ways, this is a tougher task than it is to keep the ITBL devotees with us, because those who thought they saw the white flag raised are more embittered at having been ignored.  This isn’t made any easier by Chris Leslie coming out with a seemingly very 2011 speech about the continued need for savage cuts, of course, but this needs to be seen in the context of the perceived need to keep ITBL happy at the Progress conference, and needs to be compared with this article just a day later, in which much more of the talk is about ‘outcomes’.

Blue Labour

The economic blueprint for a Labour government is not everything, of course.  To win, Labour also needs to be steady-footed in its handling of the UKIP insurgency.   Even here, though, Labour is starting to get it right, recognising that this too demands a coherent economic response.  The outline of a short-term approach to EU migration which actually has a chance of delivery and is constructively pro-European is emerging, and will I suspect be firmed up in fairly short order, but the big work being started is to link the economic insecurities which are driving the ‘male rage’ to the kind of economic solutions which only Labour can deliver on.   Primarily, this requires investment in decent quality jobs which give people (men) back a sense of dignity in their family and their locality, as I’ve set out here.

This is a move on from the slight silliness of the Blue Labour movement of 2010-11, but even here there is an opportunity to unify the party for the pre-election year by acknowledging that some of what was being said back then does resonate, even if the policy proposals emanating from that time were pretty thin.

In the Pink Labour

So all in all, I’m pretty sanguine about where we are in mid-2014.   The problem with Kellner’s projections is that they assume business as usual in the Labour party.   What there hasn’t been in the Labour party over the last two years, though, is business as usual.   A very distinctive programme of government is being planned, according to a tight but realistic timetable, and very soon it will be difficult for people to say: “but what does Labour/Miliband stand for?”.

We are in this position because we argued our positions long and hard, but without falling out too much.  The anti-austerity troops can take credit for where we are now just as much as the ITPL brigade.  I’d rather have got where we are now differently, but In the Pink is not such a bad place to be.

Ed Miliband, whom I once called by a bad word because I hadn’t worked out his methods (I’m not convinced he had at that stage either) can also take credit.

Sorry, Ed.






*Sunny Hundal is a nice man but he knows a good deal less than I do about public services and how they might and can be reformed. More importantly, holding an election three weeks later in May than normal means that the grass gets ridiculously long and difficult to get through with a small mower.

** An odd role reversal

Theresa May lets the mask slip

June 4, 2014 1 comment

In the rush for political exploitation of the rift between the Education and Home Secretaries Gove and May, one extraordinary sentence from the May letter to Gove has been strangely overlooked, even by people like Mehdi Hasan (who focuses of the apparent Gove plan for compulsory dress code in the context of his woeful ignorance of Islam).

This is what May says, in her questioning of the competence of Gove’s department:

How did it come to pass, for example, that one of the governors at Park View was the chairman of the education committee of the Muslim Council of Britain?

Here, she is clearly suggesting that active membership of the Muslim Council of Britain is, per se, incompatible with school governorship.

This is an extraordinary statement to make.  The Muslim Council of Britain is a widely respected organisation, at which only last month Chuka Ummuna was a guest speaker, for example.  Yes, some of its members have on occasion been involved in controversial statements, but there is nothing to suggest that it is, of itself, an extremist organisation.  It is perfectly legitimate for it to have, and to profess view on the maintenance of Islamic values within the context of British society, whether or not you agree that they should be maintained.

It’s an even more extraordinary c0mment if you give credence to the Garry Gibbon story of May resisting Gove’s desire to name ‘extremist’ organisations within the Extremism Task Force’s December report.

Of course Tahir Alam, the governor in question, may be an extremist with abhorrent views who should be nowhere near schools*.  I wouldn’t know. But this is a question of his actions as a governor, and whether the DfE’s oversight was sufficient in the absence of local authority control,.  His membership of the Muslim Council of Britain is an irrelevance.

Just imagine if a priest’s activities were found to be incompatible with good safeguarding practice at a school.  Would May then write to Gove in the follow terms?

How did it come to pass that an ordained priest of the catholic church came to be a governor at this school?

I think Theresa May’s fury at Gove has got the better of her judgment here, and she’s let slip a little what I suggest may be a conflation in her mind of Islam and Islamic extremism – something the ETF report was very keen shouldn’t happen (para 1.4).


*In fact, it seems to be mildly ironic that one of the complaints dug up about him in the is his 2007 (co-author) publication for the Muslim Council of Britain, which calls for state schools to “take account of Muslim sensitivities and sensibilities with respect to sexual morality” with “girlfriend/boyfriend as well as homosexual relationships” treated as “not acceptable practices according to Islamic teachings”, given that Theresa May is on record defending the introduction of Clause 28, which in terms of homosexuality sought to do much the same.



Categories: General Politics

Delivering Denham

So John Denham MP wants Labour to lead the debate on curbing immigration into the EU:

[L]et’s lead the debate in the EU about changing the rules. This won’t be a swift argument to win, but we will get more credit for trying than for avoiding the issue. Merkel won’t let Germany pay for Southern Europe. Why should we cope with the migration consequences of Euro zone failure?

Let’s assume for the purposes of this post that he’s right*.  How, specifically, would be go about getting the rule change needed to stop intra-EU migration.   Wouldn’t that require either a treaty change which would be years in the negotiation, or a leaving of the EU/EEA? No, it wouldn’t. Article 45 of the Treaty says:

1. Freedom of movement for workers shall be secured within the Union. 2. Such freedom of movement shall entail the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the Member States as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment. 3. It shall entail the right, subject to limitations justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health….(my emphasis)

It’s not quite as simple as invoking para 3 to limit intra-EU migration on the grounds of preferred public policy, since a 2004 EU Directive tightened up the meaning of this (in its pre-Lisbon form) to ensure its use would not be arbitrary, and as it stands reasons have to be given for the barring of each and every individual from a country, which would be impractical.   But the mechanism for the changing of a directive is a lot less cumbersome than that for changing a treaty, and could be done if there was enough political will, especially as a changed Directive requires interpretation and incorporation into national law and inevitably allows states some leeway about how this done.

Of  course then the question arises of why the accession countries would accept such a change.  Clearly it wouldn’t be in the interests of its citizens to have their freedom of movement restricted, as that is one route to the the ‘economic convergence’ those citizens seek (they might not call it that – they might call it ‘earning a better wage’). The answer – and this is what Labour should be focusing on now – lies in another, even less read bit of the Lisbon treaty. Article 30 states that “customs duties on imports and exports and charges having equivalent effect shall be prohibited between Member States. This prohibition shall also apply to customs duties of a fiscal nature.” but article 32 clear the way for exceptions to the rule:

In carrying out the tasks entrusted to it under this Chapter the Commission shall be guided by………the need to avoid serious disturbances in the economies of Member States and to ensure rational development of production and an expansion of consumption within the Union

Invocation of this aspect of the Lisbon treaty as part of the overall deal would create the room for  temporary suspension of the single market, and the creation of export subsidy/import substitution mechanisms, such that convergence can occur at a much quicker pace than might otherwise happen.   It would effectively, give the newer EU states the space they need to catch up, as long as they agree to their side of the bargain – keeping and feeding their own citizens. None of this is easy, especially from opposition, but If Labour really wants to pull the rug from under Cameron and Farage  and in a way which looks to the long term of Europe as well as to the assuaging of those “understandable concerns” – we could get on with doing something they apparently can’t be bothered with: the detail.


*Actually Denham is wrong, as the migration he’s concerned about has little to do with problems in the Euro zone, and lots to do with the fact that the accession countries and the southern states have not converged economically with Western European countries as planned.  That’s not just because of the incompleteness of these states’ tax regimes etc., but because capitalism doesn’t work like the Maastricht theorists said it would.  A better, more holistic approach would be to resist any attack on freedom of movement until action had been taken to resolve some of the issues at the heart of the neoliberal project that is the EU. But that’s a bigger question than we can deal with here.  Apply for details.

That big NHS shift

I welcome the big new movement towards the provision of secondary healthcare closer to communities, set out by the new NHS Chief Executive, Simon Stevens.

Except that it’s not new at all.

The need for such a  shift was set out clearly by the Department of Health back in 2008, and lots of NHS Trusts have been doing their best to shift services out from the bigger centres for ages, despite government policy in the opposite direction, because it’s obvious that this is the best thing to do for an ageing population.

This, for example, comes from the 2012-2013 annual report of my own local NHS Trust (at which I’m a governor):

Care Closer to Home is the urgent care strategy we are developing with the support of our clinical commissioning groups, the GP-led organisations which determine the health care needs for local people, and social services departments in Sefton and Lancashire.  The strategy underpins our foundation trust application because it is recognised major system change is needed if we are to meet demand for urgent care and support the increasing number of patients with long-term conditions. Individuals have been identified in each organisation with clear responsibility for delivering the strategy. Staff are being recruited to support delivery of the strategy programme and make change happen at the front line of care.

This isn’t about Simon Stevens with a new vision for the NHS.  This is about Simon Stevens preparing to work for a Labour government.

That’s a good thing.

The mainstream media reporting of it is shockingly bad, mind.  Do any of the papers/channels understandinh anything about the NHS?




Categories: General Politics

Labour, UKIP and the crisis of male rage

May 30, 2014 4 comments

A week on from the UKIP earthquake, there are three main views being expressed by Labour MPs, Labour grouplets and Labour-supporting commentators:

a) The UKIP surge provides further support for my/my grouplet’s view that we must not descend to UKIP’s level, but focus on outing UKIP as a racist party so that non-racist Labour to UKIP switchers switch back (e.g.);

b) The UKIP surge provides further support for my/my grouplet’s view that we must not call UKIP voters racist, but focus on outing UKIP as a Thatcherite party so that Labour to UKIP switchers switch back for fear of Thatcherism (e.g.);

c) The UKIP surge provides further support for my/my grouplet’s view that we must address the concerns of Labour to UKIP switchers, mostly notably about immigration and its perceived-or otherwise economic impacts (e.g.).

All of these miss the point, because they regard these vote switches as the result of expressed preferences for one polity over another*.

But having spent a lot of time on the doorstep asking people to vote Labour over the last month, it seems pretty clear to me that the UKIP surge has little to do with expressed preferences, and that the answer to Labour’s UKIP problem has little to do with Chris’s question of how far Labour responds to populist demand or stands its ground with the experts**.

UKIP’s surge feels and sounds to me  like an expression of male rage.

Of course not all Labour-UKIP swtichers are men, but that is where it’s core support comes from – older, white men from outside the big cities.   And for anyone who’s ever canvassed a house and heard “I’ll check with my husband but I think we’re Labour”, it’s easy enough to compute why female votes might follow in smaller but not insignificant numbers.

With this gender split so well recorded, it seems odd then that no-one seems to see it as the key to Labour’s or the left’s problem.  Even self-defining feminist writers like Laurie, who get that the rise of the populist right vote is rooted in “a feeling of humiliation and hopelessness” ignore the gender dimension.

Fortunately, there are other feminist writers at hand to explain what’s going on.

There’s Susan Faludi’s Stiffed: The Betrayal of Modern Man, a meticulous study of how deindustrialisation – a key feature of areas where UKIP has grown – has ripped away masculine security and created a whole generation of working class men who feel socially useless and inept, especially in comparison to their strong and silent fathers:

[An] important aspect of such a masculinity was the importance of commanding the inner skills to work with materials. Workmanship generated a pride founded in the certainty that what you did bespoke a know-how not acquired overnight. “I was good at it” was a frequent statement that the shipyard men made to me about their work, a remark offered withou  inflection or posturing, just as a matter of unassailable fact, a truth on which a man’ s life could be securely founded. Out of that security grew  authority-an authority based, as in the root meaning of the word, on having authored something productive. (p. 86, italics in the original).

That was written 15 years ago, and researched 5 years earlier.  Now these men,and many of their sons who grew up hoping against hope that they might still enjoy both the security and the usefulness of real work, are not just saddened. They are angry.

And, not entirely unlike the angry men in described in Bird Featherstone et al’s superb new book Re-imagining Child Protection, that anger is expressed through deliberately hostile acts:

Their status and definition of themselves as men is given meaning through protest, an acting out of being everything that is seen as socially valid (p.121, quoting Ferguson and Hogan 2004)

Of course most men don’t lash out in the way with which Bird is concerned, by inflicting torment on women and children  (though many more do than is acknowledged, – but what they can do , and did so last week, was lash out on the ballot paper.

So if Labour’s problem is a male problem, the solution need to be a male one too.  Labour, as I’ve suggested, is a little way from joining the dots on that. In one of the more thoughtful contributions on Labour’s response (written before the elections), Jon Cruddas makes some headway, though again it doesn’t really convey the sense of male rage:

We can see the consequences across the economy and society in the stagnation and fall in wages, in the rise of low skill, low paid work, in workplace stress, and in the growing levels of mental illness and loneliness.  The loss of this institutional expression of solidarity has resulted in two things. It has given greater prominence to expressions of national, regional and local cultural identities. And it has led to a politics  of victimhood and resentment.  UKIP grows where these two trends converge.

The solution is the standard stuff:  regional banks, pro-wealth creation measures, better political institutions, free childcare.  All good stuff in their own right, but still the stuff of preference politics, not the stuff to dampen the rage.

Jon is right, inadvertently, to aspire to

an inclusive society that builds our common life together, invests in preventing social problems.

What he’s probably getting at here is the tackling of “problem families” and the need for upfront investment.  Again all very well, but not enough.

Because the (loss of) masculinity is the social problem.  It’s already here, and if we don’t deal with it now through radical investment in male security and usefulness – and this is not a call for a return to the gender inequalities of last century- then the UKIP and post-UKIP age may be a very bad place for all of us.

How do we do this?

Well, good old state intervention – while perhaps not the best route to and contented society if we had more time – is probably our best best given the speed with which the age of rage has now come upon us.  Massive investment in genuinely useful jobs in housing, public transport and green technologies, for starters, with deficit spending as necessary, has become a social must in the past three years or so.

Of course that’s not in the In the Black Labour manual (at least the first version before it lost a lot of ground to political reality and clever Labour planners), but this, comrades, is a crisis.  And just as for Cameron when his core vote was flooded, money was no object, so too for Ed Miliband, investment in the working class man must now take precedence.

Jobs, good ones, social worth, solidarity, the revitalisation of trade union councils, the Tawney-inspired vision of  not so long ago, depend on the courage to recognise the deep shit we’re in.  On that I even agree with Richard.




*It may be that commentators are unwilling to go beyond how to respond to expressed preferences in their analysis for fear of been seen to patronise those who chose UKIP.  For myself, as an older white male who might, had it none been for a bit of good old conscientisation a few years ago, have fitted neatly into the Labour-UKIP switcher demographic, I have no big problem with talking about ideological control over the working class and UKIP’s success in that.

* *Here, Chris makes it clear that experts on immigration, for example, include those in cities that have experienced it, not just the pointy-headed metropolitan elite.



Categories: General Politics

My dad and UKIP

May 20, 2014 3 comments

BoCH-JkIAAA1JvzThe other week my brother and sister were doing a bit of clear out of our elderly mum’s house, so we could move the bed downstairs, while I looked after her for a few days.

Buried amidst the clutter of long widowhood, they came upon a box.   Inside the box they found some belongings of my dad, who was killed in 1979.   It was clear, going through the contents, that they had come across some of his most treasured belongings, and they soon revealed things about him we had never known.

First, and the biggest initial shock, was the Distinguished Flying Medal, earned for some unknown act or acts of bravery during his service with Bomber Command in 1944-45.   Alongside it was a typed letter from the headmaster at the school he had attended in Consett, written in 1946 apologising for not having heard earlier about my dad’s medal award because it had not been reported in the local press, and offering his congratulations.

None of us had ever known that he had been decorated, as he never talked about his war experiences.  I have reflected on that elsewhere*.  But the recognition of his award must have meant something big to him in private, as he had stowed away the letter.

This was all quite a surprise to us as a family, but more relevant here is what else we found in the box.  Next to these treasured items related to his war service was his first (and probably only) passport, dated 1948, and Youth Hostel cards dating from 1948-1951.  What they revealed was that my dad, who had been sent to bomb Europe in 1945, had travelled widely in post-war Europe, probably on the same bike he still had on the day he died.  The  passport stamps and hostel stamps show travels in Norway, France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy, though from a note in the passport it looks like Germany still required a special visa for travel at that time, so there were no German stamps.

Again, we had had no idea about any of these post-war travels, which must have been highly unusual for a fairly low-paid steel worker to have made so soon after the war.  We can postulate that he made them as soon as he had saved up enough money to do so.

My dad is long dead.  We can’t be sure exactly what motivated him to make these repeated trip to war-torn Europe, but we do wonder whether there is some direct connection between his service to free Europe, during which he bombed it from the air, and a determination to know it as it should be known, and in his own small way to reach out the hand of friendship to people whose language he didn’t speak.

This is a simple enough story, but it raises a key question: Which instincts and beliefs  should the British people trust?

Those of  a quiet man who defended freedom in Europe at risk to his own life – 44% of Bomber Command did not return – and then went to discover it for himself?

Or those of UKIP activists who choose to invoke the memory of quiet, peace-loving people like my father in the name of a movement driven by fear and rage, and whose main protagonists seek to build their political reputation and career via a cynical stoking of xenophobia?

I’m pretty sure my father would have been voting Labour on Thursday, as usual.



* Since I wrote that piece, I have re-read Susan Faludi’s 1999 Stiffed: The Betrayal of Modern Man, and this passage stands out as potentially reflecting, not so much  my own experience as a now middle-aged bloke from the end of the very tail end of the fathers-who-went-to-war generation – life has afforded by a different set of experiences – but those of some of the older, angry, powerless-feeling male I meet a lot, on the canvass doorstep and elsewhere, and who are most prey to the UKIP message:

In the generation before the war, millions of fathers failed to support their families, and hordes of them abandoned their households, became itinerant laborers, hoboes, winos. But that was the fault of the Great Depression, not of the men. By contrast, the post-World War II era was the moment of America’s great bounty and ascendance, when the nation and thus its fathers were said to own the world. Never, or so their sons were told, did fathers have so much to pass on as at the peak of the American Century. And conversely, never was there such a burden on the sons to learn how to run a world they would inherit. Yet the fathers, with all the force of fresh victory and moral virtue behind them, seemingly unfettered in their paternal power and authority, failed to pass the mantle, the knowledge, all that power and authority, on to their sons.

If only the fathers could have explained why. Because the men I got to know could have borne even their fathers’ failure to bestow a legacy, ; they could have weathered the disappointment of a broken patrimony. What undid them was their fathers’ silence. The sons grew up with fathers who so often seemed spectral, there and yet not there, “heads” of household strangely disconnected from the familial body. The non-present presence of paternal ghosts haunted long after the sons had left home, made families of their own. An aching sadness remained. Men spoke to me of waiting, year after year, for a sign, a late-night confidence, a death-bed confession, even – desperately – a letter delivered posthumously, for any moment that would decode the mystery of their mute fathers. “My dad was real quiet,” Dennie Elliott, of the Glendora Promise Keepers, said to me one afternoon, his voice more mournful than bitter. “You could sit in a room and if he said a dozen words in an afternoon, you were lucky. We’d always say, ‘Wonder what Dad’s thinking?'” Dennie would never find out. “In all the time I knew my father, he only told me, ‘Always be good at what you do,’ and ‘Don’t be later – always be on time.'”

I’ll be returning to this theme post-election, as I start to write again, and as I try to get to grips with how best the very horrible threat from UKIP might be tackled by the labour movement.

Categories: General Politics

Did Cameron tell Maria Miller she’s a sinner?

April 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Cameron’s at it again with the biblical references.

Last time it was an attempt to use Jesus’s “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” response to the Pharisees as a justification  for the maintenance of the status quo, when in fact it means quite the opposite.

This time around, he’s laying claim to St Paul’s advice to the Galatians:

The Bible tells us to bear one another’s burdens.  After the day I’ve had, I’m definitely looking for volunteers.

Indeed it does.  Well Paul does, in his letter to Galatians.

But Galatians 6.1, immediately preceding what Cameron quotes t 6.2, makes it quite clear that Paul is referring not to material burdens, but the burden of sin:

My bothers and sisters, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way, so that you will not be tempted too.

So either this was a mighty clever but gentle way of telling Maria Miller that she’s a right old sinner, or else it’s evidence he just googles the bits of the bible he needs and doesn’t bother with the context.


Categories: General Politics, Religion

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