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So what if Tom Perkins is right?

January 26, 2014 4 comments

Billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins has suggests that “the progressive war on the American one percent” might be analogous to developments in “fascist Nazi Germany”*.   Anti-rich media reporting, he tells us, may be the precursor of something much worse, if only we could think things through like him:

 This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking.  Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent [sic] “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?

Perkins has attracted ridicule but he may actually be right.  Historian Karl Dietrich Bracher seems to concur that something on the scale of Kristallnacht, and what followed, was so out of keeping with what had gone before as to be “unthinkable” until it came to pass.

Prior to Hitler’s emergence, outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence were rare in Germany, unlike eastern Europe.  Of course, anti-Semitic was ever present, waiting for fresh opportunities, particularly in times of poitical and economic crisis. It flared up with great intensity in 1873-1895, 1918-23, 1930-33, but its influence on political life and the terrible realization of its barbaric goals became possible after it had become part of an anti-democratic mass movement (p.66).

Bracher goes on to trace how and why this anti-democratic movement developed during the 1920s, and at the heart of his story is the way in which the “army and bureaucracy, middle class and business” (p.66) sided with the emerging forces of Nazism, enabling it ultimately to gain power via the democratic route,  for two main reasons: a dysfunctional democracy in the form of the Weimar republic, and the ‘Red spectre’ of Communist revolution (p.66). In the end, says Bracher,  the Germans got the Nazis because they thought the alternative might be worse:

The History of National Socialism is, in effect, the history of its fatal underestimation (p.69)

Fast forward to 2014 America** , and arguably it is this dynamic that Perkins has identified for us: a deep distrust of the political establishment, conflated with a growing fear of what “progressive” forces from the Left, such as Occupy, might mean for the status quo, leading to a growing hankering after a maverick figure of authority in whom we can all trust.

On this side of the Atlantic, UKIP is doing its best to provide that kind of “authority”, winning popularity via a leader who disrespects the fundamentals of democratic politics while making use of those same fundamentals to increase his coverage.  He can’t be any worse, we say, even though by normal standards of judgment, he very clearly is.

UKIP won’t itself last as a political force, but its methods, including a  very English form of völkish nationalism (unwittingly abetted by those who see the development of an English identity as a panacea) may well be taken up more talented and ruthless operatives.

Of course, on one narrow point Tom Perkins is wrong.  The victims of such a rise in nasty, anti-democratic forces will not be the likes of Perkins – he and his sort will be busy collaborating on the identification of who the victims should be, and making the most of the new opportunities afforded to them by the spirit of post-democracy.

But we should be grateful, at least, for this quick history lesson.

 

* I assume Perkins wants to distinguish ‘fascist Nazi Germany” for other types of Nazi Germany, though I’m not immediately aware of there having been any other types.

** Here I do Bracher a blatant disservice, as he is very clear that the rise of Nazism was a very German phenomenon, with a very specific set of drivers which do not lend themselves to explication of the rise of fascism in other countries.  Sorry, Karl Dietrich.

Categories: General Politics

Why the Left should be celebrating Ed Balls’ Fabian speech on ‘fiscal discipline’

January 25, 2014 4 comments

On hearing that Ed Balls was to use the Fabian conference to announce Labour’s commitment to a budget surplus, Hopi Sen tweets with mock insouciance

This is amusing, because his #intheblack labour side hasn’t won.  It’s lost, and my side has won.

As George Eaton has pointed out*

While Osborne’s promise applies to total government spending, Balls’s only applies to current spending (day-to-day spending on public services, for instance teachers’ salaries and hospital drugs). This leaves open the option of Labour borrowing to fund additional capital spending (investment in assets such as housing and roads).

This is not something In the Black Labour ever conceived of in their original short paper.

Where George continues to get it wrong is his assumption that additional borrowing will go towards capital spending only.  True, Balls focused on capital investment today, but the crucial (and largely ignored) Zero-based review makes it clear that there is an openness to non-capital social investment where additional funds are needed in the short terms to generate longer term savings to the public purse e.g. through investments in education and social justice-focused welfare provision.**

Ed Balls’ conversion (or re-conversion) to a reasonable sensible fiscal strategy in government should be a matter of celebration for the Left, much more than the politically attractive but much less meaningful 50% tax-rate (which should have been announced much later, giving top earners less time to shift there income around to avoid it).  It comes about not least because of the pressure by sections of the Left on Labour to do something seriously pro-growth AND pro-social justice, and marks quite a big shift in our direction.  If you look closely.***

 

* Fair play to George for finally waking up to this.  It’s possible, though I’m sure he’d deny it, that he realised what was going on when I took him to task on his failure to keep up to date.  His colleague Rafael Behr, whom I also found wanting, has conceded that I am right.

**This is easy enough to manage at a Treasury level – simply lower capital expenditure in Departmental budgets by shifting these costs into the new investment funds, thus allowing for increased investment-focused revenue in the Departmental budget.

*** To be fair to Hopi, he’s not alone.  All the press comment I’ve seen other tha George’s has seen Balls’ speech as a simple move towards fiscal disipline, ignoring the bit about this only being on current spending, and the room that this leaves.  This, for example, is quite wrong.

On the Collins Review process

January 21, 2014 Leave a comment

I’ve got a lot going on at the moment so I’m not very bloggy, but here’s a quick email I sent to some Labour National Executive Committee CLP delegates, spurred on by Mark’s good piece at Labourlist on the need for member involvement in the Collins Review process now coming to a head:

Dear xxxxx

 I’m writing to you in your position as NEC CLP representative because I know you take seriously the need to ensure that ordinary members views’ are heard on the NEC.
As you’ll know, there are some concerns – as there were with the Refounding Labour process – that members’ and CLPs’ submissions to the Collins Review will be largely disregarded in favour of backroom compromise.  These concerns are neatly summed up by Mark Ferguson at the Labourlist website this morning.
I share this concern, not least as my own submission received no acknowledgment at all (again, as with the Refounding Labour submission).
Can I ask then that you and your CLP NEC colleagues make the reasonable demand, in advance of your meeting, that the report presented to you should contain both a full list of the submissions made and a full analysis of those submissions, including responses to the recommendations set out in them.
A useful template for this, which you might want to suggest,  is the consultation response matrix set out by officers for local council reports during local development plan and similar processes, with columns a) setting out the main recommendations made by consultees; b) whether the drafters of the report agree/disagree c) comments on the rationale for agreement/disagreement (incl “see  xxxxxxx” to save space where recommendations and responses are similar.
I would also ask that you propose that the document submitted to you be made public.
Best regards
Categories: General Politics

So what’s Ofsted up to?

January 12, 2014 1 comment

Whenever a government document is at released on a day when people may be focused on other things, there is a temptation to wonder why.  That started in 1986, when the Black report into Health Inequalities was released on a Bank Holiday Monday, as its then-shocking findings didn’t with the Thatcherite vision of the creation of a free society via the market alone.

And so it was when the Ofsted subsidiary guidance to its school inspectors was released quietly on 23rd December 2013, even though its official publication date is January 2014.

It’s not too hard to work out why.  Paragraph 5 is the killer:

Do not insist that there must be three years worth of data, or that these data must show good progress or achievement, before judging a school’s overall effectiveness to be good overall. A school can be good if teaching, leadership and management, and behaviour and safety are good, and if there is sufficient evidence that progress and/or achievement of current pupils are good also. This is often the case when a school is improving from requires improvement, serious weaknesses or special measures. However, inspection reports must state clearly if this is the case.

In simple terms, this means that inspectors are being given leeway to award schools a ‘good’ rating in situations where their final results – GCSEs in secondary or level 2 SATs in primary – would not warrant it.

This is a very marked change in policy.  Any senior teacher or governor will tell you that for at least the last 10 years final achievement of pupils has been pretty well the be all and end all; if you’ve got ‘requires improvement’-style exam results, you can argue till you’re blue in the face that you’re now a good school, that this  will be reflected in future year achievements, but you’re still going to be graded at ‘requires improvement’ (RI).

So why the sudden change?

One explanation is that Ofsted, through its inspectors, has listened to schools’ arguments that it is unfair to be graded at RI even though it’s clear from every other part of the inspection that they have in fact improved their teaching, behaviour standards and school leadership.  This would be a good thing.

The other  more cynical explanation is that Ofsted realises the political importance of getting as many schools as possible shifted from RI to good in the four terms which separate us from the general election, so that come March 2015 Gove is in a position to wave figures around to ‘prove’ that his school revolution worked.

Is this too cynical?   Well, I can’t say conclusively one way or another, but there are other bits of the guidance which suggest that Ofsted is deliberately relaxing its crteria around what counts as good.  In particular, there’s paragraph 64:

Inspectors must not give the impression that Ofsted favours a particular teaching style. Moreover, they must not inspect or report in a way that is not stipulated in the framework, handbook or guidance. For example, they should not criticize teacher talk for being overlong or bemoan a lack of opportunity for different activities in lessons unless there is unequivocal evidence that this is slowing learning over time. It is unrealistic, too, for inspectors to necessarily expect that all work in all lessons is always matched to the specific needs of each individual. Do not expect to see ‘independent learning’ in all lessons and do not make the assumption that this is always necessary or desirable. On occasions, too, pupils are rightly passive rather than active recipients of learning. Do not criticise ‘passivity’ as a matter of course and certainly not unless it is evidently stopping pupils from learning new knowledge or gaining skills and understanding.

Again, this is a very marked shift.  Many Ofsted reports written in the last couple of years have condemned schools to RI on the basis that the quality of teaching does not stand up to inspection in enough classrooms, and at the heart of this has been the finding that teachers do not ensure enough ‘differentiation’ and/or that students are not active enough participants in their lesson.  Here, in one short paragraph, these considerations are thrown out in favour of a more general review of a “wide range of other evidence about how well children are learning in the school£ (para. 65).   In other words, it’s going to be much easier for inspectors to judge individual lessons to be ‘good’, because they can take into account stuff that happens outside the classroom.

Again, you could argue that such a change is a good thing, if seen outside of the political imperative, but the question must surely arise: if this makes sense now, what the hell have the Ofsted leadership been doing for the last three years, forcing inspectors in completely the opposite direction?

I hope this shifting of the Ofsted goalposts is something Tristram Hunt’s team picks up on.

Categories: General Politics

If Labour really wanted to get serious about Immigration……

January 6, 2014 2 comments

Mark at Labourlist praises the Labour leadership for speaking about immigration – something the rank and file are too scared to do.  At least Ed’s trying to do something about it, says Mark:

Ed Miliband has decided to do something different. Something smarter. Something more humane. And something incredibly risky. He’s decided to try and change the debate on immigration.

Worried about immigrants “taking British jobs” by taking rock-bottom salaries? Then tackle the root cause – unscrupulous employers who seek to exploit the overseas poor to undermine the British poor.

Now I’m all for closing the loopholes which allow the minimum wage to be avoided.  But it’s quite wrong to suggest that unscrupulous employment practices are the “root cause” of economic migration.

The root cause of economic migration to the UK is that some countries are poorer than us.

If we don’t want people to move here – and I accept that’s the current majority view – the root cause to tackle is the poorness of those countries.

That is, of course, the principle reason for the European Union existing in the first place (well, that and stopping wars).  The Single Market is fundamentally about convergence of economies so that we all have roughly the same standard of living, and so that we move from country to country because we want to, not because we have to.

The problem – the “root cause”, if you like – is that the single market hasn’t worked as envisaged, because capitalism’s not like that, and that’s where Ed’s opportunity for ‘something smarter” lies.

As I’ve set out in some detail, there’s a very clear line to be struck about the functioning of the European Union, which would at one fell swoop undercut Cameron’s “renegotiation” froth and provide a real and timetabled solution to what is seen as the migration problem.  This involves a temporary trade-off, agreeable within the current Lisbon Treaty, between freedom of capital* and freedom of movement restrictions, which would allow the poorer countries in the EU the opportunity for much more rapid growth and convergence with the richer countries, this reducing the need for people in the poorer countries to earn money abroad and send remittances home.

If Labour really wants to get serious about migration, it really needs to look to do more than tinker round the edges.

 

*The original thinking about this ‘artificial devaluation’ via changes to freedom of capital rules was from  proper economist, Duncan Weldon, but he dismissed it as unrealistic in the context of Single Market law.  As I’ve shown, it’s not, because that law was set up specifically with the ‘get out’ clauses that Duncan wanted to see in mind.  It’s simply that Duncan hadn’t read the law at the time.  Oddly, the 90 Tory MPs who wanted to curb A” migration at the last minute, did pick up on an aspect of these provisions, though they got it wrong by referring to the 2005 A2 Accession Treaty rather than the actual Lisbon Treaty and the 2004 Directive which reinforced that.

 

 

Anger towards MPs: the long shadow of Edmund Burke (and Lord Justice Farwell)

January 2, 2014 Leave a comment

Over the festive period there’s been some commentariat reflection on why lots of British people are “angry” with their MPs.  It’s mostly utter tosh.

John Rentoul thinks anger towards politicians is quite a lot to do with the type of people who go into politics, and that it’d be better if they were nice to each other, and less “tribal”.

Heather Brooke declares that information is power and that we need digital not analogue politics, or something.   It’s all a bit vague, but her main point seems to be that we get the wrong people because political party patronage rewards the arse-lickers.  So for Brooke, much the same as for Rentoul, the core problem seems to be the undue influence of the party. Similarly, Robert McGregor at New Left Project emphasizes how MPs are increasingly subject to the “party machine”.

Polly Toynbee prefers to pass the buck to the electorate, demanding that we all get off our arses and do something.  Michael White goes a bit further, telling us that MPs are really the good guys, even the one who’s now in prison, that they should be paid more, and that the rest of us are just a bit stupid.

Adam Lent from the RSA gets marks for some sensible analysis, noting that we’ve been hating politicians for quite some time now but – interestingly for someone who’s had a full-time job looking at such such issues for several years now – he accepts that  has “no idea” what might be done, though he thinks Douglas Carswell might be on to something with his digital stuff.  Like Brooke, Carswell seems to think that salvation may lie with the power of the internet.

What strikes me most about all these great thinkers – and the impasse they all find themselves in –  is that they focus exclusively on how MPs get then fulfil their role, failing to question what that role actually might be.

All of them appear bound implicitly to Edmund Burke’s conception (1774) of parliamentary representation [1], in which MPs manfully carry, for the sake of the us plebs, the burden of their god-given gifts:

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

If there’s one thing to be said for Burke, he ha confidence in himself.

Yet there is another quite different conception of the MP’s democratic role which, were it to take hold as the norm, might quite easily see a quite different type of MP coming forward to fulfill it.

This is of the MP operating primarily as delegate, accountable to their local constituency through a modernised form of democratic centralism (and there is no reason why the kind of technological innovation Brooke refers to shouldn’t enhance this).  In this scenario, the party – for from being the root of the problem when it comes to public perception, becomes the key solution, as local parties and movements actually gain real power and Polly’s arse-moving injunction actually becomes meaningful, and as expectations of MPs are reduced commensurate to their actual level of talent.

In other words, with a turn towards MP-as-just-delegate [2], virtuous form might just start to follow virtuous function.  This would be the reverse to the current seemingly inevitable downward spiral, in which any contrivance designed to make MPs look and sound more ‘authentic’ and ‘close to the people’ is almost certain to have the opposite effect because – well, because people are not stupid, and they know MPs now have a self-determined status out of keeping with their actually capabilities. [3]

 

[1] The Burkean elitism inherent to modern parliamentary government has taken such deep root that, as with our five commentators above, it now largely goes unnoticed, but it is worth rememberimg that it might all have been quite different, at least for Labour MPs, if one event in particular in early Labour party history had turned out little differently.

The House of Lords’ Osborne judgment of 1909, which declared it unlawful for trade unions to levy their members in order to fund to the nascent Labour Party’s organisational and electioneering costs.  Writ large behind this judgment was the determination of the Lords to ensure that MPs should remain representatives in the Burkean sense, and not to become the delegates of forces beyond parliament.  Indeed, as the Labour scholar Henry Pelling (1982) tells us:

Lord Justice Farwell, in another concurring judgment, quoted Burke to the effect that ‘Parliament is not a congress of Ambassadors from different and hostile interests….. but a deliberate Assembly of one nation’ (p.893**).

Thus, while Pelling contends that in the long-run the judgment actually enhanced the position of the Labour party (notably through the introduction of MP salaries as a compensatory measure), it might be argued with the benefit of 30 years more hindsight, that the consequences for Labour,  as a party then developing a distinction in its conception of what an MP is in parliament for, were more negative.

[2] For practical suggestions on how this might be introduced within the labour movement, see especially section 5 of the TCF submission to the Collins Review.  To a large extent this is about bringing the MP role down to size, while accepting the reality of parliamentary institutional norms in the short to medium term.

 

[3] It seems mean to pick on one particular MP, as I try to seem them as victims of a Burkean ideal they cannot hope to live up to, but brand new MP Sarah Champion’s almost immediate adoption of superior status, almost in spite of herself, is too good a one to leave from my argument.  This bit of patronising guff, in particular, makes me want to scream:

Now that I am “one of them”, I can report back that Parliament is actually full of normal people who care passionately about representing their constituents and making changes that will have a positive impact on peoples’ lives.  What we need to address is why people don’t believe that’s true, and why people don’t think their voice is heard.

 

 

 

Categories: General Politics

Cashpoint

December 29, 2013 Leave a comment

Pyjama-thin, shivering and bowed she comes to

choked relief

at the whirring cashpoint sound

of banknotes readied to dispense

one square-packaged meal

till next state-appointed day.

 

To iced shudder

shark assistant snakes

through  litter-gravelled square,

Readied to relieve

hard-waited remnants of relief

and mockingly condemn

to the pained and choiceless choices

of sagging estate time.

Categories: General Politics

Farsighted, myopic

December 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Today’s poem – yes, a poem.  It’s got metaphor, so it must be

 

Farsighted, myopic

Farsighted

On the consequences of liberal pickings

And power that thinks itself of commonsense

Concrete dreams  of order and re-order

from below

 

Myopic clutching

At the everyday

Groping at the forcefield of self-satisfiied belching

Of those who’s will be heard

Above the groaning torment of the masses

 

Categories: General Politics

TCF’s top 20 tweeters of 2013

December 27, 2013 1 comment

Phil has done his top 10 political tweeters of 2013.  A lot of them are self-obsessed tossbags, so I thought I’d do my own quick top 20.  These people are much more worthy.

Scoring is as ever utterly meticulous in four categories:

  • Wide sourcing of properly useful links for people like me
  • Humour but not that shite MP kind
  • Giving due credit
  • Acuity of analysis
  • Appropriately offbeat at times without affected zaniness
  • Appreciation of non-political stuff where appropriate

Without further ado, my top ten is (in random order not like on top of the pops):

 

1) @jonworth Loads of knowledge about quite important stuff and splendidly multi-lingual.  Skates on ice with skates.

2) @chrisbrooke He’s a professor, you know, but still looks out for the little people.  Sent me a book which was really nice of him.  In the post, with a real stamp

3) @eiohel  Bit angst-ridden and not enough Marx ingested, but top bloke scoring well on ‘due credit’ and ‘acuity’ nothwithstanding occasionally bonkers expression thereof

4) @chuzzlit  Acuity mixed perfectly with unassumingness and a big dash of laugh a lot at things

5) @barsacq  Appropriate loathing of Tories down his way.  Great links to interesting French stuff

6) @Rf_McCarthy  Startling knowledge of European culture and history with all the links.  Probably reads Japanese too, but I’ve not asked.   A modern day Ken Knabb.

7) @jamilahanan  Single-minded devotion to the Rohingya cause – an outlier, I accept, but a worthy one

8) @flipchartrick  Easy choice.  Won an award for what he does, but it doesn’t seem to have gone to his head

9) @hangbitch  Oh come, mad as a box of frogs on acid, but you’ve got to love Kate.  I’d call her the ideal situationalist, but she’d tell me to fuck off.

10) @thedancingflea  Balanced councillor wanabee with a sold background in actually getting stuff done.  Not that many of them about

11) @retheauditors  Don’t understand some of what she’s on about, but hell she does a good job of it.

12) @bembelly  Great links from the French leftie scene

14) @jurgen_habermas  not actually tweeted yet, but just in case

15) @philbc3  Of aforementioned tweet list.  Unflusterable, I reckon.  Knows things

16) @metlines  Unfailingly courteous and great on matters which used to be close to my heart and I still follow with some interest

17) @leftoutside  Thinker. Disobedient  Thought he was a woman but turned out to be a man.  This is irrelevant, but he liked it.

18) @derekjohnbryant   Massive source of great and often idiosyncratic links

19) @kenroth   Probably the most famous in the list – indispensable on human rights trailing and commenting

20) @tommymiles  Indispensable on Sahel goings on.  Does detail

 

 

Categories: General Politics

Night time

December 27, 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve decided to write poems on here for a bit.  Well, I think they’re poems.  You might not, but that doesn’t matter.  My only rule is they must never take more than 3 minutes to write.

Here’s the first one.

Night time

They are asleep
Upstairs
No time like the present
Is the nightly self-refrain
 
The crushing peace
Of the gentle hum
Digital concerns of my mankind
 
Strive and sweat
One more time
For humanity
Amidst the scattered remnants
of my reality laid nightly bare
 
So sleep, the respite from the brazen hue
of screen and ordered otherness
 
Sleep never comes
To me, who failed to stir or shake
in agitation of a world which tomorrow
Then, again
Will nightly stain the conscious drift of seeping soul.
 
For now, and then
Blankness, guilt and creasing eyes
Is what I bear
What I fear
In silent drone
Of the terminal
 
But they are asleep
Upstairs
I cannot scream
Categories: General Politics
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