Today’s poem – yes, a poem. It’s got metaphor, so it must be
On the consequences of liberal pickings
And power that thinks itself of commonsense
Concrete dreams of order and re-order
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
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
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 timeThey 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
Paul Goodman at the Conservative Home website provides a reasonably astute analysis of the fix Cameron finds himself in over his promise to ‘renegotiate’ the UK’s relationship with the European Union:
The explanation [for the lack of an actual plan] isn’t the lack of focus and last-minuteism that Ministers and backbenchers alike unanimously complain about – almost without exception, in my experience……. Rather, it is a terror at the top of the Government of opening up the question of what and how much any renegotiation will aim to achieve. This isn’t simply because the two parts of the Coalition don’t agree about it. Cameron and George Osborne worry that setting out a repatriation of power plan will open up not so much a can as a lorry-load of worms.
This is correct, but what Paul doesn’t really nail down is what kid of worms might slither from the lorry. This is tied to a failure to define what ‘renegotiation’ actually is, and a conflation of that with demands for ‘repatriation of power’. Negotiation is not the same as making demands.
In fact, Cameron and his team probably do understand the difference between making demands, which can’t be delivered on, and seeking renegotiation, which potentially could. They understand that negotiation is about give and take.
As I’ve set out before, a negotiated deal on the biggie – freedom of movement for the forrins – is perfectly feasible as, whatever the popular assumption, it doesn’t require treaty change. If Cameron doesn’t get that, then he’s even worse at the detail than I thought. But the point about negotiating such a deal is that the UK, and other Northern European countries wanting a piece of this, would have to offer something in return. Most likely, this would be the (neat) corollary of a suspension to absolute freedom of the movement of capital – again perfectly feasible without treaty change though harder to implement – though it might be other things like a different weighting of cohesion funds towards Eastern and Southern Europe, or a review of the draconian requirements of the six-pack. Whatever it was, it would be geared towards the long-term convergence of those countries, and thus to the lowering of the ‘threat’ of economic migration.
So why won’t Cameron go there? Why won’t he get down and dirty with the detail? Well to be honest I don’t care that much – I don’t care whether it’s the result of incompetence of a leader who’s surrounded himself with the wrong political advisers at the expense of civil servants who know the policy detail, or whether he knows that opening up these issues would start to shed light, just for example, on the government’s refusal to accept food poverty money from the EU; his instinct is, I suspect, to keep things simple.
Labour’s instinct should be different. It has already got as far as saying that the institutions of Europe are far from perfect. Now, in the absence of any coherent follow-up by Cameron on his rash promises, Labour can set out realistic proposals for negotiation, and start to warm up the governments that it will be doing business with from 2015.
That’s not to say, I hasten to add, that I support any change to the current freedom of movement. It’s simply that I’m confident that the public, when presented with a party actually willing to see where actual negotiations take the country, will soon enough discover that the deal (which could include a presumptions against British citizens’ freedom of movement, as well as more direct economic disadvantages) is just not worth it.
Anthony Painter proposes a route through the vexed question of foreign people coming the UK from the EU:
The US has an ESTA requirement for visitors from the EU. It is a simple online form and lasts for a period of time for visitor entry to the US. A similar process should be introduced for EU travelers. The document would last for a year and while you were in an EU country on the basis of the one-year document you would not be able to claim benefits of any description.
As a way to fix a pretty non-existent problem, it sounds fine, and Anthony thinks it might win support from other states. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling there’s a much bigger deal to be done with other states which would actually stop migrants from the southern and accession states from coming here, if that’s what people really, really want. Here it is:
In return for the UK and other Northern European countries getting to stop people from further away places coming over here, taking our jobs or whatever, the further away places get to put some stops on things that the Northern European keep on selling to them, so that the further away places stay poor. In time, the further away places would be less poor, and less of their people would want to come to UK to take our jobs.
In technical terms, that would mean a temporary trade off of restrictions on freedom of movement of people for restrictions on freedom of movement of capital and goods, until an agreed point of current account convergence and/or of GDP per head were reached via a process of artificial devaluation and import substitution - or, if you want to conceive of it thus, the creation of a massive virtual European Structural Fund aimed at the fastest possible reduction in structural disparities between all 27 EU states (and joiners).
The funny thing is you could do all that without any treaty change at all.
Article 45 of the Lisbon Treaty makes clear provision for the restriction of free movement “on the grounds of public policy, public security or public health”. The application of the treaty (technically the pre-Lisbon treaty) was tightened by a 2004 directive up to stop arbitrary abuse, but that same directive could be changed through a fairly straightforward ‘ordinary legislative procedure’ if all or most states were minded to do a deal.
Similarly, while article 30 of the Lisbon Treaty 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,” 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*
So the deal is there to be done. All we in the North have to do is accept that we won’t be exporting our goods and services quite as much for a bit, and we can keep the forrins out.
Or is an arguably dramatic but fair* approach to the factors driving continued economic imbalance, and consequent migration, including allowing other states the space to determine their own futures, not what UKIP and their Tory suck-ups had in mind? Is it just easier to hate Bulgarians?
* There’d also probably be a need to change the State Aid rules to allow export subsidies from poorer countries, but again this doesn’t involve treaty change.
** Now, I’m not arguing that such a deal would actually be fair. As an associational neo-Kantian libertarian or something, I don’t hold with the absolute primacy of the state, but rather with the categorical imperative that a person should have freedom of both association and movement, and in this respect it’s pure insult to suggest that freedom of movement of goods could in any way be a factor in negotiating the non-negotiable. I simple set out the deal logic here in order to show up how, even in their own terms, statist numpties like UKIP and increasingly the Tories appeasing them, can’t/won’t think through something which should be the ‘common sense’ they supposedly aspire to (and which, when it comes to the mode 4 trade off in the EU-India FTA deal, for example, they seem quite happy to go along with, even tbough – in some of the more doomsday scenarios of the type you’d expect them to believe – this could end up having a much greater negative impact on UK citizens than anything to do with intra-EU migration).
Chris, as ever ahead of me, identifies a triumph for totalitarianism associated with the onward march of the kind of capitalism. Chris thinks this totalitarian shift is comes about because “managerialist ideology is being extended into places where it doesn’t belong. I agree, but I think it’s also worth exploring what this over-extended managerialism might be replacing, because this gives us a clue as to how we (the broad labour movement) might fight back.
Exhibit 1: You may be forgiven for not getting as far as recommendation 201 in the government’s response to the Francis report on Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust, but it’s instructive. The recommendation from Francis is that the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) should be split in two, one organisation concerning itself with its ‘professional’ responsbilities, the other with its trade union function. The RCN rejected this recommendation on the quite reasonable basis that representing nurses terms and conditions and maintaining quality standards are perfectly complementary activities. Despite this, the government report simply records the Francis recommendation as “accepted”.
Exhibit 2: All three party leaders were at the Citizenship Foundation bash last week, with the heir to the throne, getting behind plans to double the number of young people involved in “social action”, under the Step up to Serve programme. Social action is volunteering, rebranded, and the programme is keen to open up new opportunities for “formal volunteering”.
Nos this is hardly the stuff of the Hitler Youth – and I have no doubt that those who run the programme are well-meaning – but there is an undercurrent: volunteering will make you a good and useful citizen, ready to serve your country. Social action, goes the think tank thinking lined up in support for the programme:
improves young people’s sense of belonging to and duty towards the communities they live in, and in turn young people benefit through improved emotional wellbeing, educational outcomes and career prospects. Wider society benefits by more connected and safer communities.
Well, it might do, although extensive proper research also suggests strongly* that:
a policy approach which nurtures involvement in community-based groups and neglects on-to-one reciprocity means that the participatory culture of affluent communities is being not only privileged nut also imposed onto deprived communities.
What connects the two exhibits here is less the lack of empirical evidence for the government’s approach, and more is the loss of faith – even loss of knowledge – in the capacity of groups of people to organize affairs for themselves, in the way they see fit, free from the heavy hand of the state. Back in the 1980s, the Thatcher government’s moves to legislate on how trade unions could or could not organise their own affairs was greeted with at least a degree of shock that the state should consider stretching its authority in this way e.g Paul Hirst (p.19):
The Conservatives’ industrial relations legislation denies the trade unions any autonomy in procedures for action and self-government. Whatever the faults of the unions, this is an unjustifiable intervention in the affairs of free associations. Figgis would turn in his grave. We should be shocked too that this assertion of unlimited state sovereignty should have been greeted with such complacency. The unions may have been both unpopular and too powerful in the later 1970s. They were also undoubtedly short-sighted, conservative, and complacent about their own internal procedures and hostile to genuine democratization. However, their internal reform by state fiat is both tyrannical and counter-productive. This is because union activists bitterly resent much of the new legislation and, as soon as a political opportunity presents itself, they will throw off as much of it as they can.
Sadly, at least to date, Hirst’s belief in the inevitable fightback against such state tyranny has proved unfounded; the RCN has not even offered a public comment on the government’s apparent decision, set out in a report laid before parliament, to split it two against its express wishes, and it seems from responses I’ve elicited is that the College is hoping the threat to their existence will just go away).
So where from here? Well, labour movement activists could do worse than start with a reading of Paul Hirst’s introduction (above) to the trio of thinker-activists of the early 20th century – Figgis, Cole and Laski - who to differing degrees questioned the right of the state, simply on the basis of their control over the means of violence, to ultimate power over all other forms of societal association. You don’t have to have read Rousseau; a moment’s philosophical reckoning casts such an assumed right into doubt, and it is indicative of the failure of intellect of the British left over the last 30 years that the state’s absolute power should have become so unquestioned.
Where Chris sees the need to promote a quite American pluralism of ideology, I see a need to promote a distinctively English pluralism of organisation. Oddly, given this it is the referendum on Scottish independence which may provide an ideal opportunity for people to question some of the principles of assumed state authority.
* See also this research piece on the co-option of ‘activists’ as ‘volunteers’
A few weeks ago I subjected myself to the North West regional party conference in Blackpool. I’ve disliked every Labour conference I’ve ever been to and I’m not quite sure why I keep on going
I realised, though, quite why I dislike them so much when I was read one of Theodor Adorno’s epigrammatic Messages in a Bottle, written in the dark days of 1944 and 1945, and quite otherworldy in its despair:
Key people.—The self-important type who only thinks himself something when confirmed by the role he plays in collectives which are none, existing merely for the sake of collectivity; the delegate with the armband; the rapt speechmaker spicing his address with wholesome wit and prefacing his concluding remark with a wistful ‘Would that it were’; the charity vulture and the professor hastening from one congress to the next—they all once called forth the laughter befitting the naive, provincial and petty-bourgeois.
Casting my mind back to the careful smart-casual of the usual face delegates, always keen to be seen taking that important call, leaning intently in to what the MPs has to say on such-and-such, overegging the Northern accent just a little too much, in that desperation to conform to what was once non-conformity, I got where Adorno was coming from. I read on to the main point:
Powerless in an overwhelming society, the individual experiences himself only as socially mediated. The institutions made by people are thus additionally fetishized: since subjects have known themselves only as exponents of institutions, these have acquired the aspect of something divinely ordained……Estrangement becomes closeness, dehumanization humanity, the extinguishing of the subject its confirmation. The socialization of human beings today perpetuates their asociality, while not allowing even the social misfit to pride himself on being human.
Was I that social misfit, barred by a virtual reality* of humanity from access to my own? Or was I part of the whole shebang?
I expect I’ll be back for more next year.
* Adorno was writing some 50 years before Baudrillard. They both leave me in the same state of mild agnst.
The chancellor has confirmed an inquiry into the Co-op Bank
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is to use the powers he has brought in under the Financial Services Act 2012 to order an independent investigation into events at the Co-op Bank and the circumstances surrounding them.
This what section 68 of the Act says:
Cases in which Treasury may arrange independent inquiries:
(a) events have occurred in relation to a recognised clearing house or a recognised inter-bank payment system which—
(i) posed or could have posed a serious threat to the stability of or confidence in the UK financial system, or
(ii) caused or risked causing significant damage to business or other interests throughout the United Kingdom.
So did the Co-op troubles represent, or could they have represented a serious threat to the UK financial system, or cause significant damage to business or other interests in the UK? If not, an inquiry would bot be lawful.
Let’s look at the Co-op’s market share, from easily available parliamentary data:
So the Co-op has around 3% of personal current accounts in 2010.
I put it to you, dear reader, that an inquiry into the Co-op is unlawful, and has been called by the Chancellor for reasons other than that which the law intended.
Yesterday the European Parliament voted in plenary on a proposal to initiate treaty change which would allow it to decide for itself where it holds its meetings. thereby creating the legal conditions under which the seat of the parliament might relocate to Brussels. This would stop the monthly ‘gravy train’ to Strasbourg, which is estimated to cost near on £1bn over the new seven year European budget period. The crucial part of the proposal is below .
You might have thought that the idea of saving a significant amount of money on the monthly Brussels-Strasbourg trip might appeal to UKIP MEPs. If you thought that, then you’d be surprised to learn that four of their MEPs voted against the proposal, while the rest were recorded as being present in parliament (with the allowance that this brings) but not bothering to vote. [Update, 21/11/13: the Vote Watch website is now showing the four votes as abstentions, not as votes against. This quite often happens in a system where many votes are taken in quick succession and members get to clarify later which way they voted. Without watching the proceedings I don't know whether the MEPs on question did make their vote intention clear or not, and even then from the video it's generally not clear.]
The UKIP line appears to be this:
There is a constitutional danger in the legislative process, that [the proposer] is encouraging Brussels to overrule an individual nation’s interests. It’s ok against the French, but is it as much fun when it’s against the British?
This is a bit odd , especially since the seat of the institutions is a matter over which unanimity in the Council of the European Union is necessary under the Constitution.
[Update, 21/11/13: A UKIP MEP from the South West now has a different explanation from the above. The Plymouth Herald quotes him:
“This resolution is not worth the paper it is written on. It is an empty PR exercise." He said it would be vetoed by France and Luxembourg. “UKIP has always opposed the grotesque waste of taxpayer’s money, inconvenience and stress that the monthly trip to Strasbourg represents. Were this report to be couched in less contentious terms we would have felt better able to support it. Sadly it makes claims that are utterly bogus such as ‘the EU is a representative democracy’, and endorses the notion of the existence of European Citizenship.”
So two weeks ago UKIP MEPs were against the proposal because they support the principle of a national veto, now they're against it because they think national vetoes get in the way of democracy. Make of that what you will.
Anyway, I wish UKIP candidates and canvassers luck (I don't really) in explaining that on the doorstep, given that pretty well everyone else (other than French MEPs of all shades other than green) voted for the proposal to at least explore the possibility of a switch of the parliament's seat . The suspicion will remain, I suspect, that UKIP actually quite likes the gravy train. After all, Nigel Farage apparently made it there yesterday, though not as far as the actual voting area.
 From the text of the proposal
1. Believes that the European Parliament, given that it is the only body directly representing the European citizens, should be granted the prerogative of determining its own working arrangements, including the right to decide where and when it holds its meetings;
2. Agrees with the principle that the European Parliament would be more effective, cost-efficient and respectful of the environment if it were located in a single place; notes that the continuation of the monthly migration between Brussels and Strasbourg has amongst most EU citizens become a symbolic, negative issue detrimental to the European Union’s reputation, especially at a time when the financial crisis has led to serious and painful expenditure cuts in the Member States;
3. Considers it perfectly legitimate to launch a debate on its right to determine its own working arrangements, including the right to decide where and when it is to meet;
4. Commits itself, therefore, to initiating an ordinary treaty revision procedure under Article 48 TEU with a view to proposing the changes to Article 341 TFEU and Protocol 6 necessary to allow Parliament to decide on the location of its seat and its internal organisation.
 Personally, I have no big problem with two main seats for the EU institutions, as I fail to see why MEPs need to spend much time in Brussels at all, given Skype.
The Spectator informs me that Paul Heaton, a songwriter formerly with the Hull-based Housemartins combo, has taken offence to Cameron’s PMQs reference to them.
The Spectator doesn’t seem to like Paul much. Perhaps this is because Paul is actually a very good protest songwriter, as exemplified by his ‘Flag Day’ from the mid 1980s, which in just a few lines tears the kind of Big Society that Cameron came to espouse, in which short term charitable good works is extolled as a cover for ever starker structural inequality. This could be easily updated for the 21st century – there are plenty of rhymes for ‘foodbanks’ – and I would happily buy a copy if that helped take it to No.1 in the pop charts.
Take it away, Paul:
Too many Florence Nightingales
Not enough Robin Hoods
Too many halos not enough heroes
Coming up with the goods
So you thought you’d like to change the world
Decided to stage a jumble sale
For the poor, for the poor
It’s a waste of time if you know what they mean
Try shaking a box in front of the Queen
‘Cause her purse is fat and bursting at the seams
It’s a waste of time if you know what they mean
Too many hands in too many pockets
Not enough hands on hearts
Too many ready to call it a day
Before the day starts
So you thought you’d like to see them healed
Got Blue Peter to stage an appeal
For the poor, for the poor
It’s a waste of time if you know what they mean
Try shaking a box in front of the Queen
‘Cause her purse is fat and bursting at the seams
It’s a waste of time if you know what they mean
Flag Day, Flag Day, Flag Day