Archive for the ‘Terrible Tories’ Category

The labour movement’s post-election battleground: Part I of II

1  Introduction

Back in January, I was invited by Left Futures to provide a response to a post by Trevor Fisher.  Trevor considers Labour a lost cause when it comes to austerity. This is his conclusion:

The objective of the austerity movement is to destroy everything that Lloyd George and the political consensus that we have known for the last 90 years. A co-ordinated response can defeat the political objective of the neo-liberals to set up a new anti-state consensus.

So why is it not happening? The Labour Party cannot be changed in the near future. It has embarked as New Labour on a Titanic style voyage into the ice field, at high speed. Labour is part of the problem, not part of the solution. It is time to look for lifeboats. The solution has to be a people’s movement against austerity. The existing work of the People’s Assembly has to be boosted.

Trevor’s analysis is not, of course, an unusual one.   The idea that a Labour government will simply be ‘austerity-lite’ is now almost a mantra those who consider themselves left of Labour (within or outside the party).   Here are just a few examples expressing, in varying ways, anger or hopelessness or (in Sunny Hundal’s case) simply incomprehension at Labour’s purported plans to mimic the Tories in government.

Trevor’s analysis – like most others in this vein –  incorrect , for three main reasons:

  • Labour is part of the solution to the problems brought by five years of austerity, because it is actively planning for investment in public services;
  • The existing work of the People’s Assembly is, while impressive in many ways, misguided;
  • The idea that the best way to respond to the neoliberals’ anti-state consensus building is to support a return to the pre-2008 public service infrastructure of late capitalism is itself regressive.

In this essay, I present an alternative strategy for labour movement activism, which I contend takes us beyond these common errors of analysis by the Left. In part I, addressing the facts around Labour’s actual planning for government, before moving on to how and why so many people have misunderstood what Labour is about.   In part II, I look in details at what might be done for, by, with people like Trevor – no doubt a solid member of the labour movement, but who’s only recourse at the moment is another round of meetings and rallies calling, loudly but vainly, for the people to rise up against austerity.

2  What’s really being planned

Labour is seeking to portray itself as a party committed to ‘fiscal discipline’, and its central economic policy is now that it will never spend what it cannot save elsewhere.  I think this is a misguided strategy born of a narrow-minded elite in the Labour party, panicked by Tory control over opinion polls in 2001-12 (see section 3), but it is too now late to change that messaging in the 60-odd days to the election.

Behind the scenes it is different.  Labour HQ has calculators in the office, and they know perfectly well that they cannot make the cuts that the current profile suggests without collapsing parts of essential public services, and they know that this will cost them electorally; the new rounds of cuts will have to start to affect those beyond the vulnerable (e.g. social care eligibility) who to date have suffered more than other when their comparatively expensive needs have stopped being met, but who only vote once, and in relatively small numbers, so have been a calculated electoral write-off for the Coalition.

With a number of decent thinkers and planners – notably Jon Cruddas –  having fought a behind-the-scenes rearguard action against the fiscal conservatives, Labour is quietly planning to sustain and develop provision by borrowing/investing “off-balance sheet”, through mechanisms like the British Investment Bank (with an NS&I deposit) [1], which the Tott report commissioned by Labour makes clear is aimed at public services as well as SMEs, and through the development of ‘internal borrowing’ from Pension Funds [2], and through allowing local authorities to bring forward spend from later years in a five year cycle, effectively allowing them to borrow from themselves. [3]  This is in addition to the existing prudential borrowing regime, which is likely to see greater use in an environment where local authorities are not so afraid as they are currently about what comes next from the centre.

The condition for this investment from these sources is that as far as possible what is spent should create ‘downstream savings’, and it is from the “what should have been spent” pot that government, including local government and freed-up health economy organisations, will create the return for investors.   It will be, to a significant extent, a welcome foreshortening of the Social Impact Bond process developed and tested over the last 10 years, but which has proved to be bureaucratically difficult in the absence of political will.

A key unanswered question at the moment is to what extent these non-traditional routes to borrowing for investment will replace normal borrowing.

NS&I is not a bank and cannot simply create money for investment, so will presumably be constrained by the amount invested in NS&I, currently around £105bn [4].  While there is some good practice emerging around the use of Local Government Pension Funds to fund public spending where there is clear social value, to date these investments have been limited to capital schemes where the rate of return back to the Funds has been easy to determine because income streams are produced by the investment.  It is more difficult to persuade Pension Fund trustees, who must abide by their fiduciary duties [5] to protect those funds, to invest in ‘social infrastructure’ which creates savings downstream, as these savings must then be converted into returns [6].

My current view is that these non-traditional routes will not replace traditional deficit spending to the extent needed, though that it’s a good start. Given this, the further, vital question arises of what level of investment need can feasibly be packaged as social investment (and therefore open non-traditional funding) rather than simply additional spending on public services [7].  In any event, and as I go on now to explore, this is a question which the Left should be addressing for its own sake.

3  The two orthodoxies

What I have set out above may be the quiet reality of preparation for government, but it’s one known about by very few people in the labour movement, largely because of the strategic decision by Labour’s strategists (on which more below), to avoid challenge to the prevailing ‘deficit fetishism’, and instead to try and gain power by focusing on other policy areas e.g. the NHS.

This strategic decision requires a commitment to cost-neutral spending promises i.e. any spending commitment must be paid for by cuts/savings to other areas of current spending.  In order to know what’s really being planned, it’s necessary to a) talk to people closer to the actual development work (which I’ve done); and b) read the whole of policy documents, not just the summaries (which I’ve done).

In the absence of wider understanding of what is really being planned, most actors and organisations who self-identify as Labour and/or the Left have split into two broad ‘orthodoxies’, with a seemingly unbridgeable divide between them.

On one side of the ‘fault line’ are those who say an incoming Labour-led government must be ‘realistic’ about the public finances, and cannot therefore afford to reverse Coalition cuts, and those who subscribe what I will refer broadly to as the ‘anti-austerity movement’, who think a Labour-led government’s first duty is to reverse the cuts and reset public financing and public service to circa 2009.

Both sides are wrong, as I shall go on to set out, because establishing why and how they came to be so wrong, and what impact this wrongness has had to date,  is essential if the labour movement is to bridge the divide (which I address in part II).

The realist orthodoxy

The ‘realists’ are wrong for fairly obvious macro-economic reasons.  There’s no need here to go over now fairly established consensus that fiscal consolidation didn’t work, and that the way to boost growth (and pay down the deficit sensibly) is through a wage-led recovery, with a major lever for this being public investment.  The ‘realist’ support for fiscal consolidation and continued austerity has never been driven primarily by economics; calls for fiscal prudence have largely (from about 2011-2 onwards) been about a political messaging that Labour ‘can be trusted’ with the public finances, and the view (actually a self-fulfilling narrative) that the British public will never be able to conceptualize standard Keynesian economic management as anything other than spendthrift.

This is evidenced most clearly in Anthony Painter’s [8] at times excellent (2013) Left Without a Future: Social Justice in Anxious Times.  In a book devoted to ideas about how a future Labour government can create a more socially just society in times of continued fiscal restraint, Anthony sets out the need for that fiscal restraint in just a few short paragraphs (pp. 75-77), some of which are in themselves arguments against restraint.  All of the reasoning is contestable, especially the notion that “two or three years of very low growth, barely moving deficits and political impotence” might lead to a real danger of default (p.76), [9] but in any event he lets the cat out of the bag when, after this short justification he reveals its post-hoc nature:

It was in response to this debate that Cooke et al. [Anthony is one of the al.] wrote In the Black Labour: Why Fiscal Conservatism and Social Justice go Hand-in-Hand which was published in 2011 and created something of a stir in Labour circles.  Its core argument was that a reputation for fiscal responsibility was fundamental to any party aspiring to national leadership (p.78)

The realists’ economic rationale, then has never been anything much more than cover for short term electoral strategy, forged at a time when many in the Labour elite were concerned about the intractable opinion polls, which continued to show that the Coalition’s strategy of blaming a worldwide financial crisis on profligate public spending by Labour, was working remarkably well.  At that point, it made sense to this fairly small group of insiders, close to or within the pressure group Progress, that Labour should simply adopt a ‘balancing the books’ approach, because the battle for what economic common sense looks like had been lost. [10]

In their view, this was much more important than the longer term real-world impact of commitment to the In the Black doctrine largely, I suspect, because they simply didn’t consider real word impacts on the more vulnerable in society as being of themselves, important [11], even though it was clear by then that they, along with lower paid public sector workers themselves were facing the greatest direct burden of public sector cuts [12]

This all took place back in 2011-12.  Since then, Labour has, within the constraints it imposed upon itself by its commitment to no extra borrowing, brought to bear two broadly effective electoral responses to the Tories (while also playing Lib Dem Whack-a-Mole for light relief).  First, they have managed to articulate (in the Hall sense) the continued incompetencies [13] of the Tories in government with their elite background and narrowness of outlook (‘out of touch’ being the common phrase).   Second, they have managed to side step the Tories continuing lead on ‘economic competence’ by focusing on how improving figures at a national level of not translating into feelings of security and hope for the future amongst ‘real’ people.  You could even argue that Labour has managed to articulate all of these together, so that people think they are insecure and lacking in hope because Cameron is posh.  This has the added advantage of being true.

This is a good thing in the short term, and it is why a Labour-led government remains the most likely outcome despite a continuing poll lead for the Tories on economic competence.  The downside, though, is that what does or does not constitute fiscal responsibility – whether investment is actually better than  austerity – has become a taboo area within Labour, at least in public.  When Ed Balls committed to budget surplus in January 2014, leading In the Black Labour proponent Hopi Sen was simply able to tweet that the debate had been won.  To a large extent, he was right, although he underestimated the rearguard action that was mounted (see Part II for more details).

The effect of this, understandably, is that many of those who understand what actually fiscal responsibility is have now come to regard Labour as cowards and traitors.  A good case in point is Howard Reed, a decent economist, who penned White Flag Labour for Compass as early as January 2012 [14].

It could of course be argued that people like Howard should have spent a little more time looking at the kind of investments, set out above, which Labour is planning behind the scenes, rather than just the press statements, and that to effectively turn away from engagement with Labour over what it is getting right because it’s not getting everything right is actually very unhelpful to us all; indeed, this is pretty well Simon Wren-Lewis’ recent argument.

For myself, I don’t think such a blame game is helpful in the long run either; while I’ve tended towards it myself in the past, on reflection I think it’s more honest to hold myself to account for not having helped organise the forces of anti-austerity well enough back in 2011-12, not least because learning from what went wrong then is important for the new battle we face after the election.

I’ll come to this in detail on Part II, but the point to stress here is that many on and to the left of Labour attached themselves to the anti-austerity movement – to the extent that some former Labour activists are now standing against Labour in the general election – not because of actual pro-austerity policy from Labour, but because the fiscal conservatives within Labour, themselves driven by narrow political considerations rather than economic ones, created an environment in which plans for investment have remained largely hidden from view (e.g. in the IPPR Condition of Britain report (June 2014), the media and Labour’s own coverage of which failed to notice/deliberately declined to mention the chapters on innovative investment).

The anti-austerity orthodoxy

The ‘anti-austerians’ are wrong because simply returning public sector financing to the levels it enjoyed in the mid- to late 2000’s, without further consideration of how public services should be reformed, will be an utter disgrace, and a betrayal of ordinary people who depend on those services.  Yet this is apparently what is being proposed by an anti-austerity ‘movement’ backed by public sector unions who, understandably enough, are keen to defend their members’ terms and conditions in the narrowest sense of the term as best they can, but who appear to have rejected any responsibility they ever had for the quality of service provided.

The sad truth is that the quality of many public services has declined hugely in the past 20-30 years, and the pace of decline has increased, not simply because of the cuts but because of the way public servants do their work.  Journalist Kate Belgrave, for example, has recorded the transition of what we used to call employment services from a relatively harmless bureaucracy to a vicious institution which actively dehumanizes benefit claimants, and in which specific targets for inflicting misery on the already poor and powerless are implemented without challenge by trade unions.  In the NHS and care sector, the scandals at Winterbourne and at Mid-Staffs did not arise directly from public spending cuts or from privatisation, but from a decline in service standards which set in long before the Coalition came to power.

There are two main reasons for the decline in the quality of public services, and they form a duality.  First, the growth of managerialist ideology, itself a corollary of neoliberal economics, has created which are target- rather than value-driven, and in which every level of management holds the next one down accountable for reaching targets (often now called ‘outcomes’) while often preferring not to know how they are achieved.   Only last week, when earning a living tendering for a public sector contract (for a social enterprise) I was told by a senior manager that with the contract in question there was ‘no room for quality'; this was said with no hint of surprise.

Second, there has been a massive de-professionalization of the public services workforce.  Initially this de-professionalization was a conscious outcome of managerialism [15], as trade union and professional association concerns for the maintenance of quality were pushed to one side as impediments to competition-driven progress, but 30 years on most unions and associations simply no longer see it as their job to concern themselves with the quality of the service they offer to their fellow citizens; their sole role,  as they now see it, is to defend the terms and conditions of their members [16].

In my own profession, nursing, such a view of a trade union role has become institutionalized to the extent that when the Francis report recommended that the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) be formally split into a ‘trade union side’ and a ‘quality of provision’ side, there was barely a murmur of protest from the RCN.  Even more revealingly, Francis did not even feel the need to recognise a possible role for Unison (the other main union/professional association for nurses) in ensuring or campaigning for quality of care.

The now endemic failure of the labour movement to care about the quality of services they provide damages it, of course; while would the non-unionised public support public servants’ industrial action in defence on terms and conditions if those same public servants don’t seem to care about them?

The anti-austerity movement is, frankly, an anachronism.  Its calls for a return to 201o spending, in the absence of proper reform, are in their own way as a regressive as the ‘realists’ call for continued austerity.   Now, I know to my cost [17] that such a bald statement, while perfectly defensible, is likely to be unhelpful to efforts to develop consensus around how a more progessive ‘post-austerity’ Labour might be organised for and won.  So let me be clear, even at the risk of repetition:  the vast majority of people who would now, if asked, hold to the anti-austerity orthodoxy position critiqued here, will be decent Labour (and ex-Labour) activists, members or supporters.

The fact that they support what I call an anachronistic position public services is not something for which they should be blamed, because the primary faults lies with a) a trade union movement which has overly narrowed its functions; b) those within the Labour party who, for the reasons set out above, have stymied a proper debate within the Labour party about what public service reform should and can be about [18].

There’s one more point to make about the anti-austerity movement as it’s developed to date, before I move on to how I think its members/supporters should think about the post-election period, and one which connects to those proposals.  This is that, while the anti-austerity movement has achieved precisely nothing of what it set out expressly to achieve, a good deal has been achieved as an unintended consequence.   While the primary ambition of retaining jobs and services by forcing councillors to spend up reserves then pass illegal budgets remains a pipe dream, the organisational and personal links forged at local, city and regional level, between grassroots trade unionists, service user activists and others such as engaged journalists and those who might self-define as anti-capitalists has been a very positive development.   As I’ll go onto suggest, it is through the emergence of an updated form of the Trades Council, properly allied to the appropriate power structures within the Labour party, that an effective working class post-austerity movement stands the greatest chance of success, and the fact that such organisational links have already been forged, even in a losing cause for now, offers promise.

Conversely, should the current anti-austerity movement move in the opposite direction, away from the Labour party power and resource that will make it effective, both it and those within Labour who believe in good quality public services and wider institutional development towards democratic socialism stand to be marginalised and alienated from each other even further than they are at the moment.

3  Developing a post-austerity movement

This is what I’ll turn to in part II.  I’ll argue that, while these two camps of orthodoxies currently seem poles apart, not least because of personal animosity and mutual name calling on both sides (and I’ve been guilty of that two), there  exists a substantial common ground between the two around which ideological and, more importantly, organisational consensus can be built.   Such a consensus, I will argue, might be built around seven core ideas, to which many can subscribe.  These are

i) that public services should have investment in human beings at their foundation;

ii) that such investment is as worthwhile, or more worthwhile, than capital investment, and that the ‘rate of return’ problem can be overcome;

iii) that public services are best when truly co-designed and co-produced, and that modern trade unions and trades councils have a key role to play here;

iv) that the institutional developments which allow for co-production will be most successful where they develop at a local level;

v) that while public service quality can be improved through intelligent, co-designed investment, such developments can and should act as a bridgehead to similar labour movement developments in the wider economy;

vi) that in order to facilitate all this, the Labour party will need to go beyond its Refounding Labour initiative and either open itself up to genuine labour movement direction, or risk becoming an irrelevance;

vii) that the window of opportunity after the election will be short, because if the two groupings described don’t coalesce organisationally around common interests, existing power interests 0 notably the narrow ones of the existing narrow trade union leadership and the Blairite right, will re-exert their power, and threaten the long-term future of the labour movement itself.



[1] Of course this borrowing is already happening via NS&I, via the Coalition’s 2.8/4% fixed term bonds for people aged over 65.  As, Chris Dillow points out, the other word for this is corruption, because of the particular choice of investor, but that doesn’t mean that using the NS&I as an investment mechanism is in itself a bad thing.

[2] Tott’s report indicates this form of borrowing can be even cheaper than conventional borrowing through the sale of bonds by the government’s Debt Management Office

[3] This is not likely to be introduced in year 1 of a Labour government, as local Public Accounts Committees may be a condition of such an internal investment mechanism (see Chapter 10 of IPPR’s June 2014 Condition of Britain report, which was effectively a Labour party report (a fact later confirmed by the Charities Commission, who reprimanded IPPR for being too overtly political.

[4] NS&I does not manage its own funds (and sadly, ATOS manage NS&I).  The funds are passed over to the National Loans Fund managed directly by the Treasury, where it is already used to fund roughly 10% of public borrowing.   There would presumably have to be a change in this arrangement if a proportion of NS&I funds were to be allocated direct to a British Investment Bank.

[5] The key obstacle to pension fund investment in social infrastructure has long been the fiduciary duty on trustees to maximise financial return to members, which has been taken as overriding all other factors and led pension funds to invest ‘safely’.  While there has been some movement towards a wider understanding of what members’ interests are, so as to allow invest in social and environmentally sound activities, and while there has been some very good local innovation in local government pension fund use, the recent Law Commission guidance remains very conservative in its approach, and there is still some way to go before we see a real rise in social investment by this route.

[6] Even when it comes to capital infrastructure, Osborne’s grand 2011 proclamation about tapping pension funds has so far turned out to be a damp squib, and Labour will need to re-energise this.

[7] I have been seeking to ‘crowdsource’ more extensive research, including a quantification of how far these new mechanisms will fill a more traditional borrowing gap.

[8] In my view, Anthony Painter is by far the best of the movers and shakers in the realist orthodoxy camp, and his Left without a Future (2013) is certainly worth a close reading.  While it is ultimately let down by the ill-conceived parameters of continued ‘tough choices’ Anthony provides for himself (as set out above), it is insightful both about how ‘investment’ should be seen in its widest sense, and in the need for the development of a range of new institutions aimed at delivering social justice (though I disagree with how his implicit suggestion around who should be responsible for designing these institutions, a matter on which I touch on in part 2 of this essay).  As I shall also set out in part 2 ,   it is to Anthony and some of his like-minded colleagues at RSA and IPPR, as well as to people like Jon Cruddas, that the (ex-austerity) labour movement will need to reach out to if it is to develop a truly effective post-austerity movement in the shortest time possible.

[9] Aside from the invalid short-shrift that Anthony gives to what he call the “ultra-Keynesian” argument – that there is real no barrier to deficit spending as long as it takes place within a functional economy – the other policy idea he dismisses all too easily is that of engineering inflation at around the 4-6 % level through quantitative easing (not the same, I should stress as deficit spending/investment on public services/infrastructure).

[10] That is not to say that countering the Tories credit card imagery was ever easy.  Such a metaphor fits neatly with Lakoff’s concept of the two central metaphors contesting the grounds in US politics:  the strict father vs. the nurturing father.  In these terms, it might be argued that Conservatives currently have the upper hand because the strict father metaphor has a hold, and it may be that Labour has to deliberately develop nurturing metaphors of its own as a way to ‘sell’ investment as a social good rather than a profligacy.

[11] I remember well Hazel Blears castigating me in a CLP meeting for being too focused on the needs of the poor and the vulnerable.

[12] Of course, cuts to public spending also have indirect effects on the same group, by sucking money out of local economies and delaying recovery, and the weighting of cuts towards deprived areas has made this even more significant when it comes to regional inequalities.

[13] To blow my own trumpet for a second, I’ll add that I was amongst the first to advocate an opposition strategy of focusing on the details of incompetence, and it was my research around the maladministration of the Regional Growth Fund which created the ammunition for an early hit of this kind on Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions.  Unfortunately, while there have been other successes, the strategy was never deployed consistently.

[14] Howard Reed did engage with my reading of Labour’s investment plans, although he suggested I was over-optimistic.   Richard Murphy declined to engage, and continues to hold the view, reflected in Trevor’s Left Futures piece above, that Labour is Tory-lite.

[15] This is a conventional leftwing view. It is arguable that the legitimation of managerialism actually started earlier than this, and is as much a product of the socialist response to technological innovation in mass production as of neoliberalism.  As Peter Hain notes in his new book, Tony Crosland’s The Future of Socialism is marked by a dismissal of GDH Cole’s proposals for a modern ‘guild socialism’, on the grounds that these are incompatible with mew technologies and mass production.   While Hain seems happy to take Crosland at his work, my own view is that the side-lining of the whole guild tradition is at the roots of today’s mega-unions’ compliance with de-professionalization, especially in public services.

[16] There are vestiges of the old commitment to public service quality.  Ironically, in the face of what came next from the PCS, in 2011 the union asked election candidates to sign up to a pledge heavily focused on the quality of public services.  By 2012, that emphasis appeared to have been lost, as the Workfare programme was critiqued not for what it did to people on benefits, but solely for the effect it had on the workforce.

[17] When the Liberal Conspiracy version of the first part of this two part post appeared, I was called a wide selection of unpleasant names for my supposed treachery, but there was little or no actual counter-argument.  While that’s unimportant in itself, I accept that the provocative tone I adopted in the piece was more about my self-righteousness than any attempt to help forge a better strategy for opposition.

[18] That is not to say that there has been no debate within mainstream Labour about what ‘proper’ public service reform should look like.  The Progress pamphlet Reform in an Age of Austerity (February 2014), for example, is actually quite good on some of the crucial aspects of reform – particularly that it will need to be ‘relationa’ and personalised, but like the IPPR report Condition of Britain (see above) it remains hampered by the self-imposed fiscal straitjacket, within which these worthy ideals are mostly undeliverable.



How Labour should deal with Cameron’s sham EU renegotiation promise

December 19, 2013 1 comment

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.


Daniel Hannan and the convenient myth of fascism’s socialist roots

February 19, 2013 4 comments

As sure as night follows day, there’s another article along from a right-winger telling us that the “Left’s cultural ascendancy” has led to the incorrect and unfair allocation of fascism to the right-hand side of the political spectrum. This time it’s Daniel Hannan MEP‘s turn:

One of the most stunning achievements of the modern Left is to have created a cultural climate where simply to recite these facts is jarring. History is reinterpreted, and it is taken as axiomatic that fascism must have been Right-wing, the logic seemingly being that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists were nasty. You expect this level of analysis from Twitter mobs; you shouldn’t expect it from mainstream commentators.

Hannan doesn’t actually indicate who these “mainstream commentators” may be, but he seems sure enough of his assertion, so let’s go with the flow.

A key part of this regular leftie-baiting ritual is to say that fascists are really just socialists, and that socialists trying to tar right-wingers with the fascism brush is all part of the clever plan to get away with.  Cue Hannan:

‘I am a Socialist,’ Hitler told Otto Strasser in 1930, ‘and a very different kind of Socialist from your rich friend, Count Reventlow’.

No one at the time would have regarded it as a controversial statement. The Nazis could hardly have been more open in their socialism, describing themselves with the same terminology as our own SWP: National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

Almost everyone in those days accepted that fascism had emerged from the revolutionary Left. Its militants marched on May Day under red flags. Its leaders stood for collectivism, state control of industry, high tariffs, workers’ councils. Around Europe, fascists were convinced that, as Hitler told an enthusiastic Mussolini in 1934, ‘capitalism has run its course’.

It always strikes me as odd in these circumstances that Adolf Hitler, who in general doesn’t have a tremendously good reputation for rigorous self-analysis and intellectual honesty, should be seen as such a trustworthy guide to his own ideological leanings.  It is, after all, just possible that the Nazis used socialism as their key descriptor in an attempt to win votes from the Social Democratic Party, much as the BNP now seek to gain votes from Labour by claiming, as Hannan indeed notes, that they represent Labour values of old*.  (Possibly the best contemporary representation of this dynamic is to be found in Hans Fellada’s semi-autobiographical A Small Circus, published in 1931 before the final rise to power of the Nazis.)

Further, the idea that being opposed to capitalism, and claiming that it has had its time, automatically makes you a socialist is really quite bizarre – it’s as though other forms of social structure had never existed. Hannan’s inability/unwillingness to see beyond a simplistic historical bipolarity – if the Nazis weren’t capitalist, they must have been socialist – is precisely the error he now claims “lefties” are making when he talks about the ‘far-right’ epithet applied to the BNP (for the record, I don’t think the BNP have any particularly fascist features).

In fact, almost any basic reading about Nazi ideology will tell you that it was primarily rooted in a weird anti-modernist, anti-materialist mysticism, a jumble of 19th century Romantic yearning for a return to nature with a bit of Sun worship thrown in. As GL Mosse set out right back in 1961, the so-called ‘socialist’ elements around centralised planning, and even the growth of the military industrial complex, were a later addition, given the dawning realisation that for a glorious Aryanism, based on quasi-feudal social relations, to win out, ideal needed to be translated into action.

In his first book, H. F. K. Gunther, later to become the chief racial expert of the Third Reich, sketched such a social ideal. Human rights have today pre-empted the place of human duties. These duties, formerly expressed in the loyalty of the knightly gentleman to his king and generalized throughout society in the web of reciprocal loyalties between landlord and peasant, must once again become the cement of social organization. To Gunther, ” the community, the public good, demands that every profession fulfill the work which is its due.”

Manifestly, such a social ideal found in all these men, continued the impetus of romanticism. It was reminiscent of that Bavarian deputy who earlier in the XIXth century believed that ” Love ” would cure the tensions between laborer and employer. In an immediate sense it was a part of the ideal of an organic society which reflected organic man. Langbehn was explicit in his insistence that true individualism could only be realized in such a social order. He considered liberal individualism a part of materialism, dissolving society into incompatible units rather than knitting it together. Paul de Lagarde summarized this in one of those phrases which made him so popular: ” That man is not free who can do as he likes, but he is free who does what he should do. Free is he who is able to follow his creative principle of life; free is that man who recognizes and makes effective the innate principles which God put within him.” Such freedom led to an organic view of man and the state. Not only was liberalism mistaken, but socialism as well. Social democracy, Diederichs claimed, was mechanistic; a true people’s state was viable only if it reorganized society in a more meaningful manner, according to the aristocratic principle, the only environment in which men could unfold their real inner selves.” Langbehn concluded that this corporate structure not only fulfilled the aristocratic principle but was also in tune with the Germanic past.

Significantly, this ideal urged these men to advocate only one concrete social reform: each worker should be given his own plot of land. Again, the reform’s justification was sought not in terms of material welfare within the framework of the movement’s general ideology –  factory work removed man from the all-important contact with nature. Yet these men desired the transformation of their ideology into deeds. It is of great significance that while Diederichs used the word ” theosophy ” in the first prospectus of his publishing house, he came to be critical of that movement-not because it was spiritualist, but because it was too purely speculative in nature. The feeling about infinity must lead to deeds, and to his important journal, he gave the name Die Tat, ” The Deed.” Paul de Lagarde had already made it plain that while something was accomplished through the understanding of true ideology, it was even more important to transform such ideals into serious practical action. It was an ” idealism of deeds” which such men desired, deeds which helped to create a nation resting upon this idealistic foundation. Through such a concept, ideas of force came to play an important role in this ideology. For Langbehn, art and war went hand in hand. His proof was by a method representative of his whole work. Shakespeare’s name meant, after all, shaking a spear, and this for him was proof of the connection between art and war. Moreover, in German spear (Speer) and army (Wehr) are words which rhyme. Thus in the Germanic past, true individual development had gone hand in hand with war.

The fact that Nazism as it was played out was a cocktail of bizarre belief and latterly borrowed practice may be hard for us to get our heads round at this remove, but it doesn’t make it any less real as a phase of history. For Hannan now to claim that Nazism was simply an extreme form of socialism, simply because the Nazi party bought in some centralised (though chaotic) planning and Mefo bill spend-and-lie economics to make its weird vision a reality, is quite simply wrong.

Similarly, the idea that simply because Mussolini and other Italian fascists had bought into some revolutionary socialist activity before the first world war doesn’t mean that the Italian fascism that emerged post-war was simply a continuation of that trajectory. We know that Mussolini, for example, was influenced by the turn of the century, Nietszche-influenced ‘counter-culture’, a reaction to the modernity of ‘reason’ and ‘progress’ i.e. the antithesis of Marxist thought. Further, as Philip Morgan sets out, Mussolini and his fascist colleagues (like Hitler) were heavily influenced by their experience of the trenches:

In the sublimation of the war experience was rooted one of the most powerful myths of the war, that of ‘combatantism’….[The] idealised relationship between junior officers and their men. comradely yet elitist, was the basis of the hierarchical organisation they wanted to impose on their own societies. The point was that the hierarchy was new. Based on performance, the merit earned by self-sacrificing service to the nation, it replaced the conservative hierarchy of birth and wealth (p.25).

Again, Hannan’s claim that fascism emerged as a linear consequence of socialist doctrine and pre-war practice, with no other material or ideational influence, is simply wrong.

Having got history quite wrong Hannan makes his call for reconciliation:

Whenever anyone points to the socialist roots of fascism, there are howls of outrage. Yet the people howling the loudest are often the first to claim some ideological link between fascism and conservatism. Perhaps both sides should give it a rest.

At least we can agree on this, though a call for us all to calm down a bit coming at the end of a piece dedicated to doing just the opposite does jar a little, I have to say.

When I wrote my somewhat controversial piece on the potential for the rise of a 21st century version of fascism within Hannan’s own Conservative party, I did so explicitly on the basis that fascism and Conservatism have no core ideological linkage, though there may be some operational method crossover.  While Anthony Painter of the Extremis project and I disagree on many things, we both see a real danger of a nasty extremism emerging within the Conservative party post-2015 – an extremism alien to Hannan’s own liberal/free market tradition (I’d argue there’s a tendency to the exclusionary within liberalism, but that’s another blog).

Whether or not any such emerging extremism might come to be defined as fascistic – that will depend on the precise form in which it emerges, and I am not implying that Anthony agrees with me on this – any danger of its emergence, under the leadership of the Tory party’s darker forces suggests that Hannan might be better employed at home, not engaging in attacks on the Left which are both historically ignorant and hypocritically framed as calls for peace.

* I am reminded by @sohopolitico that Hitler also said in 1930: “Our adopted term ‘Socialist’ has nothing to do with Marxian Socialism. Marxism is anti-property; true Socialism is not. As noted, Hitler may not be a very reliable source on Hitler.

Fisking the fisker

January 31, 2013 Leave a comment

I’m not blogging much at the moment, but I still abide by my golden rule of blogging:  if I happen to come across some twat misusing PISA results in defence of Gove, then I will always make a point of calling her/him out, if I can be arsed.

So there’s a total twat, Toby Young by name, misusing PISA results in defence of Gove, and I can be arsed.

Young says, in a piece ‘fisking’ the apparently “hysterical” Suzanne Moore*:

Ah. Here we go. Her [Moore’s] views are “evidence-based”, Gove’s are “ideological”. Odd line of argument for a former employee of Marxism Today to pursue, but there it is. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence to support Gove’s policies. Here’s evidence that standards fell during Labour’s 13 years in office. Here’s evidence that free schools have raised standards in Sweden. Here’s evidence that increasing school choice has raised standards in England. Here’s evidence that the academies programme is raising standards in England.

The first link is to the wikipedia entry on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

And this is what the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority had to say about the blatant misuse of PISA data by Ofsted and the DfE:

While I understand that some users of these data would like to make comparisons between the first PISA study in 2000 and the most recent in 2009, the weaknesses relating to the response-rate standard in earlier studies should not be ignored. The validity of comparisons of national rankings as a result of an increase in the number of countries covered by the PISA study, and the degrees of uncertainty in country scores attributed to sampling and measurement error are also important in this regard.

That is, Young is totally and utterly wrong**.  More on why he’s wrong here***, here, here and, just for completeness sake, the National Foundation for Educational Research review of the PISA 2009 study:

England’s performance in 2009 does not differ greatly from that in the last Pisa survey in 2006.

*  Readers may wish to note James Delingpole’s delightful metaphor on twitter for Young’s attempted fisking of the “hysterical” Moore.   I can’t remember where I put it though.  Anyway, it’s bound to cause a twitterstorm so you may see it before I see it again.

**  Of course, it’s not just that he’s deliberately misusing the PISA data.  His logic is also utterly at sea.  Even valid evidence that England may have fallen down the international ranking wouldn’t be proof that standards have fallen.  It might be as easily explained by other countries getting better (oh, and the huge increase in the number of countries in the rankings).

***  , I note that I asked, in this post about the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority’s October ’12 letter:

Will they continue to peddle the same untruths, secure in the knowledge that the “plummeting down the international league tables” is now well entrenched as a result of lies to date, and much more likely to gain press coverage than a letter from the UK Statistics Authority?

I think we now know the answer.

The quiet high-speed lie

January 28, 2013 2 comments

Alex Massie at the Spectator thinks the government may be gilding the high speed lily:

I suspect the economic case for the proposals is weaker than its proponents allow.

He’s right.

The governnment ‘s Economic Case for HS2: Updated appraisal of transport user benefits and wider economic benefits, published to justify the London-Birmingham stretch says )para 3.5.4)

There may also be significant local effects; for instance, a new station can act as a magnet for economic activity and drive regeneration in deprived areas.


You’d have thought that for a £32bn scheme there might be a bit more than a ‘may’, and some actual research into its possible and likely consequences for the areas concerned.

Not so.

After a few paragraphs of vague wish lists about what ‘wider economic impacts’ (WEIs) the scheme might bring in the form of business clustering and labour markets, we get this at 3.5.8 of the same report:

The WEIs guidance is carefully designed to measure national impacts. However, at a regional and local level the effects of HS2 on the distribution of activity could also be very significant.

Is “could” better than “may”?

Then, finally, we get to the nub (para 3.5.9-10):

[A]lthough there are many examples where growth and regeneration has been delivered around a high speed rail station, there may be balancing effects across the wider area. However, the circumstances in which, and extent to which, this happens is not clear….

These local impacts are considered more fully in the Review of HS2 London to West Midlands Appraisal of Sustainability report.

But if you’re anal enough to go to the Review of HS2 London to West Midlands Appraisal of Sustainability report, it runs out that no such consideration has been given (para 1.3.1):

In undertaking this assessment account has been taken of the socio-economic impact of transport schemes including other high speed rail schemes. It is commonly accepted that the main impact on land use, of new stations or improved services, is located within a 10-15 minutes walking distance of the station, which equates to a catchment area of 1km.

Thus, the report is not by, any stretch of the imagination, an assessment of wider impacts.  That’s not what 1km from a station is.  That’s a local impact assessment. Indeed the report acknowledges this when at para .1.3.5):

The next steps in developing the socio-economic appraisal may be to……investigate the wider regional impacts of high speed rail, for example, how the Black Country region would be affected by the introduction of High Speed Rail to Birmingham (para 1.3.5.).

In summary, then the wider regional impact investigation recommended in the previous report has not been undertaken, but the final report published by the government pretends that it has.

Call me old-fashhioned, but I think that’s lying.

And this is not simply an esoteric point about what is and isn’t in what DfT document.

This is about the spending of  £33bn on a scheme which has the real capacity to wreak havoc on people in towns and cities – most likely some distance from the new stations but close enough to see economic activity “sucked away”.

As I set out here, such concerns are summed up in a 2009 paper ‘High Speed Rail: Lessons for Policy Makers from Experiences Abroad’, in which the authors study the actual post-construction impact of schemes in Japan, France, Spain and Italy:

[F]or regions and cities whose economic conditions compare unfavorably with those of their neighbors, a connection to the HST line may even result in economic activities being drained away and an overall negative impact……Medium size cities may well be the ones to suffer most from the economic attraction of the more dynamic, bigger cities. Indeed, Haynes (1997) points out that growth is sometimes at the expense of other centers of concentration.

Time will tell whether my concerns are justified, but what we can already be certain of is that £32bn of public money is to be spent on a scheme which has not been properly research, and the justification for which is underpinned by quiet, but important, lie in the small print.

Meanwhile, the £60m it would cost (about 1/500th of what’s needed for HSR) to build a rail link to Skelmersdale’s 40,000 residents to any railway at all is still not forthcoming.

Cameron’s euro rabbit

January 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Cameron will be giving his big European speech this Friday, then.

In anticipation, Kev Peel at Labourlist has set out the five questions he’ll have to answer.  It’s quite good.  Kev’s one of the relatively small bunch of Labour insiders who’s bothered to get to grips with the detail on Europe, and it shows.

However, in assessing Cameron’s likely answer to “Exactly which powers does he wish to repatriate?”, he’s missed the possible rabbit out of the hat.  Mind you, so has everyone else.  Media memories are so short…….

Go back to Spring 2012, and this was aTelegraph story:

The Government is drawing up plans for emergency immigration controls to curb an influx of Greeks and other European Union residents if the euro collapses, the Home Secretary discloses today.

As I set out at the time, the mainstream response to this – that it isn’t possible to do this under European law – was plain wrong.   Article 45 of the Lisbon Treaty said then, and continues to say, that there can be exceptions: to freedom of movement:

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:

(a) to accept offers of employment actually made;

(b) to move freely within the territory of Member States for this purpose;

(c) to stay in a Member State for the purpose of employment in accordance with the provisions governing the employment of nationals of that State laid down by law, regulation or administrative action;

(d) to remain in the territory of a Member State after having been employed in that State, subject to conditions which shall be embodied in regulations to be drawn up by the Commission.

Cameron’s team has had months now to think through the logistics on this one, and while I doubt there’ll be an announcement on its immediate of this get-out clause in the Treaty, I would n’t be at all surprised if Cameron makes an announcement about a big step forward towards its use, under the guise of repatriating powers.

Unless of course this blogpost is read by Labour policy types, and they get in ahead of the speech.  Here’s hoping.


Categories: Law, Terrible Tories

Gove’s intervention

November 24, 2012 2 comments

Clearly I’m not going to comment on the Rotherham fostering case as I don’t know the what, the when, the how, the why of it.

Clearly Mr Gove knows all these things. He is already sure that what happened is “indefensible”, and he’s going to found out exactly what went on:

“It is entirely wrong for this couple to have been treated in this way. That’s why I believe we need a full explanation from the local authority as to why this decision was allowed to be taken.

What strikes me as odd is that, when major concerns were raised over GCSE grading this summer, Mr Gove felt he had no business intervening, and that to do so would be deeply irresponsible:

Ofqual is an independent regulator, accountable to Parliament. If Ministers were to interfere in Ofqual’s decisions, they would be meddling where they should not interfere. It is deeply irresponsible, cynical and opportunistic for the hon. Gentleman [Twigg] to make the case that he is making.

Categories: Terrible Tories

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 126 other followers