The Drucker prophecy

April 28, 2015 Leave a comment

HM Drucker’s  (1979) in his Doctrine and Ethos in the Labour Party:

Since Labour’s ethos emanates from a specific past one may ask what the implications of this task are for the future…….Labour cannot be simpliciter a party of the future.  Such a possibility may be available to a radical social democratic party.  It is not possible for the historic Labour party.  The attempt by Crosland in his The Future of Socialism (happy title) (1956) to condemn Labour’s tendency to cling to the principles of its past is futile.  Any attempt to redefine goals for future action must always be seen to be strictly consonant with the past.

A second implication is that Labour’s support can be eroded by a general change of consciousness.  If the ties of class-consciousness are weakened, then Labour is threatened.  If Labour comes to be seen as an increasingly middle-class organisation, it could lose its support even if its supporters remained class-conscious. ….Class consciousness, as a historical fact, is obviously endangered by changes external to it.    Gaitskell saw prosperity as one such threat. Nationalism is another – one whose power is more real in the 1970s than would have been foreseen in the late 1950s.  As Scottish and Welsh working people have come to identify themselves as Scots or Welshmen first and workers second, Labour loses their support to nationalist parties.  As this happens, one witnesses an exchange of one past for another as the new choice comes to appear more vivid. If in future elections Labour loses parliamentary seats as a result. it will be paying a high price for the loss of class-identity (p.39, my emphasis).


So strong are the old assumptions that the import of the weakening of the two-party system have only just begun to sink home.  The belief that Britain is inevitably a two-party country is deep-seated, and there is a strong inclination to treat any deviation as either or minor or temporary. This inclination  still predominates in the Labour Party.  These attitudes would be shattered, however. if future Labour leaders were forced to negotiate a formal coalition with the leaders of other parties….

The collective popularity of the Liberals, Scottish and Welsh Nationalist, the Irish parties and the National Front is considerable and will not disappear…..

We may, I think, further speculate that in the emerging multi-party world each party will need a strong core of support most of all – not a majority or a near majority of voters.  And at the same time it will have less need for its doctrinaires and policy-writers, for in a multi-party world the manifestos of the parties will be but bargaining-counters which will be traded for Cabinet seats by the party leaders after each election. This, at the same time as Labour’s doctrines are reveled as threadbare, those ho write them are losing their usefulness in the party. Labour, with its solid support in the trade union movement and its ideology securely founded on the ethos of trade unions, ought to be able to play the new multi-party game to advantage (p.119-120).

Milibandism and the concept of change

April 27, 2015 1 comment

Claire, who follows these things, reports that Ed Miliband said today [1]:

Change happens because people demand it.


I think this expresses, pithily, both the strength and the current limitations of emergent Milibandism.

The strength is obvious enough.  A new Labour-led government will be better at responding to the demands that it hears through its existing channels, because it will manage public finances more appropriately, and perhaps even regulate markets more effectively.   So free school spending will give way to more sensible educational investment, housing costs may be brought down by a combination of rent capping and (eventually) increased supply, and lots of other stuff promised in and beyond the manifesto will be delivered.

That’s better than nothing, but it’s still tinkering at the margins.

Big change doesn’t happen because people getting better at demanding better stuff.   Big change happens when people start producing better stuff, through better organisation, and better quality control.

Milibandism, if it is escape its current consumer capitalist limitations, needs to get serious about the supply side.    In terms of public service provision [2], this should and can mean four interrelated areas:

1) Re-professionalisation of service delivery, by facilitating/welcoming the organic growth  of worker- and peer-led institutions, whether that be a new National College of Teachers run by educators, at local levels, rejuvenated Trades Union Councils which have the political legitimacy to make judgments on provision, and to call the managerial class to account.  Concomitantly, the judgments of the external agencies like Ofsted and the CQC, which have so blighted public services, will need to be challenged and deligitimised.  This is the main organisational challenge, in my book.

2) Investment in preventative, person-centred services on the basis that they are preventative, person-centred and autonomously delivered,rather than on the basis of downstream savings.    These savings will accrue anyway, but more effectively than via centrally designed processes (centrally planned person-centred processes are, of course, self-contradicting).

3) The steady expansion of what is regarded as a public service, from the current narrow definition (things runs by councils and the NHS) to a much wider one which includes energy, transport, retail and more.  This isn’t, I should stress, a call for public ownership, but a call for public accountability in the services that matter to the public.  Why should we accept cruelty to a pensioner on a train when we wouldn’t accept it in a library.

4) A new humility within the Labour party, rooted in an acceptance that change happens because people organise it, and that this organisation happens most effectively within the labour movement, not within the party.

Milibandism hasn’t yet made this conceptual leap from more effective consumerism to more effective production as the best way of creating change, though Jon Cruddas gets it, and Stewart Wood may do – at a theoretical but not yet organisational level.  As I set out here [3], the key challenge for a post-election anti-austerity, Labour left and trade union alliance, is to organise for it anyway, so that the Labour party has a moving bandwagon to jump aboard.

I’ll be writing lots more about that in the days amd weeks to come [4]



[1] I have no idea where he said this, but I trust Claire.

[2] Of course, supply side reform is not just about worker-led public service reform, even when public services are more widely defined than currently, but it’s a pretty good place to start.

[3] There was supposed to be a part II to that post, expanding on what I’ve greatly condensed here, but that’s been sucked into other writing endeavours yet to see the light of day.

[4] see [3]

Evaluating Cameronism: was it Talebian or Thalerian?

April 26, 2015 2 comments

On Thursday Miliband criticized Cameron for his failure to foresee or do anything about the collapse of the Libyan state. Cameron’s reaction was:

I’ve learnt as prime minister that it is so important in a dangerous and uncertain world that you show clarity, consistency and strength on these foreign policy issues. And I think frankly people will look at these ill-judged remarks and they will reach their own conclusion.

There’s no substantive defence of the UK government’s foreign policy here.  Instead, Cameron simply asserts his own status as statesman, implying a contrast between himself and Miliband.  The  suggestion is that he simply doesn’t need to stoop to the level of explaining himself; he, in uncertain times, is just needs to be trusted.

As such, Cameron’s reaction supports the thesis I set out during the Libya war, that the best way to assess Conservatism under Cameron is less through the lens of overt ideology, more through that of the ‘operational code’ of government.   The operational code of Cameronism, I suggested (invoking Jim Bulpitt), was much more linked to high politics/low instincts which informed governing styles before Thatcher, than it was to the managerialism that emerged in the Thatcher years.  This return to an earlier operational code, I suggested further, was largely rooted in the upper class backgrounds of our new rulers.

Four years on, I’d stand by much of that analysis, and especially of how this operational code has been a cause of basic government incompetence in many areas of domestic policy, but Cameron’s phrasing reminde me that there’s another another way of evaluating Cameronism in its dying days, and one which is perhaps more relevant to Labour’s approach in government  after May 7th.

If we believe Cameron’s own words, his approach government has been informed by two leading thinkers.

The first is behavioural economist Richard Thaler, who acted as adviser to Cameron around 2008.  Thaler promoted what has become known as ‘nudge theory’ – essentially the idea that governments can modify the behaviour of their citizens by persuading them that lots of other people are modifying theirs, and that they should to.   This led, in government, to the well-funded and still extant Behavioural Insights team in the Cabinet Office, with its particular focus on Randomised Control Trials as an effective means of keeping the people in their place.

The second, is Nassim Nicholas Taleb, purveyor of Black Swan theory.   By 2012, Taleb was a regular guest at 10 Downing Street, and his views on risk and uncertainty – interpreted as arguments in favour of conservative public financing – were sweeping the party hierarchy.

Nudge theory and Black Swan theory are, of course, utterly incompatible.   The former assumes that human actions can be moulded into regular patterns which create desiraboue outcomes on a regular basis, and is a form of central planning.   Think Big Society.  The latter is based on the view that central planning is an irrelevance in the face of the inherent uncerainty of complex human interactions taking place in a complex and uncertain natural environment.

But I don’t point this out simply to mock Cameron and his coterie for their faddish intellectual pretensions.  Rather, I’d argue that there is actually a coherence in this incoherence – a coherence if you actually locate the competing approaches within the Cameronian operational code of high-low politics.

For if we look at the record we see at least an attempt at a Talebian approach to international relations – expressed in Cameron’s own words as the need for ‘strength’ in an uncertain world – but more broadly in the introspection we have seen develop since the disastrous Boys’ Own Adventure in Libya (even if measured solely in term of impact on the UK economy) , and in the Little Englander politics within the European Union.

Domestic policy, on the other hand, is dominated not by the Talebian advice to  “collect opportunities” (p.170)*, but by the Thalerian game plan: to manage, even micro-manage the populace, and narrow down different modes of action, on the basis that some are not socially desirable.  Again, think Big Society, think Community Organisers but also think benefit sanctions, think bedroom tax, think traditionalization of the curriculum. Think Troubled Families programme.  All terrible ideas, badly implemented, all rooted in a desire to get people to conform to the rules set for them.

So, after May 7th, where will a Labour-led government stand?   What will be its operational code?   Well, it could do worse than, quite consciously, ‘flip’ Thaler and Taleb: develop an international relations and environmental policies which has at least some elements of a Thalerian grand plan for cohesion, while remaining as prepared as possible for  the Black Swans, but at the same time take a Talebian approach to the needs and aspirations of the people they are there to serve, enabling those people to amass a range of life opportunities and even – and here we go beyond the individualism inherent in Tabelian thought – fostering the kind of social solidarities which help people forge Black Swan preparedness.



*Taleb is here referring to Loiuse Pasteur’s aphorism “Fortune favours the prepared”.


The options for the return of legitimate governance in Tower Hamlets

April 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Luftur Rahman is now, in law, the ex-Mayor of Tower Hamlets, the Electoral Commission (sitting as judge) having found him guilty of electoral fraud.

The detail of the verdict need not concern us here.  Nor, indeed. need the ethnicity of the ex-Mayor or his allegiances.  A focus on such matters tends to obscure the more fundamental issue: that investing executive power in a single person, whilst not ensuring robust systems of scrutiny and, where need be, recall, is to expose democracy to the risk of corruption [1].

While Boris Johnson, for example, may not be criminally guilty, it is reasonable to point out that his 7 years in power have not been without a whiff about “semi corruption” and contempt for (toothless) scrutiny and patronage.

The obvious solution to Tower Hamlets’ democratic legitimacy woes, and those of other areas where mayorality hasn’t turned out so well, is to take it all as an interesting but failed experiment, and return promptly to the form of local government which has, by and large, served us pretty well for a century or so.

Unfortunately, this isn’t very easy, at least at at first sight.  Under the Coalition’s 2011 Localism Act, a referendum to reverse the decision of a referendum on governance arrangements can only take place 10 years after the original referendum [2].  In the case of Tower Hamlets, the referendum which brought mayoral politics to the borough only took place in October 2010, further to a petition organised (manipulated?) by Respect and the Islamic Forum for Europe (this under the provisions of the Local Government Act 2000).  By this route, the borough could only return to sensible local government in 2020.

Fortunately, yet another piece of legislation – this time Labour’s [3] Sustainable Community Act (2007), which allows councils to see devolution of central government powers to local government where such powers  “assist councils in promoting the sustainability of local communities” [4].  In my view, a proposal from current councillors, in advance of a new mayoral election, for the devolution of power to allow the council simply to return to the leader-cabinet model, with its now normal scrutiny functionsn – or even to return to the older committee system (as has happened in Fylde) – could be justified on the basis of community sustainability, given the division and hatred brought about through the mayoral model.  Conversely, it might be argued that a further mayoral election (or continuation of that system) is a recipe for further division and animosity, whoever wins, given the accusations likely to keep on flying.

If I were a Labour councillor in Tower Hamlets, that’s what I’d be investigating right now, not least because this route to a settling down period might even find favour with non-Labour councillors.   I can also envisage a new DCLG Secretary of State welcoming such a proposal, on the basis that it swiftly undoes the harm brought by the divisive Respect/IFE cabal, as well as smacking of strong and decisive government.


[1] There is not time for a full exploration of the link between concentrated executive power and corruption here, but it’s worth noting how initial, valid concerns about such corruption were set to one side by New Labour as they grabbed hold of the idea of importing the mayoral system from the US, as part of their evidence-free faith in managerialism.

Indicative of this, one of New Labour’s earlier intellectual supporters, Gerry Stoker, acknowledged in a 1992 paper “The fact that an elected executive mayor implies a great concentration of power in a single individual rather than dispersal among many, raises the potential for perhaps more serious instances of corruption.”   By the time of his 2004 book Transforming Local Governance, however, he was persuaded enough of the merits of the mayoral system to set such concerns to one side, even while acknowledging that ” an effective mix of checks and balances is a considerable institutional design challenge”, and that it is “not clear that the regulations that followed the Local Government Act 2000 met that challenge” (p.140).  In other words, managerialism had won the intellectual day.

[2] A useful 2014 Parliamentary Briefing (pdf) explains the changes (p.5):

The Localism Act 2011 permitted a referendum to be held on abolishing an elected mayor, subject to time limits; and for a referendum to be held on establishing a leader and cabinet, or on using the committee system. Four authorities have held referendums on whether to retain their mayoral system. Electors in Doncaster (3 May 2012) and Middlesbrough (26 September 2013) voted to retain their elected mayor, whilst those in Hartlepool (15 Nov 2012) voted to replace it with the committee system, and those in Stoke-on-Trent (23 Oct 2008) voted to replace it with a leader and cabinet system.

Authorities which have changed their governance arrangements as a result of a referendum can only make a further change following a further referendum. Where a local authority has held a referendum on its governance arrangements, a further referendum may not be held for ten years (five years in Wales).

[3] To the Coalition’s credit, their amendments to the Act took the legislation from one which was based on application rounds to one which allows local authorities (and since 2013 Parish & Town Councils) to submit proposals to DCLG at any time.

[4]  The link here is to guidance on the Act and its amendments, because the level of amendment means it is misleading to link to the original act and confusing to link simply to amending legislation.

Migrant army

April 19, 2015 Leave a comment

700 or so people have drowned in the Mediterranean, as they traveled either in search of a less bad life, or because they had no other option. A lot more have died or will die in this way.  There are millions who want or have to make the same trip.

At the same time, Western and Middle-Eastern states are engaged, to differing degrees, in a battle against a large group of well-armed thugs who may or may not be motivated by religion, and are killing, raping or generally oppressing millions of people cross the Middle East.  Given their level of savagery, no armies other than a Kurdish one and a Iran-backed militia/Iraqi army coalition is willing to take them on.  This is insufficient given both their military strength and their grasp of propaganda, which enables them to expand their operations into other ‘theatres’.

Let’s put two and two together and, just once, make four.

Rather than let migrants drown or subject crossing survivors either to unfair asylum processes or lives of illegality, let’s invite those younger, able-bodied ones to join a new international migrant army, whose job it is is to defeat IS/Al Quaeida/Taliban military.  Here are the terms:

If you end up as a trans-Sahara migrant in Libya or Morocco, and want to ‘earn your passage’ to Europe, you can join a highly-disciplined UN-controlled army, where you will be fed, clothed, and equipped for battle;

If you serve two one year training and two years of service honourably, you will be entitled to residence in a EU country, and after a further year , in recognition of your military service and settlement, your close family may join you.

That’s it.  There’s  a need for people to fight IS et al.  There are people. They are currently being drowned. They could fight for their freedom, with pretty good odds, and decent reward.  The Bangladesh Army, which has a great record in UN Peacekeeping missions, could be in charge.

Of course it’s not ideologically sound, but I’m pretty sure both sides stand to gain from the bargain.


Categories: General Politics

Some simple questions about the childcare pledges

April 14, 2015 Leave a comment

In some ways the childcare arms race – with the Tories promising 30 hours a week free for 3 7 4 year olds to Labour’s 25 hours.

But the announcements raise more questions than they answer at the moment.  Here are some:

1) Both announcements restrict the 25/30 hours to working parents.  What is a working parent? How many hours?  Do they have to be regular?  Who provides and checks the evidence?  What happens if circumstances change?  Who’s going to fund this new bureaucracy?

2) Is this restricted eligibility meant to take in the existing 15 hours, which is open to all children, meaning that children of workless parents will be cut out of provision entirely?  Or will all parents be entitled to 15 hours, then just the working ones to the 10/15 hours? What about the risk of stigmatisation of the parents who must pick up at 3.30pm on the dot because they don’t qualify for the 25/30 hours? Is pre-school provision a good thing in itself in terms of socialisation/school readiness?  If so, why discriminate in this way against non-working parents?  What about the needs of children who are whipped away from new friends because a parent’s job ends?

3) Is this a year round commitment, or just for the current 38 weeks?  If it’s year round, how will current pre-school providers who only provide the service term-time be helped to gear up?  If it’s just 38 weeks, will fees soar for the other 12 weeks (most providers shit for Christmas) and will there be protection against that?

As I’ve said, I’m glad overall these questions need answering because childcare has made it into both manifestos, but as usual the devil is in the detail, and it’s be much easier to implement universal provision than be getting into yet more means-testing-of-a-sort.




Categories: General Politics

Is this the worst local journalism ever?

April 13, 2015 Leave a comment

There’s a mind-bogglingly bad bit of local journalism round my way today.  It goes thus:

Jack Sen will not be attending hustings in Ormskirk after being threatened by Standing up to UKIP

The West Lancashire UKIP candidate has pulled out of hustings after being threatened by Standing up to UKIP.

Jack Sen was due to attend the hustings at Ormskirk Civic Hall on Tuesday but has decided not to go to the event after receiving a threatening letter.

Stand up to UKIP “Call on all those who reject racism, scapegoating and xenophobic nationalism to join us in campaigning against UKIP.”

The Ormskirk Advertiser and Southport Visiter have also received the same letter, which states that “If Sen appears at the hustings the event will go tragically for all involved.”

Yes, that’s right.

We’re expected, as loyal readers of the local rag, to believe that the organisation backed at its launch by luminaries such as Diane Abbott, Ava Vidal, Owen Jones, Len McCluskey and Ken Livingtone. have been sending poorly spelled, handwritten death threats to local papers and others, in a constituency few people have heard of, and then signing it off as their work, though making a small mistake as to what they’re called (Standing up to UKIP vs. Stand Up to UKIP).

The journalist has even gone to the trouble of checking Stand Up to UKIP’s twitter bio to see what the felons are about*, thus deliberately making the link between these notes and the organisation.

There are three possible explanations my local paper/journalist apparently taking leave of her senses:

1) She’s taken leave of her senses

2) This is actually just a straight, hurried copy and paste from a UKIP press release.   This is supported by the inclusion of the long and incoherent ramblings of the UKIP candidate, but is contradicted by the wording about local papers receiving the same note, which presumably UKIP wouldn’t have known.

3) There’s something even crazier going on.

Whatever, the explanation, this is a very bizarre article.   I think the paper would do well to take it down as soon as possible, as I’m not certain people like Len McCluskey will want to be associated with the sending of death threats, even in a small circulation local paper.


*I should add I have little time for Stand Up to UKIP itself,which I think is a showy irrelevance.

Categories: General Politics

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