Archive for December, 2010

New Year Resolutions

December 31, 2010 5 comments

Here are my New Year’s resolutions. 1-9 are within my control, more or less.  10 depends on some other people. 

By the end of 2011  I intend/hope to have:

1) Resolved some outstanding intellectual incoherencies around a) the current limits vs. the desirability of social democracy; b) leftwing small statism in the context of the necessary shorter term defence of the welfare state;  c) libertarianism vs. using social and economic power to take liberties; d) how the best bits of Modern Monetary theory might be adapted to the socialist cause.

2) Published two books – one about politics and one about cricket;

3) Read the whole Habermas’ Theory of Communicative Action;

4) Set up a social enterprise which picks the bones out of the dismantling of the NHS;

5) Had measurable influence in the third sector world over the roll-out of Social Impact Bonds in the context of the Coalition’s commissioning plans, if they proceed as planned;

6) Become a street pastor;

7) Got back to my fighting weight, done some regular cricket umpiring and  and started flute lessons;

8) Written a paper on internal Labour party democracy reform which actually gets read;

9) Completed my tax returns without having to stay up all night to meet the deadline;

10) Been a small part of a big movement which brings down the government.

Categories: General Politics

A fight without sectarianism, is not a fight without arguments

December 30, 2010 12 comments

The strength in the anti-cuts movement, emanating from the draconian and dangerous agenda of cuts from the existing government, and led in many ways by students and trade union activists, has increased greatly in its current form – and as a consequence further questions are being raised inside it, that extend further than merely “what is it we are against?” (as Tom Miller has rightly written about here).

As the movement grows even stronger, numbers increase and demands start to be met, it is inevitable that questions will get tougher: “Yes, we want change to government policy, but what will that change look like?” and “Yes, the government should crumble, but how do we promote and help form a credible government in its place?”

Many people have been fairly scepitcal of entering into debates on theory, saying things like “save this waffle for the dinosaurs at the branch meeting” – I’m not of that opinion, and I’m also glad of the reference Miller, mentioned above, makes about Lenin (I myself used the Spanish Civil War, for example, to illustrate a point on so-called “left unity” ).

A common criticism of Marx is that while he critiqued and criticised capitalism expertly, he spent less time mapping out what Communism would be like operationally or morally. Perhaps he needn’t have. This, people will say, allowed Communist leaders to do some pretty drastic things justifying their means by their ends, while public intellectuals could excuse killing if it meant a Communistic outcome. It’s no surprise to me that in the periods from WWI to the end of the Cold War the left were not only carved up into Reformists, democratic socialists, revolutionary socialists, utopian socialists, Communists, and Anarchsists, but each of these were carved up in the form of libertarian socialists, Bolshevists, Menshevists, Council Communists (you get my gist).

The left is a broad spectrum, inevitably it will fall out on issues, and at points one faction will wonder why another is being compromised with (why, for example should a statist reformist, work with an an anti-statist libertarian socialist, while he compromises with a civic republican on certain matters). It’s good to belong to a broad church, but differences should be rationalised, and difficult conversations should be engaged – and they should be done earlier rather than later. It is not an option to put off this conversation, no matter how difficult, and no matter how inconsequential it seems at the time, particularly as some of the activism is so exciting and so all encompassing.

In order to steer clear of in-fighting later on, difficult conversations are a must – now.

The movement of students, workers and sympathisers of whatever stripe, with continued energy, focus, and direction, will start to see differences; there was a feeling the night before the tuition fee bill vote that Lib Dem MPs were on their backfeet – we may have lost that battle, but there is a war to be won (a cliche, sure, but you see my point). Unity can bring this disgusting and ideological government to its knees, but as that other cliche establishes, action without theory is aimless.

When tabloid life mirrors blog art

December 30, 2010 Leave a comment

The other day I posted a whimsical little number, pretending to be utterly outraged at the cost of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), as measured by the cost per crime detected, following the release of data showing it costs £1.2 m per crime detected by a PCSO.

The point was simple enough.  Using these statistics is wholly and utterly  misleading, because:

 a) crime detection is simply not part of a PCSO’s role; they are there for visible crime prevention, reassurance and more general community intelligence gathering; 

b) while the odd crime detection statistic might be recorded against a PCSO’s name, in general any such crime will be recorded against as a Police Officer detection; this avoids any double counting. Indeed, it is possible that the ‘crimes detected’ figure which actually does show up against PCSOs more or less  represents the on-the-spot fines that PCSOs are empowered to impose e.g. for littering.

This basic logic didn’t stop the stats being splashed across national newspapers, with the usual TPA rent-a-quote, and the Press Association being uncritically copied across dozens of local newspaper websites. 

The comments on the papers’ websites reflected the expected split of those whose prejudices about ‘plastic policemen’ were confirmed (prejudices started by those same newspapers in earlier coverage), and a smaller number who called the papers out for their ridiculous coverage e.g.:

It is very clear to me and other PCSOs that this is a puerile attempt to discredit all police forces and PCSOs. In relation to your financial research it is both inaccurate and has the senslesss ramblings of a struggling reporter. PCSOs are not employed to detect crime.  However, during the course of their duties they furnish the police with huge amounts of information to assist in the detection of crime. Police officers value their role as they take on the lower level problems. This allows them to deal with the more serious issues that papers like yours love nothing better than to rubbish the hard working police officers such as.

In my own whimsy piece I made use of the fact that, when the Daily Mail covered these statistics just two months ago, the cost per crime detected (from the statistics for only one police force area) was calculated at £156,000 crime, but that this had ‘risen’  eightfold to £1.2m when all force data was aggregated. 

The massive discrepancy, I suggested, might just be a clue to the fact that the data is wholly misleading, and the fact that the paper had not even cross-checked its own coverage from 8 weeks previously was indicative of tabloid journalism at its worst.

That was criticism of the Daily Mail, and valid enough.

But then there’s the Daily Express, which chose to run this ‘story’ as its front page headline yesterday. It gets the ‘public spending campaigner’ from the TPA in early to do its dirty work, and then gets on to this little gem:

The latest figures show that the cost of PCSOs per crime in Nottinghamshire rose from £354,000 in 2008-09, when they detected 19 crimes, to £6.7million in 2009-10.
Yup, read that carefully.  The Daily Express really is saying that the cost of PCSOs per crime detected rose NINETEEN-fold in one year.  In other words, it’s suggesting that PCSOs became nineteen times as bad at their job.
And it does so, apparently, without any of the irony I sought to brought to my piece.
Categories: General Politics

Unit cost of Police Support Officer increases 769% in two months, shocking new statistics reveal

December 28, 2010 3 comments

Shockingly crap statistics have revealed how the cost of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) surged by a massive 769% in two months. 

According to both the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, costs per crime detected were already a huge 156,000 per crime detected in October 2010.

But in figures revealed today by the Press Association, it has emerged that these costs have increased to a staggering £1.2 million per detection.   

That an increase of nearly 8 times in 8 weeks, or a 100% increase per week.

In October, the apolitical thinktank The Taxpayers Association were left fuming about the costs, with a spokesman only able to splutter:

Taxpayers want real bobbies on the beat, not these plastic policemen.  With no powers of arrest and incredibly low productivity, it is hard to see how these PCSOs are value for money for taxpayers, or indeed useful.

There has been no reaction from the well-regarded thinkthank today, and it is thought that all its spokespeople may simply be too apopleptic with rage even to speak.

The usual mealy-mouthed, politically correct voices have been wheeled out again to point out that detecting crime is not what PCSOs do anyway, with Assistant Chief Constable Julian Kirby, of South Wales Police, who should obviously be sacked, bleating incoherently:

The role of Police Community Support Officers is to develop and sustain community cohesion, which they are valued for here in South Wales. Their work to improve the quality of life for residents comes to fruition in a variety of ways and has made a real difference.

Another immediately sackable non-job bureaucrat at Nottinghamshire Police simply wittered on about the fact that PCSOs have been involved in detecting many more crimes than the official figures show, but the detection is allocated to a police officer under standard reporting systems.

But as the totally reliable and entirely appropriately used statistics show, PCSOs are clearly a total waste of money and sacking’s probably too good for them.

The shock figures have been picked up by national and regional media outlets across the country, with more high quality, in-depth reporting on the Press Association figures emerging from the Daily Mail  again [update: the TPA spokesman has recovered from apoplexy as this article has been written and has wisely condemned the scheme as ‘a device for politicians’ ]. 

It is thought likely that at some point Daily Mail reporters will remember that they did the same story with massively different figures just recently, as the newspaper has far too much journalistic credibility just to keep on taking figures given it at face value, making no cross-referencing attempts at all, and then just ringing up the TPA for a quote.

Regional newspaper websitees joining the totally justifiable and impeccably researched condemnations include Pendle Today, the Buchan Observer, The Rye and Battle Observer, The York Star, the Uttoxeter Advertiser, the Leigh Journal and the Mid-Devon Star


Categories: General Politics

Beans factories and creeping liberal elitism

December 28, 2010 21 comments

The kids are freezing, but the solidarity is just amazing.

They could be at home, snug from the sub-zero temperatures, but here they are, stamping their feet for warmth, keeping the fires lit with whatever they can lay their hands on, together against injustice. 

They’re here to win, and they’ll do what it takes.  

This is not the end. This is just the beginning.

And where is all this dramatic solidarity taking place? 

Not, on this occasion, against the backdrop of famous London scenery. 

This time, it’s outside a beans factory on the drab outskirts of Wigan.

Of course, I can’t do Laurie Penny as well as Laurie Penny can do Laurie Penny, and nor do I want to, but my point is obvious enough; the same kind of solidarity in action can be written up as a radical game-changing movement in one media luvvie-friendly environment, but hardly register as an event in another, less metropolitan, less journo-heavy one.

Or to be more blunt, the liberal intelligentsia is not as interested in traditional working class struggle as they are in middle class student protest.

The facts behind the Heinz factory strike are straightforward enough. 

Despite record profits this year, and 9% dividends to shareholders, Heinz managers are using the broad context of ‘austerity Britain’ to hold down wages below inflation, having imposed a pay freeze in 2009 because of ‘uncertainty’ about the international economy.  This includes explicit comparison to the low wage settlements across the UK, including the public sector, in a convenient reversal of the government-pushed line that the public sector has it cushy compared to the private.

All this comes from a company which makes great play of its Corporate Social Responsibility, but which has ‘downsized’ its international workforce from 36,000 to 29,600 since 2006. 

It’s a struggle between a big company intent on the exploitation of its workforce, and a workforce now prepared to hit back, who have gone through the whole strike ballot process, got 90% approval for strikes, and are now acting in solidarity.   

That is, it’s a fightback against the kind of injustice that Laurie Penny, in her more conciliatory latest piece (in response to Alex Callenicos’ critique), claims that is at the root of this new movement:

Alex Callenicos is right: students can’t do it alone. Of course they can’t. Nor can schoolkids, or workers, or people who are unemployed. That’s what class solidarity is all about, and solidarity has been the watchword of these protests…….The power of organised labour was undercut across the world by building in higher structural unemployment and holding down wages, by atomising workers, outsourcing and globalising production whilst keeping working people tied to increasingly divided and suspicious communities.

But it’s also a struggle between capital and labour, in a part of the country well away from both the mainstream and radical new media, which has had scant attention.

Any proper reporting attention that it has had has come primarily from the ‘hard left’ organizations Socialist Worker and The Socialist Party.

These are the very organizations of course, whose publications Laurie reviles. Or rather she reviles the people who choose to try and sell them; she does not seem too interested in what the newspapers themselves actually contain:

Some of their ideas, like the notion that one can truly change the world by standing on the corner of every demonstration selling copies of the party newspaper, are a little antique…

Now I’m not saying these newspapers couldn’t be better (to be fair, I’ve not seen them much in the last few years), and  certainly think they would benefit from being regionalized or even hyper-localised, perhaps along the lines of the Hackney Citizen, for example, and I also think the Socialist Worker could benefit from a conscious strategy to ‘drive’ readership from hard copy to the website over a specific time period.

Nor am I a supporter of either the SWP or the Socialist Party, because I do not have revolutionary aims; I am a really very moderate democratic socialist, committed to effecting changes in institutional power structures which redress inequalities between capital and labour, through a combination of participative and representative democratic means.

Nonetheless, I think the genuine efforts of committed organizations and individuals to bringing to wider public attention the kind of news, and the kind of news angle, so absent from the mainstream, deserve a bit more than a casual dismissal of the type Laurie provides.  These organizations do not, of course, claim or think that a newspaper in itself will create change; they see it as part of an overall strategy, and Laurie’s sarcastic simplification of what the SWP is about is hardly conducive to the broader conciliatory tone of the rest of her article

This sarcastic tone is, though, I fear, reflective of a more general tendency to dismiss ‘traditional’ leftwing organization and militancy, of the type which has actually often been quite effective over the years at defending working class interests (if not bringing a desired revolution).

Indeed, I am struck by the similarity in tone between what this confident new movement has to say about the ‘traditional’ left and what Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a hero of the 1968 Paris uprisings (the self-professed benchmark for the current movement) had to say in a book published just weeks after the main events:

Factory work, trade union ‘militancy’, verbose party programmes, and the sad, colourless life of their elders are subjects only for sarcasm and contempt. The same sort of disdain is the reason why so many students have taken a radical stand…(p.42, see also Dave’s fine article).

Now I know that for many readers, pointing this kind of thing out may seem both old-man-bitter and overly defensive of what can indeed by the stymying bureaucracies of the left.

This is a shame, because I’m supportive of the student cause, and I’m impressed both by the tactical innovation shown, and by the way in which some links are being forged with a nascent wider resistance to the government.  When I visited the UCL Occupation a few weeks ago, my overriding impression was of a group of people who actually had a pretty good grasp of the wider context, and it seemed to me that they listened to Alex Callenicos (I just happened to be there when he spoke), as he lectured them on the links between the assault on tuition fees and the wider neoliberal projects, with polite ‘heard it all before’ disdain.

But it would also be remiss of me not to speak about the very real dangers I think lie ahead for the movement – a movement which, as I’ve noted, takes May 1968 as its benchmark, but seems happy at this stage to overlook the fact that the May 1968 movement did not in fact bring any lasting benefit.

Indeed, as David Harvey argues convincingly, the almost Hayekian aspiration to individual freedoms, did much to open the door to 1980s neoliberalism. And as I’ve argued, it was the spirit of ’68, when imported to the UK in the 1970s and early ’80s, which created the conditions for the short-term gains, but long-term losses of the New Urban Left.

In his magnanimous call for the trade union movement to unite with the ‘magnificent student movement’, Len McCluskey opens the door to a real engagement between the working class (at least the unionized segment of it) and student militancy.  This is a good thing, but it must be a two way engagement, based on respect; if the union movement is to be expected to get behind the students, then surely the union movement can expect support from the students.

In subsequent posts I’ll be getting into quite some detail about how student movement might identify legitimate and tactically appropriate targets for the kinds of protest at which they have shown themselves to be so adept in recent weeks.  This won’t of course be the whole range of possible actions, as I’ll be limiting myself to areas where I have a proper understanding of the issues and opportunities (e.g. local government and the NHS).

In the meantime, though, it would be good to see the same kind of expression of relative humility as Len McCluskey has expressed on behalf of the traditional trade union movement, also expressed by some of the de facto spokespeople of the student movement (whether or not they are actually students).

It may be a salutary reminder to those spokespeople that no-one I’ve spoken to in the last three weeks in my non-university, working class area, is particularly aware of the radical new student movement, and the idea that it is likely to change people’s lives for the better would be greeted with, at the best, a wry smile or comment. 

It is easy to get into a cycle of self-reinforcing hype about how important the student uprisings have been but, impressive though the actions have been, they have involved only a tiny percentage of the overall school/student population, and have gone largely unnoticed as a ‘social force’, as opposed to a bit of bother on the streets of London.  Indeed, as reflected  in this autobiographical piece at Latte Labour, many student activists may have been surprised at the lack of genuine interest in their activities shown my family members this Christmas.

If mutual respect between the current movement and ‘traditional’ working class structures and the accompanying necessary humility does not develop, however, history does show that the current movement, far from creating the revolutionary change that many involved now seek, may ultimately end up as a call for a vapid liberalism which fails to deal with the class inequalities that lie at the heart of all the social injustices now being committed by our Coalition government.

Against Sectarianism from a Labour Perspective: A Rant

December 27, 2010 4 comments

A couple of moments ago, Wes Streeting, who is a Labour Councillor in Redbridge, said this in a tweet:

“Not sure it’s very ‘Tony’ but surely we should support Labour’s most electorally successful leader and PM having a statue?”

Statue aside (in his words, “am I bothered”) it is so easy for some people; we’ll support our tribe come what may, and that’s that (no doubt you’ve heard the argument before; we should support Blair/Mandelson as they bring in the votes, forgetting the price the party has had to pay for that experiment). Only for anyone in the Labour Party who really cares about it, and are politically committed to boot, this will not do. Surely a nodding dog who promised everything to everyone (like Barack Obama at the start of his term) would be more electorally successful, but the Labour Party is a political party, historically it has been a political machine and a socialist one as well. While it’s trying to please everyone it is pleasing nobody; Blair may have won his pathetic game against his contemporaries in the Commons, he may have smiled at the correct moments in a PR attempt to woo the heartstrings of the electorate, but he had no political fire in his belly to win the argument for socialism (in fact, by the end I’m sure he’d rather do anything else) and therefore we in the Labour Party should not “support” him. No way.

Yesterday I played a game that my Grandad received for Christmas. One of the questions raised – aimed at a certain generation – was: “should it be absolutely right for a person to fight for their country over anything else?” I was the elephant in the room, among mostly ex-service people (my parents and grandparents included) who said no – but I stand by my answer; today more than ever nation is a tribe that can serve only as sentimental value, ideas and convictions is a dish best served political, and in an age of postmodern disdain for ideas that can guide your uttermost convictions, it is the task of the left today to fight against that current – nationalism and tribalism were bad for politics in generations previous (obviously I justify British presence in WWII, but Churchill was an imperialist, it’s an old point, unpopular and often disavowed, but it’s true) and are bad today.

But who today are really to blame? Reading the above may lead you to think I’m not myself slightly tribal to a political party, but in many ways I am, but not in the sort of way damaging to my political convictions. My own brand of Labour Party tribalism means that I think TonyBlair was a monster – and it’s because I care about the party so much that I can say this. Those who send messages, such as the one above, are more damaging to the party than they realise.

Who I blame for the rightwards trajectory of the political party I am a member of is not necessarily those rightist figures themselves – it is young members of Trotskyite splinter parties like the Socialist Workers Party (born out of the IS, and founded as the SWP in 1977). In the days during the militancy period in the 80s, people were thrown out in a Kinnock, McCarthy-esque, early New Labour drive to rid the party of socialist ideas – history denialism. There were two elements to emerge; an element who embraced the sectarianism of the left who created the far left pressure groups we know awkwardly selling papers today, and then Grantite-entryists who as best as possible worked inside the Labour Party with the intention of bringing socialists together. Younger generations inside those parties don’t face the same problems; for them the Labour Party is sinking ship composed of capitalists and warmongers. However, these people have less fire in their bellies than the right wing of the Labour Party whose socialism has died with the size of their mortgages.

While sectarian factions choose not to touch the Labour Party with bargepoles, so the right of the party become vindicated in their place, and with the slow death of New Labour, and the sloppiness of Ed Miliband, now is the time to work inside and alongside the party, not against it. Owing to the constitution of the small far left parties, and their continual relevance among young socialists as opposed to working inside the longest existing, and historically the most idea rich socialist party in the UK – the Labour Party – they are by their very nature sectarian, and therefore it is justified to shut the door on their personal vindications to the Labour right wing, while offering a place to them if they wanted, and sharing ideas where possible (like the Labour Representative Committee do with smaller parties).

Vince Cable: Instinct vs Intellect

December 23, 2010 5 comments

There’s something to the Take That song I heard on the radio just last night, which goes “They say nothing / Deny everything / And make counter-accusations”, referring to “Kings and Queens and Presidents / Ministers of Governments”. Perhaps from Take That it’s just a catchy line – I doubt Robbie Williams has had a serious political thought since he was sixteen.

But the whole song, entitled “Kidz” seems almost custom-built for a video of the recent violence between police and students in London, as a result of the Conservative-Lap Dog coalition attempt to finally demolish whatever vestiges of equity remain in the education system. Everything fits if you just add in Vince Cable-and-assorted-others who got nailed in the Telegraph sting to fit the lines quoted above.

Cable has come out to condemn the Telegraph for demonstrating that the Lib-Dems are inveterate liars, saying one thing in public and another thing in private. His rationale is that the poor showing of the MPs who fell victim to the sting threatens the constituency-MP link. One wonders what state he thinks that link is in when MPs habitually lie to their constituents. Just a thought.

It is some indication of the stage I’ve reached that part of me wants Vince Cable’s head on a plate. Literally.

There is something righteous and eminently admirable about someone who takes up his position honestly and defends it rationally. This cannot be said about the Lib-Dems who have been exposed by this little sting. The worst of them were prepared to court privilege and position by saying nothing in public whilst expressing misgivings in private that would endear them to those facing the business end of this government.

So kill them all. What would we miss, exactly?

Of course the majority of me is governed by intellect and not instinct. I value human life. I also appreciate that these people aren’t entirely responsible for their actions – they are fallible individuals placed in a system which is organised from the top down, with the Prime Minister and his coterie wielding immense patronage, and to that extent it is the anti-democratic system which is fault.

There’s also the part of me which doesn’t want to simply disregard the bourgeois-democratic system as so many turkeys turning up to vote for Christmas and sees instead that these people were elected, however flawed the system. If people cared enough, they could vote for someone else, whatever inertia is lent to such change by other elements of the political system.

What pains me the most is the faux self-righteousness evinced (geddit?) by Cable in his attack on journalists who actually did their job for a change and showed up the penchant of certain MPs to act completely different in government and in private. It is reminiscent of the position taken by some MPs when their expenses came under intense scrutiny and I can’t help but feel that it results from a sense of entitlement.

Do these people believe they have some god-given right to govern, and that what is expedient for them must ipso facto be the right thing to do?

Meanwhile there are people who feel they have to riot and burn to have notice taken of them. Is it then too much to suggest that these two elements are directly related to each other, or born from the same root cause?


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