Archive for October, 2011

Driving the moneychangers from the temple: a technical guide

October 31, 2011 2 comments

The moneychangers' temple

Let me start with some a diverse range of facts and basic assumptions, which I will then proceed to weave into a rich tapestry of Christian socialist subversion:

1) The Occupy London Stock Exhange movement (#occupylsx) originally intended to occupy Paternoster Square, in front of the London Stock Exchange, but was prevented from doing so by the police because Paternoster Square is in the private ownership of the Mitsubishi Estate Company.

2) There have been attempts in recent years by other stock exchanges to buy the London Stock Exchange which is, ultimately, just a very big building with a lot of computers (and quite a reputation for exchanging stocks, regardless of government regulation), with a big square in front.

3) As a result of the police action stopping entry into Paternoster Square, #occupylsx ended up occupying an area in front of St Paul’s Cathedral.  This has had a lot of unintended consequences. As Paul Mason has noted, it might not have started a revolution, but it does seem to be kick-starting a second Reformation.

4) The Church of England, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have now professed concern about the issues raised by #occupylsx, but has not as yet acted substantively in support of #occuplylsx.

 5) There is a good deal of energy and commitment within #occupylsx at the moment, with a lot of press coverage and a good deal of day-to-day development.  However, one of the quiet concerns members will have is that, once this initial excitement fades and the press goes away, settling in for the long haul through to Spring (and the potential for eviction action) will be difficult, and numbers may dwindle. This is nothing to be ashamed of – I’ve been on dwindling picket lines – but it is something to plan for.

6) One of the ‘demands’ set out by #occupylsx, mocked by the more short-sighted, is “an end to business and corporate block-votes in all council elections, which can be used to outvote local residents”.

7) The government’s Localism Bill has today completed its passage through the Lords, and after a further stage in the Commons will go forward for Royal Assent, possibly this side of Christmas. This bill contains within it provision for what has become known as a “community right-to-buy”, although this is inaccurate.  This legislation requires that local authorities (inluding the City of London Corporation) set about drawing up a list of “assets of community value”, and that it should take submissions from community groups on what should be on this list.  When an asset is put on the list, any owner of that land or property who wishes to dispose of it must first give community groups the chance to prepare a bid for that land or property within a specified period (likely to be 6 months). There is, despite government rhetoric (i.e. lies), no requirement for the owner to accept that bid (hence the inaccurate titling), but the chance to bid must at least be given.

8) According to three of the four gospels, Jesus drove moneychangers from the temple. At that time, economic anthropologist David Graeber suggests (though he says it of a somewhat earlier period), temples would be ‘gigantic, complex industrial institutions often staffed by thousands (p.64)’, including many people involved in secularized finance.  That is to say, a temple in Jesus’s time may have been much more like the current London Stock Exchange, than the current St Paul’s cathedral.  The Stock Exchange is effectively the high temple of capitalist finance.

So much for the facts.

Now let’s get Christian socialist subversive tapestry weaving.  Like this.

First, building on prior engagement, #occupylsx should write formally to the City of London Corporation, setting out its intention to nominate the London Stock Exchange (or at least Paternoster Square in front of it) as an ‘asset of community value’, as soon as the Localism Bill legislation is passed.

#occuplylsx should stress a) the urgency with which it hopes the Corporation to carry out its duty, under the legislation, of drawing up the list of assets of community value; b) the legal precedent in planning law (I can provide previous examples), under which pending legislation should be taken into account when a local authority makes relevant planning or enoforcement decisions, and how the possibility of a later transfer of #occupylsx to the Stock Exchange itself will need to be taken into account by the Corporation’s Planning and Transportation Committee at any future meeting to consider enforcement.

Second, #occupylsx should approach the Church of England with a view to the church formally supporting the inclusion of London Stock Exchange on the City of London’s assets of community value list.   As and when this achieved, the plan should be for the church to work with #occupylsx and its fund managers (including CCLA) on the development of a business plan for the purchase of some or all of the London Stock Exchange/Paternoster Sqaure; the area would then be leased by the Church, at affordable rates, to #occupylsx and to other organizations interested in finding an anti-capitalist/faith-based use for the space.

Third, #occupylsx should build on its initial demands for the democratization of the City of London Corporation, which will now of course seem very far-sighted, by focusing on how the London Stock Exchange will only finally end up on the list of assets of community value through the democratic process, and why this democratic process needs to be fair, rather than biased to business interests. This will ‘make real’ the democratic process (including for local elections in 2013) for a section of the population who might otherwise see control of local government institutions as something of an irrelevance.

Fourth, a message should go out loud and clear to the current owners of Paternoster Square, the Mitsubishi Estate Company, that in the fullness of time they are likely to be faced with the community right-to-buy process, and that #occupylsx is now in league with a newly motivated church on this matter. #occuplylsx should also point out how such a process might muddy the waters in respect of any purchase of the Stock Exchange by any rival stock exchange.  While the outcome of any such move is difficult to guess at, this might at the very least unnerve the current owners, faced as they will be by the potential loss of value in their prized asset.

Finally, the end objective should be kept it sight. This is, in very real terms, to allow the Church of England, with the support of a wide group of people, to fulfill a prophetic mission – the driving of the modern day moneychangers from their temple.

Good subversive tapestry, eh?

I am, of course, available to facilitate a workshop on this matter at #occuplylsx.

My colleague-in-Christian-socialist-subversion, Tim Flatman has expressed interest in working on some of the technical aspects of voter registration in the City of London area, as something of a counterweight to current business vote bias, though this would need to be an adjunct to a campaign for fundamental reform and the removal of the business vote.

Perhaps the Church of England might consider paying our travel costs, mind.

Categories: General Politics

Book Review: British National Party – Contemporary Perspectives

The first thing to say about this book is that there is never a wrong time to publish critical, in depth material about one of the most – if not themost – electorally successful far right parties in the UK. On the day of writing this review, the Daily Mirror ran with a splash about the presence of a man – Chris Hopgood – who describes himself as the leader of the British arm of the Ku Klux Klan. The article goes on to quote Hopgood giving complimentary praise to Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP, and its success on being “elected by the people of England” [sic]. It is episodes like this where one can console themselves that for every time the party tries to present itself as mainstream something reminds us of the truth (for which we should be grateful).

(Read on)

Categories: Book Reviews Tags: , ,

RGF week: top 10 tips

October 31, 2011 3 comments

Today marks the start of official Regional Growth Fund week, with Cameron announcing today loads of money for really good things which will make us a great country again after years of Labour’s infrastructure deficit

After all, 23 press releases and two responses in PMQs was never going to suffice.  Tomorrow there’s a parliamentary debate on it, called by Angela Smith (Lab), who will probably just moan, and there may also be the odd further revelation about the glorious RGF from hereabouts later in the week.

So we thought we’d start the week with a quick top 10 facts you need to know to engage fully in the RGF fun.

1) The RGF is £1.4bn.   That’s quite a few quid, but only one third of the Regional Development Agency (RDA) funding that the Coalition scrapped. That’s ok, though, because Labour’s plan wasn’t as good,  with it’s proven capacity to lever in £4.50 private investment for every £1 public (£6.40: £1) taking into account future benefits).  The Coalition’s going to make it £6 for ever £1, honest, which is probably nearly three times as good as Labour.

2) The RGF was announced in June 2010.  Then in October 2010.  And in April 2011.  And now now, as part of the Coalition’s Plan A, erm B.  Anyway, as part of a plan. Anyway, it’s Labour’s fault.

3) The RGF is Regional.   As in Regional Development Agencies.  But no-one from the Regions decides where the money goes, like they used to with the RDAs.  Now it’s decided in London. Centrally. Central is the new Regional, anyway.

4) The Coalition says loads of jobs will be created/safeguarded, directly and indirectly.  It’s all a bit confusing but easy to make up some numbers.  The application forms give people receiving money until 2020/21 to make some numbers up.  Ten years.  If anyone’s still there to receive the email.

5) One approved RGF project involves the government taking shares in businesses in return for investment, alongside venture capitalists.  This used to be called nationalisation, but apparently isn’t now.

6) The same approved project is run by Capital for Enterprise Ltd. (CfEL) . CfEL is 100% owned by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), who also manage the fund. So BIS is funding BIS.  It’s not known if BIS has yet completed due diligence tests on BIS yet.

7) One successful application, from Nortcliffe Media (owned by the Daily Mail group), was personally requested for by Lord Heseltine.  He is  Chair of the RGF Independent Advisory Board, which advises ministers what applications to approve. There is absolutely no suggestion at all, even a bit, that a rightwing press group being funded for a bid personally requested by Lord Heseltine is at all questionable. The Editor of the paper running the project may well have said “Primarily it is to cement the Western Morning News within the community”, but he probably meant it was all about creating jobs in cement manufacture, or something.

8) Another application, from Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, is planning to spend most of the money on a plan to lengthen the airport runway.  According to the application, most of the money will be spent  the scheme occur from 2013/14, the year after the RGF has officially finished. This is ok, because planning issues take a really long time, which is Labour’s fault.

9) One of the Prince of Wales’s charities was awarded £1.7 million.  The project also depends on funding. It’s actually a really good-looking project (no really, it is – well done to Stoke Council on pushing it).  There was never any question of the Prince having undue political influence, and it would be shocking to suggest such.

10) Skelmersdale, in Northern England was designated a ‘new town’ 50 years ago this year, but the centre never got built.  Its application for funding to gap fund a ‘shovel ready’ project to develop a town centre got refused in Round 1.  The Tory Council couldn’t be bothered with a Round 2 application.  Perhaps they’d been told not to bother.    Anyway, who needs a town centre?  Kids would probably just riot in it anyway. Because of Labour.

Categories: General Politics

Two Chairmen

October 30, 2011 2 comments

Chairman of the London Stock Exchange, late capitalism:

There are unintended consequences of free markets. It’s not capitalism that has been the problem, but irresponsible governments and politicians who have allowed the financial system to explode by permitting the build-up of ludicrous amounts of debt and leverage.  No one ever said that free markets could or would be self-regulating.  (Independent, October 2011).

Translation: Let’s blame the government. We might just get away with it. It worked for the Tories.

Chairman of the London Stock Exchange, early capitalism:

Sirs, we disregarded for years Sir John Barnard`s Act [on stock jobbing] and we are now disregarding in the same measure Mr. Leeman`s Act [on transaction transparency]. (Parliamentary Committee, 1875)

Translation: Just fuck off, government. Your regulations don’t matter. We’ve always done what we want and we’ll continue to do so as long as capitalism lasts. 

 Capitalists used to be more honest, at least.

Categories: General Politics

Chavez: The personification of a political farce

October 30, 2011 15 comments

A recent Guardian response on comment is free had it: ‘Libyan intervention was a success, despite the aftermath’s atrocities’. To the unforgiving, this sentiment could appear callous and ignorant of the calibre of struggles to come, but is very much consistent with the altruistic justification for intervention indeed.

Take 1930s Spanish history as a judge. If Franco had lost the civil war, a great power grab would have overcome the coaltion of Trotskyites, Stalinists, moderates and social democrats, anarchists and the small cohort of sympathetic Liberals who composed the republican resistance.

Initially, no mandate could or would have allowed office to whoever the victor was, but in a revolution, after the battle the war begins. The intervention to level out the disproportionate amount of power enjoyed by a vengeful Gaddafi and his footsoldiers succeeded where it neutrally facilitated what became the victory to the rebels.

One can only hope the transitional council does the right thing and translates a rainbow coalition of resistance into a post-Gaddafi democratic bloom.

One world leader they know they can not turn to for support is Hugo Chavez – but then this was a long time coming.

In Chavez’ Venezuela, the poor and dispossessed felt they had finally found someone in whom their concerns are listened to. Programmes are catered for, staples are subsidised, more people today are covered by state pensions and disused private land is expropriated to pursue a campaign of quality housing for those most in need.

For everything there is to celebrate, there is something to scould Chavez for.

Even on a domestic front, where Chavez’ strengths are, support is relatively drippy. Roland Denis, a grassroots campaigner close to an emerging coalface organisation called the Great Patriotic Pole, in an interview with Venezuela Analysis, spoke of the decreasing enthusiasm among Chavez’ main base.

In the coming elections the PSUV (the United Socialist Party of Venezuela – a fusion of political and social forces grouped together, led by Hugo Chavez) are going to struggle – that is established. Chavez knows this, too. He leads in the poles now, but when the right wing have decided who to back, they will enjoy a very threatening spike in support.

As Denis admits, the problem of decreasing support for the PSUV is the “erosion of the popular movement”.

He continues, however, by stating that “the very dynamic of the state deepens this erosion [of popular movements in Venezuela] by establishing a corporate state practice within these movements”. 

Not forgetting the failed, but very concerted, attempt by Chavez to be President for life, the increasing move from community oriented politics, where Chavez began, to a saturation of that model with corporate structures and an all encompassing state control, has been noted.

“By ceasing to be reference points”, Denis laments, “for the struggle, [the PSUV] stop existing for the people [and] Hugo Chavez is the son of this people; he is not the father of this people. We gave birth to Hugo Chavez”.

Elsewhere, a right wing opposition leader by the name of Leopoldo Lopez, is to be barred from ever holding political office by the Supreme Court. By decree he has every right to run for office, only in knowledge that in his preferred circumstances, he would still be officially unable to take office – owing to a court decision attesting to his corruption as a former district mayor in Caracas, a matter on which he notes he was never sentenced for in a court.

According to Lopez, Chavez has been seeking ways in which to block high profile candidates such as himself, and cites the fact that the Supreme Court is disproportionately represented by pro-Chavez supporters. Chavez does not deny this to be true, but does argue that they are autonomous and adhere to the law.

Criticism and opposition towards Chavez at home was once dominated by the right, but suspicions have been raised on both sides of the political fold. This will not bode well for his fight to lead Venezuela again after the next election.

And this is even before we mention Chavez’ standing, and allies, at an international level (Iranian rogue Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has visited Venezuela 3 times since he took office in 2005, a fourth time denied because of Chavez’ ill health).

When alive, Gaddafi named a baseball stadium after Hugo Chavez just outside Benghazi. The transition council should think about removing that name. Perhaps grassroots movements in Venezuela should think about trying to do the same for the PSUV and for Venezuela.

Debunking the debunker

October 30, 2011 2 comments

Paul Goodman at Conservative Home has spotted an opportunity to debunk the 100 signature strong letter to the Observer, which calls for a Plan B for the economy.

His debunking has nothing to do with the substance of the letter. Perhaps the Tories at Con Home have decided trying to defend Plan A on its own meritis is not a very good idea.  Instead he focuses on the fact that some of the 100 cannot be described as ‘leading economists’.

This is an odd argument, as no one in the actual letter claims to be a leading economist.

Goodman’s a bit confused, because the Observer headline, in the article which links to the letter, does refer to them as ‘leading economists’.  But inaccurate journalism is hardly the same as a whole range of academics and practitioners pretending to be ‘leading economists’ when they’re not.

I could develop the theme by arguing that economics is, in any event, such a degraded profession, that those who work in Economics Departments are absolutely right to reach out to other academic disciplines like philosophy, for support,  as they seek new remedies to the damaging orthodoxies of neoliberalism.  I could even quote one of the letter’s authors’ Ha-Joon Chang’ in my support:

[E]conomics has been worse than irrelevant. Economics, as it has been practised in the last three decades,has been positively harmful for most people (p .248).

But I won’t go on about it.  Regular readers of my stuff already know that, and visiting Tories simply won’t understand.



Cameron’s Sri Lanka cowardice

October 29, 2011 2 comments

Cameron’s been talking about the need for Commonwealth countries to promote human rights. 

Inevitably, he’s asked about Sri Lanka’s record. Cameron tells us sagely that we need a

proper, independent exercise to look into the whole issue of what happened, and whether there were war crimes, and who is responsible.

And that would be something more independent than the 214 page UN Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, published in March 2011? 

Of course the Sri Lankan government doesn’t like the report, but they wouldn’t would they?  Not when the report says thing like this (p. ii/iii):

The Government shelled on a large scale in three consecutive No Fire Zones, where it had encouraged the civilian population to concentrate, even after indicating that it would cease the use of heavy weapons. It shelled the United Nations hub, food distribution lines and near the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) ships that were coming to pick up the wounded and their relatives from the beaches. It shelled in spite of its knowledge of the impact, provided by its own intelligence systems and through notification by the United Nations, the ICRC and others. Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by Government shelling.

The Government systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines. All hospitals in the Vanni were hit by mortars and artillery, some of them were hit repeatedly, despite the fact that their locations were well-known to the Government. The Government also systematically deprived people in the conflict zone of humanitarian aid, in the form of food and medical supplies, particularly surgical supplies, adding to their suffering. To this end, it purposely underestimated the number of civilians who remained in the conflict zone. Tens of thousands lost their lives from January to May 2009, many of whom died anonymously in the carnage of the final few days.

The Government subjected victims and survivours of the conflict to further deprivation and suffering after they left the conflict zone. Screening for suspected LTTE took place without any transparency or external scrutiny. Some of those who were separated were summarily executed, and some of the women may have been raped. Others disappeared, as recounted by their wives and relatives during the LLRC hearings. All IDPs were detained in closed camps. Massive overcrowding led to terrible conditions, breaching the basic social and economic rights of the detainees, and many lives were lost unnecessarily. Some persons in the camps were interrogated and subjected to torture. Suspected LTTE cadres were removed to other facilities, with no contact with the outside world, under conditions that made them vulnerable of further abuses.

That is not to say that the Tamil Tigers did not also carry out war crimes, but the case against the government could not really be clearer.

An ‘independent investigation’ is not needed.  What is needed is leadership from people like Cameron.

Of course Sri Lanka is not an oil-producer.

(See also Channel 4’s ‘Killing Fields’ documentary.)

Categories: News from Abroad

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