Saturday, May 22, 2010

Layer 316 . . . Cameron, the New Politics, Servant Leaders, The System and The Wire

There was an interesting news item on the radio just now about Cameron and Osborne who are continuing to live in their own homes - but with the security forces urging them to move into Downing Street immediately so that they can be better protected from potential 'threats'.

If I heard right, Cameron is still insisting on going on foot around Westminster and Whitehall, instead of going everywhere in his armoured car. Respect to Cammo! says I.

This seems to me incredibly refreshing. Firstly, a guy who's determined to be his own man, and not be ordered around by advisers and civil servants. Secondly, someone who is keen to somehow stay in touch with the real world, instead of being constantly screened off from it. Thirdly, someone who's got a certain amount of personal courage, and is prepared to take a risk in order to preserve his humanity and his sense of personal freedom. After all, if the bad guys can force even our political leaders to cringe in fear the whole time then the bad guys have won, haven't they?

There could even be something deeper going on here. Just suppose Cameron were a big enough person to see this behaviour as part of the 'new politics'. Surely a new type of politics ought to be about policies and not personalities? The new politics ought to emphasise the primacy of the electorate and the policies already voted on and agreed on. In this scenario, it doesn't really matter who leads a party or a country - if they fall ill or die then someone else will step in and take forward the wishes of the electorate. A new politics requires political leaders to be servant/leaders, and not the raving egomaniacs we're used to, from Thatcher through Major to Blair to Brown. A servant/leader has the attitude that s/he's there to help enact the wishes of the country, and not bend or steer the country according to his/her individual will or preference. As such s/he is replaceable, so there's no benefit to any bad guy in getting rid of him/her.

As it happens, for the first time ever, the coalition government has drawn up a fairly detailed programme of what it intends to do over the next 5 years. The plan has been published for all to see, and for consultation. This is surely a grown-up way of doing politics. There's a clear coalition agreement firmly in place, subject to responses from public feedback and reaction. So no matter what happens to individual figures within the government from here on in, the programme for the parliament will be taken forward. We may not like the proposals, but at least it's clear what the government is committed to. This can only be a good thing.

What's happened since the election has been perfectly logical and reasonable, but the commentariat seems to be struggling to keep up with it and is puzzled by what to say about it. The very idea of Cameron dragging his party in a more liberal and progressive direction seems to have shocked and angered the true die-hard Tories who presumed he was going to be Thatcher lite, at the very worst, and be Thatcher Mark II at best.

As for the old addage, power corrupts - and absolute power corrupts absolutely, we shall have to wait and see. No doubt Cameron won't feel able to keep up his current behaviour forever. Maybe it is all an exercise in image creation. Perhaps he will be corrupted by power and slide into the expected behaviour of a prime minister. But there's no point in speculating - we need to wait and see. And in the meantime maybe give him the benefit of the doubt and hope he continues to talk the talk and walk the walk - in Whitehall and elsewhere.

Fears for safety of walkabout Cameron

David Cameron is rejecting the advice of top security officials by insisting on walking around Whitehall, refusing police motorcycle escorts and demanding to be allowed to keep his BlackBerry smartphone.

There is increasing nervousness about the protection of the Prime Minister, who officials believe is making himself vulnerable to terrorists, lone obsessives and cyber-criminals.

Ministers, however, are being encouraged to cut back on security by ditching their official cars in favour of public transport, under a new code of conduct aimed at cutting government perks.


Could there be a narrative in Cameron's choice of music for his desert island?

Tangled Up In Blue (Bob Dylan)

Ernie   (Benny Hill)

Wish You Were Here   (Pink Floyd)

On Wings Of Song   (Kiri Te Kanawa)

Fake Plastic Trees   (Radiohead)

This Charming Man   (Smiths)

Perfect Circle   (REM)

All These Things I've Done  (The Killers)

All credit to him for his choice of a crate of Scottish whisky as his luxury for the desert island..


This Is America, Man. (And it's also Britain)

In this week's London Review of Books Michael Wood has written a very interesting article that's both a review of The Wire and also a comment on David Simon's latest series, Treme.

As he points out, the uniqueness of The Wire is that it's not a conventional cop show - it's a thorough investigation and exposee of the world of the drug dealers, which operates alongside of and interacts with the world of the police department, and the whole city hall bureaucracy. And it tells the truth about the inability of anyone to change either the psychotic world of the violent criminals, OR the psychotic and sociopathic world of the bureaucrats who run cities, including the police department. There are many good cops who really care about catching the crims, but they're prevented from doing what they need to do by all sorts of factors, including lack of resourcing, petty regulations, indifferent and self-centred colleagues, wrong priorities and bad leadership.

"This is America, man" means that power is at the heart of every story, and understanding power is the way to stay alive. The drug lord keeps his men out of jail by threatening witnesses or by having them murdered, and there is nothing the police can do about it.

Indeed for most of the time and for various reasons (hopelessness, habit, the need to massage crime statistics, the internal politics of the police department, the image requirements of elected officials) they supposed to do nothing about it.

David Simon says The Wire is about the City. It is how we in the West live at the millennium, an urbanised species compacted together, sharing a common love, and a common awe and fear, of what we have rendered not only in Baltimore or St Louis or Chicago, but in Manchester or Amsterdam or Mexico City as well.

London too, of course.

All kind of cops . . . tussle with an obstructive superior who sits behind a desk; but the cops in The Wire are faced with desks behind desks, superiors above superiors, each one closer to the local politicans and especially the mayor, who most of the time wants to be governor.

(Regular readers might already see where we're going with this.)

There are many political zones in The Wire, and the mayor's office is an important one. What are cops to do if they want to solve crimes rather than wait comfortably for their retirement?

The killing of Snoop (in Treme) has many resemblances to the killing of Proposition Joe (in (The Wire) . . . the calm, the fatalism, the futility of discussion, the sense of merely reasonable behaviour, an undertone of impersonal courtesy or kindness, even. But there is a difference. Joe was a thinking man who thought he could beat the system. He was wrong - because he was a thinking man, a believer in alternatives. Snoop is a psychopath who knows the system can't be beaten, only lived with for a while before it kills you.

Of course you don't have to be a psychopath in order to know that the system can't be beaten, and that it will kill you off in the end, and yet still go on working against the system anyway . . . but it helps.

Of course I'm thinking here about the many good teachers and headteachers, and others working in various public services, who have suffered from and finally been beaten by The System, even though they were intelligent, and idealistic, and believers in alternatives, and carried on working for justice and fairness and for the rights of children and other clients, in the face of a faceless and dictatorial bureaucracy driven by half-crazed and over-ambitious politicans and grim-faced Westminster civil service mandarins working to reactionary and regressive, and self-serving, agendas. The suits behind the suits, sitting at the desks behind the desks, the superiors above the superiors, monitoring targets and performance indicators and other statistics, and plotting the downfall of those who stand in their way or who dare to criticise or oppose them.

These are the realities of power.

Welcome to the 21st Century.

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