Thursday, May 27, 2010

Layer 318 . . . A Realignment of the Mind and Halting the Capitalist Merry-Go-Round

There were some good articles (and CiFs) in the paper yesterday which sum up pretty well the current state of play in politics in a way similar to my own recent ramblings, only more articulate and concise. This is going to be a long one, but I think it’s worth trying to summarise where we’re at in politics.

This one's by Peter Kilfoyle:

Labour leadership trio perpetuate Blair-Brown years

The Milibands and Ed Balls only reinforce the status quo when the Labour party needs a fighter to galvanise members

I am mystified as to the basis upon which Kinnock's enthusiasm for Ed Miliband is built.

I have to assume it is a social experience of Ed Miliband. They had never worked together; and, having spent five years alongside the younger of the two precocious politician brothers, I fail to recognise the panoply of political and personal talents so admired by Kinnock.

Yet perhaps this is one of the difficulties which humble members in the provinces face. We do not have the social interaction so beloved of the London-based chattering classes, and the influence they exert on processes such as the selection of a new Labour party leader.

Left to our social (and, so they would have it, intellectual and political) superiors in the capital, there would probably be a choice of no more than three candidates – Ed and David Miliband, and Ed Balls.

It must be a great disappointment to Lords Mandelson, Falconer and Adonis – among others – to find an ungrateful and impertinent party demurring from their judgements.

Indeed, it is a measure of the decline of the party that we have the three leading contenders we do, and who are being heavily promoted. In background, there is little between them. Each has that narrow set of experiences seemingly mandatory for contemporary party leaders – Oxbridge, research, and political bagcarrying. Life experience outside of that restricted world is nonexistent, and their politics are apparently of the pick-and-mix variety.

What is truly astonishing is that while Miliband major has served all of nine years as a member of parliament, Miliband minor and Ed Balls were both first elected only in 2005. It was widely believed at the time that they were shoehorned into seats to look after the interests of their long-term boss, Gordon Brown. It now seems as if it was for premature promotion.

Indeed, this trio of hopefuls look set to perpetuate the Blair-Brown years; and a London-centric perspective of the Labour party would continue to be the case. Although each has a northern seat, they are not of the north.

Their politics are not even those of London but those of the Westminster and Whitehall villages; theirs are the politics of spin, not of conviction; of advancement, not of service; of an elite, not of a wider political community. Their political apprenticeships were served in the rival courts of Blair and Brown rather than on the mean streets of Britain.

It is, therefore, very depressing for Labour members throughout the country to see the same old charade in the build up to what, for millions of people, will be a vital election.

The country is crying out for a break from what was presented in the past as consensual politics. Our loyal supporters want us to fight for them, recognising that clever talk of triangulation is a betrayal of those most loyal and most dependent on Labour. Away from the spin and the mealy mouthed rhetoric, our intrepid trio offer only more of the same.

That is just not good enough. They have neither the real roots in the wider party, nor the established ideological commitment, to offer either real opposition in the short term or a bankable alternative to the present coalition at a general election.


This comment from SamJohnson

I heard Balls on the radio at lunchtime.


A splendid example of the emptiest, stupidest talking points imaginable. He knew perfectly well what he was saying was drivel and insult to the intelligence of listeners. I've never heard such a pathetic going through the motions exercise in my life. This is a man without principle and without passion. A cynical triangulator. Talk about the spawn of Brown!



The questions for Mandelson, Milibands and the NuLab muppets are:

What purpose do you serve except your own interests?

Have ever knowingly told the truth?

Labour is dead, murdered by the NuLab addiction to self-aggrandisement. A curse on all your houses say I to the incompetent lying corrupt tossers who can very rarely be bothered to get their greasy snouts out of the trough long enough to see the damage they have caused and never long enough to care or regret.


As one of the London-based chattering classes (when I'm not here in Spain), I do have to ask why you northerners keep electing these poncy southern scumbags?

David Miliband - South Shields.
Ed Miliband - Doncaster.
Ed Balls - Morley.
Tony Blair - Sedgefield.
Peter Mandelson - Hartlepool (that really takes the piss).

If you want to get rid of these entryist spivs, stop electing them.....


New Labour turned out to be not very good at this capitalism lark that they embraced with such gusto. I fail to see that drawing your next leader from a pool of candidates who were at the very heart of the New Labour project restores confidence or moves you on from the perception that policy wonks and professional politicos make for disastrous real-world decision-makers.

They had a 13-year shot at making their case as competent capitalists. They flunked it. Now they're a party of no fixed beliefs and about to elect a leader with straight down-the-line New Labour credentials. I hope that makes sense to somebody.


This is by Chuka Umunna and Lisa Nandy  - both newly elected Labour MPs

Labour leadership battle gives time to create future agenda

History cannot be allowed to set the parameters for debate as the Labour party takes the time it needs to select a new leader

The task ahead: to restore the historic strength of a party formed and led from its grass roots, and in so doing, offer a vision that is in step with the concerns of the electorate.

But first, there is the contest. It is vital we not only involve members but the wider public. Next to the more traditional leadership hustings and inevitable TV debates, why not get candidates out, in every part of the country – not just London – to do high-street walkabouts and town centre soap-box sessions? That way members will see the leaders-to-be in action and judge whether they can connect and talk "human".

Then there is the discussion on where we went wrong and how we must change. This cannot be some arid dialogue between Blairites and Brownites, left and right, modernisers and those who supposedly want to turn the clock back to Militant and the 1980s.

Yes, we can learn from history but it cannot be allowed to set the parameters of debate in this new era.

These are different times requiring a different set of policy responses – people want to hear a response from the candidates. Undoubtedly, the City needs greater regulation so it better serves all of us and not a highly remunerated financial elite who are allowed to play fast and loose with our money. But what does "better regulation" look like?

Several candidates are already talking about immigration. Let's drop the cheap mantras and be honest with people: we allowed this issue to become a smokescreen for some of our biggest failures in government – the failure to get to grips with the housing crisis and the failure to address the race to the bottom in respect of the wages and the terms and conditions of a great bulk of the workforce, particularly temporary and agency workers.

Our belief in markets and globalisation blinded us to the fact that many have been left behind by globalisation. How do we address this? Both of us like the idea of a minimum-income guarantee that makes work pay, but how do we put this in place in the context of public expenditure restraint?

And then there are the quality-of-life issues, which seemed absent from so much of the general election debate. We work longer hours than any other country in western Europe, yet we are neither more productive nor, above all, happy. We have so much more material wealth than many third- and developing-world economies, yet in so many studies British people are less satisfied. How do we tackle this social recession? Professor Richard Wilkinson suggests this might have something to do with the outstanding gap between rich and poor . . .

There is so much to talk about. We found it impossible to properly consider where to go next while in government. We now have the time and space to map out an agenda for the future. It will be a gross dereliction in duty if we fail to do so this summer.


A suitably angry and impassioned comment from orwellwasright:

Let's face it, party politics as we know it is on its way out - you lot are so discredited not only as effective and fair-minded "leaders" but as basic human beings - lacking in what resembles normal emotions and a sense of compassion - that it's only a matter of time before everyone's so sick and tired of the mealy-mouthed bullshit and servility to bankster fraudsters and warmongering big business that they'll think "fuck it" and storm the halls of Parliament. Which, judging by the continued looting of the global economy and this foolish drive to push austerity on the entire world so Goldman Sachs/JP Morgan thieves can buy another island, is not far off.

So rebuild the Labour party all you like - you'd be better off running for the hills though. I can hear the sound of pitchforks being sharpened.


Tellingly you seem to have completely failed to mention little things like the perception of Labour as the enemy of civil liberties.

That's the one that turned me from a default "vote Labour because they're the Tories' main opponents" (yep, being a student in the Thatcher years left its mark) into a LibDem activist. Moved a good few other people I know firmly out of the Labour camp, too.

And before anyone else brings it up, no, as a LibDem I don't regard the coalition as betrayal, undemocratic, etc . . . : with the things Labour were doing I regard them as worse than the Thatcher crowd and the coalition as the best available option for the country as a whole, given the hand the election dealt.


John McDonnell is the best hope for Labour supporters, for a fast return to an honourable, decent, democratic, egalitarian and inclusive Labour Party.

If Labour continues to be managed by New Labour spivs it deserves to become the Liberal Party of the 21st century.

Time for Labour to return to values of social justice and to become the party of real community transformation, by embracing the desire for and the will to enable a constitutional, democratic, egalitarian, decent and civil society.

Labour has the chance to unite the democratic left into a truly transformational force, and these opportunities don't come along every day.

John McDonnell for Labour Party leader!


You say we can't look back to history, how you sound like David Miliband's whipping boy. Guess what? People are still REALLY pissed off with Labour for invading Iraq and thus making Britain complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians - and how much of a financial cost for New Labours (I mean the Neo Conservatives) war - hard to tell them apart sometimes.

I wont even begin about civil liberties. No Chuka, this once great party needs to face up to the awful things that it did.


How revealing and damning is this line

    We found it impossible to properly consider where to go next while in government

That'd be because you jettisoned principle and pursued power for power's sake, and this manifested itself in many dismal ways; by both increased authoritarian intervention in the day-to-day lives of citizens and an invocation of positive liberty, in a narrow and twisted fashion that suited New Labour control-freaks and power-hungry cliques at the cost of the citizenry, propagandising and pushing the (unsustainable) consumerism and consumption as freedom shtick: this is the way to a better, shinier, new, improved future, so we'll force you towards it, whether you like it or not, then you will attain some higher, nobler liberty, because hey, we're the smartest guys in the room so obey (or else).


This excellent piece is by David Marquand:

Green, socialist, republican: the new politics needs a realignment of the mind

Tarted-up neoliberalism won't cut it. The great question of our time isn't the deficit, but halting the capitalist merry-go-round

The great French philosopher-statesman Alexis de Tocqueville once called for "a new political science for a new world". It is a good motto for liberal social democrats who hoped for a realignment of the left and centre-left, and now confront a baffling counter-realignment of the centre-right.

Fundamental to any progressive alliance worthy of the name would be a politics of power-sharing, tolerance and republican self-government. Such a politics is light years from Labour's inherited instincts. There are pluralists in Labour's ranks; the pressure group Compass contains many. But most Labour people are power-hoggers by nature, not power-sharers. Labour could not have taken part in a genuine progressive alliance without a cultural revolution. Of that there was (and is) no sign.

For would-be realigners, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are both broken reeds. Compass or no Compass, the Labour party is not going to change in a hurry.

Though realignment as Westminster politicians have understood it is now a dead duck, a richer and deeper realignment is desperately needed. For the last two years we have been living through the third great capitalist crisis of modern times; and it is not over yet. The neoliberal paradigm that has dominated policy-making throughout the developed world, not least in the institutions of global economic governance, has been turned inside out. Markets, we have discovered (or rediscovered), do not always know better than governments. Private greed does not procure public benefits. The lords of creation in the hedge funds and investment banks are not wealth creators. They are wealth destroyers. A rising tide does not invariably float all boats.

The self-regulating market of neoliberal economic theory is a phantom, whose pursuit led to a shameful increase in inequality and eventually to a catastrophic fall in employment and output. The newly untamed capitalism of the last 30 years has not been driven by "rational economic actors": the "rational economic actor" is another phantom. It has been driven by stampeding herds of electronic gamblers. It is not only monstrously unjust, it is also unsustainable – not only economically, but politically, environmentally and, above all, morally.

Yet the implications have not sunk in. In Washington, London and the capitals of the eurozone, the hunt is on for a tarted-up version of business as usual, radical enough to seem new, but conservative enough to keep the essentials of the old show on the road. Hayek and Friedman have been toppled from their perches; Keynes has returned to his. Tougher regulation, banking reforms, quantitative easing and even bank nationalisations have been the order of the day; some still are.

However, this is an elaborate exercise in rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. As Will Hutton once pointed out, the point about the Keynesian revolution is that it wasn't revolutionary. Keynes was a small-c conservative, not a radical. He wanted to save capitalism, not to supersede or even to transcend it. And almost by definition, he couldn't foresee the accelerating environmental crisis of our day. There will be no salvation from his quarter: of the great economists of the past, Marx is a better guide than Keynes to the turbulent, masterless capitalism of today.

But none of the economic gurus of old days is of much help now. The one certainty is that we can't continue indefinitely on our present path – and by "we" I don't just mean British politicians and voters; I mean the human race. Sooner or later the crisis-haunted capitalist merry-go-round will have to stop. The great question for our time is not how and when to cut the fiscal deficit, or calm the markets, or curb the bonus culture, or tax transnational financial transactions – pressing as all these questions are. It is how to halt the merry-go-round before it is too late: how to switch from an unjust and unsustainable economic order to a just and sustainable one. [My emphasis]

No single thinker, party or school of thought offers a complete answer, or anything like it. Answers will have to be hammered out in open-minded dialogue, between all those who accept that tinkering is not enough, across the lines of party and creed. The need, in fact, is for a realignment of the mind, socialist in economics and republican in politics. In such a realignment the Green movement must surely have a central place, along with radicals and dissenters from all parties and none. Caroline Lucas, over to you.


PeterGuillam said:

Spot on. Neo-liberalism has failed, comprehensively, but politics hasn't caught up. Two years ago the banking system fell apart and with it the basic ideology of neo-liberalism - that markets know best. Apologists for that ideology tried to pretend that the collapse was in fact a failure of 'statism', that it was the state's fault for allowing the banks to act as they did. But of course that was nonsense in terms of neo-liberal ideology, which holds that individuals and corporations are the best judge of their own interests. If that was so, then it would not have mattered what corporations were allowed to do, since they would not have used that licence in contradiction to their own interests. But this they manifestly did, hence the collapse of Lehmanns etc.

The wholesale screw up by the banks required national governments to step in because, whatever the theories of neo-liberalism, allowing them to fail would have wreaked such havoc that no democratic government could entertain it. So the private risk of banks became the public deficit. Now, unbelievably one would have thought, that public deficit incurred to rescue the banks is being used by the banks (or 'markets' - as if these were some kind of force of nature) to penalise the states that rescued the banks from oblivion.

So we have the extraordinary situation where the banks have been rescued by the state, creating huge state indebtedness, but now demand that the state cut every last piece of public welfare because it is now indebted - as a result of the banks! It would be a joke, were it not for the massive human misery it will cause.


Caroline Lucas has been quite clear - repeatedly - that the Green Party is firmly of the left, and the (entirely correct) economic policies in the 2010 Green manifesto bear that out.

I personally find Lucas' refusal to apologise for being of the left - whenever its presented to her as though its an accusation - very refreshing indeed. As Marquand points out here, the economic failures of the present day are right-wing failures (which the Labour Party shamefully bought into). New thinking on economics and social justice is urgently required from people, like Lucas, who care about people more than profits.

There's a large constituency in the country beyond the Green Party's current voter base - including disillusioned Labour and Lib Dem voters - who will welcome a voice like hers in British politics.


It seems like the entire world is now losing its head and deciding that having bailed out the financial sector, we now need to kowtow to it like never before - even at the cost of another Depression. Keynes would be rolling over in his grave . . .

PS to those who think the Greens' views are fringe: consider that they came out TOP at, based on nearly 300,000 surveys. Yeah they got 1% of the vote in a close first-past-the-post election - so what? Just wait for electoral reform (especially if it's ACTUALLY proportional, and not just AV).


The Green Party is a bottom up party. Each local party, sometimes ward by ward, is independent from the others. This is green philosophy as with Greenpeace whose national organisations are independent and Greenpeace International provides co-ordination but cannot dictate what each national organisation does.

The same principle goes for the Greens. We don't really need a national leader except for publicity purposes. There is no central office diktat as with all the other political parties. This the foundation stone of green politics. Localism building upwards.



    How many people who voted for the Greens a couple of weeks ago actually really understand how they would have to live and change their lives, IF the Greens were running the Country?

Quite. God forbid that there arent 20 different types of automatic air 'fresheners' on sale at Tescos. That would really reduce my choices and make me less free. The Green also advocate a shorter working week. Utter lunacy! How would people be able to afford ring tones or vote in X factor?

The horror!


So there are only 2 " alternatives"? What an absolute poverty of vision and imagination.

What about (real) Social Democracy, or mutualism, or cooperativism or various combinations of these and direct democracy?

Looked at objectively the policies that the Greens in England and Wales just offered in their election manifesto were basically left wing social democratic policies with a strong Green/Environmentalist theme. As hard leftists never tire of pointing out, this would have been close to mainstream 40 years ago.

The fact that this reformist leftism was seen as the most "left wing" electable programme, and has the "libertarians" and neo cons and wing nut ranters screaming "Commies!" or "Medievalist primitivists who want us to live in caves!" tells us more about the level of political understanding and development of much of the current right (and their excitability or preference for hyperbole and exaggeration and smear) than it does about the Greens.

The Right who rant on in such terms are of a similar mindset to the Tea Party crowd in America who think Obama (for goodness sake) is a "Commie". In short, not to be taken seriously politically, but to be watched in the knowledge that such concotions of conspiracy theory and scapegoating have a nasty history and potential trajectory.


Simon Jenkins, meanwhile, writes sensibly about the new government:

Radical? Hardly. But Cameron is so much more than Blair reincarnated

The Queen's speech may cleanse only Labour's most fouled stables. Yet Cameron has proved an original political personality

A four-page coalition agreement, a 36-page manifesto, a £6.2bn cuts programme and now a 22-bill Queen's speech. The post-election fortnight began with a weekend of promiscuity and has abruptly morphed into two weeks of fruitful bliss. The bond formed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg on May 11 produced an almost surreal moment in British politics, not so much a coalition as a fusion. Two lookalikes have become feelalikes, and it is hard to see how they can ever part. A cynic can add: fine so far … wait and see. But something remarkable has happened. It is time to take stock.

The Queen's speech and pre-announced cuts will cleanse only the most fouled of Labour's stables. Illiberal registers, databases, inspectorates and regulatory quangos typified the regimes of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and obsessed such control-freak ministers as David Miliband and Ed Balls. Disbanding these bodies meets the libertarian spirit of Tories and Liberals, saving money and freeing frontline administration. To deplore this as a savage assault on the welfare state is ludicrous.

The same goes for George Osborne's cuts, a mere tenth of those proposed by Labour before the election. After the profligacy of Brown and Alistair Darling, 1% less public spending is hardly crippling. The quango cull is mild and 3% off bureaucracy modest. Most departments and local councils have already allowed for such cuts.

Where the government demands to be judged is elsewhere, in using the financial crisis to steer the public sector towards greater accountability. Cameron has promised less state intervention and a more co-operative society.

Now Cameron and Clegg want to bring power closer to the consumers, "to devolve greater powers to local councils" and "repeal unnecessary laws". Everyone wants that. But unless the two comprehend what balked Thatcher and Blair, they will get no further.

The coalition can't seriously finance selective white schools in black, urban areas – the chief driver of "parental choice" – in defiance of local catchment areas. There is no way the Liberal Democrats will buy it. While much of Gove's programme, in teacher training and curricular freedom, is admirable, the old antagonism to local government jars. As before, the Treasury will stop it.

If this is the coalition's most radical moment, it is not very radical. The withdrawal of ID cards and the children's database is hardly controversial. Both were toys arising from Labour's infatuation with computers. There is no curbing of such regulatory monsters as the Criminal Records Bureau or the Health and Safety Executive. There is no review of farm payments, the NHS computer or the lunatic digital radio edict. As for Osborne's proposal to freeze council tax, it is the purest centralism. Whatever the Queen says, local councils will stay shackled to Whitehall.

The government's ideological ambitions are almost identical to Blair's in 1997, which is why Cameron was so deftly able to fashion a centre-right coalition out of the ruins of New Labour's centre-left one. But he is a cleverer, deeper politician than Blair, with whom he once compared himself. Blair was hobbled by his obsession with headlines and his failure to understand how government worked. He surrounded himself not with doers but cronies.

Cameron suffers some of the same handicaps. But he seems a more original political personality. He is less blinded by the glamour of office. He walks to work and has dictated an ascetic administration. He seems to care about civil freedom, unlike Blair, and to be thinking afresh in areas of foreign policy.

Coming after John Major, Blair and Brown, Cameron faces the prospect of proving merely a better class of disappointment. The British centralist state is a monstrous, unyielding beast. No one knows how soon the coalition will find itself embattled by its backbenchers or its constituent parties in the country. No one can predict the engulfing tide of events. For all that, his ministry has started well and has held, so far. Britain can at least cheer it on its way, so far.


Exactly. So far.

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