Sunday, 18 May 2008
I was wrong. Things didn't move as fast as I'd have liked. He looks beat, but he's going to hang on for a while. Instead, May will see the Crewe and Nantwich bye-election, which is in turn seen as a test of his viability to continue. Tens of ministers and Labour MPs are being bussed in to get their vote out, which is a sign that Labour is going to lose. And - as if the party hasn't sunk far enough this past few years - the local Labour Party literature says that 'the Tories want to stop foreign nationals being given Identity Cards'; so here we have Labour finally, desperately and despicably, playing the race card, exploiting base fears - as they well know, the Tories want to stop everybody having an ID card - in a bid to retain power.
I can't understand how anybody with an ounce of decency would vote for a party that endorses this sort of low politics, especially as many Labour voters have, over the years, rightly hated the Tories for pulling similar stunts. But some have said to me 'Labour is all we can vote for - you don't want the Tories in, do you?'. And it's a fair point. I hate the Tories.
But here's a thought. Those of us vague lefties, who like to think we support progressive, enlightened politics, supported New Labour because we thought 'they' were vaguely on 'our' side. In turn, they have managed to
* prosecute an illegal, unjust war, and kill hundreds of thousands of people.
* finance NHS, education and housing services by enabling private companies to run them, thus piling up crippling public debt for the future.
* brought in ID cards, and are now using subterfuge and disgraceful underhand means to implement it (see the No2ID link on the left for the full story).
* Legislate to bring in extended incarceration for 'suspected terrorists', a move that takes our legal system back to the Dark Ages.
* Garnered the cheapest of tabloid headlines by reclassifying cannabis - against all of the expert advice, and regardless of the criminal, social and financial costs of doing so.
* Brought in a punitive legal structure - , hundreds more laws, ASBOs, 'tougher sentencing' and the like - which means we lock up more of our population than any other European nation.
* And now, as I mention, are whipping up scare stories about foreigners.
So my question is: would us 'progressives' - indeed, would the UK population - have allowed the Tories to have achieved the above, were they in power? Could they have got away with this litany of horrors? Or, more pertinently, could they get away with it if returned to power?
My tentative answer is 'no', and this is based on the fact they they never achieved any of them when in power; Thatcher mooted ID cards, but couldn't even get it past her own backbenchers; Major started PFI, but faced too much opposition from the unions and the general public to push it through to the extent that Labour has done; Thatcher did, yes, prosecute a war, but it was arguably justified, and she would certainly never have had the backing to invade a country and attempt to impose democracy on it; Michael Howard proclaimed 'prison works', and was widely derided for it, but was not in actualite as 'tough' as he claimed to be; they tried playing the race card, and all right-thinking people moved away from them in their droves, to the point where they have now moved 'to the left' on this issue.
And so on; my point is that, if the Tories are in power, the wilder elements of their thinking are reined in, and a great coalition of interest bodies, unions, think tanks, and a majority of the population are able to check, and to an extent manage, their policies. When Labour are in, the closeness to power of some of these bodies, alongside the split in the 'progressives' as to whether we should focus on the 'bigger picture' - 'at least it's not the Tories' - and not split over individual policies, means that ever more right wing policies are followed.
So, am I saying that, if we want a more 'left' society, that we should hope that the Tories get in; indeed, that we should vote for them, knowing that if they get in there are enough of us - on the 'progressive side' - to ensure that they can't move too far right; or at least not as far right as new Labour is? Maybe, I am. Sticks in my craw to say it though...
Thursday, 17 April 2008
Suffice to say, I can't make the case better than he can. Please read his findings; I find them unarguable, but feel free to start an argument with me about them. But please read them, it's important - socially, politically, economically, and for our own health - that we know the risks (or lack of them) of the drive to ban smoking.
Thursday, 3 April 2008
The Institute for Fiscal studies has produced a report that shows child poverty and inequality are rising (in spite of the Government's commitment to halving child poverty by 2010). It's also estimated that Gordon Brown's decision last year to abolish the 10p lower rate of income tax will hit 5.3 million low paid families the hardest. Gordon says that 'no one' will be worse off.
The Office of National Statistics has also produced a report demonstrating that, despite all new Labour's intentions, the gap between the top 10 per cent of earners and the bottom 10 per cent has not closed. The same organisation also publishes the yearly national poverty statistics, normally in March; however this year the Department of Work and Pensions is delaying the publication of the statistics until the 2nd May, the day after the local and mayoral elections, citing a need for 'additional validation and quality assurance'.
Now, one would hate to accuse them of wanting to 'bury bad news' - the very phrase conjures up the crudest political machination of our time, Jo Moore's e-mail the day after 9/11 - but it does seem suspicious that they will be released on a Friday, when all of the news coverage will be on the elections. I may be a tad cynical but I cannot believe, were the figures positive, that the Government wouldn't publish them in time for the elections; or that - if there is a genuine delay, and the news was good - they're not holding the publication until the following Monday; surely they'd want all of us to know of their success?. No, they know what's coming all right; Friday 2nd May it is, and another nail in the coffin for those who hope for a semblance of open, honest government.
Sunday, 30 March 2008
'The second-rate mind is in command of the ponderously spoken platitude. In the liberal rhetoric, vagueness...is raised to principle' (C. Wright Mills, 'The Power Elite')
A couple of weeks ago the Government announced the 'Cultural Offer', which aims to 'give young people the chance to discover and develop their talents with the intention, ultimately, to offer children five hours of arts and culture a week, in and outside of the school day. This will include the chance to:
* perform on stage and attend top quality performances, exhibitions at museums and galleries, and heritage sites;
* get hands-on experience of the creative industries including film making, radio and TV;
* learn a musical instrument, and take part in a musical performance in front of an audience;
* produce creative writing and appreciate authors and how they work;
* learn about - and practise – new media and digital art; and
* develop art and craft skills.'
a) Look at the bullet points again. They all seem very laudable. But wait! Should there be an 'and' or an 'or' between each of them?; do they really mean that every child has to take part in all of these activities, totalling five hours per week - in which case, those young people who have no artistic inclination are going to have a really rotten time, considering for one that they're going to have to 'take part in a musical performance in front of an audience' - or is it actually that some young people might take part in some of the activities; a much more prosaic aim. So, one young person's English lesson will go towards the 'produce creative writing' element, whilst their attendance in art will enable them to 'develop art and craft skills'. And those that are in a band outside school, and/or go to a gig, that will count towards their 'five hours' (and you can bet your bottom dollar that when the reality behind the linguistic soft-soaping is exposed, this is eventually how it will be counted, and justified).
And what is meant by, and who defines, 'top quality performances'? I'll wager my judgement is different from yours. Is every young person in the country going to be taken to the opera (and where's everybody else going to sit)? Or the X-Factor? Can they go local to am-dram, or is the Royal National Theatre the one that 'counts'? Does one two hour average play 'count' more than one one hour very good one?
And then there's the five hours of sport that is already part of the Government's 'commitment to young people'? Presumably that stays, so we now have ten hours of directed time per week - with the implication that a large part of this total should take place in addition to the school day (after all, if it took place within, the school day would be about 15 hours long).
Many people I know that work in the arts see the 'Cultural Offer' as a vaguely good thing, if a little cumbersome; after years of the Tories - when the 'fight' for arts education was at its most strident - the New Labour approach to the arts enabled everybody to jump on board. Once those in power started to talk about the Creative Learning Agenda, and ploughing money into Creative Partnerships, the arts community rolled over and had its belly tickled. The claims were grandiose; a whole new approach to the curriculum - with creativity at the core - was going to transform young peoples' learning, develop their self-esteem (although developing self respect would have been much more useful, and might have resulted in a few less youngsters shouting, showing their knickers and throwing up on a Saturday night) and offer a whole sector of new career opportunities.
Now, I've looked through the Government and Creative Partnership's website - you can too, on the left - and I can't find, after six years or so, one concrete example of any wide-ranging positive impact on the lives of young people. And I look around, and at other statistics, and see (as I mention below) that literacy and numeracy standards - the basic building blocks of a child's 'opportunity' - have plummeted disastrously, and violence among young people is on the increase, with catastrophic results (maybe somebody should be commissioned to establish a causal link between engagement in the arts and subsequent propensity to violence?).
So (phew), we get to the nub of it; New Labour knew that, to get the liberals onside, they had to adopt the language - 'empowerment', 'opportunity', 'creativity', 'cultural offer'- used by the arts community; as Hywel Williams argues very persuasively ('Britain's Power Elites - The Rebirth of a Ruling Class'), all elites need to construct their own 'meaning', to the exclusion of others, and can then retain and exploit power for its own sake. Those of us who have worked with young people know the positive effect that arts activity can have on some of them (and, indeed, that access to the arts is a complex but genuine concern); but we should also know the limits of that impact, and that it is certainly not appropriate for all (I hated biology, metalwork and chemistry at school, and if forced to do five hours a week in and outside of school, no matter how it was taught, I would've run a mile; others didn't, and that's called a diverse, pluralist, multi-skilled society).
But the arts community will jump at the money - the closeness to power and the 'validity of purpose' such closeness engenders will ensure that they do - the language will become more feelgood but opaque, the benefits even more so, and the kids will wonder if they'll ever have time to just fucking relax.
Tuesday, 4 March 2008
Sunday, 10 February 2008
The consortium of banks that have been funding Metronet, the now-bankrupt private operator that was responsible for modernising the London Underground, is being paid off by the Government. It is an admission that the Private Public Partnership, devised by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor, has failed. The justification for PPP was that it would transfer the risk of the project to the private sector, and that it would be more efficient, yet it has now been shown that it would have been much cheaper to fund the whole thing through the public sector - and it has cost £1.7 billion to buy the banks out. £1.7 billion.
It has been announced by the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith that coroners are to be abolished in certain cases - once again in the name of fighting terrorism. The coroner system has been in operation for around 800 years - surviving wars, revolutions, even attacks on the House of Commons by the prescient Guido Fawkes - but Jacqui Smith obviously knows more than everyone who has lived in these islands over that time. She has reassured us that the new powers will be used only sparingly; but who really believes her? (And we have to remember that the Government told the coroner into the death of Dr David Kelly that he'd not be needed, and that everything would be dealt with by the Hutton Enquiry into his death; truly, their mendacity knows no bounds.)
Monday, 4 February 2008
The Guardian - The Observer's sister paper - have dropped plans to serialise the book - although Private Eye haved picked up the mantle - and one can only speculate the high dudgeon that that paper would effect were similar claims made against, say, The Sun and John Major's government. (It should be said that The Observer - now under new editorship - has published a review of the book by somebody who was on its editorial board at the time refuting some of Davies' assertions, but she specifically fails to deal with the allegations outlined above.)
As the commentator Stephen Glover says, 'there is no greater disgrace for a newspaper than to collaborate with a government in the propagation of a lie that leads to the deaths of many people'. Quite right, and I'd add that 'many people' should actually read 'tens of thousands of people and the destruction of a country', and that The Guardian should be ashamed of itself for failing to report such an important story, particularly as it has always haughtily railed against the invidiousness of cross-media ownership; seems like it's only a bad thing if used by the Right.
Friday, 1 February 2008
1) The Government has refused the All-Party Parliamentary Group request for minutes of the UK's discussions with the US concerning the 'rendition' - that is, illegal kidnapping and torture - of people using the British island dependency of Diego Garcia. They have said that to do so 'would prejudice the defence' of territory by 'exposing plans to counter possible terrorist attacks' and that it could damage diplomatic relations between Britain and America. How disgusting. How shameful. How evil.
2) For ten years we've heard 'no more boom and bust' from Gordon Brown; now the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research forecast that the Government will need to raise taxes by at least £8bn over the next year to balance the books. Practically no forecaster agrees with the Government's forecast for growth over the next two years, yet Brown and Darling insist that - in the director of the NIESR's words - 'something will turn up at the end of the rainbow'. Anyone who reads Tom Bower's biography of Brown will know that this follows his pattern of denying expert advice, and hiding dreadful economic news - as all the analysts say, he should have been saving when the boom was in swing, and now it's going down there's nothing in the pot - in ever more labyrinthine rules, measurements and forecasts. It's looking really grim, and we're not being told the truth by those in power.
3) The Lisbon Treaty is being rushed through Parliament without proper scrutiny. Now this might not mean much to most people - which is what the Government is hoping. Having promised 'line by line scrutiny', important areas such as asylum and immigration and delegated powers away from Parliament to Europe are not being debated, but whipped through. Whether one believes in closer ties with Europe or not, surely no-one disagrees that the consequences of major change should be fully disclosed to the people, whose representatives should have a chance to properly scrutinise such important shifts of power.
So we have torture, lies about torture, lies about the economy and taxes, and lies about the future of our democracy. All around a good day then.
Thursday, 24 January 2008
Sunday, 20 January 2008
I think not; saying 'we're just going to be 'Labour'' would be seen as a retrograde step; renaming as something newer than 'new' is semantically ridiculous - which means that the party has been permanently rebranded.
I have to confess that I stupidly didn't appreciate the enormity, permanence and implication of a simple linguistic change; it places us under a Government that has to, by virtue of its name, be forever new - meaning constant change, new initiatives (that often directly contradict earlier ones, viz internal health markets, national curriculum changes etc) and thereby new legislation - and which, with a missionary zeal, has to find ever more ingenious ways to impose itself in every social realm.
And, as a population, we acquiese in this - so it's our fault really. We give up the power to think and act responsibly without recourse to law and lawmaking - the 'cradle to the grave' stretches far beyond healthcare for many of us - and they happily step into the vacuum, and exert ever more power - an unvirtuous circle!