Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Absent without leave - Labour fiddling while Britain burns

In surveying the wreckage, what would have been an implausible fantasy a week ago now looks like a moderate version of reality.  The fundamentals have not changed since the result of the referendum, but the froth is dispiriting in the extreme.

The new framework for politics will take a very long time to work through in detail, but traditional boundaries and political divisions are largely irrelevant.  What is needed now is for alignments to emerge that reflect this new situation, building on the anger, frustration and shock that led to both a wanton act of self-harm and now the realisation that the road back to sanity is not simply a matter of turning the clocks back.

While the Tories engage in mutual congratulation, back-slapping and the arcane masturbatory ritual of crowning the latest scrofulous charlatan, there is a real danger of the UK collapsing into an ungovernable mess, without leaders, and where the vast majority of those who voted for the disaster will be unable to identify who has sold them the false prospectus and the destruction of the remaining vestiges of the things they were told they were defending.  Popular anger propels demagogues, dictators and the end of civil society.

Spontaneous and parallel actions are building up.  50,000 people turned out for a "cancelled" demonstration in London last night where the tone is of resistance and of challenge to the right-wing cabal that has now hijacked the Leave campaign.  There are increasing calls for cross- and non-party action to be prepared for a General Election campaign which will be nasty, and where there will be one final chance for a more progressive, representative democracy to emerge.  Greens, Liberals, National party members, along with those excluded from the system, are potentially a nucleus of experience that can be used to deform the existing oligarchies.

Where is the Labour Party in all this?  This is one of the most amazing existential questions that I did not expect to ask in the current situation.  If there has been a coup, it is quite wide-ranging.  The attempt to topple Jeremy Corbyn as leader is ongoing, but it does represent the extent to which Labour, losing its heartlands to fear and loathing, is turning in on itself.  An opposition party, in a time of national crisis, should be articulating the fears, concerns and desperation of those opposed to the direction of travel - and should be setting out at least some of the ways in which it would mitigate the situation.

Instead, we have the spectacle of the Parliamentary Labour Party rejecting their leader, elected through rules put in to encourage participation and avoid accusations of union hegemony.  At the same time, those enthused by Corbyn's outsider status have become sectarian, unwilling to accept that his lukewarm role in the referendum campaign, coupled with his coterie's behaviour within the Party, might have any bearing on the crisis of competence.

Britain needs leadership now.  Not tomorrow.  It does not need the spectacle of John McDonnell addressing a pro-Corbyn rally in a part "Citizen Smith", part North Korean parody act.  It does not need Labour running away from the disaster, leaving the field to be filled by the far right and the others who pervert frustration into the kind of incoherent rage that has sparked racist abuse and violence on a scale that would have been unthinkable even two months ago.

It is less than a fortnight since an MP was assassinated going about her business.  There are angry people out there.  If there is no proposition put to them that demonstrates that their concerns have been listened to, then the consequences are dire.  Even before the constitutional and national disintegration of the country is considered, this requires more than just the goodwill and hand-wringing we have had so far - it needs an articulation of new politics.  Sturgeon, Farron, Bennett and Wood are all stepping out to the plate - the lacuna of Labour is the most shameful evidence to date that they are not interested in representing the very people who need sane politics the most.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

I agree with Nicola

As a resident of Scotland there is the scant consolation that my fellow electors resisted the braggarts, patent-medicine salesmen and the out-and-out self-seeking snakes whose blandishments have brought the once United Kingdom into a morass.  Collective suicide is rare, and it is impossible to consider of a greater self-inflicted wound that now needs triage and repair than the world we have now moved into.

Today has seen two set-pieces.  The first was in the European Parliament, where the behaviour of Nigel Farage was the disgraceful nadir that we might all have expected.  Compare and contrast with Alyn Smith, who represents Scotland under an SNP affiliation, who received the applause of the vast majority of MEPs, compared with the approbation of Marine Le Pen.  Farage, a Poundshop Oswald Mosley, epitomises what is wrong with contemporary politics, and why most Europeans will be heartily glad to see the back of the UK.

On the other hand, Smith's plea to Strasbourg reinforcing Scotland's place in Europe set the scene for generally intelligent debate in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon.  Compared to the leaders of both the Conservative and Labour parties, Nicola Sturgeon has distinguished herself since the referendum.  She has articulated the issues that face Scotland, the inconsistencies and unanswered questions within the Leave campaign's proto-fascist idiocy, and set out a carefully-measured approach that goes beyond party.  That is leadership, whether or not you like or agree with the leader.

Fragmentation of the UK has been the reality for decades, but is now at the point where whatever happens the pre-existing consensus can never return.  Scotland voted against independence in 2014, partly because the plausible argument was put forward that the implications of secession would include exclusion from the EU - this trope was the watchword of most of the unionist campaigning, and it was convincing so long as the whole of the UK remained within the European sphere.

That Scotland voted in favour of remaining part of a modern, trans-national project was unsurprising. Had the English Remain vote been stronger, it might even have tipped the balance.  As it was, Scotland finds itself cast adrift both politically and culturally from an England and Wales where fear and lies stalk the land, and racism and fascism emerge from their foul dens to further upset and destabilise the nation.  Hardly surprising that the immediate discussion is around fresh moves towards independence.

It is too early to become an uncritical advocate of a further move to secession from the UK, and Sturgeon has been sufficiently wise to recognise this.  In the wake of the referendum result, the Greens and Liberal Democrats have been clear in their desire to maintain European links, and Scottish Labour has moved towards calling for federal solutions, and she has focused on this rather than pushing towards a narrow party-based agenda.  This is good tactically, as well as the right thing to do.  The churls have failed to recognise that it is possible to do the right thing, even if political considerations come into play.

The UK needs a rapid resolution of its crises.  Scotland and Northern Ireland (as well as London) have demonstrated that there is no common polity or institutional alignment.  Whatever the legal niceties there is not a clear case for maintaining a failed state.  If the settlements cannot accommodate a European alignment for Scotland then I for one will have to consider hard whether British subject-hood is preferable to European and Scottish citizenship.  There are no risk-free or pleasant futures, but Nicola Sturgeon has my full support in her efforts to define a future direction for Scotland into which there is room for European engagement and, hopefully, a sensible relationship with other parts of the British Isles.

The consensus from Willie Rennie, Patrick Harvie and Kezia Dugdale has been impressive.  With the exception of the Tories, whose churlish Empire Loyalism may well come back to bite them, the unionist forces in Holyrood are working to achieve the right outcome for Scotland.  I am cautious, pessimistic for the future, but delighted to be on the right side of the border at the moment.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Living the Brexit dream

We are now four days into the glorious world of self-determination, where the United Kingdom walks tall in the world, where the economy is magically transformed into the powerhouse that the rest of the world envies and there is no need to spend any of the £350m additional weekly windfall on the health service as nobody gets sick, nobody needs support and the money tree is shaken regularly to bestow largesse on true-born Britons who can enslave foreigners in order to avoid such mundane tasks as wiping their backsides.

For those who have been sold the delusion, the way in which events have unfolded might be causing perhaps a slight inkling that their narcissism has not paid off.  To put it mildly, they have been duped by a group of people whose ethics would be elevated if they had elevated themselves from the sewer to the gutter, and whose furious back-pedalling began almost before they had pinched themselves that they had pulled off one of the all-time national con-tricks.

If one didn't have a stake in it, it would almost be laughable.  As it is, the tragedy continues to increase.

Irony is over-used these days.  The Daily Express calls for the ennoblement of Nigel Farage, a shyster whose veneer of golf-club bore has been tainted beyond repair as he mainlined the ideological racism of Enoch Powell and Nick Griffin, which would be an ornament to the undemocratic Lords, and would reinforce that his only electoral success has been to be inserted under a proportional system to the European Parliament, and from which he will suck out money until such time as the UK consigns itself to the cesspit of history.

Meanwhile, the emergence of inside information around Labour's involvement in the Remain campaign makes it clear the extent to which its own divisions have not even been addressed.  Granted that there was a centre-right regicidal mood before the referendum, where the membership foisted a leader who was unwanted by the Parliamentary party, but the lukewarm endorsements and sullen apathy of Corbyn throughout the campaign is becoming more central to the charge sheet.

In a time of national crisis, it was both immature and self-indulgent to avoid appearing on a platform with the Prime Minister, whose policy your party supported - it sent the message that Labour's ambiguity and apathy was more a matter of Islington parlour games than attempting to address concerns that led to what was in effect a national protest vote against the whole conduct of politics, contained within a campaign that was much more focused.  To tell local campaigners in your own party not to address immigration in campaigning material, even with the more nuanced messages that Labour were seeking to put out, is nothing short of a dereliction of duty.

Meanwhile, the Tory Party continues regardless, laughing at the inability of the main opposition party to land blows on a weak, scrofulous government that has committed an act of national immolation in order to preserve itself to win a potentially-corrupt election victory last year.  Johnson's supreme hubris may be his downfall - in refusing to attend Cameron's statement in the Commons, preferring to communicate only via the organ of the tax-avoiding Barclay brothers, and in that to issue a prospectus for government that resembles being a member of the EU with all of the burdens and none of the advantages.  It will be fascinating to see how this goes down with the grassroots racists who are turning the streets into places of fear and hatred.

Beyond the Westminster bubble, the economy has not just turned it is collapsing.  The scale of carnage in terms of asset values makes Black Wednesday and the 2008 Depression look like minor blips, and this comes at the expense of our pensions, our state-funded handouts to the banking sector and its parasites, and the long-term viability of the British economy.  What a success.  Still, with sterling collapsing the price of oil will go up, which will clearly freak them out, and holiday spending this year will be even more expensive.  A price worth paying, clearly.

Meanwhile, Scotland's narrative becomes increasingly focused on what will happen post-independence.  I will return to this at a later stage, as I am rapidly becoming convinced that the acts of collective suicide being committed are sufficient to justify a serious contemplation of separation.  The real fear is that the unpicking of the Irish peace process will impact massively and unpredictably, but nobody in London wants to talk about this, as, with the entire toddler-driven mentality of the Leave campaign's dialogue, shamefully aided by Theresa Villiers, there is no plan at all about how to reassure all communities there that there is a plan.

Still, we should all learn to accept the result and shut up, according to such luminaries from the Leave campaign as are prepared to show at least one of their faces, such as the risible Hartley-Brewer.  The response that this deserves involves sex, travel and death.

Whatever happens, it is our country too, and they have no right to complain when their foulnesses come back to haunt them and it is pointed out.  We may need external forces to save us from the mire, and there are ways forward.  It will be ironic that, having unleashed totally-predictable destruction, the choice for national salvation will have to lie with Parliament.  The delusion of taking back power has been shown as a sham - the only way in which this can be asserted is by acting in the overall national interest.  In a couple of months time, it will be clear what that is.  My hunch, as an "expert" with a basic knowledge of history and economics, is that the crash is going to be painful and will rebound on those who have led us into this mess.  And the temptation to crow may be irresistible.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Message to Vote Leave - we won't be going away

Within a few weeks, I suspect that the date to which most people will want to revert to is the 22nd June 2016.  Forget the golden age of Empire and the delusional era of British supremacy.  A decision of monumental perversity has been taken, and although now the requirement is both to accept and make the best of it, that does not mean that those of us who opposed it need to alter our views or shut up.

Watching the economy shrink, credit ratings destroyed and the confirmation that this is all about the Tory Party does not give any pleasure. As the UK has already moved from significant power to helpless bystander within Europe, and will have very limited options going forward, I cannot see positive sides to the current crisis.  To support remaining in Europe was a mixture of idealism, pragmatism and a position arrived at by weighing up arguments.  Accepting the defeat of this position does not change the fundamental point.

That the leave adherents are now engaging in triumphalism and telling us to either get over it or shut up is a sign of weakness.  There is no plan, no direction of travel and their dog-whistles on immigration and the NHS have proved to be hollow propaganda lapped up by the credulous.  Not exactly a brave new world, and not one endorsed by the majority.

However the  catastrophe and chaos develop , the patriotic duty of engaged citizens remains.  This does not include rolling over and accepting that a plebiscite,  narrowly won without a crushing majority of the electorate, defines the terms of political debate.  The issues remain as they were.  I have the same right to describe crass, duplicitous stupidity as such even after ending up on the losing side.

One of the reasons the leave camp are so worried is that we represent an educated, articulate anger.  Our weakness in the campaign has been assuming that rational argument can be deployed against propaganda, lies and a manipulative emotionalism that bore no relationship to the likely outcome of the vote.  Now that we are liberated from defending the status quo, I expect that the response to the self-destruction and madness will become focused, militant and will take the battle to the enemy.

What we should learn is that a vicious, mendacious and well-resourced cabal can capture people's votes against their own rational interests.  This does not mean aspiring to the same degree of evil that we have been brought down by,  but to recognise that where the damage and destruction take place we should not hold back our venom and we should call out those responsible for it simply, immoderately and repetitively.

There is a need to salvage what we can for us, and our fellow-citizens, from the wreckage.  If that means endorsing secession of the constituent parts of the country, so be it.  If that means disrupting the folly of the elites, so be it.  If that means stooping to the level of the gutter politics that won the day, then so be it - it might even be enjoyable and cathartic.  Without the responsibility of having to defend Cameron's treacherous co-option of progressive forces, the chance to mobilise, articulate and modernise can be taken.

The leave campaign won - and therefore now takes responsibilities.  Those of us who wanted a different outcome must now lick our wounds, work through our anger, grief and incredulity and analyse what needs to be done to move forward.   The leave campaign have claimed insurgency, and now they have their foul paws on the levers of power they cannot expect a red carpet to be laid down for them.

It may actually be liberating, as it will enable engagement on the same terms as the racists, xenopnobes and liars have engaged with up till now.  The wider realities of life in post-Brexit Britain will be unpleasant, febrile and unpredictable. We will not go away, nor is there any need to moderate our criticism, wrath and invective to spare the sensitivities of the crooks, liars and spivs we are likely to have to tolerate before a new settlement can emerge.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Down the plughole

I had intended maintaining a vow of silence for at least a week after the referendum, aware that there would be a maelstrom of reactions and partial analyses, not wishing to add to the verbiage and the noise unduly.  However my sadness today is sufficient to provoke a cathartic rant, if not a perceptive rallying-cry to those of us who find ourselves on the losing side.

The use of referenda to provide decisions on complex issues is dubious at best.  Arguments and issues are nuanced and multi-faceted, and do not boil down to binary choices. Factor this alongside the tendency to use the process to antagonise the government of the day and they become an exercise in demagoguery, fuelled by the techniques of media manipulation and the least attractive abuses of psychology to determine the outcome.

What should have been an internal squabble within the Tory Party over its fractured relationship with Europe has now, as Tim Farron observed, taken the direction of travel straight over the cliff.  The egotism and impotence Cameron has demonstrated throughout his time in office has been rewarded by an irrevocable process that stands to undermine the prosperity of the very groups who appear to have embraced the suicidal project with the most enthusiasm.

With my generation and older people endorsing the Leave campaign disproportionately, the younger voters who expressed their views have even less incentive either to engage or to co-operate with the blinkered and retarded vision that they have had foisted upon them.  Already driven to the margins by the cost of housing, debt and the poor prospects for permanent careers, the potential is there for some massive fissures in society.  As the economy suffers, this will become even more apparent.

This is the inevitable consequence of dog-whistle politics and the systematic exclusion of huge swathes of the electorate from meaningful engagement through an unfit system, whereby votes outside swing seats do not count.  Impotence breeds discontent, especially for those groups excluded from either the metropolitan elite or the relative prosperity that has been provided for specially-targeted groups of voters.  No wonder that there is an incentive to hit back, even against rational self-interest.

Understanding why the vote went the way it did is one thing.  The consequences are another.  The dissolution of the United Kingdom is now a probability rather than a vague dream of regionalists and national parties.  The distribution of the Leave votes demonstrated, predominantly, an English Nationalism on the right, much closer to Madame Le Pen than any mainstream national movement, but nevertheless a group excluded from much of the dialogue of politicians - possibly deliberately as it has hallowed grievance to be manipulated in the direction of the interests of unelected plutocrats and propagandists,

The irony that such luminaries as Murdoch, Rothermere and Lawson, parasites and hate-mongers, will escape the consequences of the decision they have manipulated should not be lost. It is a strange anti-establishment narrative that permitted Farage, Gove and Rees-Mogg to join with Boris "Pleb" Johnson in their hypocritical perversion of outrage and disempowerment.  Cameron's vanity and weakness has resulted in the entire edifice collapsing, and that in itself is an act of treachery for which he bears sole responsibility,

Having become a resident of Scotland subsequent to the 2014 referendum, my choices are more interesting than for the losing side in England.  Betrayal is in the air.  I am sure that the tipping point in that campaign was a combination of economic uncertainty and the question mark as to how Scotland could remain in the EU.  Both of these have now been blown out of the water - with the added side-order of lies and misrepresentation by the Unionist side.  Scotland and London were the two strongest supporters of an outward-looking world, and Scotland is actually better placed to implement an independent vision.

With both the economic competency argument and the EU referendum now irrelevant it is hard not to see that the UK will become defunct. Added to this is the risks that are attached to Northern Ireland and the fragile, precious progress that has been made through the last thirty years.  A myopic and evil outcome that barely registered in the campaign, but which nevertheless has the potential for vileness to be reconstituted,

Not that this is necessarily alien to the far right's fame plan.  Farage's disgusting, depraved comment about a revolution occurring without a shot being fired rings hollow - two motherless children and a widower bear witness to the toxicity of the campaign and the bare-faced denial of any causal link between hate speech and the actions of someone who may well turn out to have been clinically-sick but suggestible. Farage is unfit to hold any public office and those who court him should be called out and shunned accordingly.

The world has shifted.  I feel fearful of the future, but also challenged to make the best of the current self-inflicted immolation. Viscerally, the case for Scotland as an independent state with its own relationship with Europe is now irrefutable; a massive margin to support this cannot be gainsaid. The inability of the Labour Party to either connect with grievances or to make common cause with the rest of the centre and left will be a st,bling block elsewhere, but the need to reshape politics is urgent. The next weeks will be febrile and frightening, and predictions will be dangerous. Yet fuming on the sidelines is not going to be enough. There will be millions of disappointed purchasers of scummy snake-oil; to change the narrative requires preparation and reflection. In the meantime there is always whisky.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Hypocrisy, treason and terrorism - an uncomfortable truth

The assassination of Jo Cox gets more shocking and evil with each passing hour.  The ongoing depravity of the circumstances in which she was murdered, aligned with the climate of fear, loathing and ignorance being fostered over many decades, suggests that there is something far more fundamentally wrong than can be papered over through a general reversion to "niceness" in the run-up to the European referendum.

I am sure that I am not the only person to remark that the sham cant of calling for the crime not to be seen in a "political" context is largely emerging from those whose vicarious guilt and associations put them in at best a morally-corrupt universe.  The memory of someone who, by all accounts, strove to achieve a better world for her constituents, her family and those disadvantaged and displaced across the world would be besmirched if these foolish tropes are given traction.

The referendum campaign has exacerbated fear - not the "Project Fear" presentation of risks, but a genuine discomfort for those who have challenged the messaging both overt and subliminal emanating from the various shades of Leave.  This is the culmination of coarsened political discourse, egged on by the interests of propagandists and those for whom accountability and honesty would be as strange bedfellows as they are to Louise Mensch, who approvingly re-tweeted a comment on the murder with a swastika avatar.

There is a sickness in public life that goes much deeper than the current vile cesspit.  It is not a matter of left or right, but the perversion of humane values and the removal of individual responsibility.  For the last weeks there has been a constant bombardment of incitement from the far right leaders of the Leave campaigns, which has drowned out more rational discussion that might have persuaded a few of us of the legitimacy of their case.  The rhetoric of Johnson, Farage, Gove and others would have been regarded as risky by Enoch Powell, let alone the Goebbels equivalents in various 20th century dictatorships.

Culpability does not end at the politicians, but also within the media.  The BBC has been hampered by its need for political balance, as the risible rabble-rousing would otherwise have had more scrutiny, while the right-wing press, in its descent, would find arriving back up into the sewers a positive enhancement of its status.  The Rothermeres, Desmonds and Murdochs have spent decades carefully exploiting the techniques of informational abuse for both political and commercial ends, and it can certainly be argued that the murderer could have been desensitised from morality through the drip-feed of bile, lies and packaged distractions.

A feed of racism, celebrity culture and raw envy does not make the world a comfortable place.  Destroying the public realm and the social fabric through casualisation of labour, the obscene rewards of the plutocrats, sportspersons and apparently random "talent", the encouragement of wealth fantasies through a housing asset bubble and the rhetoric of fear and distrust of the "other" has been a long-term strategy, particularly targeted at achieving illegitimate political control through an unfit electoral system and minimising the opportunities for dissent.

The effectiveness of this perversion has doubtless encouraged a mood of sullen rebellion - which is easier to shape and direct than active anger.  Spending weeks and months preparing the ground for a nakedly-racist campaign against immigrants, spiced up with at best subliminal but often overt confusion between economic migration and those forced out of their own native lands through the actions of misplaced foreign and domestic policy, creates a climate of pure evil.  Creating a society where cohesion is a dirty word has set one of the preconditions for domestic terrorism.

Perhaps the most evil element of the neoconservative assault has been the denial of individual responsibility and the promotion of hopelessness as a means of social control.  Throughout the near-decade since the collapse of the world's financial systems, the corporate welfare system has doled out largesse to banks while leaving such luminaries as Philip Green untouched.  What is the point in being prepared to seek change and improvement, for oneself or one's fellow humans, when the system acts to protect and succour those who have screwed it over?  Apathy plays as important a part in the project as control.

Creating impotence and paranoia is a high-risk strategy.  The actions of one person, who I am touched to see that the usual suspects are lining-up to describe as "mentally ill" rather than "politically motivated", are an extreme example of a social structure unravelling.  To describe this as terrorism is legitimate.  To understand how a susceptible person can be influenced by a spectrum of braying, irresponsible voices is not to deny their sickness, but to attempt the horrible task of trying to avoid similar terrorism in the future.

What is making the new right and their racist fellow-travellers uncomfortable is a sense of guilt, at least by association.  Thatcher's coarsening of the rhetoric in the 1980s, describing the NUM as the enemy within, has done nothing to assist discourse.  The irresponsibility of continuing this rhetoric has created a climate where it is not surprising, though evil, to see the rhetoric of treason being applied to anyone who disagrees with you and stands in your way.  Farage, the saloon-bar bore, epitomises both the hypocrisy and the danger.

Only one person pulled the trigger against democracy, but there are many more who have created the climate where such an action could even be seen as legitimate by the deranged.  Individual failings will doubtless have played their part, but the overarching rhetoric will have contributed to a climate where an act of evil takes place.  The simple test is that murder does not seem illogical or irrational in the perverted debate that has been taking place in the last few months.

On the morning of the murder, Farage unveiled a poster that would have made the Nazi Party proud.   He has predicted violence.  The spectacle of allegedly mainstream politicians resorting to dog-whistles around immigration and the pure racism and lies being peddled, with all the techniques of media manipulation has been disturbing for all those who recognise that life will go on in the future.  The hubris of the hypocrites is astounding - Baldwin's prerogative of the harlot does not even scrape the surface - but they are not in it for the good of the people, but their own feather-bedding and control fantasies.

To claim treason is to ramp up the rhetoric - yet it is hard to see what the actions of many of the far right are in other words.  The spectrum from a gun-toting lunatic to those who unaccountably remain in the Cabinet is not equally deserving of blame, but in allowing the coarsening of debate to the extent where people feel afraid to exercise their freedom of speech, or to attempt to discount the actions of an inflamed lunatic as an individual act, outside the moral, political and situational frameworks demonstrates how debased they have become.

In the immediate aftermath, the self-styled iconoclasts, of which Mensch is one of the most persistent and inadequate, had a field day.  The debased minds of the new right, channelled through such luminaries as Isabel Oakeshott and James Delingpole, immediately tried to close down the political dimension of the murder.  They would not, I suspect, have been as emphatic if the perpetrator had claimed Islamic extremism as a motive, rather than the language of the extreme media.

David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn have struck the right note, which is encouraging.  In a few days' time there will be the referendum, and after that there will be unpredictable and febrile forces let loose.  In the event of a Remain vote, Farage and his cronies will not take things lying down, and the worrying parallels between the tinfoil hat brigade of the 1970s who attempted to undermine the Labour government should not be lost on those responsible for maintaining public order.  Whatever happens there is cause for concern both in the short- and long-term.

This cannot be permitted, in the context of political murder, to be an excuse for closing down debate. It would dishonour a brave and principled person.  A society where politicians and commentators take to demonising those who ask questions - and who spray around accusations and insults without consequence - contributed to the current mire.  Taking the world forward means being both assertive and positive that everyone has a place in it.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Murder and the corruption of politics

Today's callous murder of an MP, doing her job, representing her constituents, represents the depths to which the United Kingdom is sinking.  It is alleged that the assailant used the phrase "Britain first", which with a second capitalisation links straight into the fascist fringe that has coarsened, cheapened and depraved politics.

As a family grieves, a community loses its elected representative and a public servant's life is cruelly truncated, there will be a mixture of the genuine shock, anger and loss and the bandwagon-jumping that the spin doctors prescribe.  I'm sure that the ambulance-chasers across the spectrum from Farage to Galloway will be engaging in grief tourism, without the ability to reflect that it is their actions that contribute to the climate of despair that makes such a vile event seem almost inevitable.

The coarsening of debate and the attempt to demonise and marginalise has been in the interests of certain political groups for some time, alongside a narrow interest group of press barons.  It is shocking to realise the bilious propaganda that spews out from the right-wing tabloids and their fellow-travellers, and the distrust and hatred that they sow had made it almost impossible for an alternative and humane approach to be adopted, nor for there to be respect for those who disagree and exist with different moral compasses.

Whatever the individual circumstances, the disgusting reduction of politics into a set of half-baked assertions and unproved assertions has become the norm.  The referendum campaign has demonstrated that there is no space for rationality, and the ability to recognise that it is not mandatory to hold one set of snarling views.  People die as a consequence.  This is the real corruption and the evil that we have seen today - and why grief should be mixed with anger and a desire for change that calls out those who have fed the hatred and irrationality that have led us to this space.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Philip Green, theft and the failure of regulation

In the light of recent disclosures around the collapse of BHS, the behaviour of Blair's crony "Sir" Philip Green reverts to type.  Morally, if not legally, guilty of larceny through extracting non-existent profits from his firms for his own personal aggrandisement, he is indulging in the classic tactic of the cornered rat - making smoke that Frank Field is biased and therefore should not be allowed to question him.  If this attitude to Parliamentary sovereignty is upheld, then the future is bleak indeed.

Many of us have the misfortune to encounter the actions of regulators.  Be they meddling in the energy market, the media, banking or more specific sectors of the economy, they have created a cult of pseudo-science around a framework of snivelling microeconomic jargon and third-rate models.  Their organisations are staffed by theorists, and it is difficult to contemplate whether their competency is high given that their own models would suggest that they are being underpaid compared to the competence and over-inflated salaries of those they are expected to control.  At best this makes them marginal, at worst prey animals in the world of legal and contractual carnivores employed by the organisations they are meant to be controlling.

The embezzling of the BHS pension fund would probably not have been prevented by a more effective regulatory framework, although there is the suspicion that if you play games of cat and mouse it is usually the mouse that gets eaten.  The apparently shady deals, with an alleged venture capitalist who Green either claimed complete confidence in or total ignorance about, depending upon which version will best suit his narrative, might not have been prevented.  However, a climate where moral choices are based around the practice of game theory spawns this kind of charlatanry.

John McDonnell is quite right in suggesting that someone such as Green should not regard their riches as immunity from scrutiny.  To argue that an MP might have views that disqualify him from challenging the behaviours of a man who has clearly supplanted the late "Tiny" Rowland as the unacceptable face of capitalism is the act of contemptuous hubris that should send even the most ravening friend of capital into self-doubt.  The behaviour of the self-styled wealth creators and their captive regulators is the likeliest catalyst for a lurch to the left than anything that could be organised by the left themselves.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Why bankers will bring down the neoliberal delusion

The moral collapse of politics is one of the great continuing sagas - and not confined to one particular set of chancers and loud-mouthed fools.  The greatest irony is that the principal agent of decline has been the supposedly-liberating computer and the ability of the slaves of technocracy and their fellow-travellers in the selfish, amoral and grasping carriage of the global train to oblivion to render their potential meaningless and their control all-encompassing.

Continuing the unedifying illumination on the darkest corners of the capitalist psyche that has been cranked up by the destruction of BHS and the theft of pensioners' assets, the revelations earlier this week about the behaviour of the self-styled venture capitalists, whose ability to shift the blame is their only skill, should cause right-thinking altruists to raise their game from party politics and consider exactly what kind of society and economy we are creating.

I have recently finished John Kay's excellent combination of forensic examination and polemic Other People's Money, which combines great writing and accessibility with a damning indictment of both the failure of the financial sector and its rapacity in extracting value from the real economy.  The high priests of the banking community have condemned an analysis which should underpin a political programme that seeks out and destroys parasites whose contribution to the well-being of the world is to try to avoid tax and to pauperise all those who stand in their way.

When I commenced the study of economics over three decades ago, banking and financial services were seen as necessary, morally-driven intermediaries that raised capital, protected assets and had at least some vestige of social responsibility and accountability.  This remains the hope and expectations of sections of society that should know better.

Removing legal and moral obligations in the name of the market has created a sub-set of the financial industry that bases its behaviour on the assumption of taking advantage whenever possible.  They have no morality in the sense that they engorge themselves on the wealth of others, without taking any real risk themselves.  Bankers, and the flummery of self-styled analysts and risk experts around them, are worse than the compulsive gamblers who they would try to avoid in the street, in that they are never venturing their own cash or well-being, while at the same time making moral and political judgements well beyond their own competence or capability.

Short-termism is the modus operandi of the current self-styled wealth generators.  Yet they are supposed to be replacing the capability of the state to invest in infrastructure, and to look after the long-term interests of individuals whose pension and social security provision has been undermined in the name of markets and efficiency.  This is akin to putting Herod in charge of social services, or Donald Trump atop a major nuclear power.

Yet the wealth they generate is illusory and non-existent, without the actions of an economy beyond the financial services "industry".  The way they get rich is not by generating real prosperity but by sucking out others' contribution.  This is parasitism, whatever your political creed.  Some of it is inevitable, but it does not make it desirable.

Nearly a decade on from the financial crash and subsequent depression, the banking sector has lived a charmed life.  The challenge for politicians is to make the issues credible and straightforward to enable an articulation to be put forward in the future.  The same applied to the complexities of outsourcing and the destruction of the public realm.  Whatever happens with respect to the UK's EU membership, the post-capitalist world has reached a point where the self-styled emperors' nudity will become embarrassingly obvious.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Brexit lies and lunacy - and the need for hope

Somewhere, perhaps, there is an honest, straightforward case being out forward for leaving the European Union.  It would be astonishing to find it, given the current toxicity of the debate which the leaders of the leave campaign stoke with racism, downright mendacity and personal abuse whenever confronted with views or challenges that contradict their entitled farrago of self-interest and false patriotism.  Crying "treason" and "immigrant" is no substitute for answering the basic question of "how do you plan to enact the process of European withdrawal"?

One of the most disappointing facets of the campaign has been the complete denial of history.  The drooling scapegraces and their more sinister backroom supporters still appear to be stuck in the English delusion of Britain alone in the world.  This is a specifically English disease, and not all the nations of the UK need to stand accused.  Their fantasy universe has Britain as the sole victor of the Second World War, rather than rescued from stalemate by Soviet and American power, and the UK as some sort of independent powerhouse isolated from the world by its very superiority.  A cretinous and amoral set of lies, feeding prejudice and not rooted in the reality.

The outrage from the Leave campaign about the possibility of an activist House of Commons after a vote to leave is breathtaking.  With no programme in place for redefining the relationship, where do they think that the legitimacy of a British position would emerge from?  Rupert Murdoch is not a satisfactory answer.  Their promises of free trade and cherry-picking the rest would be held up to scrutiny - 60 million isolated Brits playing 440 million EU citizens is hardly an equal contest.  Yet another false outrage from a group who have never been held up to rigorous scrutiny.

Anyone who has read the appendix on Newspeak in "1984" would be aware that doublethink was required by all adherents of the party.  The Brexit variant is "no thinking" as at the same time as the isolationist farrago is peddled, the virtues of deregulated markets are set out as something that the EU holds us back from.  The dismantling of social protection and solidarity is somehow a virtue, which, when allied to withdrawal from European standards around environmental protection and human rights, should set the antennae twitching, irrespective of one's place in the political spectrum in normal times.

In the meantime, the standard dog-whistle remains immigration and fear of the other.  When Farage has to be called out on the subliminal suggestion that remaining in the EU is likely to result in foreigners raping British women, and his fellow-travellers make assertions that the UK will be able to close down all immigration, without significant challenge, this is a sick travesty of what should be a debate about the nature of society and the values that it shares.

The Remain campaign has tended to focus on the risks of leaving.  This is legitimate, but it is not the basis on which a sustainable future can be built.  The positions being put forward by the more radical pro-Europeans, including useful contributions from other countries' public intellectuals (Zizek's views in particular are very interesting), are that there is a necessity to stay aligned in order to achieve the potential for change.  This is not just true for the left, but also for the right.  If the neoliberal cause has such deep-set support and the force of argument, then that should be put forward within the EU rather than outside it.

The European project has made mistakes, and will continue to do so.  Yet in the last seventy years it has achieved adaptation through the Cold War and the collapse of authoritarian Communism, and has ushered in a period of stability in Western Europe that would have confounded predictions based around a determinist view of history.  The system, initially based on economic co-operation, has extended to cultural, social and environmental areas where internationalism is the only rational response.  The global challenge does not end at national borders, no matter what lies are preferred by the Leave campaign, and however idealistic one can be about international governments, the EU is one of the key steps going forward.

It will not be enough just to refute lies, or to bewail that the internecine feuding within the Bullingdon Club has hijacked the national interest.  In the run-up to the referendum, the Remain campaign has to spell out that there are opportunities as well as threats from staying in, and that the hollow phobias of the Leave campaign are both hypocritical and based on lies.