Sunday, 17 May 2015

It's Time for A Change

My recent posts seem at odds with the previous umbrella name for this blog-spot: The Personal is Planetary. It was a reflection of my passionate interest in the environment, climate change/global warming.  The issue strikes a chord for people all over the world, indeed the top five of my most popular posts are about the environment. 


The passion is undiminished but now it's time for a change.


Over the last ten days, my attention has been captured by the machinations of the political world and the lengths to which politicians are prepared to go in order to hold on to or grab the reins of power. And it is true that the ideologically-motivated action of politicians have unintended consequences that affects the planet one way or another. 


Who knew that Margaret Thatcher’s overwhelming desire to smash the unions in Britain, and particularly the miners, would have a huge impact on a major driver of global warming? Her speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1989 (best appreciated on YouTube (Climate Change History - Margaret Thatcher - Speech on ...) never ceases to astonish me.[1]  Amazingly Maggie said:


"...We have also recently become aware of another insidious danger. It is as menacing in its way as those more accustomed perils with which international diplomacy has concerned itself for centuries...


What we are now doing to the world, by degrading the land surfaces, by polluting the waters and by adding greenhouse gases to the air at an unprecedented rate—all this is new in the experience of the earth. It is mankind and his activities which are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways." 


Was that really you Maggie? On the other hand the lady was probably the first climate sceptic, exhibiting a clear case of Cognitive Dissonance or inconsistency between action and belief.   


Apart from the Greens, the environment was not a feature of any Party’s manifesto for the recent general election. The issue paled into insignificance in the face of priorities considered to define our future: the economy, austerity and immigration. The election was also illustrative of the major schism in the landscape of British politics both at a party and national level. 


Back in the day my political science class described the post war consensus as an alignment of Labour and Conservative Parties, despite differences in ideology, coming from a desire to maintain Britain's status in the world at the end of WWII.[2] At its most basic level this was an agreement between the aristocratic ruling class and the masses that capitalism was the preferred social and economic system, an arrangement that would deliver the kind of progress advantageous to both sides of the divide. 

This consensus was underpinned by the establishment of the welfare state, currently at the mercy of the Tory zeal for minimizing the State.[3] Deregulation of employment practices advantageous to business but detrimental to the workforce and the environment is seen as unavoidable. The ‘market’ must be unfettered; the economy is paramount.


The blurring of the clear divide between the UK's two dominant political parties began with Margaret Thatcher and continued under Tony Blair. They also compete with the proliferation of new parties which, taken together, steered the outcome of the election.  Even the language and assumptions made by the consensus has changed. The ‘ruling class’ is now the ‘super rich’, many coming from humble backgrounds. The ‘masses’ has splintered into the ‘aspiring middle’, 'working people’, and the ‘poor’ from which the most ‘troubled families’ are singled out for their own ‘tzar’.[4]


Following the financial meltdown of 2008 and the resultant ‘age of austerity’, the political landscape in Britain has shifted dramatically. That shift has left the Labour Party bruised, confused and holding the short straw.  Its traditional base in Scotland has been decimated, whilst Tory plans for a Northern Powerhouse challenges another stronghold; and then there is UKIP (Labour admits: We underestimated Nigel Farage's Ukip in ...). But the most critical relationship that needs resolution is the one with its birth mother, the trade union movement. 


Among the many illusions that abounded in Ed's Labour Party was the misguided  perception that the 2008  'crisis of capitalism' needed a socialist solution, and the people would get it. Sad really. A new settlement with the ‘splintered masses’ leading to political power in the future will require a redefinition of who the Party serves, other than itself, and an understanding of what motivates and can offer reassurance in an uncertain world.


The process of change is painful.

Friday, 15 May 2015

The Joust and the Dark Knight

Can you believe it, even before the race to find the new Labour leader gets underway, the jousting begins, and one knight (among the warrior women) has already broken his lance. Only three days after declaring his candidacy Chuka Umunna MP, dubbed the British Obama[1] and the bookies’ favourite, has withdrawn.  

This is the wrong time for my candidacy says he; it has already subjected his family to unwelcomed attention and pressure from the media.[2] The press intrudes; that's what it does and it began some time ago. More recently, since  announcing his candidacy and going for such a coveted prize, Umunna would always be targeted for extreme scrutiny for very obvious reasons. Did he not know that? As an inexperienced novice, he would be hung, drawn and quartered.

The outcome of the Leveson inquiry into phone hacking and the ethics and culture of the British press has had little to no effect; it failed to rein in the excesses of the media's pack mentality when it sets upon the latest prey. Why has the other two candidates who declared at the same time as Umunna not received the same level of scrutiny and harassment?  Is it something to do with Umunna's 'Savile Row' suits or his 'sleek' performance? Or is there something distinctly 'exotic' and 'unknown other' about him?

I have no doubt that as time went on, it would have been vicious, especially from the British Tea Party, as well as mainstream commentators.  Obama and his entire extended family, his identity and religion were dissected and vilified. The racism was overt. He survived two whole terms (almost) under a barrage of outrageous abusive. One needs a very steely backbone indeed Chuka; good job you found out now rather than later after the floodgates had opened.


Umunna describes himself as “blue Labour”, by which he means a moderniser in the Blair mould. This is a red rag to the bullish side of the Party. A group of first-time Labour MPs to Westminster have today written an open letter calling for the next party chief to ditch the “New Labour creed of the past”.  Labour will lose the 2020 election because it is confused and clueless.  If that happens will the 'Blues' break away and join the Liberal Democrats? It happened before.

Oh well, one down out of current five candidates, three more to go since there is only one with an outside chance of beating the Tories. There is much fun to be had over the coming months and years.


In the meantime, like the Labour Party, Cameron too has union problems, the European Union. Cameron’s lead knight in the arena to slay the EU dragon, is Sir George. First among Equals and the Tory’s very own Prince of Darkness, George Osborne[3] has that lean, mean and hungry look about him that puts me in mind of Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar who said of Cassius:


Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.


With dark saturnine looks and recent weight lost, Osborne sometimes looks as if he could do with a bit more sleep. But Cameron is safe from the machinations of this Cassius, any decapitation attempt will come from the Nightmare on Elm Street faction of Dave’s own party (there are about 60 of them) all waiting for that referendum to get the hell out of Europe. Right now they are biding their time, giving Dave time to enjoy his honeymoon period.


Some do not much care for Cameron’s ‘liberal conservatism’ (that’s why he got on so well with Cleggers, the famous bromance) and Cameron knows he has reason to be afraid, very afraid. Who wants a humiliating ousting, after all he would have achieved for his Party?  If Cameron’s negotiations with the EU goes awry and/or a referendum goes against the ‘OUT’ campaign then the "Freddies" will come for him[4]. /Watch this space.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The Price of Clear Blue Water

And so after the drama of another British election, the world which was eclipsed for 36 hours is back into full focus.  I switch from the scenes of yet another earthquake hitting Nepal to more asylum seekers and/or economic migrants, especially women and children arriving on Europe’s Mediterranean coast. Theresa May, articulating the sentiments of those who voted for the British version of America’s Tea Party, says ‘send them back to Africa’. The new Justice Secretary is about to dismantle the Human Rights Act and he will be unopposed, except perhaps in the unelected and undemocratic House of Lords.


Without the Liberal Democrat veto, such that it was, it is open season for the Tories who secured some degree of clear blue water to put their manifesto into action. As Cameron was assembling his Cabinet, a cross section of the public together with MPs representing all political hues were gathered on the Green across the road from the House of Commons. They were being interview by Sky News. One young Black woman said, having voted Conservative, she had followed her head and not her heart, now she was feeling anxious. Good. I'm glad she feels like that, with good cause.  She should be very afraid.


In a bid to give weight to the Tories being ‘the real party of working people’ and to fend off the charge of having a Cabinet made up of Old Etonian elites[1] Cameron wants us to know that he also believes in ‘blue collar conservatism’. I guess that’s true; it is why one Labour MP had to apologise when she sneered at UKIP’s ‘white van man’ supporters, who are also the Tory/Labour ‘aspiring middle’. To make the point, much coverage has been given to Cabinet posts going to the offspring of a milkman, a garage owner and a bus driver who also happens to be Asian.


For now Cameron is basking in his success. His reference to One Nation conservatism, the doctrine championed by The Tory Reform Group is a veiled gesture of reconciliation both to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, deliberately trashed during the election campaign in the name of political expediency, and also to the 60% of the electorate who did not vote for him.


Tories use superlatives to describe their mood including ‘euphoric’ ‘ecstatic’, even ‘orgiastic’. And the description of Cameron: ‘walks on water’.  As the camera spans the room at the first meeting of the new Cabinet, you catch a look of adoration on Jeremy Hunt's face...or does he look like that all the time?


I do have to acknowledge one thing about Cameron’s new Government, women make up a third of his Cabinet. That’s historic. But my granddaughter, who should have the opportunity to go into politics if she chooses to do so, is being charged £350 more than she can afford per month for decent housing because her chosen university does not have enough student accommodation on campus. We are encouraging her to persevere; that all will be well and she does not have to give up on her dream and take on a zero hour contract. Such is life for most people in Cameron’s Britain, especially ‘working people'.


A few ex-MPs shared how it felt to suddenly find themselves unemployed with little prospects of securing another job in a hurry. The world had moved on since the time they first entered the Westminster bubble. One person, an MP for 20+ years, and a Tory bless him, wondered how he would pay his mortgage and support his family. Of course the twitter sphere let him have it. Hello. Welcome to the real world.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Socialism RIP

The day after the general election a friend wrote on Facebook “We really need to build a strong, effective and unashamed left wing movement to fight for people's rights and build a socialist alternative!”  Who is the custodian of this ‘socialist alternative’ I wondered; perhaps he will tell me over a bottle or two of red wine in the early evening sunshine in the garden one of these days soon.


Unashamed or otherwise, the very phrase ‘socialist alternative’ no longer chimes because it conjures up overflowing dustbins, smelly streets, power cuts and water rationing of the early 1970s.  Socialism began to dig its own grave during the reign of Ted Heath and begun to die in the Thatcher era. The psychological seduction of the ‘Market’ embedded by Thatcher is being continued today by Cameron.  It has one clear objective, the death of Socialism. Unable to beat them, Blair decided to join them. We are all property owning shareholders now, or at least 'aspire' to be. These are the main social groups to whom Thatcher and Blair appealed.


Regardless of valiant efforts, Syriza, Greece’s ‘Coalition of the Radical Left’ will in the end be beaten into submission by the Troika (EU, IMF and the European Central Bank).  Here in the UK we willingly acquiesce to the more humiliating aspects of zero contract hours and other such indignities. The ‘Market’ is king, for now.

Seven years after the demise of Blair’s New Labour project, the Party cannot decide whether they represent the aspiring or squeezed ‘middle’ or ‘working people’. The latter being a euphemism used by both major parties referring to those households where at least one and often two adults might be working but they struggle to pay the bills and sometimes have to access the food bank.

Ed Miliband fooled himself into believing that his Party could reclaim the pre New Labour ground. He misjudged how far to the centre right first Thatcherism then New Labour had taken the vast majority of the country. In the end he had to fall on his sword, just as Syriza will have to do or take Greece out of the Euro Zone.


The problem for Labour is if they face one direction, they find voter apathy and huge numbers not even registered to vote.  Even the areas of Glasgow with the worst set of indicators of multi-deprivation anywhere in the UK voted SNP, after decades of Labour neglect. Facing the direction of the ‘aspiring middle’ very few of that constituency trust them. What to do? The conflict at the heart of Labour is that they do not know which way to face and it is impossible to be two-faced; although that is not too difficult for most politicians I would have thought.

Labour’s woes will be revisited ad nauseam for some time to come. Members of the old guard including Blair, Mandelson and Darling, and even a newby to Parliament but the offspring of an old guard (Son of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock wins in Aberavon) have dropped by to offer advice.

Still shell-shocked and in deep mourning, the Party is embarking on a long and hard dark night of the soul journey to engage and embrace its core purpose, perhaps even its very reason for existing other than to swap places with the Tories once in a decade.  Straight out of the trap, eyeing the jewellery even before the corpse is cold, as one commentary put it, are the young turks, staking their claim to leadership. Sorry guys, I hate to say this but I reckon that post Blair, Brown and #Milifandom, the erstwhile keepers of socialism could well be a spent force.


And what about poor still quite young Nick Clegg and his very small band of less than merry Lib Dems? For them Politics: The rose garden romance is well and truly over ...  But it must be galling to be so unceremoniously ousted, helped by the somewhat treacherous hand of his rose garden political partner, although Nick did stymie Dave on occasion (Fury as Lib Dems kill off Saatchi Bill). Last Thursday was payback time. Alas, Dave omitted to tell Nick that those 23 seats that Tories targeted in order to win belonged to the Liberal Democrats, and he was going to throw shedloads of money at bagging them. Cleggie should be real angry, but hey that's life in politics


Meanwhile Dave has been given time to build his own camouflaged bunker to withstand the impending onslaught from the Nightmare on Elm Street faction of his own party.