Archive for April, 2011

Privacy and the cult of celebrity

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Super-injunctions have recently dominated the news cycles. The heart of this is privacy and individuals attempt to remain private.

The cult of celebrity is fairly recent phenomenon in Britain and super-injunctions have become an increasingly used tool for the rich, powerful and public personalities to keep their private lives private.

Why is there an invasion of privacy?
In short, the cult of celebrity is responsible. Most people are interested in the lives of others to substitute the mundanity of theirs. My grandfather recently remarked on the Royal Wedding that he would not watch the broadcast because he would not want to be party to something that he has not been invited to. A wedding is a private affair, an affair is a private affair, being a banker is a private affair.

Private affairs are not in the interest of the public, yet they are deemed to be of interest due to the cult of celebrity. The public’s morbid obsession with the intimate lives of celebrities and, to a degree, celebrities’ obsession with disclosing their intimate lives to the public. It is self-perpetuating madness.

In order to inhibit the growth of super-injunctions, and injunctions as a matter of fact, it would be wise to take a moral stock check and abolish this terrible cult.

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Politics from 1948

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

The following is taken from an article by Sir Richard Acland in The Listener, from January 15, 1948 entitled ‘Morality and British Politics’. Note how things were then and how they are now.

“The first step in democratic service is to join a political party. You join as a rank and file member of a local branch. The more diligently you serve your party and your cause, the more likely is it that they will ask you, for example, to become branch secretary. If you serve with self-sacrifice and show wise political judgement, you thereby increase the chance of you being made a local councillor. And as such you cannot but be aware of the fact that faithful service might lead someone to nominate you as candidate for the House of Commons.”

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April 28, 2011 1 comment

On Wednesday the British economy flatlined. Despite a weak growth of 0.5% for Q1 of 2011 the economy flatlined. This is to say that the contraction of Q4 for 2010 was more or less equalised by Q1’s figures.

The maths for this is as follows: 100 x 0.995 x 1.005 = 99.9975. It’s actually a slight contraction of 0.0025%, which is as good a 0% growth. Now to explain the maths. 100 is the constant. 0.995 is the result for Q4 2010. 1.005 is the result for Q1 2011. One then multiplies it together to get the average, which gives one what the economy is actually doing.

What is the economy doing?

As a whole it is doing nothing. It’s not growing but nor is it contracting. It’s just existing. Stagnating if you will. The individual sectors are doing things. The business services and finance increased by 1%, transport and communication increased 2.7%. The government grew by 0.7%, so much for the smaller state… Hotels and restaurants grew by 0.3%. Manufacturing increased by 1.1%, and agriculture, fishing grew by 0.6%.

Construction contracted by 4.7%. Mining and quarrying contracted by 0.4%. Utilities, such as electricity, gas and water, declined by 3.5%.

What’s next Quarter going to look like?

Tough call. The economy could contract as the austerity measures begin to take hold and consumer confidence begins to fall. Construction is likely to contract even further as the Regional Spatial Strategy was scrapped last year and the localism bill will encourage NIMBYism. Government is also likely to contract and probably quite sharply too. Q2 and Q3 are the interesting quarters, and potentially scary quarters too as they could usher in another recession.

What is certain?

Nothing is certain, but expect the Bank of England base rate to remain at 0.5% for the remainder of the year.

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Addiction is a health matter

April 21, 2011 3 comments

On Thursday the Department of Work and Pensions issued a report stating that of the 1.6 million people on incapacity benefits, 80,000 are drugs addicts, alcoholics or obese.

This is not a matter of idleness but a matter of disease and squalor. In non-Beveridge language – it is not about employment but health and poverty.

The Five Giants that Beveridge identified in 1942 (Disease, Ignorance, Squalor, Want, Idleness) have become bigger and more prevalent in society over the past 30 years. It does not help that successive governments have misinterpreted the Five Giants, for example labelling the 80,000 drug addicts, alcoholics and obese people a problem of idleness rather than disease and/or squalor.

If people are on incapacity benefit, regardless of reason, it is because of a health problem. Why do people get health problems that restrict them from working? Poverty. There have been numerous studies in the link between low incomes and ill health. As living standards and the cost of living has increased, real wages for those at or near the bottom has fallen. Poverty is a real problem in the 21st Century. Not only does it adversely impact directly on the lives of the people who suffer from it, but it also adversely impacts the economy as ill health leads to incapacity and thus a removal from the labour force.

The ideal situation would be to get these people well, not demonise them, and then help them into work and improve living conditions. Poverty and ill health benefit no one, least of all those who it affects. However, this government’s approach is to reduce benefits thus making the problem worse.

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Public saving: The new nationalisation

April 9, 2011 2 comments

There has always been debate within the Labour Party, and other left-wing parties, about the common ownership of industry. This has invariably led to traditional forms of nationalisation, being the public operation of industry, or co-operatives.

Whilst co-operatives are a great idea, there are limitations in that investment is usually directed towards stakeholders rather than enterprises. Public saving differs from co-operative ownership and public operation in that it relies on public saving too finance public investment, advanced through taxes.

Assume for one moment that the sole-purpose of the Labour Party is the redistribution of wealth, then public saving produces the desired outcome in an efficient manner, utilising the mechanisms of the market.

Public saving is using budget surpluses to finance capital projects, but it does not have to be confined to the financing of public investment, as it can go further and raise a surplus of savings which can be lent to the private sector. Thus exists private enterprise operating with publicly owned capital. If the primary aim is to prevent the growth of private riches then there is no reason why the public ownership of capital should not take the form of owning shares, while leaving managers relatively free.

Nationalisation would exist through the increased public ownership of the nation’s wealth, coupled to considerable freedom of enterprise. If the state financial institutions were numerous and sufficiently enterprising, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that there might be more private enterprise than there is in a purely capitalist system as there is a propensity for public capital to take greater risks with the knowledge of public guarantees.

This is not to say that Northern Rock, RBS and Lloyd’s HBOS are the model to upheld for they were purchased on privately borrowed capital and are by no means enterprising.

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‘Crisis’ of Leadership

This is the second blogpost from the dissertation series.

The ‘crisis’ of leadership is not so much a crisis but more an observation of trends towards the leadership and how the leadership has operated.

This ‘crisis’ begins with Ramsay MacDonald, arguably the first dominant Labour leader, where previously it was a collective leadership. When the Great Depression hit Britain, MacDonald’s adherence to economic orthodoxy spun the Labour Party into crisis and the formation of the National Government under MacDonald in 1931.
This was brought about by a ten percent cut in the rate of unemployment benefit which split the cabinet with nine out of twenty dissenting on the issue. It resigned on 23 August 1931 and on the next day it had transpired that MacDonald had handed in the Labour cabinet’s commission and accepted a new one in collaboration with the Conservatives and Liberals.

As a consequence the political philosophy of gradualism, and anything associated with the ‘traitor’ MacDonald, was rejected, even by those who had been close to him and benefited from his patronage.

This rejection led to a change in leadership that was based on the collectivism of socialist principles. The leader of the Labour Party became a first among equals. The caretaker leadership of Henderson and Lansbury did not do a lot to redefine Labour apart from oversee the rejection of MacDonald and the associated political philosophy. By the time Attlee was elected in 1935 the party had shifted towards a planned economy, bolstered by the success of the Soviet model which gave an antidote to the gradualism of MacDonald and the ‘cult of impotence’ preached by the National Government.

In this period there were lots of big personalities, such as Bevan, Bevin, Dalton, and Cripps, but no one dominated. Attlee, himself, was a quiet man who got things done. However it was not rosy for Labour as they were criticised by Keynes.

“[There is] little divergence between the political implications of my ideas and the policy of the Labour Party… I should officially join that party if it did not seem to be divided between enthusiasts who turn against a thing if there seems a chance that it could possibly happen, and leaders so conservative that there is more hope from Mr. Baldwin.”

And it was through the public acceptance and enthusiasm fro Keynes and Beveridge that encouraged Labour to adopt them as official policy.

It was during the war that the Common Wealth Party was active, doing what Labour did only more so, whilst also calling for the immediate implementation of Beveridge. This tactic led to the belief the Common Wealth and Beveridge were synonymous. Towards the end of the war Common Wealth applied to Labour for affiliation but were unsuccessful, but could join as individuals. This could be a result of the step back from dominant personalities by the Labour leadership.

Common Wealth was created from an amalgamation of Priestley’s 1941 Committee and Acland’s Forward March movement in 1942. It soon became a personal project for Acland, who led the party, contesting the war time by-elections. Common Wealth did not offer the electorate anything new, yet it made large in roads in the by-elections, largely, due to Acland’s oratory skills. It was said of Acland, by Orwell, that he had the makings of a fascist with a personal cult following of ~15,000. It was this, coupled with the betrayal of MacDonald and Mosley, that forced the Labour leadership to reject the application for affiliation – it was too dangerous to have a big personality with a cult following in the party as it would have been easy for him to have asserted his dominance, challenge the leadership and become another MacDonald.

The theme of dominance was once again asserted in 1951 when there was a clash between two personalities, Bevan and Gaitskell, as both tried to assert his dominance over the other. The issue at hand being the introduction of prescription charges for dental care and spectacles in order to pay for the Korean War.

From the collapse of the Labour government in 1951 through to the election of Blair in 1994, the Labour leadership has been largely collective in its nature.

When Blair was elected in 1994 he was quick to assert his dominance over the party and the office of Labour leader. Clause IV was replaced and the Labour Party was once again committed to gradualism. When Blair resigned from office in 2007, the unpopular, former Prime Minister was quickly denounced. However, Brown did not assert his dominance or adopt the collective leadership and, thus, allowed factionalism to flourish.

The election of Ed Miliband in 2010 appears to have proved that the Labour Party has reverted to type – a collective, non-dominated style of leadership. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the collective style of leadership produced one of the most effective governments in 1945. But Labour does need to reassess and redefine what it stands for.

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Historical Observations and Labour

It’s dissertation time and in researching I have made some observations, some may be glaringly obvious but please bear with me.

  • Labour is not a socialist party and never has been.
  • [Thus] it has no critique nor understanding of capitalism.
  • [Instead] it has a ‘moral righteousness’ and think that that alone is enough.
  • [In doing so] the narrative has been shaped by the Conservatives and accepted by Labour

So the above is the state of the party. These are obviously limitations that hold Labour back, so how to change this?

For a start acknowledging that, while it may contain socialists, Labour is not a socialist party – it is a ‘working class’ party. This invariably infers a redefinition of class so that ‘working class’ means  all those in employment, as opposed to the ‘rentier class’. [See W. Hutton, Them and Us: Changing Britain – Why we need a fair society, (London, 2010) for more detail and debate on the redefinition of class]. But also, whilst making sure that it is the party of the ‘working class’, to point out that it is committed to getting people into work and supporting those who cannot. In other words, showing commitment to Beveridge and combating the five giants of: Disease, Ignorance, Want, Squalor, and Idleness.

Then, Labour needs to gain an understanding of capitalism, theoretical or practical, so that it can critique capitalism and propose changes to the system, assuming that the critique has not advocated that capitalism be abolished. Note: Marx is a theoretical critique of 19th century capitalism and is not applicable today.

Moral righteousness, in itself, is a bad thing as it is all talk and no action. Moral righteousness coupled with actions to make the lives of working people better will vindicate the righteousness and set Labour apart from the Conservative Party.

This links into the fact that the narrative has been established by the Conservatives. By acknowledging Labour’s status as a ‘working class’ party, understanding and critiquing capitalism, and by backing up the moral righteousness with solid action can Labour then start to rewrite the narrative and change the country for the better.

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