Monday, 20 December 2010

Alan Finlayson on the philosophical significance of UK-Uncut

There was another UK-Uncut inspired protest in Leeds last Saturday - the third I've seen - about 30 people, mostly organised by Twitter and Facebook and other social media. There was something warmly human about its spontaneity. Here's a discussion of why these protestsd against the corporate tax-dodgers from OpenDemocracy.

The philosophical significance of UK-Uncut
Alan Finlayson, 17th December 2010

When activists under the banner of UK Uncut protest outside high-street shops on Saturday 18th December they will be doing something of great political importance. But they will also be demonstrating and articulating something of immense philosophical significance.

When activists under the banner of UK Uncut protest outside high-street shops tomorrow they will be doing something of great political importance. But they will also be demonstrating and articulating something of immense philosophical significance. The political mainstream - journalists, commentators and Parliamentarians - is trying to ignore this. Certainly they are confounded by it. For with UK Uncut what that mainstream thought impossible has come to pass: ethics and ideology are once more at the forefront of political contest in Britain.

The demand that corporations cease exploiting the tax loopholes government created for them is ethical in a precise way. It addresses itself to the quality of the actions of Philip Green and others like him. It finds those actions at odds with the principle that ‘we are all in this together’. It then publicly declares those actions unjust. The purity, simplicity and accuracy of all this confounds the political mainstream. Confronted by it they systematically mobilise the argument that since tax avoiders are doing nothing illegal, there is therefore nothing to be said against them. That was the line pursued by Tom Harris MP when he debated with Neal Lawson, Chair of Compass, on The Today Programme after the first Top Shop demonstration. It was repeated by Gavin Esler [10] on Newsnight as part of a challenge put to Daniel Garvin of UK Uncut and again by Sarah Montague [11], on Today, questioning Murray Williams, also of UK Uncut. The frequency with which this line appears suggests it is either an organised ‘talking point’ [12] or simply indicative of a shared outlook - an ideology.

Consider for a moment the real implications of the proposition that no act can justly be criticized unless it is against the law. The implication is that law is a full and total expression of moral values. Only totalitarians think that. Everybody else recognises that, while certainly informed by morality, the function of the law is to provide a framework within which civil society can function and can debate the rights and wrongs of actions. And it would be a cold and brittle society that relied on the law for the expression and support of all values, and that could not tolerate citizens sorting things out between themselves. Just as in sport we recognize that something can be within the rules yet still condemned as unsporting, so too most people recognize that behaviour can be wrong even when it isn’t actually illegal.

More here.

Next meeting: Jan 19th

Health Care Governance and the Economy
Chris Bem (Consultant & Surgeon, Bradford Royal Infirmary)

6.00 pm, Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
The Boardroom, Broadcasting Place, Leeds Met University

Soundings 46

The winter issue of Soundings is out now: Soundings 46 The Good Society
The Tories are using the Big Society theme as a means by which to move in on ground that was vacated by New Labour in government. We need to reclaim this ground and put forward a renewed vision of a good society.

Jonathan Rutherford on Labour's good society
Stuart White on the left and reciprocity
Maurice Glasman on Labour as a radical tradition
Stella Creasey, Sally Davison, Ejos Ubiribo and Heather Wakefield on feminism today
Richard Murphy on pensions
Andrea Mammone on Italy's moral crisis
Nora Räthzel, David Uzzell, Dave Elliott on trade unions and the environment
Mark Perryman on the South African World Cup
Dexter Whitfield on public sector transformation
Carl Rowlands on Europe's periphery
Radhika Desai on India and the recession
John Ross on China and Keynesianism

To subscribe to Soundings for just £20 per year (by standing order) go to:
To order a single copy or subscribe by credit card go to

Saturday, 4 December 2010

A Reply to Harris and Lawson

Good to see debate. This is from the Labour Uncut blog.

You don’t build the future by trashing the past
by Will Straw

With Labour still recovering from its second worst defeat in 90 years, now is the time for a thorough reassessment of what the left stands for. The policy review and reforms to party structures that Ed Miliband has announced should be welcomed. Before ink is spilled on the “blank sheet of paper”, time should be taken to debate and consider a range of different perspectives on the future direction of the left.

The five-point plan set out in Neal Lawson and John Harris’ essay in this week’s New Statesman should therefore be welcomed. But by trashing new Labour’s record with little consideration of the many achievements that 13 years in power delivered, Lawson and Harris risk alienating a group of reformers who could, in other circumstances, find common cause with their mission. The Labour party could easily unite around a programme dedicated to defeating inequality, building a new model of capitalism, localising public services, tackling climate change, and creating a more pluralistic politics – as Lawson and Harris suggest. But their approach is not the way to get there.

In their essay, Lawson and Harris write:
“New Labour stayed in office for 13 years because the world economy
was so strong and the Tories were so weak. But even in such benign
circumstances, the poor got poorer and the planet burned … The only
plan they had was to stoke a finance-driven, lightly regulated economy,
and then surreptitiously take the tax skim to fund social programmes”.

What a simplistic view of Labour’s time in office. Few saw the financial crash coming; even fewer set out the remedies in advance of the Lehman’s collapse. Adverse criticism of new Labour around 2003 was primarily concerned with the war in Iraq and the marketisation of public services; not the reregulation of the City. Basel I and II passed without a murmur. Where was the compass paper in 2005 calling for a ban on short selling or a British uptick rule prior to 2007? Twenty-twenty hindsight is a fine thing but those who call now for a new form of capitalism should be more realistic about the collective hubris of the boom years.

More here.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Time for a New Socialism

This is a lengthy and important article from Compass. There is a shorter version in the New Statesman.

Time for a New Socialism argue John Harris and Neal Lawson
Thursday, December 02 2010

To begin, a reminder. Just seven months ago, Labour suffered a defeat of epic proportions. It was the Party's worst performance since 1918, barring the loss it suffered under Michael Foot in 1983. But where is the debate, the soul searching, and the way out of such a cataclysmic setback?

Two events have smothered any conversation. First, Labour went straight into a leadership fight, in which the overriding goal of the candidates, naturally enough, was to win, not fixate on why Party had lost so very badly. Gordon Brown should have stayed on for six months like Michael Howard did, to over see a more wide-ranging debate and allow a far-reaching analysis of Labour's plight, analogous to that which led David Cameron to victory against David Davis. In Labour's case, our guess is that Ed Miliband would still have won under this longer timescale - and probably by a comfortable margin: he, after all, was the candidate who engaged most forcefully and fully with the scale of Labour's defeat and called on the party to ‘move beyond the New Labour comfort zone'.

The second explanation for the absence of intellectual heft is the cuts, and another comfort zone that could seduce the Party into ignoring the deep hole it is in. Austerity, it is presumed, will do our work for us. Maybe it will. But remember: the cuts that will be in the forefront of voters' minds come election day 2015 will be the tax cuts the Coalition has just doled out. Besides, even if a turbulent next two years sees the Coalition loosen their grip on power, will Labour be any better prepared to govern effectively without a thorough understanding of what has gone so wrong, and why?

There is a third reason why Labour appears to be sleep walking away from the car crash that was the 2010 election defeat: the sheer gravity of what happened, and the onerous challenge it entails. We know in our hearts that this was more than a routine defeat; just another turn of the electoral wheel in which someone has to lose. In May 2010 Labour lost more than an election: it lost a way of being.

To understand the profound nature of this numbing loss, we have to go back and admit to ourselves that social democracy has been in retreat for decades.

More here.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Readers meeting

Briefing: The Campaigns against the Cuts
Matthew Caygill

Reading: ‘Let’s Take Back the Big Society’ (email for a copy)
Jon Cruddas MP
Aneurin Bevan Memorial Lecture

7.15 pm Monday, 29 November, 2010
The Boardroom, Broadcasting Place
Leeds Metropolitan University

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

New date for our December meeting

Cutting Public Deficits: Economic Science or Class War?
Speaker: Hugo Radice (Politics & International Studies (POLIS) University of Leeds)
December 9, 2010 (new date)
6 pm, Old Broadcasting Place (former BBC Building)
148 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds

Monday, 15 November 2010

Hugo Radice on the on-going crisis

Hugo Radice: Risky and radical cuts policy is at mercy of global events
Yorkshire Post

09 November 2010
MUCH of the debate on the Comprehensive Spending Review has focused on whether the resulting pain will be equitably distributed between rich and poor. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, regarded as the most objective of the think-tanks, quickly announced that the cuts would impact more heavily on the less well-off, taking into account not only taxation and welfare benefits, but also their greater reliance on public services whose availability, cost and quality will surely not be sustained.

While there is considerable support for reducing the deficit, many argue that a greater proportion of the reduction should come from higher taxation, especially of the very rich and the banks, rather than cuts in spending. Although the Government is maintaining Labour's 50 per cent income tax band on incomes over £150,000 a year, the dominant Conservatives are adamantly opposed to further increases in taxation of the rich for fear of damaging incentives.

Evidently, Disraeli's "one nation" is dead and buried: cutting the incomes of the rich would lead them to stop working, while cutting the incomes of the poor would encourage them to start working.The other area of debate concerns the economic causes and consequences of the cuts. The Chancellor continues to maintain that the parlous state in which Labour left the public finances left him with no choice but to cut the deficit quickly and deeply. In placing all the blame on Labour, he glosses over the undeniable fact that the largest part of the deficit arose from the bank bailouts of 2007-9. Yet, internationally, the measures taken by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling were hailed by political leaders and bankers alike. The best that can be said for the Conservatives' own policy prescriptions during the banking crisis is that they were confused, unwilling to endorse the policies of an increasingly unpopular government, but unable to offer a coherent alternative. In addition, Mr Osborne's repeated claims that the bond markets were on the brink of pulling the plug on UK government borrowing prior to the election are not credible, given the ease with which successive issues of government debt have found willing buyers at remarkably low yields.

In any case, there remains a clear risk that public spending cuts will trigger a further economic contraction. Even though the implementation of the cuts is to be spread over four years, the prospect of massive job losses – perhaps 600,000 across the public sector, with consequential further losses in private firms that lose government orders – is enough, it is argued, to damage confidence and reduce the willingness of households to spend, and businesses to invest and to hire new workers. Already at the time of the emergency budget, many commentators pointed out that the new Office for Budget Responsibility was forecasting economic growth much faster than warranted by the historical evidence of earlier recessions.

In view of these criticisms, we can surely surmise that the underlying reason for the cuts lies more in the long-term political objectives of the coalition: reducing the scope and scale of the state, especially through a shift away from universal rights and benefits, and promoting the Big Society. Whether the British public, normally so sceptical of fervent political ideologies, will embrace this radical shift remains to be seen.

There are nevertheless some more hopeful signs for the Government. Despite the fears of renewed recession, the evidence remains mixed. Economic growth continued in the UK in the July-September period, albeit at a slower rate than previously. In Germany, the economic powerhouse of Europe, a more substantial recovery seems underway, while the Obama administration the USA has embarked on a further monetary expansion which, despite opposition from the resurgent Republican right, has been accepted with equanimity by the bond markets. Above all, the emerging economies, especially China and India, have grown so rapidly that they can now provide significant markets for the rest of the world.

In the bigger picture of global recovery, much depends on how world leaders handle the tensions over trade imbalances. There are fears that the major economies are manipulating their foreign exchange rates in order to capture larger shares of world export markets, and that this could lead to a breakdown of collective policy-making in the G20. But these fears are surely unfounded, not because great wisdom can be attributed to the G20 leaders, but because the world's major businesses depend so much on international trade and finance to sustain their production and profits. They are resolutely opposed to any breakdown in the global political dialogue that would threaten their ability to trade and invest wherever they see opportunities. If the new Republican majority in the US House of Representatives seriously threatened protectionist measures, the business and banking lobbies would soon cut off their flows of political funds. On such apparently distant considerations the success of the government's economic policies now rests.

Hugo Radice is a senior research fellow at the University of Leeds.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Dec 8th Hugo Radice on the cuts

Cutting Public Deficits: Economic Science or Class War?
Speaker: Hugo Radice
Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Leeds

December 8, 2010
6 pm, Old Broadcasting Place (former BBC Building)
148 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds

Nov 17th Carlo Ruzza on Racist and Xenophobic Right in Europe

A politics and culture discussion forum

The Racist and Xenophobic Right in Europe

How can we explain the recent electoral success of the populist and xenophobic right in countries including Italy, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands and Hungary? What are the key ideological and socio-economic factors driving this phenomenon?
Speaker: Carlo Ruzza
Professor of Sociology, University of Leicester
November 17, 2010
6 pm, The Boardroom, Broadcasting Place
Woodhouse Lane, Leeds

Carlo Ruzza is Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Leicester.
He is interested in ethno-nationalism and populism, and in ‘uncivil society’ organizations – such as xenophobic groups and networks. In recent years he has worked on the interaction between civil society organizations, parties and the state in policy-relevant functions. Civil society groups – both left and right – provide information to the policy process, a channel for advocacy and support for service delivery. He has explored these functions in a set of contexts, ranging from EU-level politics to right-wing parties and movements. More broadly, he is interested in changes in modes of political participation and in their related theoretical aspects, particularly the process of institutionalisation of social movements and the implications for democracy. He is the co-coordinator of the political sociology section of the European Sociological Association ( ).
Selected Recent Publications
· Ruzza, C. (2010). "Italy: the Political Right and concepts of civil society." Journal of Political Ideologies 15(3): p. 259-271
· Ruzza, C. (2010). Organized Civil Society and Political Representation in the EU Arena. Civil Society and International Governance: The role of non-state actors in the EU, Africa, Asia and Middle East. D. Armstrong, V. Bello, J. Gilson and D. Spini. London, Routledge.
· Ruzza, Carlo (2009) 'Populism and Euro-scepticism: Towards Uncivil Society', Policy and Society, 28(1), pp. 87-98.
· Ruzza, Carlo and Fella, Stefano (2009) Re-Inventing the Italian Right: Territorial Politics, Populism and 'Post-Fascism', Extremism and Democracy (Routledge).
· Ruzza, Carlo and della Sala, Vincent (eds.) (2007) Governance and Civil Society in the European Union: Volume 1, Normative Dimensions; Volume 2, Exploring Policy Issues (Manchester University Press).
· Europe and Civil Society: Movement Coalitions and European Institutions (Manchester University Press). 2007

Populism and the Extreme-Right in Contemporary Europe: Causes and Manifestations
How can we explain the recent electoral success of the populist and xenophobic right in countries including Italy, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands and Hungary? What are the key ideological and socio-economic factors driving this phenomenon? This presentation will focus on these questions and seek to answer them by examining the relation between xenophobic sentiments in parts of the European population, populism as a reaction for a perceived ineffectiveness of politics and concepts of political representation. With special reference to contemporary Italian politics, but also drawing more general implication for other European political systems, it posits a general crisis of legitimacy of mechanisms of political representation and it conceptualises the emergence and continuing relevance of populist right-wing parties as a consequence of this crisis.

It is posited that a general crisis of representation is rooted in several factors, which centrally include a perceived inadequacy of the ruling political class, worries about its ability to cope with the consequences of economic globalisation, lack of trust in its selection criteria, policy competence and representational effectiveness. A repeated set of corruption scandals that have personally affected many politicians over recent years has cast doubts on the ability of conventional political actors to represent wide sectors of the European population. Failures to prevent key crises have been identified by the wider public in several policy sectors, ranging from immigration policy to redistributive policies of the welfare state. Doubts about the effectiveness of mechanisms that ensure the proper functioning of checks and balances in democratic systems have resulted from intra-elites competition.

As a consequence, various alternatives have been explored by European publics. These include, on the one hand, increased reliance on deliberative structures involving civil society actors in decision making and service delivery structures. However, on the other hand, there is also more reliance on charismatic leaders who interpret a putatively undifferentiated ‘will of the people’ and channel it in the supposedly ailing mechanisms of democracy. Thus, in this presentation, populist politics is explored in relation to mounting anti-political sentiments and the specific features that they have acquired in different electorates. In the discussion and concluding section, the presentation identifies some common traits of recently prominent European populist leaders, and relates their political relevance to specific aspects of the crisis of representation in different

Jon Cruddas on the Big Society

Aneurin Bevan Memorial Lecture: Let's take back the big society says Jon Cruddas
Wednesday, October 20 2010

Thank you for inviting me to give the memorial Lecture tonight. My subject is ‘Taking Back the Big Society'. Now I was going to speak about the specifics of the Big Society debate, about its different forms across Whitehall; its tensions and contradictions and about Labour's own record and how we should respond.
I now think, however, that in order to do such work we have to firstly consider some more fundamental first principles.
Because this debate is really about Labour; about what it has become and what it has been in the past and about what it has lost. And how - through the lives of historic Labour figures like Bevan- we can rediscover our own identity; through the rediscovery of a sentiment around Labour.
Why? Well, put simply, we are in crisis.
Arguably we are experiencing the third great crisis of Labour following those of 1931 and 1981; each driven by patterns of economic rupture. How will we get out of this? And where do we start?
I believe we will find the answers to these questions here in England. I admit this is a strange observation when discussing a towering Welsh Labour figure; but bear with me. England is where the fight for Labour's future will be fiercest; where the crisis is most acute.
Now, I have to make an initial admission. I did not grow up in a family schooled in the great Labour contributions of Hardie, Lansbury or Bevan.I had never heard of them till I went to University. Our heroes were the Kennedys - born not of party but of diaspora- and Oscar Romero - born of creed not of political science. We lost the brothers over 40 years ago. And it is now 30 years ago last march since Romero was assassinated by San Salvador death squads.
Whilst I personally was very much attracted to his mixture of catholic social teaching and Marxism - to give a ‘voice to the voiceless' - in fact at home we owed everything to Labour.
Aneurin Bevan told Jennie Lee: ‘it is the Labour party or nothing'. He was speaking for the working class but he was also speaking about himself. And for me too - and many, many millions of us. I still see it the same way, almost as a life sentence; a fundamental part of my and our identity.
But what is the identity of Labour now? The threat facing Labour is bigger than the Coalition. It’s bigger than the millions lost to us at the last election. Or the tens of thousands of members lost.
We have lost the respect of many who put their trust in us. Now I am not here to bury Labour; but there is a pervasive sense of loss around our Party. It is a loss of identity. We do not possess some kind of historical right to exist.
Across Europe social democracy has been reduced to parties of the public sector and the liberal middle class. 30% in Sweden; 23% in Germany; 29% here in the UK. Capitalism has been through a revolution and the old working class has lost its economic function. Its culture is dying; its patterns of family and kinship under siege. Its political parties are fading. Many are turning to the far right cultural movements that are sweeping across Europe. And this is the coming front line.
The new battleground is one of identity, race and religion, of class and culture. Witness Merkel this week; Sarkozy and the Roma.
Labour has to be in this swim; to ensure that right wing populists are not the only ones navigating this terrain. Bevan understood Labour's faults and dangers. He said, ‘We can't undo what we have done. And I am by no means convinced that something cannot yet be made of it.' It is true, there is hope for Labour precisely because we have a powerful tradition; a collective memory built in previous periods of dispossession.
But Bevan also gave a warning. To retreat into purity will bring impotence. Success will require boldness in word and deed. The task at hand is for Labour to rebuild its identity grounded in ordinary, everyday working class culture. If we don't change, the mood will turn to weariness and despair; possibly captured by right wing populism. The people will continue to desert us.
There will be dark times. It is therefore an obligation to rebuild. For that we need audacity. Think of England Today My dominant image of politics in 2010 is not the election, Gordon Brown and Mrs. Duffy, nor Cameron and Clegg in the Downing St garden; nor of Ed and David Miliband. It was in London; just recently. I was walking behind a big African guy coming home from church with his toddler. The little boy was wearing a t-shirt with two simple words on the back. In very big bold type, 'Pastor Jones'. Was all it said; all it needed to say. It was the height of the Mosque in Manhattan controversy and Pastor Jones in Florida was ready to burn the Qur'an. International Burn a Qur'an Day.
In real time his message had reached the centre of cosmopolitan London. Where people felt moved to dress their kids in solidarity with this cultural and religious fight in North America. And go to church so dressed. The man and his child belonged to a London church; on inspection we find links between this church and the English Defence League.
Indeed we find links between the EDL and organisers of the New York protests. Moreover, these shadowy figures are also in touch with key Tea Party people in America, inviting them over and building links across Europe. On 30 October they will be in Amsterdam supporting Geert Wilders.
What is this about?
Sure the BNP has been crushed by electoral defeat. The EDL is a new kind of threat- a cultural movement; unpredictable and violent; a new politics of ‘flash demos' and open wildcat networks. It copies the old Anti Nazi League slogan: ‘Black and white to unite'. It demands democracy not racial purity: ‘While our troops fight for democracy overseas we're losing it here' they shout. Its leaders welcome all races to join in defending England's ‘Christian culture’. It is patriotic, it loves the military.
The EDL is a small, violent street militia but it speaks the language of a much larger, disenfranchised class. A politics born out of dispossession but anchored in English male working class culture; of dress and sport. Camped outside the political centre ground, a large swathe of the electorate. The making of an English Tea Party. A people who believe they have been robbed of their birthright .They want community and belonging.
I would argue that in the last three decades England has suffered a social calamity. Thirteen years of Labour governments had only begun the repair.
Deindustrialisation. The malign elements of globalisation ripping through communities. For many, ways of life ruined. Civic decency and families compromised by crime and drugs. Scores of thousands suffering chronic illness and premature death. The institutions that supported the labour movement a shadow of their former selves.
In his essay, Culture is Ordinary, Raymond Williams described the working class culture he grew up in: neighbourhood and security, mutual obligation and common betterment. Precisely those things often now felt to be under threat. People make a culture to make identity and their home in the world. A Labour working class culture grounded in the ordinary.And another great Welshman Dylan Thomas described this culture of the labour movement as ‘parochial' and yet ‘magical'. But what happens when that is lost? When the things that give you and your family meaning are rendered obsolete? When you are dispossessed of that culture you lose a sense of who you are.
It can be to suffer humiliation. It can become harder to find and keep a sense of honour and dignity. It can create the anger of the defeated. It can destroy family and community. And culture. The old industrial order with its male breadwinner and head of household has gone. Men have lost traditions of skilled work that were a source of pride. What now do fathers pass down to their sons? Many young men have lost the traditional rites of passage into adulthood: getting a decent job, establishing a family, making a homeland there can be the shame of those who are unable to defend themselves.
There are the beaten and defeated, the ‘feckless' poor and the so called benefit scroungers, those who suffer chronic illness, depression, alcoholism, addicts, who have not worked for years, who are living reminders of what happens to those who can't cope, and who don't succeed in this rat race.
This is the fate that our society deals out: not compassion but more often contempt.
At times people will use violence to avoid this shame.; respect garnered in different ways. Here lies an angry politics of dispossession.
Is it to become crystallised - or framed - in Europe and North America - in a new politics of Patriotism, Family and Faith. A ‘civilisational politics' that stretches across the Atlantic. A politics of loss. Loss of a sense of identity and a way of life. A loose coalition pulled together by what they are against: often this is Islam. The enemy is not, to them, just Islam it is also the liberal middle class elite who reside over injustice and who have betrayed England and humiliated its people.
Labour must stop this refracting into an English populism; by building our own optimistic politics. To return to Williams: he said ‘to be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing'. We have been here before. In the 1960s, Enoch Powell built an English nationalism that drove a wedge between the liberal elite and the people. Powell sought to make despair convincing. He said, ‘There is a deep and dangerous gulf in the nation'. The liberal intelligentsia is the ‘enemy within', destroying the moral fabric of the English nation with its promotion of multiculturalism. A permissive elite that renders the majority of English people passive and helpless, and abandons England to those who hate her.
Are we witnessing a new cultural struggle in civil society? A growing gulf between the political classes and the people. Could this develop into the real challenge of our time. Played out in the context of massive public expenditure cuts.
It is incumbent on Labour to once again make hope possible. There is much talk in Labour about our Southern Discomfort. But the politics of dispossession point to something bigger: Labour's English Discomfort.
Bevan said be bold. He taught us how to begin the political struggle.Ask the question: ‘Where does power lie in this particular State of Great Britain, and how can it be attained'
So let's return to some fundamentals in terms of England. Because although these issues are contemporary- they are actually not new. They lie deep within Labour's own culture through waves of dispossession.
Let’s briefly return to England's past. In the winter of 1799 Dorothy Wordsworth and her brother William settled in Dove Cottage in Grasmere. The industrial revolution was in its most intense period. A period of economic rupture. She decided to keep a diary. She writes about nature, their walks and the garden. But there is more. She describes her encounters with beggars: ‘a poor girl called to beg', a ‘broken' soldier, ‘a pretty little boy' of seven - ‘When I asked him if he got enough to eat, he looked surprised, and said ‘Nay'', an old sailor 57 years at sea.
She asks them about their lives. Where have these sick, destitute and uprooted people come from? Countless pamphlets of the time attempted an answer: wages were too high, wages were too low, paupers were feckless; they had bad diets, they had drug habits; they drank tea that impaired their health.
A strange contemporary feel to the debates if you read them now. The national debate about the causes of pauperism literally led to the idea of society itself. In turn the idea of society laid the foundations for socialism and social democracy.
We are having the same debate today. Big Society, Good Society, we cannot talk about them without talking about class, power and dispossession. Since Wordsworth the English working class was defined in three acts of dispossession.
First. The dispossession of the people from their land and livelihood and from a common way of life. Gerrard Winstanley summed up the history of enclosures in his ‘Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England'. .He told the landowners: ‘The power of enclosing land and owning property was brought into creation by your ancestors by the sword’. Enclosing was standardised in the General Enclosure Act of 1801. The industrial revolution turned the common people into shiftless migrants'.
Second. The dispossession of the labouring class from the political life of the country. The enclosures dispossessed the people of their land. The 1832 Parliamentary Reform Act excluded the landless from the franchise. ‘In England', writes Karl Polanyi, ‘it became the unwritten law of the Constitution that the working class must be denied the vote'.
Third. The dispossession of the people from their own labour. The 1834 Poor Law Reform Act established a competitive market in labour. The poor were divided into helpless paupers who were confined to the workhouse and a new category, the unemployed. Free labourers must earn their living by working for a wage. Unemployment meant the hated workhouse or death by starvation. Labour was turned into a commodity and the capitalist system was born.
So began what Polanyi describes as the double movement of capitalism. On the one hand the market destroys old social networks and reduces all human relations to commercial ones. On the other, is the counter tendency to defend human values; the search for community and security.
What is Labour in its deeper meaning? What is then the Labour Sentiment? Historically it is the response of people to their dispossession. It is a timeless fight against such dispossession. It is the defence of their social life and relationships from commodification. It is the politics of a common life, a common law and a common wealth. It is being played out today.
Labour has been at the centre of the historical struggle for democracy. Since Wordsworth; through successive waves of dispossession. This is our tradition; to be reclaimed today.
Turn then to New Labour. For the last three decades Polanyi's double movement has been working in the favour of capital. Trade unions decimated. A massive transfer of wealth and political power to the rich. Like our ancestors in the first decade of the nineteenth century, we are faced with profound questions about capitalism and dispossession. About the role of the market and state and the relationship of the individual to society.
New Labour was at its best a contemporary, popular response to these questions. Tony Blair set out his vision of New Labour in his 1994 inaugural conference speech: ‘This is my socialism...‘A nation for all the people, built by the people, where old divisions are cast out. A new spirit in the nation based on working together, unity, solidarity, partnership. That is the patriotism of the future. Where your child in distress is my child, your parent ill and in pain is my parent, your friend unemployed or homeless is my friend; your neighbour my neighbour. That is the true patriotism of a nation.'
But it did not survive. By 2005 New Labour politics had become a desiccated materialism where people either sink or swim. At the party conference Blair said, ‘there is no mystery about what works: an open, liberal economy, prepared constantly to change to remain competitive. The new world rewards those who are open to it.' A dystopian worldview.
Social solidarity is essential, but its purpose, he said ‘ is not to resist the force of globalisation but to prepare for it, and to garner its vast potential benefits.' In that arc between 1994 and 2005 Labour lost its identity. A communitarian politics built around the good society had been defeated by a utilitarian privileging of personal choice and liberal individualism. A stripped down notion of aspiration dominated.
Philip Gould said in his ‘Unfinished Revolution' that his parents ‘wanted to do what was right, not what was aspirational'. When asked what was Labour's essential message Alan Milburn said it was to help more people ‘earn and own'. In contrast Romero - speaking for our labour ancestors- and indeed speaking for a different Labour sentiment - said ‘aspire to be more not to have more'.
Now the consequence of this drift within Labour- was of course the ‘Big Society. David Cameron seized the opportunity. He reframed New Labour's ethical socialism into his idea of ‘building a pro-social society': ‘There is such a thing as society, but it's just not the same thing as the state'. Iain Duncan Smith and the Centre for Social Justice gave pro-social, anti-state politics a moral underpinning.Cameron called Britain a ‘Broken Society'. In 2008, he wrote ‘ the aim of the Conservative Party is nothing short of building the good society'. Notice the use of both the big and the good society- seen as inter-changeable.
By 2010 he was talking about ‘Our Big Society Agenda’: ‘It’s about the biggest and most dramatic redistribution of power from elites to the man and woman in the street. It's about liberation. ‘He is colonising a language- around fraternity; duty; obligation and yes belonging. It is a profoundly important challenge for Labour as our loss of language reinforces that loss of identity.
His party is unenthusiastic. Sure. His right are disgusted. Sure. The electorate and commentariat don't get it. Yet Cameron persists. His 2010 Conference speech called for a ‘Big Society Spirit': ‘it’s the spirit of activism, dynamism, people taking the initiative, working together to get things done.'
Labour has been slow to respond. We have said
-Big Society is just about dismantling the state. -It's vacuous and shallow.-Cameron's mistaken obsession.
But Labour cannot afford complacency. Labour built new schools and hospitals; a massive social investment. .An historic achievement. No-one seems very grateful. Labour in government pursued efficiency, ‘value for money', and ‘customer satisfaction' but it did not take care of the human relationships and trust that lie at the heart of public services. It used the market and the state as heartless instruments of reform. People felt excluded. They did not feel an ownership of the new grand buildings. With embarrassing speed the Conservatives detached Labour from its own achievements. The market failure of the banks was turned into a crisis of public debt and blamed on Labour.
Cameron's Big Society is a mix of social Tory activism and old fashioned volunteering. It speaks about mutualism but is stuck in market transactions. It believes in fairness but won't tackle the causes of unfairness. It wants power to the people but opposes democratic reform. It is Cameron's version of what Stuart Hall once described as New Labour's ‘double shuffle'; a sophisticated, warm political language that disguises what lies beneath; its neo-liberal wiring. Its warm and generous words obscure- quite functionally - a deeper fundamental assault on the state.
Cameron's goal is to seize the centre ground and remake it around a centre right politics. He has seized Labour's most precious asset: society and its relationships.He has left Labour looking like a technocratic, micromanaging, 'we know what's best for you' party. The coalition with the Liberal Democrats has only increased the potency of this strategy.
Labour has been dangerously slow to respond. Yet buried underneath the last few years there was other work in progress that was in direct contrast to the trajectory of much of this Labour thinking. It urged us to challenge this dominant notion of materialism and acquisition. It talked about fellowship and human relationships; it talked about dispossession and neighbourliness. It talked about England: of Tawney and William Morris; of Orwell. It talks of virtue, love, collaboration and kindness. The task was to build the ‘decent society'; grounded in the ordinary working class culture of the country.
I would urge people to read Hazel Blears 2004 pamphlet; ‘The Politics of Decency'. Second I would urge people to re-read the Compass Pamphlet ‘The Good Society'. The parallels - and the common ground- yet from different wings of the Party - are crystal clear. Hazel and Compass might appear strange bedfellows; but I believe Labour's future is to be built within these two texts.
And now things appear to be moving further. For example, in July, David Miliband reacted. He recognised that Labour lacked a creed - ‘a strong idea of a good society and a life fit for all human beings for all citizens.' In turn, Ed Miliband has pushed it into the centre of Labour politics. In his inaugural leadership speech at the 2010 Party Conference, he called on Labour to ‘inspire people with our vision of the good society'.
Taking back the Big Society from the Conservatives means building Labour's Good Society. It is about rediscovering a sentiment around Labour. Let’s think about the notion Labour's Good Society Let’s return to New Labour: at the beginning it captured the popular mood. It had a vision of the Good Society. The pluralism, the ethical socialism, the stakeholding economy, the idea of a covenant of trust and reciprocity with the people, the powerful emotional language that ignited popular hope.
It made a powerful, vote winning story. I believed in this politics, I still do.But it is no longer enough. Arguably, with the move away from stakeholding, it tended to see globalisation as essentially benign and understate at best the destructive forces of capitalism; its double movement as described by Polanyi. It developed a naive faith in markets and a fatal deference toward the City of London.
We now have to go on a return journey to rediscover our language and identity. So let’s start with a number of central propositions that lie deep within our own history- captured in the life of Aneurin Bevan himself. First, that Labour is a moral force. It emerged out of the harsh puritanism of non-conformist culture. But it broke the status quo and it began to transform the culture that had given it life. It grew out of the Mutual Improvement Societies dedicated to literature, a love of learning and the liberating power of culture. It grew out of a vast popular movement of voluntary collectivism. Bevan's politics were formed in the Tredegar Query Club, the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, the Miners Institute, the Miners Welfare Committee.
It was a movement of civility, liberty and self-education. It was dedicated to social justice, intellectual freedom and the desire for self-realisation. Not the brittle aspiration that became New Labour's signature tune but a deeper human desire to live a good life.
Second, Labour is for the common good. Its ethical intention is aimed at the good life with and for others and the creation of just institutions. Its politics of virtue is rooted in Aristotle and grows out of the shared life of friendship. The common good provides the general conditions through which each has access to their own fulfillment.
Third, Labour is for reciprocity. There is a story always quoted by Karen Armstrong in her studies of comparative religions. She refers to the way Hyam Maccoby quotes the Rabbi Hillel's Golden Rule. Some pagans came to Hillel and said that they would convert if he were able to stand on one leg and recite the whole of the Jewish scriptures in full whilst keeping his balance.. A pretty tough ask. Well, Hillel stood on one leg and simply said the following: ‘Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you. That is the Torah. The rest is commentary.'
The rest is commentary- stripped bare this is the core of all religions- and none- as it also lies as the core of much humanism found around labour; a sense of reciprocity and obligation to others. Reciprocity is the ethical core of Labour. Reciprocity is the give and take that creates the social bonds that hold people together in a common life. And it is not exclusively religious.
Consider this written about Bevan by Jennie Lee in a letter to Michael Foot - the day after he died on the 6th July 1960. She writes thus:
‘Nye was never a hypocrite. No falsity must touch him once he is no longer able to defend his views. He was not a cold blooded rationalist. He was no calculating machine. He was a great humanist whose religion lay in loving his fellow men and trying to serve them.'
The Golden Rule: ‘Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you' reappears. Further Jennie writes:
‘He could kneel reverently in chapel, synagogue, Eastern mosque, Catholic cathedral on occasions when friends called him there for marriage or dedication or burial service. He knelt reverently in respect of a friend or a friend's faith, but never pretended to be other than he was, a humanist. Often in the last few years he talked of ‘the mystery that lies at the heart of things', nothing more definite than that.'
This is vital as we seek to rebuild Labour. In contrast to much secular European social democracy, Labour succeeded in the UK in building a workers movement-built around a common humanity beyond money or power alone- that was not divided between catholic and protestant, or between secularists and believers, but the movement itself provided the common life which reconciled these different elements.
It was genuinely plural, respectful of difference; fraternal; courteous. This open pluralist sentiment has to be rediscovered again in order to make Labour a vibrant contemporary force. Not a haven for a shrill, closed and exclusive, middle class secular metropolitan liberalism.
Fourth, Labour is for liberty and joy. The ethic of reciprocity is the basis of human freedom. We are interdependent and liberty is mutual; the freedom of one requires the freedom of all. There is no liberty for all without solidarity and democracy. There is only one force capable of countering the profit seeking of capitalism and the social damage and insecurities it causes, and that is democracy. Political democracy alone is not sufficient; it has to extend into the economic sphere.
Bevan - as we all know- used the term serenity- it is an elusive term - but is a sense of contentment. It is a notion of self realisation again traced back to Aristotle- the Polis- the City State- politics- is about establishing institutions that allow us to live a virtuous life- the search for wisdom, compassion, the cardinal virtues. Bevan was not a religious man- although close to death he did - as we have see- ponder the ‘mystery that lies at the heart of things'. He found this self realisation in walking, in learning and culture, in the pleasures of life. Where there is joy there is a life lived well
Fifth Labour is for a common wealth Labour's political economy was born out of the experience of dispossession. It seeks:
-To ensure the worker receives a fair reward for their labour.-To build up democracy in order to regulate markets, and use capital for the common good.
-A productive, wealth creating, wealth spreading economy for a common prosperity and not for the enrichment of the few.
-A system of welfare for all funded by all according to their means, that preserves the dignity of the people and that protects them against the inequities of capital and the misfortunes of life.
-A just distribution of assets such that all can live independently according to their want.I will conclude with a couple of points. Tonight I anticipated simply talking about ‘taking back the big society debate' by offering a critique of the Tory agenda. But the more I kicked it around, the more it becomes a case of firstly rehabilitating a sentiment around Labour as part of rebuilding a party and movement. In our history Labour has always responded to dispossession; to economic and social loss.
It must do so again by rediscovering a warmth and generosity; especially in England by learning from our previous generations who have all dealt with the same patterns of loss. As such, Labour's Good Society lies deep in the English struggle for popular democracy. As well as a struggle forged in Celtic Labour traditions and culture through such heroes as Hardie and Bevan. Yet it is a distinctly English crisis that Labour must now respond to - by learning from our own comparative history.
Literally, it’s a journey of self discovery; of rediscovering a virtue politics of compassion, fraternity, duty and obligation. The next few years will be difficult; we are obliged to re-anchor Labour in ordinary, mainstream culture of the country. As we have done before. Not least to counter those sinister forces who seek a politics of division. ‘To make hope possible rather than despair convincing'.
The Conservatives Big Society is founded in its history as the defender of the status quo and the property rights of the rich. They profited from the Satanic Mills.
By reclaiming the Good Society, we can again seek to build that Jerusalem. Thanks very much for having me this evening.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Michael Albert speaking in Leeds

The School of Geography, University of Leeds

presents a School Seminar with…
Michael Albert
American writer, activist, author of Parecon: Life after capitalism

‘Life beyond crisis-capitalism. Towards a humane and sustainable economy.’

THURSDAY 28th of October, 4pm (followed by refreshments)
Geography Lecture Theatre
Geography East Building
University of Leeds, LS29JT

Michael Albert is an American activist, speaker, and writer. He is co-editor and co-founder of Zcommunications. He also co-founded South End Press and has written numerous books and articles. Along with Robin Hahnel he developed the economic vision called participatory economics
Participatory Economics or "parecon" is a model for a type of democratic economy proposed as an alternative to capitalism and central planning, that includes new institutions aimed to further participation, solidarity, self-management, diversity and equity. A timely intervention when other forms of economic organisation are in crisis.
Michael Albert is on tour in the UK

For more information about Michael Albert and his work see:

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Thursday Soundings meeting: Leeds: The Promised Land/

Leeds: The Promised Land?:
Leeds United and the migrant experience
21 October 2010, 7pm-8.30pmOld Broadcasting House

This meeting will address what sport, and especially Leeds United, means to the different communities that make up the city of Leeds. It will explore if it has fostered a sense of belonging and look at how United's troubled history influenced the speakers. The discussion will also talk about race, place and the meaning of football.

Anthony Clavane, Sunday Mirror Chief Sports Reporter and author of The Promised Land: The Reinvention of Leeds United. Caryl Phillips, author of The Final Passage (1985), A State of Independence (1986), Crossing the River (winner of the 1993 James Tait Black Memorial Prize), A Distant Shore (winner of the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize), Dancing in the Dark (winner of the 2006 PEN/Beyond the Margins Award), and many other works of fiction and non-fiction.

Caryl Phillips was born in St.Kitts and grew up in Leeds. Anthony Clavane was raised in a Jewish family in Leeds in the 1960s and 1970s, both became and remain Leeds United supporters.
The meeting is free. Everyone welcome.

Salon meeting Nov 15th

Is Unfettered Growth Possible or Desirable?

Monday 15 November 2010 - The Carriageworks, Millennium Square, Leeds
The Millennium Room, 6:30pm (for a 6:45pm start) to 8:15pm.

Economics writer Daniel Ben-Ami and UK Green Party founder-member Clive Lord will discuss the limits and desirability of economic growth.

Since the Industrial Revolution, economic growth has generally been seen as good and desirable. However, over the last forty years, the growth of the economy and the spread of prosperity have increasingly been seen as problematic rather than positive. While some are still willing to defend economic growth, highlighting the gains it has brought to humanity in terms of material wealth, technological progress, increased life expectancy and personal consumption, others see economic growth as encouraging greed, damaging the environment, causing unhappiness and widening social inequalities.

So, does economic growth offer solutions to the problems of the world, or is it one of them? Are their limits to growth, whether natural, social, economic or moral, or are possibilities limitless? Isn’t the pursuit of happiness more important than the acquisition of wealth? And as the world copes with the latest recession, is continuous economic growth even possible?

Whether you’re pro-growth or a growth-sceptic, come and join what promises to be a lively debate.


Daniel Ben-Ami is a London-based journalist and author specialising in economics and finance. He is a regular contributor to Spiked-Online, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Sunday Telegraph and The Sunday Times. He is the author of Cowardly Capitalism: The myth of the global financial casino (2001), which was recommended by the Baker Library of Harvard Business school was awarded the, and his latest book Ferraris For All: In defence of economic progress (2010), described as ‘a rejoinder to the growth sceptics’, which will be available on the night.

Clive Lord was a founder member of PEOPLE, later the Ecology Party and, since 1973, the UK Green Party. Clive is a retired probation officer, and has stood for the Green Party in every General Election since 1974, every local election since 1980, and European elections in 1984, 1989 and 1994. He’s an occasional writer for the Green Party website and is also the author of A Citizen’s Income: A Foundation for a Sustainable World (Jon Carpenter, 2003), which amongst other things, looks at the dynamics driving globalisation and explains why the major players can never recognise when to stop, or know how to.

Hitting back at growth sceptics, by Andrew Milligan, FundStrategy, 23 August 2010
Growth sceptics selling the economy short, by Daniel Ben-Ami, The Australian, 26 July 2010
Why more is really more, by Sean Collins, Spiked Review of Books, Issue, No.35, June 2010
Growth Isn’t Possible: Why we need a new economic direction, New Economics Foundation, January 2010
Bjorn Lomborg – Hero or Villain? by Clive Lord, Green Party website

Sunday, 3 October 2010

John Lanchester on spending cuts

Spending cuts: The knives are out
In just over two weeks, George Osborne will reveal up to £82bn worth of public spending cuts. Think the Thatcher years were bad? You ain't seen nothing yet, says John Lanchester
John Lanchester The Guardian, Saturday 2 October 2010

If British politics were a musical, that musical would be called Cuts. It would consist of three acts. The theme of Act One was denial. This was the run-up to the election and then the election itself. Alistair Darling's final budget, which set out the goal of halving the deficit by 2014, made it clear that large-scale cuts were coming to the public sector – indeed, cuts of a magnitude this country had never seen. But it gave no detail about what those cuts were going to be, and this blanket denial carried on through the general election, where all three parties seemed to be locked in a tacit agreement not to give any specifics about what they might actually do in office on this, the most important single issue facing the next government. The theme of Act Two was the softening up. Often, in horror films, the single most effective device for building a sense of scariness is the soundtrack: the clanking of chains, the groaning of off-stage ghouls, the unmistakable sound of a cannibal rustic firing up a chainsaw. Act Two was like that, with the coalition making all sorts of dire not-quite-threats about what's going to hit the public sector in the next few years. Public sector workers were invited to wee themselves in fear.

And now, in just over two weeks' time, on 20 October, George Osborne is going to stand up in the House of Commons and announce the results of the comprehensive spending review. That will be Act Three: reality. This is the point at which the cuts stop being a topic of mood music and speculation, and become an economic reality – the dominant economic reality for at least one parliament. There will, I suspect, be a profound shift in mood. I was in Ireland in the summer, talking about the credit crunch at the Galway Festival, and as I spoke I could sense that there was an odd atmosphere in the room. The vibe was different from that in the UK. When it came time for questions, the reason for that became clear: people in Ireland are furious. The mood in that room was dark, and every single question turned on the issue of blame – who to blame, and how much. Ireland is deep into the third act of its own version of Cuts, and the realities have included 20% pay cuts for the entire public sector. The lead story in the newspapers that day concerned the epidemic of recession-related suicides. I don't know if our third act will take us to the same place, but it will certainly take us in the same direction.

Given this, the first and simplest question people ask is whether any of this is necessary. The short answer, from pretty much every economically literate person in the world, is yes. In the years building up to the crash, the government had accumulated a structural deficit, in other words a permanent gap, every year, between the money it was raising in tax and the money it was spending. (A word about the distinction between deficit and debt. The best description of a deficit is the one given by Dickens's character Mr Micawber: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery." When your annual income is less than your expenditure, you have an annual deficit. Some commentators on the right have argued that the word deficit should be replaced by the more politically charged word "overspend". In Micawber's example, the deficit is sixpence; in the case of the UK, it is £159.2bn – but the principle is the same. As for the debt, it's nothing more than the sum total of all the deficits accumulated over time.) The structural gap was going to have to be fixed at some point. It was as if the government had gradually and steadily dug a hole that would one day, for sure, need filling. The ideal thing would have been for the government to allow the economy to grow without taking a bigger proportion of it, so the proportion of public spending would gradually, and as it were naturally, shrink. Instead, what happened was the credit crunch, causing a brutal contraction in the economy of 6.9%, the worst and longest decline since the great crash of the 1930s. In other words, having slowly dug itself down to the bottom of a hole, the entire economy then fell into a crevasse.

The upshot of that is that the government's finances did the splits: the tax take collapsed just as welfare spending shot upwards. This meant that instead of a gradual rebalancing, the government is having to institute a difficult process of cutting to restore the public finances. In the shorter term, however, the people who had to be placated were the international debt markets. If a government needs to borrow £150bn to meet this year's bills – which our government does – then it has to look like the kind of government that is going to take the repayment of its debts and the value of its currency super-seriously. If it doesn't, then lenders will be reluctant to lend to it and will express their reluctance in the traditional market manner by charging it more to borrow money. That can easily lead to a kind of death spiral, in which the government is borrowing more and more to pay back money it has expensively borrowed. It is to avoid this spiral that all the parties were talking the language of cuts – so far, it has to be said, successfully, since the government's cost of borrowing has not gone up. (We'll never know if that would have been the same in the event of a Labour victory.)

The necessity for at least some cuts is increased by the fact that the costs of administering the welfare state, especially health and pensions, are set to rise extremely sharply in the decades ahead. We are getting older: the average age of Britons is 39.9, the highest it has ever been, and it is set to rise. When Beveridge brought in the state pension, kicking in for men at the age of 65, the male life expectancy was 64. In other words, the average man died before he could claim any state pension at all. Now his life expectancy at birth is 77.4, and his life expectancy at retirement age is 82.4. That's fantastic, an achievement this country should be very proud of, but when it comes to planning our welfare state, it does wreak havoc with the numbers. This is a question that transcends party politics, and needs addressing.

The new coalition government's way of dealing with this was initially surprising. They basically said, "Aaarggh! You're all going to die!" They announced cuts of 25% in all "unprotected" departments – ie all departments other than health and overseas aid. Unprotected departments were told to prepare cuts all the way up to a "worst-case" level of 40%. What does that mean? Well, as Rowena Crawford of the Institute for Fiscal Studies pointed out some time ago, "For the ministry of defence, an 18% cut means something on the scale of no longer employing the army." No spending at all on roads, and closing the majority of courts – that's the kind of thing we were being asked to envisage. Cuts at these levels are unprecedented and far, far exceed anything Margaret Thatcher achieved. Labour had already announced £52bn of cuts to come by 2013-14; the new coalition added another £30bn on top. No government has ever achieved anything like that reduction in public spending. To put it in perspective, since 1950 there have been only two periods during which public spending was cut for two years in a row. The coalition is proposing to cut it for six consecutive years. This, it seems to me, beggars belief, and I at first struggled to understand why any government would so publicly set out to do something so plainly impossible. The stated target of shrinking the state below 40% of GDP is yet another point on which the coalition is planning to go far beyond the Thatcher government. Why? Who voted for that?

The explanation, I think, is that the coalition – which, in practice, in this instance, means the Tory party – is attempting to create what political wonks call an "inflection point". They want to make a fundamental change of direction in British politics. There have been two of these in the last decades, the first of them Thatcher's election in 1979 and the second Tony Blair's in 1997. The election of 2010 wasn't an inflection point, not least because it didn't produce a majority government. So the Tories put into effect what was obviously a plan to create their own inflection point through Osborne's emergency budget. The idea, I think, is to change the British political ecology. Public sector workers, in particular, are supposed to be scared into malleability. The idea is that instead of being grumpy that some of them have lost their jobs, everybody who is still in work will instead be grateful, relieved and suitably cowed. It will be a change in direction for the British state, and will give a clear way forward for the Conservative party as it returns to its traditional identity as the party of the smaller state. "If they can't do it now," a Tory friend told me, "when can they do it?" In other words, there will never be a more opportune moment for the party to set out its stall to cut spending. Hence the tearing-off-the-arm eagerness to seize the opportunity.

So the politics of this makes a depressing kind of sense, from a rightwing perspective. What is much less clear is whether the economics of the cutting makes as much sense. Cuts were coming whoever won the election, and the £52bn of Labour cuts would have been agonisingly painful. During the contest to be leader of the Labour party, Ed Balls became the first senior Labour figure to say that he thought the cuts implicit in Labour's plans went too far – and that is certainly a valid point of view. Balls' argument is that the cuts make it harder for the economy to begin growing its way out of recession. The coalition's extra cuts seem to raise that possibility to dangerously high levels. Neutral observers do agree that some cuts are needed, but they increasingly don't agree about the level of them. Bear in mind that at the June meeting in Canada of the G20 – that's the world's 20 biggest economies – a general commitment was made to halve all deficits by 2013, and to "stabilise" debt by 2016. That means that every government in the world is simultaneously trying to tighten their belts. So where is the demand going to come from to restart growth in these big economies? If everyone is cutting up their credit cards, where will growth come from? It's supposed to be a "production-led" recovery, not like the consumer-led boom we've just lived through. Fair enough, as an idea, but production-led recoveries still need someone to buy the stuff you produce. In this vision of a global war on debt and deficit, it's not clear who the prospective buyers are.

Some observers have said that the prospect of a global austerity drive reminds them of the mistakes that turned the great crash of 1929 into the Great Depression of the 1930s. Governments, instead of stimulating their economies with spending designed to create employment – the policies advocated by Keynes – instead tried to belt-tighten their way out of trouble by behaving as if they were households with a cash flow problem. But the analogy between household and whole economies is imperfect, as subsequent events clearly showed. A coordinated global slowdown in government spending might turn out to be exactly the last thing we all need.

Put all this together, and the unfortunate fact is becoming unmissably clear: the consequences of the credit crunch are going to fall far more heavily on the innocent than on the guilty. A lot of people who did nothing wrong and who are entirely blameless in the credit crunch are going to lose their jobs. The current estimate for public sector job losses to come is 600,000, in addition to the 750,000 (mainly) private sector workers who have lost their jobs already. "Tell us what we did wrong" – I heard the wife of a laid-off firefighter asking that question, and not getting an answer. She is not going to be the last person to ask it. Research is already showing that the people disproportionately targeted by the cuts will be the poor, especially poor women. As this fact becomes not an idea but a reality – as we move into Act Three – it seems highly likely that the basic unfairness of this is going to become more and more evident, and more and more rankling. For the bankers, business is more or less back to usual; in fact, for the remaining banks, business is as good as it has ever been. Since the public sees the bankers as being the people responsible for the credit crunch, and since the credit crunch caused the recession that in turn caused the cuts, there is a brutal contrast here: the guilty parties doing better than ever, the innocent taking all the pain. Again: did anyone vote for that? Does anyone think it is the kind of society we want to be?

A strongly negative trend in British life over the last 30 years, and one that unfortunately continued during Labour's tenure in office, was the increasingly sharp division between winners and losers. That tendency is set to become even more marked. We are heading back to the bitterly divided politics of the late 1970s and early 1980s, except with our newly sky-rocketed levels of inequality. So 20 October is going to be a hugely important day for Britain. I have in the past predicted anger, as the consequences of the recession for public spending become clear; I think the process of expressing that anger has barely begun. What that will do to the coalition is anybody's guess. As anyone in showbusiness will tell you, many a promising production has collapsed horribly in the third act.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Crisis of Social Democracy

With the leadership race settled in Ed Miliband's favour there is going to be debate about the future of social democratic politics. A contribution from just before the Labour party conference has been made by political pollster and commentator Peter Kellner at Demos on 'The Crisis of Social Democracy' out-of-the way, which reads to me like a continuation of the revisionist case, but might be labelled Blairite.

An SWP critique is made by Richard Seymour at Lenin's Tomb, Kellner's Blairite intervention in the Labour leadership race, who certainly does consider it Blairite.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Britain's Broken Economy

Soundings (along with The Guardian) has produced a free ebook: Britain's broken economy - and how to mend it under the auspices of The New Political Economy Network.

There is no cast-iron law that states that crises of capitalism end in victories for the left - and certainly not in Britain. And yet this is not a Conservative moment - it is clear that the Coalition has no viable plan for rebuilding the economy. The problem is that Labour does not have one either. The task for Labour now is to come up with a vision of a moral economy based on decent jobs, good homes, stable pensions and fair finance. This e-book is the story of how Labour might begin to do this.

Foreword by Larry Elliott
Afterword by Jon Cruddas MP
The following contributed to the e-book: Aditya Chakrabortty, Tom Clark, Ismail Eturk, Julie Froud, Sukhdev Johal, Stewart Lansley, Adam Leaver, Toby Lloyd, Mick Moran, Richard Murphy, Howard Reed, Jonathan Rutherford, Duncan Weldon, Karel Williams

Neal Lawson pays tribute to Zygmunt Bauman

Zygmunt Bauman was the first speaker for Leeds Taking Soundings and his ability to draw and captivate such a large audience gave us the confidence to continue the programme since then. He is someone we always want to invite back to do another talk. Neal Lawson is also on our list of people we want to invite. So here is Neal Lawson talking about Bauman from a conference in Zygmunt Bauman's honour earlier in the month. This taken from Open Democracy, a great focus for political discussion that deserves the support and attention of everyone.

Beyond bureaucracy and market
Neal Lawson, 22 September 2010
The bureaucratic state of the mid-20th century ran its useful course, and the attempt to return to a mythical nineteenth century market state failed us. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman helps us to think our way beyond both

Zygmunt Bauman's impact on me – and I think many others has been profound.

Let me be clear. I am not an academic, a theorist and certainly not a sociologist. I can’t do his prolific output of work – but what I want to do is tell you why it matters to me – why this Octogenarian, polish émigré is today in 2010 relevant to the world we face and the hopes, dreams and fears we have.

I first came across the work of Zygmunt Bauman in the mid 1980s when he wrote series of highly charged essays for the New Statesmen. Then I was a very politically undeveloped undergraduate, with hair, more used to listening to and quoting Benn rather than Bauman – I understood little of what he wrote in those handful of essays but got a sense not just of great significance but excitement at the ideas they contained.

From Benn I ended up with Blair. After 18 years in exile the desire to win overcame desire to do right. I worked for Gordon Brown and for Peter Mandelson in the heart of the New Labour machine. Ends were busy shaping means. In winning becoming everything Labour was losing touch with what it wanted to win for. But something gnawed away. I could shed fully neither Benn nor those echoes of Bauman. Naively I thought New Labour was being pragmatic– that idealism was being tempered by reality rather than just being junked. That the attempt to reconnect with the British electorate was so a new social democratic moment could eventually be forged. I was wrong. Blair said ‘we have won as New Labour, we will govern as New Labour’. In the confidence of greater maturity I would know that we won as not being the hated Conservative government. Much was still possible. But by then it was too late. New had been used to brand the Party as Not Labour.

Shortly after Labours victory in 1998 I wrote an essay, which also happened to appear in the New Statesman, asking the question whether New Labour was really part of the social democratic project. It was billed as New Labour’s first revolt. I have been revolting ever since.
In the late 1990s I restlessly and hesitantly moved further from New Labour as the wild goose chase of the third way became more apparent. Around 2000 two books lifted the scales from my eyes. The first was Noberto Bobbios Left and Right which reacquainted me with the basic but fundamental concept of equality and the second and the one that had the more profound effect on me was Work, Consumerism and the New Poor by Zygmunt.

In reading it I not only felt I understood the world much more clearly, I felt a sense of anger that my party was playing a part, as we will see, in the demonization of the very people it claimed to represent. And from that anger came a sense of determination to do something about it.
Now they say never meet your heroes. I think its good advice. They often don’t match up to unrealistic expectations. But sometimes possibilities are too tantalising to miss out on. I met my hero once. A mutual friend fixed for me to go round and have afternoon tea with Zygmunt. It of course turned out to be afternoon Vodka. I think I just sat and stared as this Yoda like figure dispensed wisdom and gentle guidance.

He struck me then, as he does in every interview I have read before and since, as a man of immense charm, warmth, dignity and above all humanity. He writes generously for a massive range of publications and outlets. He does so because he cares. It feels like he is in a race to both download his prodigal knowledge and insights but also to keep up with events. He still has his finger on the pulse of modern consumer and celebrity culture – sighting the likes of X Factor in his critique of actually existing capitalism.

But this desire to stay in touch, to stay relevant is what gives him his vitality. So he rewrites because he is asked and sought out, because he is popular on campuses around the globe, because he offers a unique take on our world – a take the hovers all the time between those twin pillars of optimism and pessimism, hope and despair.

It is these twin pillars I want to say something about. Let's start with the dark side – the pessimism.

Zygmunt pulls no punches in telling it how it is. He describes a bleak world of wasted lives. The vicious cycle – of less collective belief and influence, leading to greater withdrawal from the social scene. The more we withdraw, the weaker our bonds become. The more we individualise the tighter the knot gets. In his description of the shift from the world defined by producers to a world defined by consumption he reveals a landscape of quicksand, with few friends but tragically even fewer enemies. The rich are not to be hated and pulled down but fated and held a loft for their consumer success.

Bauman uses the consistency of quicksand a lot. For it is one of the best images of the liquid modern world his work heralds. It is the world between the solid offering of modernity in the shape of one job, one community, an all-powerful state and a proud and independent nation. Between that and the vagaries and relativism of a post-modern world. In this liquid modernity things are in constant flux, forming new shapes and then morphing. Nations, economies, states and people are constantly shape-shifters.

In his journey from analysing communism in Poland to analysing consumerism in the West the game does not change – it is about social control and the systematic reproduction of authority and privilege. Socialisation by secret police turns into socialisation by seduction. You can fight the secret police but how on earth do you fight seduction – why would you even want to? As capitalism shifts from the exploitation of the physical virgin territory of empire to the emotional virgin territory of our minds – the space for profit accumulation expands exponentially. When I read Zygmunt I am reminded again and again of the Worchasky brothers film The Matrix, where people are made to believe they live a consumer reality but their bodies are just batteries for a machine.

There are two goals of this world in which we are first and last consumers – the first is our unhappiness – if we are unhappy then we will seek comfort from the only place we can – the market – literally in retail therapy.

And second – the eradication of alternatives. There is only one way to be – the turbo consumer – drilled and disciplined by the urgent desire not to fall off the treadmill – to stay normal in the never ending race to form ever new identities. To belong, to be different, to be unique, to be the same. And when we fail – when we fall short – we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Consequently Bauman talks about a society under siege for three very good reasons. First, because power has been divorced from politics and now resides, as we witness every day, in the realm of business – whether that is financialised capitalism, big oil or the media. Second, because of the crisis of agency and the decline of the salience of the working class, and therefore of the labour movement. And, third, because of the secession of power away from the nation state.
New Labour was born of this moment and this profound sense of pessimism and crisis for the left. Why go on fighting a system that feels not just unbeatable, but can be painted as inevitable and even desirable. If you can't beat them – then join them.

In Tony Giddens New Labour found a theoretical rational to do what it wanted most – to win – through a post-class sociology – made feasible in their eyes through the new weightless economy. In the merry world of middle England we could all be winners – except those who, by their own acts, failed to work hard and play by the rules. The shift to a world beyond left and right, beyond struggle was complete.

But for or all the happy talk of a New Britain – this was the darkest politics possible – for in its version of Thatcherism with a human face it locked into our psyche the notion of TINA – that there is no alternative.

So ironically – Zygmunt was ignored – despite some attempts to introduce his ideas into Downing Street because he offered no short-term nourishment for the New Labour project – his was no happy meal. He was deemed to be too bleak for a project that itself offered little more than the modernisation of neo-liberalism.

How could it be otherwise? New Labour failed to offer any genuine and meaningful sense of alternative because in their embrace of the market as the singular solution to all our ills they lost sight of one critical factor – our humanity. And here we turn to the optimism of Zygmunts work.
New Labour forgot, as I had painfully learnt, that means cannot be separated from ends. So the market could not be used for progressive ends. Economic efficiency is only a necessary, not a sufficient condition for social justice. Markets are for profit – not for people. And they forgot or ignored that a project that isn’t founded on the rock of humanity – of an ability to look into the eyes of others and see yourself and know yourself – not as competitors but as co-operators - was doomed to much greater darkness than Zygmunt Bauman could ever conjure up.

Zygmunt offers hope – for two reasons. First because he describes how strong the chains are that keep us in place – and therefore informs us how big and strong our bolt cutters need to be. And second he provides the prospect of much more meaningful freedom than we find as pressurised shoppers on the high street. He identifies freedom based on the sense of autonomy – the ability to shape our lives and our society as we see fit because and only because we do it with others.

Zygmunt forces us think about the notion of utopia – the place that is not yet – but through striving for it – we find our purpose. To be a realist – we must first be visionaries – to be pragmatists we must know what we are being pragmatic about.

He is criticised for not offering much of a route map. Well we can’t do it all. But there are two practical concepts I think that are important which Zygmunt returns to again and again.
The first is the idea of the social state, which we can counterpoise to the failures and limitations of the post-war bureaucratic state and its successor: the market state. The social and democratic state is not just about the provision of welfare but the creation of an accountable and responsive realm in which we can be citizens and not solely consumers.

The second hard policy he espouses is that of a citizens’ income or a basic income. This is a payment made to everyone in society as the means to both establish the resources necessary to live a free life and to enshrine our sense of shared citizenship. It is a truly transformative idea.
In 2005 Zygmunt delivered three lectures in London – the Miliband lectures in the presence of David and Ed. It was not the first time they met, Ralph would bring young David and an even younger Ed round to the house for political discussions in Leeds. Now someone called Miliband will be the next leader of the Labour party. Will either brother will have the wisdom to dig deep to build high and start reading the work of Zygmunt Bauman. If they do they will start to learn to deal with the causes of lives that are anxious, insecure and exhausting – and not just the symptoms. If they don’t then the backward march of Labour will to continue apace.

Our relationship with leaders is fraught with complexity. As Gramsci almost said – the challenge of liquid modernity is to live without illusions without becoming disillusioned.

Like rivers cascading down the side of a mountain, leaders take the path of least resistance. The job at hand is to build the dams of ideas and the aqueducts of a movement to channel them in the direction which will deliver greater equality, substantiality and democracy.

That is what Zygmunt has helped inspire me to do.
I read out this quote to 1,500 activists and thinkers who met in London last June at the Compass annual conference. Compass is an organisation of over 40,000 members and supporters – people from Labour, the Greens, Liberals, from unions and pressure groups concerned about the triple crisis of inequality, sustainability and democracy.
I said this from him:
“Like the phoenix socialism is reborn, from every pile of ashes left day in day out by burnt out dreams and charred hopes. It will keep on being resurrected as long as the dreams are burnt and the hopes charred, as long as human life remains short of the dignity it deserves and the nobility it would be able, given a chance to muster”

The left is in a big hole and has been for some time. The left is those people and their institutions that believe in humanity, that trust the people, that think we were born different but equal, that know the answers to our problems will come from democracy and not markets – people who know that we live just a pale shadow of what we can be.

This is the challenge that Zygmunt sets us. To find our way out of the darkness and into the light.

Someone once said to me that you should never have a job you want to retire from – Zygmunt Bauman seems to have that job. Or rather and better still he has used his working life to build a platform for the serious business of the rest of his life. Since his official retirement his output has been an incredible average of around two books a year, as well as many articles, lectures and interviews.

I feel remarkably ambivalent about our times – both hopeful and realistic. Like monks in the monastery in the dark ages – are we simply but crucially keeping the flames alive – stopping the books for being burnt – waiting for the enlightenment? Or is the triple crisis of inequality, sustainability and democracy the moment for transformative advance? We simply don’t know. We make history – but not in conditions of our own choosing.

We do what we can. Zygmunt has done more than most. We stand on the shoulders of giants – my giant – is Zygmunt Bauman. Long may he write and inspire me and thousands of others. Never may he retire.

Neal Lawson is Chair of Compass and author of All Consuming (Penguin, 2009) a book dedicated to the work of Zygmunt Bauman. This is an edited version of the opening plenary speech given on the 6th of September at Leeds University to mark the opening of the new Bauman Institute.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Nina Power 21st Century Feminism

Nina Power speaking Sept 22nd
21st Century Feminism
Nina Power
6.00 – 8.00 pm, September 22nd 2010
Old Broadcasting House, 148 Woodhouse Lane
Leeds Metropolitan University

Nina Power is the author of One-Dimensional Woman, a key work in the recent flowering of feminist argument. Here’s part of the book’s blurb:“Did the desires of twentieth-century women's liberation achieve their fulfilment in the shopper's paradise of 'naughty' self-pampering, playboy bunny pendants and bikini waxes? That the height of supposed female emancipation coincides so perfectly with consumerism is a miserable index of a politically desolate time. Much contemporary feminism, particularly in its American formulation, doesn't seem too concerned about this coincidence.This short book is partly an attack on the apparent abdication of any systematic political thought on the part of today's positive, up-beat feminists. It suggests alternative ways of thinking about transformations in work, sexuality and culture that, while seemingly far-fetched in the current ideological climate, may provide more serious material for future feminism.”

This discussion will address the possibilities of a new feminism that can transform the entire left.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Soundings 45

Soundings 45 is now out
Although the cuts are coming, there has been an eerie political calm and sense of inevitability about all that is in store for us (carefully nurtured by the Coalition and their allies in the media). But the storm will break - people are going to start seriously suffering and we need to ensure that there is a political battle against the assault planned by the government. Can Labour lead this battle?

Contributors in this issue chart some of the debates, look at the prospects for Labour revival, discuss the financial crisis and outline the problems in carbon trading - a classic example of the failure of market solutions. We also carry an extended discussion on the importance of Luc Boltanksi and Eve Chiapello's The New Spirit of Capitalism; a defence of ethical socialism and the legacy of William Morris; a meditation on the problems faced by the generation that grew up with New Labour; and a thought-provoking article by Vron Ware about the ways in which the lives and deaths of individual soldiers have become ever more central to debates about Britain's wars.

The political struggle ahead Doreen Massey
Labour in a time of coalition Sally Davison, Stuart Hall, Michael Rustin, Jonathan Rutherford
What comes after New Labour? Gerry Hassan
The SNP and the 'new politics' Richard Thompson
Rebuilding social democracy George Irvin
Greek myths Duncan Weldon
Money manager capitalism and the global financial crisis L. Randall Wray
Carbon trading: how it works and why it fails Oscar Reyes and Tamra Gilbertson
Why I am a socialist Ruth Levitas
Smile till it hurts Laurie Penny
Lives on the line Vron Ware

Monday, 13 September 2010

Take Back Parliament Leeds

Take Back Parliament Leeds- Official Campaign launch

Tuesday September 28th – 7pm at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Lower Briggate

Speakers include
Nader Fekri- Calderdale Councillor & JP
Vicky Seddon- Unlock Democracy Sheffield Branch
Chris Lovell- Chair of Leeds Liberal Youth

On the night people will get the chance to discuss their own ideas for taking the campaign forward. In particular I think it would be useful to have small sub groups focused on a particular aspect of campaigning.

Media/ Publicity/ Fundraising
Petitions/ writing to elected representatives
Students/ Youth
Liasion with other organizations- community groups/ unions etc
Group Development- Forming branches in other towns

Monday, 6 September 2010

News from Leeds Salon

The Myth of Racist Kids
Monday 11 October 2010
Leeds Civic Hall (off Millennium Square)
Committee Rooms 6 & 7
6:45pm (for a 7pm start) to 8:30pm.

Leeds Salon invites film maker and anti-racism campaigner Adrian Hart to discuss his book The Myth of Racist Kids: Anti-racist policy and the regulation of school life (Manifesto Club 2009).

Many of the ‘racist incidents’ reported by schools involve very young children and include cases of name-calling in the playground and arguments between friends. A growing ‘race relations industry’ has moved into the daily life of schools and even nurseries, with the aim of combating prejudice in children as young as three.

In The Myth of Racist Kids Adrian Hart argues that well-meaning policies have led to a growing regulation of children’s peer relationships, and the undermining of teachers’ ability to deal with everyday classroom incidents. The growing myth of racist kids can actually create ethnic tensions, stifling the trend towards increasing openness and intermixing.

Others warn against complacency, arguing that society is still racist and that education is the best means of combating racist and sexist stereotypes. Rather than ignoring or minimising playground incidents, we should be vigilant and stamp racism out while individuals are still young and more likely to change their attitudes. Besides, adults have always taught children how to behave and what language is and isn’t acceptable. Isn’t that an important part of a child’s education?

So are our schools institutionally racist or confidently multicultural? Should playground name-calling be taken seriously and eliminated, or is it an inevitable and potentially formative part of childhood? Do anti-racist policies just benefit the so-called ‘anti-racism industry’ or do they protect ethnic minorities from prejudice? Should schools and teachers use their own judgement in discriminating between silly name-calling and actual racism, or should they follow official policy to the letter and report every incident, regardless of context?

Adrian Hart is an award winning community film-maker and founder of Coyote Films. He is a lecturer to special needs students, an author and an anti-racism campaigner. Adrian Hart's film work includes: 'Safe' (winner LWTs Whose London? 2002), Moving Here' (awarded beacon status 2006) and 'Only Human' (2006 broadcast on Teachers TV in 2009). Adrian is also a member of The Brighton Salon. Visit his website here.

Readings & Reviews
Runnymede Trust Consultation Response, 4 March 2010
Spiked Review of Books, Helene Guldberg, February 2010
Culture Wars, Sean Bell, Culture Wars, 17 November 2009
Daily Telegraph, Martin Beckford, 29 October 2009
Daily Telegraph, Josie Appleton, 29 October 2009

This is a satellite event leading up to the Institute of Ideas’ annual festival of debate, the Battle of Ideas 2010, being held in London on Saturday 30 & Sunday 31 October.

This is a free event, but a voluntary contribution towards costs will be asked for on the night. To let us know you’re coming please reply to this e-mail, or contact us or join our mailing list at:, and join our group on Facebook.

The West Yorkshire Branch of the British Science Association has put together an evening centred around William Astbury’s influence in medical science. Talks will feature Professor Sheena Radford and Bruce Turnbull, and there will be exciting demonstrations and a chance to chat to the presenters and other researchers from Leeds University over wine and cheese.
Thursday 16 September, Thackray Museum, Leeds. For more information and to purchase tickets click here.

Forthcoming events at Leeds Salon
Monday 15 November: Ferraris for All: Is Unfettered Growth Possible or Desirable? – Journalist and economics writer Daniel Ben-Ami and Green Party founder-member Clive Lord will discuss the limits and desirability of economic growth.

Monday 13 December: The ‘Two Cultures’ Debate – In a famous lecture delivered over half a century ago, CP Snow raised concerns about the increasing alienation of humanist intellectuals from science. Professor Ray Tallis will argue that this problem is more complex than Snow thought and addressing it may be even more challenging than he imagined.

Leeds Salon is a public debating forum which promotes lively and open debate around contemporary political, cultural and scientific issues. Visit our new website to find out about events, the organisers and writings from Leeds Salon attendees. Also see Is Leeds a City of Debate…? by Leeds Salon co-founder Paul Thomas on the Leeds-based online magazine Culture Vulture, and join in the online discussion.

Leeds Salon is also joined with the online journal Freedom in a Puritan Age to provide an outlet for writing and continued discussion. FIPA is a project in free enquiry that aims to identify countervailing currents in progressive thought within our culture and provide alternative viewpoints on the main issues of our day. It invites submissions of articles, essays, and reviews. Send your work (or proposal) to

Michele Ledda & Paul Thomas
Leeds Salon