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.