Dead Men Left

Friday, October 28, 2005

Higher education, this time: born poor, stay poor, die poor

Speaking of education, and you'll have to allow for the Telegraph's own particular spin on the story:

Four years after graduating, nearly a third of "the class of 99" were either in "non-graduate" jobs or jobs that were not appropriate for someone with their qualifications.

The line between graduate and non-graduate jobs is now blurred
There was also clear evidence that the "graduate earnings premium" - a measure of the financial advantage of having a degree - had begun to fall.

This isn't completely unexpected: a study by the Centre for the Economics of Education, back in 2001, reached similar conclusions about the proportions of graduates in "non-graduate" jobs. What's new here is that, first, the length of time spent in "non-graduate" jobs is increasing; and second, relatedly, the additional sums graduates can expect to earn on average is falling. (My own suspicion is that dispersion of graduate incomes is widening, too: a few are doing much better, whilst the rest are now lagging significantly.) Worse yet:

The report also found that the cost of getting a degree was rising. Nearly 80 per cent of the class of 1999 left university with an average debt of £6,200.

Nearly 50 per cent of the students had taken a job during term-time. As a result, they were a third less likely to achieve a first or upper second class degree, and significantly more likely to end up in a non-graduate job.

Disproportionately, these graduates came from lower socio-economic groups.

All of which makes New Labour's "reforms" to higher education even more wrong-headed, if they also profess to have some concern for social mobility. Increasing the cost of university education prevents many of those from poorer households attending at all - and it damages the opportunities for those who do get in.

Access to British universities has become markedly less meritocratic since the early 1990s, as another CEE report (PDF) concludes. We now have, from this new study, some solid evidence that social stratification within the university system is worsening.

Universities are becoming a vital element in reproducing class. The hopes of generations of social reformers are being overturned; and yet, in classically ironic post-industrial, post-modern, Third Way style, the superficial appearance of rising university attendance is of greater meritocracy and social mobility than ever.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Creak, creak, groan... repossessions

Been building up a while, this one:

A rise of 66 per cent in repossession orders against home buyers across the country was disclosed yesterday. Londoners were hit even harder, with an 81 per cent increase.

Aside from the personal hardship caused, this is a good indicator that current levels of personal debt are increasingly unsustainable - which, given the reliance of the Brown economy on happy debt-led consumers, ought to be causing sleepless nights for the esteemed Chancellor, too.

Interviews with Iraqi resistance

Lengthy interview in today's Guardian with "Abu Theeb", described as "leader of a band of Sunni insurgents" from north of Baghdad. Of particular interest:

Perhaps inevitably, though, the insurgents turned out not to have the same stomach for Iraqi blood. "Al-Qaida believes that anyone who doesn't follow the Qur'an literally is a Kaffir - apostate - and should be killed," says Abu Theeb. "This is wrong."

Al-Qaida marked down not only those who cooperated with the American occupation, but everyone who worked with the Iraqi government, police or army, as Kaffirs. Then they said that the entire Shia community were Kaffirs. For Sunnis like Abu Theeb, this was a step too far.

Similar remarks from Watban Jassam, a resistance "consultant" interviewed by the FT back in August; a smart operator, it would seem, who stresses the importance of US public opinion:

He stresses he has nothing against the Shia per se. "We like [anti-American Shia leader] Muqtada al-Sadr. I don't have any problem with Shia, just with the Supreme Council and with Badr."...

To gauge US public opinion, he has become an avid watcher of satellite news channels, and never misses the White House press briefings. When he sees footage of another insurgent groups' attack on a bus station, he exclaims: “They were innocents no one should kill them.” He also denounces the Americans for using Mr Zarqawi's name to tarnish the mujahideen as a whole.

A few blogs I should've linked to some time ago, but haven't until now: K-Punk for the culture and the Lacan, Law and Disorder for, um, Marxist legal theory, and Infinite Thought for being one of the few blogs subversive enough to cause the firewall at work some problems. Go look.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

"Parental choice": a bad joke

Just time, in between other things, to note that my already overflowing pit of utter contempt for the jumped-up Tory lawyer that is apparently still the Prime Minister has been filled just a little bit higher by the Education White Paper. Yeah, I know: there has been warnings enough that the man knows no reasonable limits to his march rightwards; setting out to destroy the future prospects of a generation of British schoolchildren is perhaps a minor crime relative to invading Iraq, but can hardly be excused on those grounds. Simon Jenkins, nails, heads, mostly:

The education white paper offers a vision of a "parent-led" state secondary-school system. Its key institution is the "self-governing school free to parents", a copy of the Tories' grant-maintained school that Labour once derided. Parents will be able to control a school's "ethos and individualism". As one parent briskly put it to me, "We can keep out the blacks."...

A child's schooling is not a hospital operation. It is a seven-year decision laden with social connotations. That is why, as Blair well knows, the only choice in education (other than to go private) is of parents by schools. Put parents in charge of schools and they will choose parents like themselves. The 11-plus was at least an objective test of aptitude. The white paper evokes prewar social selection.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Galloway vs. Norm Coleman, again

Never a dull moment round these parts:

George Galloway has today challenged US senators to file criminal charges against him after they claimed to have tracked $150,000 (£85,000) in Iraqi oil money to his wife’s bank account in Jordan.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations will refer the Respect Party MP for possible prosecution today after concluding in a report that he gave "false and misleading" testimony at his appearance before the panel in May.

The usual anti-Galloway lynch-mob are thrashing themselves into a veritable frenzy over all this. They don't seem to have learned from past experience that their expectations will be disappointed.

Galloway said that he was prepared to fly out immediately to the United States if Senator Norm Coleman, who heads the committee, was prepared to bring charges. The MP has just seen a press release from the committee which alleges that he gave "false and misleading testimony" on May 17. "I deny that absolutely. As I've said a thousand times, I've never benefited personally. Let Coleman bring these charges and I'll rebut them totally."

It is understood that senior Iraqi members of the deposed regime have made statements to the committee, including Tariq Aziz, Taha Yasin Ramadan, the former vice-president of the country, and Amer Rashid, the former oil minister. "I've never met Ramadan or Rashid but I do know that they are facing charges which may carry a death sentence. As is Tariq Aziz. He has been held incommunicado for two years - and we know what goes on in US-controlled prisons in Iraq - and we also know from his lawyers that he has been offered a deal to testify," said Galloway. "On the one hand the US government accuses these men of being homicidal maniacs, on the other they assert that their coerced testimony is utterly trustworthy. Well, let Senator Coleman bring them and his unnamed sources to court in a case against me, and we'll see what the world concludes."

Galloway denies soliciting oil allocations or receiving "one thin dime" from the oil-for-food programme. He also denies any knowledge that his estranged wife, Dr Amineh Abu-Zayyad, received approximately $150,000 in connection with oil allocations. "I understand she has made a statement denying this and it certainly came as news to me because it has never been raised."

Friday, October 21, 2005

"Creates dissent, then sits on it"

Missed this one, earlier:

Recalling his time at the Treasury, Mr Balls said the chancellor would often urge protesters to surround the building so that he could ring fellow finance ministers with news of the pressure he was under to deliver on debt relief. So far, he added, the campaign to end child poverty in the UK had failed to match the success of Jubilee 2000.

"Isn't it about time the Treasury was surrounded by bells and whistles and buggies and placards demanding an end to child poverty in Britain?" Mr Balls said. "We need to get to the point where people across our country are saying loud and clear that no civilised society should tolerate this injustice; no prosperous country can afford to squander the talents of so many of its people."

Make (Child) Poverty History; you'd have thought various NGOs, fingers burnt by getting too close to Brown during the G8 summit, would have learned a lesson. It's an excellent deal from New Labour's point of view: child poverty being one of the few areas of "social exclusion" where they can claim a legitimate success over the last few years, carefully-managed protests by friendly NGOs would both help drive home that message, and allow Brown to look fair-minded and reasonable in apparently listening to protestors' concerns - those concerns having been previously all but agreed upon.

At what point do protestors stop being protestors in any meaningful sense?

Charlie says...


Urged to "put a shout out" to listeners, the Old Etonian hesitated for a moment before replying: "This is a great project, this is a great community, keep backing it, keep it real".

Tax credits: design flaws

As a brief follow-up to the post here, a revealing buck-passing moment at the Parliamentary enquiry into the tax credits scandal. The official government line was to blame "mismanagement" and faulty IT, not poor design, for overpayments and the subsequent hounding of claimants. David Varney rather blows the lid on that one:

David Varney, chairman of Revenue & Customs, was later questioned by the committee, and surprised some MPs by telling them he could not accept the ombudsman's verdict of maladministration. Overpayments were "an intrinsic part of the system that parliament approved".

He's right. Tax credits are a direct result of the "Third Way": the freakish idea that markets, if prodded and cajoled, can be relied upon to produce social justice.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Devouring his own children


No such anti-Labour coalition now exists to [Labour's] right...

...because New Labour is the anti-Labour coalition, well to the right of where "Labour" is thought to be. Completing the circle of blogging self-reference, Jamie at Blood and Treasure writes:

As a point of minor sociological interest, it may be that certain media types are feeling ready, for the first time in their lives, to vote Tory should the right candidate appear. At least the thought of doing so gives them a kind of illicit thrill: shall we get out the pink fluffy handcuffs tonight dear? Or shall we vote for David Cameron at the next election?

This jouissance helps explain New Labour's appeal to a similar group: it is an obscene, fantastical version of "Labour": nasty little Tories acting out a fantasy of hating the Tories, covering their still-deeper hatred of Labour by becoming Labour. Blair's contempt for his own party appears bottomless, and when speaking to a business audience about Labour's most reliable supporters he lapses into visceral language. Criticisms of New Labour as "Old Tories" have always fallen short of the mark; they miss New Labour's necessary obscenity.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

White lines

I know I shouldn't, I know it's bad for me in several different ways, but... this Tory leadership contest. Aside from now bitterly regretting not having a punt on David Cameron, back in the day (if he wins, I get the payout in compensation; if he loses, I don't mind paying £20 for the privilege), the disparity between the man's stated positions and the fervour with which the press has greeted him - and the cocaine non-story is very much included here - has a familiar whiff to it.

UKIP, circa summer 2004. Big meeja hoo-ha, somewhat more competently administered than you might expect by UKIP themselves. Kilroy-Silk becoming an MEP, Joan Collins, all that business. A brief flash in the pan that disappeared entirely at the next general election: Kilroy-Silk to oblivion via his own backside, UKIP too busy pissing Brussels expenses claims up the wall to build anything. Minus the media glare, and without the fertile soil of proportional representation, their support withered on the vine. There was no substance to it; no organisation on the ground to prop it up, and no significant identification with the party beyond a vague ill-tempered protest.

The sudden (apparent) reflation of the Tories' prospects, centred on the balloon-like features of Cameron, has something about this. I don't see any significant shifts their opinion poll support; I don't see any revival of membership.

It's early days, and who knows what glories await the Conservative Party under a new generation of toffs, squits and bullies, but all this looks a little ephemeral. The Tory Party, in 2005, faces far greater structural problems than Labour did in, say, 1994: years of internal wrangling and expulsions had cleared the way for New Labour, whilst the most obvious barrier to Labour's success - the SDP - had flolloped back into the Liberals. An anti-Tory coalition of the left was there for the taking. No such anti-Labour coalition now exists to the right, whilst the "modernising" elements of the Tory leadership, desperate to appeal to an assumed "centre", have failed to impose themselves effectively on the party.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Golden showers

So we all know, one way or the other, that the economy's a bit screwed. Latest up with the bad news is Ernst and Young's Item Club, who reckon UK growth has slowed substantially over this year, to about 1.6% - rather than the 3-3.5% Gordon Brown was predicting, pre-election.

More interesting than their figures, though, are the conclusions being offered. Less growth in general means less money going into the public coffers, and so...

[The report] said that this year's public borrowing figures were unlikely to be much better than last year's deficit with the chancellor thought to be facing an £11bn black hole in his accounts.

Prof Spencer also criticised Mr Brown for revising the dates of the economic cycle in order to make sure that he met his "golden rule" - that borrowing should not exceed current spending over the whole cycle.

"These developments show just how flimsy the current budgetary framework is. Reform of the fiscal rules is long overdue," he said.

This sounds innocuous. Via the ONS and the National Audit Office, the Treasury fiddled the figures for growth in previous years so as to appear Brown was not breaking his own rules on spending. The "Golden Rule" is a glittering irrelevance. Asking for "reforms" to "flimsy" fiscal rules may then seem a reasonable way to prevent such chicanery. It's something the Lib Dems, in the person of latter-day Thatcherite, Vince Cable, have been pushing for some time:

We always argued however that [government] spending should be disciplined within honest, transparent, fiscal rules... That is why the Liberal Democrats have argued that the process of assessing fiscal performance, including the operations of the Office of National Statistics, should be fully independent of government.

(Cable offers some more details here.) The CBI are equally keen, which ought to raise further suspicions:

The CBI's chief economist, Ian McCafferty, said: "The announcement only serves to highlight the sharp contrast between monetary policy, which is well-understood and appears genuinely free of political involvement, and fiscal policy, where the Treasury is able to act as both judge and jury."

In just the same way the government no longer has direct control over the interest rate, New Labour delegating the management of this key policy instrument to the Bank of England shortly after arriving in office, the Lib Dems (backed by the CBI) would apparently like to perform a similar feat with how much the government can spend on schools and hospitals and whatnot.

The aim is to preserve "credibility" with the financial markets. Never mind that decisions about public spending are intensely political, with elections won and lost on precisely this issue. The Lib Dems - and an emerging consensus in the financial world itself - want to remove the messy business of democracy from such questions and replace it with the clean and allegedly neutral decisions of "fully independent" so-called experts. If market "credibility" is the goal, these advisors will be anything but neutral: they will favour whatever the financial markets favour. They won't challenge or confront those markets.

This is the essence of neoliberal economic management: squeeze out the patches of popular control and sovereignty in the economy, however feeble they may be, and introduce supposedly value-neutral management techniques. When New Labour stuffs City consultants' mouths with gold, or throws public money into the bottomless pit of PFI, it is performing a similar trick. The idea that the entirety of government spending should be subject to the approval of unelected "advisors", simply to appease the markets, is an enormous extension of the same principle.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Railtrack shareholders vs. Stephen Byers

Pity they couldn't both lose.

Thatcher's dead!

Unfortunately not. Not long now, though. What's all this rehabilitation business, anyway?

What undermines her reputation at home is the quality her friend Ronald Reagan had, Churchill and Elizabeth I too, but she did not: that human touch in her public personality, humour, imaginative sympathy for those unlike herself, generosity towards opponents. She chose to be the warrior. But, as Iain Dale's new anthology of tributes repeatedly demonstrates, her 11-year rule was full of acts of personal kindness and private loyalty.

Yeah, it was her coldness and her lack of "that human touch" that really turned people against her. If only she'd been a bit nicer, like Mr Tony, she'd still be in Number 10 now.

I shudder to think what the obituaries will be like. Still, won't let it put a damper on things.

Harold Pinter wins Nobel Prize

Surprisingly. To celebrate:

Het werkt.
We hebben er de stront uitgeschoten.

We hebben de stront opnieuw in hun eigen kont geschoten.

Het werkt.
We hebben er de stront uitgeschoten,
Ze zijn in hun eigen stront gestikt!

Loof God voor al het goede.

We hebben hen in de klotestront geschoten.
Ze eten hem op.

Loof God voor al het goede.

We hebben hun ballen aan flarden geschoten,
Aan flarden.

We hebben het gefikst.

Nu wil ik dat je naar me toe kamt en me op de mond kust.

It looks even more obscene in Dutch.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Critical Massive

Our old friends the Met have decided to have a bit of a clampdown on the monthly Critical Mass event in London. For those unfamiliar, this is a gathering of cyclists who meet up to zoom around London in a posse - possibly in an effort to reclaim the streets, possibly just for the sheer hell of it, no-one seems bothered about which best applies.

nyone who cycles in London will know that its streets are a death-trap for the two-wheeled. Dedicated cycle-lanes and little more thought in road-planning would help, less cars all over would be excellent, but in the meantime this kind of collective riding is one way to keep a little safer.

Critical Mass has, whatever its particular purpose, very little to do with serious and organised crime, but that has not stopped the police, at last month's events, treating it as if it was. It's ridiculous when you first see it done (or, for that matter, any time subsequently), but as a result of the Serious and Organised Crime Act, the Met have taken to handing out little leaflets to those they deem to be protesting in central London. Critical Massers were greeted with Superintendent Gomm's special missive, as distributed by his underlings:

Critical Mass Cycle Demonstrations

Organisers of public processions are required by law to notify police at least 6 days before the event occurs of the date, time, proposed route and the name and address of an organiser. Failure to do so makes the event unlawful

Demonstrations within a designated area around Parliament must also be notified, and anyone taking part in an unauthorised demonstration commits an offence.

Police can impose conditions on processions, demonstrations and other assemblies, and participants render themselves liable to arrest if they fail to comply with those conditions.

These cycle protests are not lawful because no organiser has provided police the with the necessary notification. Your participation in this event could render you liable to prosecution. Police policy in facilitating these events is currently under review.

The petty-mindedness of this is what makes it so irritating: police "facilitation" of Critical Mass is completely unnecessary, large groups of cyclists being able to look after themselves, and the cops' presence appears to be largely treated by them as an opportunity to film and photograph those taking part. There's the sniffy assumption that "protesters" ought to be asking the police for permission, if they must protest at all, and that also rankles.

Next Critical Mass is on the last Friday in October (28th), assembling at the usual place in central London about 6ish. The hope is that this will be one of the biggest yet.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Here's a star of the Tory hard-right, Edward Leigh, putting the boot in:

The public accounts committee demanded that the Department for Work and Pensions must step up its drive to reduce cheating and mispayment in the benefits bill.

The committee found that in 2003/04, the DWP lost an estimated £3bn out of its total expenditure of £109bn to fraud and error...

Edward Leigh, the committee chairman, slammed the failure to effectively combat abuse of the benefits system.

"The astronomical scale of the amount of benefit money being lost through fraud and error is vividly brought home to taxpayers by the astonishing fact that the figures are rounded to the nearest half a billion pounds," he said.

"Astronomical?" £3bn from a budget of £109bn is less than 3%. Yet David Blunkett has fallen into line with the Tories, offering typically Draconian (and typically ill-conceived) plans to harrass single parents, the disabled and the unemployed who dare attempting to improve upon their miserly hand-outs.

The £3bn figure disappears into irrelevance, however, when set beside the colossal scale of corporate fraud:

[Business advisers] RSM Robson Rhodes believe UK companies lost £32bn in 2003 through acts such as fraud, embezzlement, corruption and money laundering - and spent a further £8bn seeking to combat the problem.

Or, for that matter, tax avoidance. According to Prem Sikka, professor of accountancy at Essex:

Informed opinion is that the UK may be losing some £85bn in tax revenue each year, nearly twice the annual budget of the NHS.

Perhaps Blunkett would do better subjecting a few corporate accountants to his "lie detector tests".

(One final point: Blunkett appears to think there is "something very strange has happened to our society" if 2.8m people are now claiming incapacity benefit. This is quite correct: she was called Margaret Thatcher, and Blunkett’s government have done little to neutralise her poisonous legacy. As noted earlier, if the government really thinks it can turf perhaps hundreds of thousands of the disguised unemployed from IB and onto the labour market without imposing any strain on either the economies of depressed areas, or the rest of the benefits system, they have quite definitively lost the plot on welfare. "Crackers," as Blunkett himself said, elsewhere.)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Gaaargh bastards

...and another thing about David Cameron, he's not "on the left" of the Tory Party. He just looks like he is: exactly like Blair. Such "left-wing" statements as he evinces are flummery: exactly like Blair. Beneath the flannel, he's a Thatcherite with socially liberal pretensions, like the rest of his Notting Hill chums. (Needless to say, they all continue to support the occupation of Iraq, having enthusiastically supported the invasion.)

Enough of the Tories. The peculiar, media-led reconstruction of party that is visibly decaying as a social force has been unsettling; the social roots of the Tories are withering, whether examined by membership or by votes, but the hollow trunk that remains can be maintained from the media's own resources.

Update: ...just a small one:

Labour has extended its poll lead over the Conservatives, according to the latest survey.

A Populus study for Tuesday's Times puts support for Labour on 40 per cent, the Tories on 30 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 21 per cent.

The gap has widened slightly since the last poll, which quizzed the public before the party conference season.

The findings suggest that while the media was impressed by signs of a Conservative revival in Blackpool, the public has yet to adopt the same view.


The irrepressible Kate is enterning national novel writing month, over here and here. Basic plan: write 50,000 word novel between 1st and 30th of November. Quality irrelevant - much like no-one seriously anticipates completing their first marathon in record time.

There's a foolish part of me that thinks it can't be that difficult, given that 6,000 people completed the event last year. There's all sorts of clever postmodern cheats that can be relied upon, too (writing a novel to a time limit about writing a novel to a time limit, that sort of thing). It's a piece of piss, really. I'd be more impressed if she was going to run a marathon at the end of it all.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Tories and the media

Tories again. Sorry. Having complained, quite bitterly, about the anoinment by media of Gordon Brown as Blair's One True Successor, it would certainly seem that the Tories are being subjected to the same treatment. Despite what appears to be a formally more democratic procedure, the press have collectively - by what mysterious guiding reason, I do not know - decided to trash at least one of the candidates, and actively promote another.

Now, on the one hand, I don't give a monkeys: the Tories will pick someone I don't like, regardless. On the other, it is a little disquieting. The media has always played a role in tweaking, poking and shoving liberal-democratic processes, of course, but the common assumption used to be that large political parties were able to maintain some sort of autonomy from it. That's a basic, liberal, pluralistic understanding of the kind of society we live in: each large participatory institution in its own separate sphere, each doing its own thing, all of them weakly-regulated in their interactions with each other by a system of laws and largely non-interventionist state.

There has been a definite shift, in recent years, away from that model. The media as such now represents itself as the regulatory body: it decides the terrain of political contest, it sets the conditions for victory. Only events quite outside its own control have seriously disrupted the game - I'm thinking, in particular, of the anti-war movement, which crept up unawares on the media in general.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I'd like to teach the world to sing

Cor, this one sounds like it would've been amusing to watch, if nothing else... next at the Tory Conference fringe, Nelson Mandela lectures the Federation of Conservative Students (1983 intake) on black liberation.

Don't like David Cameron

I'm not supposed to, obviously. He's a Tory, and a thoroughly rotten Tory at that. However. There is something more than little unpleasantly pushy and piggy about the man, the air of an Eton boy slumming it for our edification, an all-round jumped-up Tory squittishness that cannot fail to irritate. Watching him, he has an oleaginous slippery quality; he slid across the stage just as he slithered over the painstakingly-inflated gasbag of platitudes he called his speech. As usual, I'm wildly out of step with the official meeja, already heartily decreeing that Cameron's the man, Cameron for boss, Cameron's top, Cameron Cameron Cameron.

This all seems very familiar... oh god. They have found their Tony Blair.

Swinish multitudes and social theorists

Anthony Giddens, perhaps no longer "Tony Blair's favourite intellectual", and Ulrich Beck, doyenne of the risk society, had a splendidly otiose column in the Guardian a couple of days ago. Bashing their over-sized crania together, Europe's two leading social theorists hoped the resulting sparks would reignite the flames of passionate cosmopolitanism that is every grey Eurocrat's secret fervour:

The people of France and the Netherlands have spoken. The proposed European constitution is dead. Long live ... ! What? It's up to pro-Europeans to say. We shouldn't allow the Eurosceptics to seize the agenda. We have to react to and cope with the "no" in a positive and constructive way...

It is not the EU's failure but its very successes that trouble people. Reuniting western and eastern Europe would have seemed an impossible dream less than 20 years ago. But even in the new member states people ask: "Where does all this stop?" Even for those who profit most, the EU can feel like an agent of globalisation rather than a means of adapting to and reshaping it.

It's vapid nonsense, of course, as would be expected at least from the author of The Third Way. But its vapidity serves a purpose. Denying the obvious by omission - that, in this case, the French referendum vote was about economics, far more than it was about "identity" or "nationalism" - is a fundamental strategy for these self-designated "pro-Europeans" of the left.

A peculiar quirk of history found the mainstream of the European Left heartily embracing Europe at precisely the point at which the EEC abandoned substantive claims to be able to promote or sustain the Left's economic values. Jacques Delors' speech to the TUC in 1988 was critical in pushing the bulk of the Labour Party leadership into the most absurd enthusiasm for the EU and all its works: scuttling away from Thatcher's lash, Kinnock led the Labour Party into the steel trap of an EEC on the brink of imposing "cosmopolitan" Thatcherism across the continent, in the form of the Maastricht Treaty and the Stability and Growth Pact. In France, the same break happened earlier, and more dramatically, in Mitterrand's sacrifice of his Keynesian manifesto in support of the European Monetary System.

This was one element in the far bigger process whereby the historic institutions and organisations of the Left gradually dropped their aspirations (however meaningless in practice) for the overhaul of the society, and settled instead on the virtues of neoliberal management, watered down with more-or-less vague pieties about "social exclusion" and other "Third Way" themes. It has left so-called "pro-European" intellectuals like Beck and Giddens blindly supporting the EU, bereft of any substantial justification for doing so. (Jurgen Habermas, writing here before the French referendum vote, does something similar.)

They are left with a decidedly elitist position. Rather addressing the clearly-expressed concerns of European citizens, these bothersome noises are dismissed as expressions of recidivist "nationalism", to be swallowed by the neoliberal tide of true, "cosmopolitan" Europeanism. Alberto Toscano, in a letter to the Guardian the following day, summarised their problem, and posed the alternative:

Despite their global renown as sociologists, Professors Beck and Giddens (Comment, October 4) appear to have abdicated the critical virtues which mark their discipline at its best. Parroting familiar neoliberal euphemisms, they tell us that if it is to succeed as "a new type of cosmopolitan project", "Europe simply must gear up for change". Many Europeans have realised that behind these vapid exhortations and the idols of growth rates and reform there lies a commitment to a market-driven agenda at odds with the idea of "a Europe which is fair and socially just".

French resistance to the EU constitution was not fuelled in the main by a nationalist desire for isolation, nor by the racism seen elsewhere. It stemmed from the conviction that the constitution is not merely "lengthy and inelegant" but that it subordinates the demand for social justice to an economic creed proven to exacerbate inequality and erode solidarity.

Most importantly, the French campaign against the constitution showed the strength of one of the few values Europeans can be proud of: democratic participation and activism. The true pro-Europeans and cosmopolitans will be those capable of renovating the continent's radical democratic tradition, not the latter-day courtiers and experts.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Dog-bothering, etc

We had a print of Arthur Sarnoff's The Hustler hanging in the outside lavatory. The eye-watering failed perspective of the pool-table; the way the camp spaniel in specs appears to be wearing a bow on its head; the excrutiating arrangement of doggy digits to hold a pool-cue - you can almost hear the crunching and snapping of bones on the artist's model: any length of time contemplating this anthropomorphic outrage is a uniquely painful experience.

Anyway, here's Jonathan Jones on Jack Vettriano.

God-bothering, etc

If there's one thing that indicates how completely stuffed the Left has been for too long, it is the prevalence of a shockingly stupid attitude to religion. For god's sake, people, get over your liberal bloody hang-ups.

Feuerbach resolves the religious essence into the human essence. But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual.

In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.

Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a criticism of this real essence, is consequently compelled:

To abstract from the historical process and to fix the religious sentiment as something by itself and to presuppose an abstract – isolated – human individual.
Essence, therefore, can be comprehended only as “genus”, as an internal, dumb generality which naturally unites the many individuals.

(Karl Marx, Sixth Thesis on Feuerbach, 1845)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Speaking of Tories... did anyone else catch that strange interlude on Newsnight yesterday? Some opinion pollster/political advisor/merchant of corruption and evil had rounded up a bunch of Tories and potential Tories who, quite contrary to opinion polls elsewhere, collectively booed and hissed Ken Clarke before swooning at the sight and sound of David Cameron's platitudinous speeches. There we go, concludes Mr Focus Group, David Cameron should be leader. All very odd; does Cameron have a chum on the Newsnight team?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Well, blow me, a self-aware Tory blogger who can write.

The Apostolic Succession

Continuing the theme of Labour Party democracy, or the lack thereof, can I be the only person who finds the anointment of Gordon Brown as Blair's chosen successor a little disquieting? The idea that the Labour leader should be selected on the pronouncements of New Labour's high priests ought to seriously unsettle. It's not even a pretence of democracy: through ejections, through expulsions, and through demands for loyalty, the Labour Party is now a very efficient machine for selecting political managers with the minimum of political debate.

Or it would be if we let run unhindered. Like the aged heckler at the conference hall, events have an unfortunate habit of rudely interrupting New Labour's divine plans. It would have been impossible, after the 2001 election, to have predicted the effects of the Iraq war on British politics. It is equally impossible to predict the fallout from public-sector "reform", or from the winding-down of the economy.

What's left of the true-blue Thatcherites, incidentally, have been growling about those two for some time:

For several years this newspaper has been a lone voice in arguing that Mr Brown is not the economic miracle-worker he and his unquestioning cheerleaders in the media would have us believe. The evidence is now moving so convincingly in our direction that even an economically ignorant British media is beginning to realise it.

...followed by the usual fantasy-land complaints about "excessive" red-tape and "massive tax hikes". On productivity, however, they're closer to the mark: the British economy has been leaning very heavily on a financial sector that efficiently turns property prices into consumer debt to compensate for its stunted productivity growth. Domestic demand is propped-up, even if pressure on the current account is enormous.

Naturally, The Business blame all this on the public sector - a dubious story: public sector output is not traded internationally, so it's a little hard to see why its productivity should matter quite so much. Nor even is it quite clear how the "productivity" of, say, a doctor on her ward round should be measured. The real culprit is the private sector, far too dependent on low wages in the place of investment. Allowing for that, the collossal sums now being chucked at various PFI advisors, management consultants, and other hired parasites is startling. Colin McCabe has quite a neat summary:

Old Labour used to run deficits to employ low-paid workers in the unproductive old public sector; New Labour runs deficits to employ highly-paid consultants in the even more unproductive new public sector.

As McCabe also says, were the Labour Party still able to function as a forum for meaningful debate, the sheer profligacy of New Labour, busily shovelling public money down a private-sector black-hole, would not have remained unscrutinised. If you want "efficient public services", you have to surround them with democratic institutions. New Labour does quite the opposite.