Monthly Archives: April 2011

Nile Gardiner – visionary?

It shows you how long Nile Gardiner has been living in the States. He seems to have completely forgotten how the British political system works and, instead, conflates the US system with the British system. This is from a blog that he wrote for the Torygraph in May of  last year.

As I wrote in my op-ed piece earlier today, Nick Clegg is the first major party leader to run for Prime Minister on an anti-British ticket. He is filled with a self-loathing for his nation and its institutions, which came across in spades in his response to The Times letter.

First, no one “runs for Prime Minister” in this country. The leader of the party with the largest number of votes becomes the Prime Minister. Second, how is Nick Clegg “anti-British”?  While I have no love for Nick Clegg or the Liberal Democrats, this rant is quite bizarre and seems to come from the same wellspring as his Moonie faith. It’s the same kind of rant that he normally reserves for Barack Obama.

Gardiner spent the entire 10 days during the coalition negotiations fretting about a possible Labour-Lib Dem coalition. Little did he realise that the Lib Dems would hop into bed with the Tories – even I knew they would and I am not a well-paid political hack who writes third-rate articles for right wing magazines.

Here’s a taste of his paranoia.

Shamelessly, Gordon Brown is threatening to stay on as Prime Minister as late as September, despite overwhelmingly losing last week’s general election. In the meantime, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, according to Gordon’s grand plan, will stitch up a “progressive” government that will also include the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Once this government is formed, Brown will ask Labour to hold a leadership contest, with David Miliband as the likely front-runner to succeed him.

Simple arithmetic meant that a coalition between the Lib Dems and Labour wasn’t going to happen.  A Tory minority government would have easily collapsed. Gardiner persisted.

It is frankly the sort of farcical development one expects in Khartoum or Caracas, and not in one of the world’s greatest democracies

Khartoum? Caracas? Is he off his trolley? The short answer to that is “Yes, he is”. He chooses Khartoum simply because it is the capital of Sudan, a country that has long been associated with Islamism (remember ‘Chinese’ Gordon and the Mahdi Revolt?) and Caracas because it is the capital of Venezuela and it is where the US right’s Number One bogeyman, Hugo Chavez is in power.

On the very same day, Gardiner, presumably unable to sleep and sick with worry over the prospect of a Lib-Lab coalition,  wrote this blog. The headline screams “David Cameron should say no to a coalition with the Lib Dems”.

It is simply an illusion to believe the Liberals share with the Conservatives some kind of common vision for dealing with the massive debt crisis and saving Britain from a financial meltdown. They are, even more than Labour, the party of Big Government and endless state intervention, and are the enemies of free enterprise. Their socialist-style solutions will strangle the markets, force wealth out of the country, and scare away much needed investment. It is worth remembering Clegg’s pledge in the third televised debate to heavily tax banking profits and restrict bonuses in the financial services sector, the surest way to kill the City and end Britain’s supremacy as a centre of global finance.

“Socialist-style solutions”? In Britain? Gardiner is not a man of vision. Let’s put it this way, he’d never cut it as a seaside clairvoyant. The Petulengro family must be mightily relieved to hear this. But notice how he stirs up the paranoia, which he serves up with lashings of bile and hyperbole. That line “kill the City and end Britain’s supremacy as a centre of global finance” is meant to appeal to our collective sense of reason but quite honestly, I couldn’t care less if the banks pulled out of London. The British economy has recently been built on the daft products that have been dreamt up by City numbskulls looking for new ways to extend their greed. Those aren’t real products like ships or steel girders; they’re purely imagined.

Here he is on the Mellon Scaife-owned Newsmax Channel giving his ‘expert’ opinion.

His analysis is, again, wanting. A Conservative minority government? Is he serious?

In September, Gardiner made an almighty great cock up over prisoner’s voting rights as this blog points out. I quite like this quote,

The problem with Nile Gardiner is that he is a hypocrite. For a so-called expert dealing with the US led alliance against rogue states, not to see when the UK is itself a rogue state in Europe shows that he is either blind or as daft as George Bush and that he has the morals of Tony Blair going into an illegal war with Iraq and claiming he did what he believed to be right!

By the way, the Bush family was very close to Moon.

In 2008, this blog by Paul Waugh appeared in the Evening Standard. It’s about the former Labour minister Shahid Malik who was tricked into meeting with the Universal Peace Federation, a Unification Church front group. This is the most important bit,

Rev Moon was considered so dangerous that Michael Howard banned him from coming into the country in the Nineties. His views on Jews and homosexuals leave a lot to be desired to, it appears.

It was Michael, now Lord Howard, who was Home Secretary under John Major who issued the ban. Even though the Moon is banned from the UK, the Universal Peace Federation is allowed to continue its work here.

In October 2010, the baby-faced one was chuffed with Liam Fox, of whom he gushed,

Liam Fox is that rare politician of tremendous principle, who unfailingly places country before political self-interest. He believes strongly in the greatness of Britain as a nation, and that its continuing role as a global power depends upon her ability to project military force, including a capacity to fight alongside the UK’s closest ally, the United States.

It’s almost as if he’s writing about the US here and not the UK. What’s he trying to tell us? The headline says it all “Liam Fox is the Churchill of the coalition”. You see how he summoned up the ghost of Churchill, just as Thatcher had done in the 1980’s? This offers us a window into his thoughts. He uses Churchill as a mantra or a magical incantation that is intended to cast all demons aside – as though he were a shaman.  Trouble is, it is ineffective and makes him look desperate. His idol, Thatcher, tried to use the same trick and it blew up in her face.

Gardiner is an obsessive and a scaremonger. He’s also failed to tell us whether or not he is still a member of the Unification Church. However, it is unlikely that he’s left because Moonies don’t often leave the ‘church’ of their own accord.

Here is a quick look at what the Unification Church is and what it does,

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Filed under Ideologies, Internet, Journalism, Media, Tory press

Cyclist killed on Queen Caroline Street

As I was working at my computer yesterday morning, I looked out of my window and I could see loads of police standing around on Queen Caroline Street. There was “Police Line. Do not cross” tape across the road. I couldn’t actually see what was happening but I suspected one of two things: the first was that there was some sort of hostage situation and the second was that someone had been killed. It was the latter.

The Fulham Chronicle reports

A CYCLIST has died after a collision with a lorry in Queen Caroline Street.

Police and ambulance crews were called to the Hammersmith street at 8.24am on Thursday morning to find the biker, believed to be a woman in her 20s, dead at the scene.

The road was closed for most of the day as traffic officers investigated the cause of the crash and quizzed witnesses.

A police tent was put up and a waste collection truck also cordoned off after the collision.

I suspect that the woman came out of Worlidge Street without looking and was hit by the refuse lorry. I see this sort of thing all the time on Queen Caroline Street: people on bikes not looking for other road-users when they’re dealing with a junction. They don’t  creep and peep or they enter the minor road on the right instead of the left.

Of course, it may well be the driver’s fault. I’ve seen some shocking driving down there.  The sight lines are terrible on parts of Queen Caroline Street and there are times when there are cars illegally parked on the corner of Worlidge Street and that little access road that runs between College Mansions and the council flats. But that wasn’t the worst of it.  I once encountered a driver who had parked right across the entrance to the Peabody Estate – all because he was in a Mercedes.

I was out cycling earlier and as I was approaching the junction of the slip road outside the Hammersmith Apollo and  Queen Caroline Street, I saw two blokes to my left: one of whom was wobbling in the middle of the road and the other was on the wrong side of the road.  And no, the idiot in the middle of the road wasn’t cycling outside of the “door zone”. He was talking to his dizzy chum.  This isn’t the first time that I’ve seen this kind of thing on Queen Caroline Street. It happens all the time. People get fooled into thinking that it’s quiet road. It isn’t.

Our condolences go out to the woman’s family.

UPDATE: 26/8/11 @ 1320

I found this article on the HF Cyclists site. The local police wrote this,

Dear all,
I have some more information regarding the fatal road traffic collision that happened in Queen Caroline Street on 28/04/2011 at 0820 hours. A cyclist was travelling north-east. When she was about 15 metres south-west from the junction with Worlidge Street the near-side of her bike hit a car that was correctly parked by the north-west kerb in the parking bay and fell off the bike. At the same time a refuse lorry was travelling south-west leaving a gap of 1.5 metres between it’s off-side and the row of parked cars (by the north-west kerb) at 15mph. The cyclist fell between the front and rear axles of the refuse lorry, went under the rear wheels and died as a result of her injuries.

The parking bay was fully occupied with parked cars. The weather was dry, about 15 degrees Celsius. There were no defects with the road or its layout that could have contributed to this collision.

I have looked at the collision statistics for 36 months to Dec 2010 and found that, whilst there were two collisions involving pedal cyclists nearby, neither were similar to this one; both involved the pedal cyclist making a right turn.

The police refuse to accept that the way the road is laid out contributed to the death of this cyclist. But I have talked to other cyclists about Queen Caroline Street and they tell me the same thing: the sight lines are terrible and many motorists drive inconsiderately along the street.

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Filed under Cycling, Hammersmith & Fulham, London

Poly Styrene RIP

The lead singer of X-Ray Spex, Poly Styrene has died after a fight against cancer. Here is Nowhere Towers’ tribute to a fine woman.

Germ Free Adolescence

The Day the World Turned Dayglo

Black Christmas

RIP Marian Joan Elliott-Said.

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Filed under Popular music, Society & culture

The referendum on the voting system – why I’ll be voting “No”.

It’s a funny old business, this referendum on the voting system. It’s become a bitter battle between those who don’t want a change in the system and those who don’t want the Alternative Vote ( AV) but see it as a sort of halfway house between First Past The Post (FPTP) and the real deal. That’s how simple it is. No one really wants AV but those who are running the Yes campaign aren’t honest enough to tell you that. They’re too wrapped up in their imaginations.

But those who support the No vote aren’t exactly covering themselves in glory either.  Their campaign has relied on emotional blackmail and cheap tricks. The campaign has adopted an ad hominem tone to it. Nick Clegg has become the object of ridicule for a campaign that has been orchestrated from the Tory side of the argument. Clegg apparently thinks that AV is a”miserable little compromise”. But he accepted AV as part of the coalition deal; he wasn’t politically savvy enough to spot a lemon when it was presented to him as a roadworthy vehicle. Clegg loves the high of being in government. It’s intoxicating.

What has really developed is  a phony war between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – both of them in power but engaging in a little mudslinging for the benefit of the cameras. “Look” say the Lib Dems, “We’re a separate party, with our own identity”. But no one wants to hear it. No one is interested hearing how the Lib Dems are playing nice cop to the Tories’ nasty cop. We’ve read the script, seen the film. One cop is kneeing you in the goolies, while the other is offering to get you a cup of tea. They’re the perfect pair.

I’m voting “No”. Not because I want to screw the Lib Dems (they’ve done that to themselves) but because I don’t believe that AV is any better than FPTP. Proportional Representation in the form of real PR, as exists in Ireland with Single Transferable Vote system  (STV) or the Mixed Member Proportional voting system (MMP) as exists in Scotland, are the real ways forward. Even AV+ is a little better than this AV bollocks.

But do we really need a referendum on this issue NOW? My answer to that question is “no”.

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Filed under Alternative Vote system, Government & politics

Ex-offenders given tents to live in

I found this article in Inside Housing. It’s a scandal that homeless ex-offenders are, in effect, told to remain homeless and are handed tents to live in. Of course there are loads of Torygraph readers who would agree with this sort of thing but, as far as Nowhere Towers is concerned,  they’re not human.

Ex-offenders handed tents to live in

Homeless ex-offenders in Nottinghamshire are being issued with tents by the region’s probation service.

The service confirmed it gave tents to five people last year when hostel accommodation could not be found.

Peter Anthony, accommodation, benefits and advice officer with Nottinghamshire Probation Service, said it would prefer stable accommodation for ex-offenders. But he added: ‘When there simply is no other option we will, if it is appropriate, provide a tent and sleeping bag.

‘If you send someone away from the office into the night and they have literally got nowhere to go, the chances are that they will commit offences.’
Mr Anthony added that bed spaces in the region were reducing due to the closure of a number of hostels. ‘This year we expect it [the use of tents] to increase exponentially,’ he added.

You can read the rest here.

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Filed under Big Society, Conservative Party, Cuts, Government & politics

Touchy Gardiner tries to remove all references to his connection with the Moonies

Gardiner - is he ashamed of his Moonie connections?

Nile Gardiner seems a little sensitive about his past. So much so, that he’s removed any reference of his connection to the Unification Church from his Wikipedia entry. He’s even managed to get the owners of this website to close the page of a book on which he is quoted as having cleaned up anti-Moon graffiti from the campus before Moon’s visit to Yale. No matter.  People like Gardiner leave trails on the Internet and he can’t close down all the sites that mention his connection to the Moonies.

I found this interesting article, from the ‘horse’s mouth’ so-to-speak, which I am going to quote for posterity.

One of the Unificationist graduate students in history at Yale, Nile Gardiner, and a Christian friend, took mops and buckets and proceeded to clean it all off. This of course started allegations concerning free speech, and many articles in the Yale newspapers covered this. They became quiet famous in the Yale conservative circles as “The Moppers.” Literally cleaning up Yale!

In spite of Gardiner’s attempts to expunge all Moonie references from the Internet, the above quote actually comes from the Unification Church. I’d like to see how long that stays on the Web before he orders it to be removed. At any rate, there is no way I’ll be taking it down – even if he tries to put pressure on me.

Without a sympathetic president in the White House, the Moonies – through Gardiner – have been fighting a rearguard action to smear Obama. There isn’t a week that goes by where Gardiner isn’t attacking Obama on his blog or in his columns. Sometimes the attacks on Obama look rather personal. This is from a conservative blog in the States called “The Last Tradition”. Here’s one of the more hackneyed distortions,

Barack Obama has made it clear that he doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, and has made apologising for his country into an art form. In a speech to the United Nations last September he stated that “no one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold.” It is difficult to see how a US president who holds these views and does not even accept America’s greatness in history can actually lead the world’s only superpower with force and conviction.

Sometimes, when I look at stuff like this, it’s as if I’m reading something that was written in the 19th century. To be honest, I don’t even know if Gardiner is a US citizen. As far as I know, he’s still British. So why does he get so aeriated about the US and its standing as a world superpower? Is it because he’s nostalgic for empire and is vicariously living the experience of empire (and by extension, classical liberalism) by banging the drum for US imperialism and Pax Americana?

Gardiner’s silence on his connection with the Moonies is strange. In purely psychoanalytical terms, it is this silence that says everything.

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Filed under censorship, Media, Tory press

Hague – there won’t be any boots on the ground…

…except for the ones that are being worn by the ‘military advisors’.  The dispatching of ‘advisors’ is often a prelude to a full-scale war. In the late 1950’s, the US sent advisors to what was then Saigon before the escalation of the Vietnam War in 1965. Truth be told, the US provided more than just “advisors”, there was a sizeable military presence in Vietnam before 1965. Indeed my father was stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in 1963.  So when people tell me that the Vietnam War started in 1965, I know better.

This conflict began with so-called “no fly zones”, which are also precursors to a full-blown war. I do find it odd, that within this “no fly zone”,  Libyan ground forces are being attacked.  I mean, when was the last time you saw a flying tank or a flying howitzer?

We were told that “regime change” was not part of plan in Libya but it seems as though this has been the intention all along. The UN Security Council resolution that authorized the “no fly zones” did not call for regime change but you can bet your bottom dollar that that’s the plan. Scameron wants it.  Sokrazy wants it. Even Obomba wants it.  Although the public has been told that this “isn’t about oil”, the fact of the matter is that it is about oil. The last time anyone said “this isn’t about oil” was in the run up to the Iraq invasion and guess what? It was about oil. Blair and Bush lied.

So when William Hague tells us that there aren’t any boots on the ground. He’s a liar. There are  boots on the ground and there will be more of them.

UPDATE: 2/2/12 @1942

Well, it seems that there were special forces boots on Libya soil as well as those of the very special advisors. I wonder, could there have been more of them? Boots, I mean. Possibly. Anything’s possible.

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Filed under Africa, Libya, World

Why right libertarians take semantic refuge in classical liberalism

Classical liberalism in action – Victorian workhouses were prisons for the poor

Recently, I’ve noticed the numbers of right libertarians who have suddenly started claiming that they’re really “classical liberals”. Like cockroaches when they’re exposed to the light, vigorous scrutiny of their soi-disant libertarianism sends them scurrying into the gap between the skirting board and the floor of discourse. There, in the darkness, they feel safe. There they can claim that they are “classical liberals”. But their new-found old position relies entirely on the mass ignorance of the term “classical liberalism” and the historical materialism of the 19th century when classical liberalism (then called liberalism) was first applied as an economic doctrine.

These born-again classical liberals will apply the same narratives that exponents of neoliberalism will use as a defence of their doctrine: that wealth can only be created for all  if the state is “smaller” and business is freed from “bureaucracy” and “red tape” and that wealth will consequently trickle down to those below. This, they argue, will bring forth ‘freedom’ but the freedom that they speak of only applies to a small section of the population: the factory owners and the rentier capitalists. Trickle down doesn’t work, yet these born again classical liberals will claim that it does – though none of them can point to examples of where trickle down has succeeded.

So what are the key defining features of classical liberalism and how does it differ, if at all, from right libertarianism?

Classical liberalism’s key features are

  • Individual liberty
  • smaller state/limited government
  • Laissez faire capitalism/free markets
  • Freedom of speech, religion, press and assembly
  • Disregard for the poor and the needy
  • Social Darwinism
  • Utilitarianism

Right libertarians

  • Individual liberty
  • Laissez faire capitalism/free markets
  • Smaller state/limited or no government
  • Freedom of speech. religion, press and assembly
  • Disregard for the poor and needy
  • Social Darwinism

As you can see, there isn’t much difference between either of them and when right libertarians suddenly proclaim that they are “classical liberals”, they are dishonest in making this largely artificial distinction. The real reason for declaring themselves as classical liberals has more to do with romanticism, nostalgia and outright dishonesty than anything else. They want to go back to a time when people knew their place and stayed there. Social mobility did not exist; the working class stayed in their place. They were denied access to higher education and were tied to their places of work. Knowledge was reserved for the privileged and the powerful. In the eyes of the dominant political hegemony, knowledge in the hands of the subaltern classes was considered dangerous (think of William Tyndale’s struggle to publish the Bible in English). Because with knowledge and ideas came the possibility that authority could be questioned, which could lead, in turn, to civil disobedience and insurrection…even though this happened anyway and was met with considerable force.

The neoliberals and those right libertarians who subscribe to the small state notion are actually the  descendants of classical liberals. They can no more return to the past, then I can become the King of Tonga. They have selectivized the past by appropriating certain memories of the classical liberal period, which always seem to orbit the sun-like narrative of the British Empire. When one puts the point to them that Adam Smith’s assertion that “free markets will lead to world peace” is fallacious proposition, they will respond by asking, “did free market states go to war against each other”? It’s a red herring. There were plenty of wars, many of them waged by free market states against other nations. Free trade relied on wars and the colonization of other countries. It also meant outdoing the competition from other free market nations. Presumably, for our apologists, the Opium Wars were not waged in the name of free trade but were waged to punish the Chinese for not accepting opium rather than silver as payment for silk? It’s a fatuous argument but it’s the sort of defence right libertarians would use.  In the 19th century, the British Empire was the biggest drug pusher on the planet- there is no getting away from it.  It was because of this idea of  “free trade” that countries like China were forced to “open” their markets and thus open themselves to decades of foreign domination.

Classical liberals denied the right of workers to organize. It was only when the last of the Combination Acts was repealed that workers were able to organize in any meaningful way.  Socially, classical liberals were very much against the idea of the relief of poverty and sought to contain it within the Poor Laws. The workhouse, which had been around since the 14th century, saw an expansion in the 19th century after the passing of the Poor Law of 1834. Today’s born again classical liberals have similar ideas with regards to the poor and the unemployed, for whom they have resurrected the artificial distinctions of “deserving” and “undeserving”. Any money spent on the relief of poverty was seen as another impediment to the freedoms of the rich and powerful. One ‘argument’ that I encountered was “The working class were richer (sic) in 1899 than they were in 1801”. But this is another red herring: the working class were never “rich” and lived in overcrowded rented accommodation. Few of them moved up the social ladder. Those that did became the petite bourgeoisie: the shopkeepers, market traders or were otherwise recruited as instruments of oppression, nor did they buy their own properties in leafy districts of the industrial cities nor did any of them become industrialists. There was a glass ceiling preventing those at the bottom from becoming say, MPs, because of the property qualification.

The right libertarian is a dishonest creature that substitutes myths and tropes for facts. They extrapolate their arguments from sets of numbers in the hope that no one will spot the flaws in their thesis – which always overlooks society in favour of cold economic statistics. This decontextualization of numbers from the societal whole is their only defence and it’s a weak one. But the worst offence is to claim that they are “classical liberals” when they are really right libertarians looking for a way to divert attention away from their very postmodern interpretations of  selfishness and greed by hiding in the darkness of the past.

The use of the phrase “classical liberalism” by right libertarians is therefore an exercise in semantic subterfuge and should be laughed off as such.

UPDATE 11/5/11 @ 1213

I found this interesting blog written by an anarchist. Right libertarians don’t live in the real world.

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Filed under 19th century, Economics, History, History & Memory, Ideologies, Labour history, Language, Society & culture, Trade Unions, workers rights

The engineering of happiness

The word “happiness” is notoriously difficult to define. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “happy”  as:

1 feeling or showing pleasure; pleased

Or

2 giving or causing pleasure

Or

3 if you wish somebody a Happy Birthday, Happy New Year, etc. you mean that you hope they have a pleasant celebration

Or

4 satisfied that something is good or right; not anxious

Or

5 happy to do something (formal) willing or pleased to do something

Or

6 lucky; successful

Or

7 (formal) (of words, ideas or behaviour) suitable and appropriate for a particular situation

Other words that are synonymous with happy are “glad”, “pleased”, “delighted”, “proud”, “thrilled” and “relieved”.  Happiness is a vague word that means many things to many people. It is a word that relies on context; without which, it means little or nothing at all.

This government’s interest in our happiness is nothing new. The last government had similar ideas. It even published “happiness indices”. We were often told that the Iraqi people were “happier” that Saddam Hussein had been toppled because of factors x, y and z. But the criteria that was used to measure happiness ignored a great many things like the ruined infrastructure and the lack of a properly functioning government. The current government’s interest in our ‘happiness’ has some very Bernaysian overtones to it, not least because David Cameron is a former PR man. When he became leader of the Conservative Party, he rebranded the party and even gave it a new logo.

Tory logo

The logo is simple enough to deconstruct and even an ‘A’ level media studies student can see what they were trying to do with this logo. By choosing this logo the Tories unconsciously tell us that for all the green rhetoric, they are still blue underneath; the green foliage is merely superficial. The fact that it also appears to be hand-designed tells us that they want to come over as friendly, a bit informal and a bit arty.

Edward Bernays, the founding father of the PR industry and nephew of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, was determined to pacify the masses with distractions because he believed that people could be engineered en masse to behave in the way politicians wanted them to.  This is a mild version of technocracy, which regards human as machines.

In the last 15 years or so, I’ve noticed how the media has become fond of telling us how the human body is a “wonderful machine”. The problematic with this idea of the body-as-a-machine is that it does not consider the fact that the body is actually an organism. This position ignores the vagaries of human beings, their dreams, their hopes, their lives and treat humans as mechanical devices that input/output data. Machines are not sentient and they cannot learn things; they must be given commands in order to perform a single given task. Humans can rebel, be crotchety, smile, frown, get sick, answer back and think for themselves. Machines can do none of these things, yet many politicians and others will persist with this notion that we are machines or, conversely, irrational beings that act in our own interests. When the Luddites smashed mechanical looms in the early 19th century, they did so because they feared that machines would take the jobs of humans. What they never could have dreamt in all their wildest imaginations was how politicians and others would come to regard the human being, not as a person, but as a machine.

The Tory-led government, like the New Labour government before it, is determined to socially engineer the country to behave in ways that are in line with its vision of a nation that is er, happy?  But what is happiness and can it be manufactured or even conscripted to serve ideology? It’s a shaky foundation on which to build a political edifice and the result could be catastrophic.  Happiness is subjective and is often occurs in a moment. No one is 100% happy all of the time. It simply isn’t possible. A good mood may last a day but it only takes one thing to upset that mood. Perhaps mood enhancement or alteration is what the government is aiming for? No, that would be sci-fi… too Philip K. Dick a la Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The media has also jumped on the bandwagon, as if to suggest that they are working with the government, to get the message out. The BBC has been one of the worst offenders. In 2006, in a moment of sheer prescience, they even put together a happiness test. The BBC tells us

Psychologists say it is possible to measure your happiness.

This test designed by psychologist Professor Ed Diener from the University of Illinois, takes just a minute to complete.

Well, if psychologists tell us it’s possible, then surely we should believe them? No. Discovering what makes people happy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You may want to do something to make your partner, parents or children happy. When governments or corporations strive to understand our happiness or lack of it, they do it for other reasons and those reasons have nothing to do with improving our standard of living or anything like it.

I’ve recently encountered Action for Happiness, a group that is part of the Young Foundation. The foundation was named after Michael Young, the father of the Hon Tobes. Action for Happiness tell us that

For fifty years we’ve aimed relentlessly at higher incomes. But despite being much wealthier, we’re no happier than we were five decades ago. At the same time we’ve seen an increase in wider social issues, including a worrying rise in anxiety and depression in young people. It’s time for a positive change in what we mean by progress.

A couple of things came to mind when I read this: first, it ignores wage stagnation and makes the claim that as a nation “we are wealthier”. Who is this “we”? What they base this notion on is anyone’s guess. Second, it presumes to have some intimate understanding of the word “happiness”. Third, it presumes that happiness can be generated by helping others. This is a fallacy and what those, including the government, who speak of happiness in such terms are actually trying to create is a culture of volunteerism. But this presumes that many people don’t volunteer already. Not many people have the time, after working some of the longest hours in Europe to volunteer after a hard day of work.

This Guardian article moves away from the word “happiness” and claims that the government wants to measure our wellbeing instead. Quoting the Institute of Economic Development’s study it says,

“There is a considerable body of research, both on how to measure wellbeing and on the implications that adopting this measurement could have for policy,” writes Seaford, author of the paper and head of the Centre for Wellbeing at the New Economics Foundation (Nef).

This should be seen for what it is:  an attempt at social engineering. The government’s concern for our wellbeing and our happiness indicates a disturbing lack of substance at the heart of this government’s policy-making. Instead of creating jobs and alleviating poverty it is more concerned with fleeting notions of happiness. This focus on happiness can also be viewed as a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from the massive cuts in public spending, all of which may make people less content and more vulnerable.

This Guardian article warns of the problem of attaching the concepts of happiness and wellbeing to economic growth and material wealth.

But what does all this mean for the way we measure social and personal wellbeing? We are repeatedly told that consumer spending is all-important for the economy; that without enough of it, confidence will “wilt”, retailers “slump” and the Bank of England will have to perform some sort of “difficult balancing act”, as if running some kind of miserable circus sideshow.

This is the underlying discourse contained within the happiness message coming from politicians: happiness is congruent with economic growth. It is, perhaps, another way of trying to sell us things that we don’t need.

Since it was decreed a few decades ago that capitalism would have to expand by selling people things they didn’t need, rather than have them replace things when they wore out, we have been coerced into thinking about quality of life in terms of owning and accumulating more things. And even if housing bubbles and credit card debt end up punishing those people who can afford it least, the ruling and financial classes (too often the same thing) can turn round and say “well, it was your fault, your choice, no one made you take out one (or many) loans/mortgages/overdrafts”.

Happiness? It means nothing.

Here’s The Smiths.

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H & F Council: information, disinformation and no information

Early last month, I made a couple of information requests to H&F council under the Freedom of Information Act. I submitted the requests about one week apart from each other. The second request, asking which company publishes the soon-to-be-defunct H&F News, was completed quickly. The first one, which asked if any emails regarding the West London Free School had been sent between Cambridge House and the Bryony Centre, was delayed twice (they explained that it would be delayed) and on 6 April, after it was delayed again and I had not heard from them, I sent a polite but short email asking what had happened to the requested information. Within hours, I received an email informing me that “no emails were sent between Cambridge School and the Bryony Centre in July of last year”.

Normally a request should take 20 days to complete. On this occasion it actually took the council 30 odd days to even tell me that there was nothing. I have to tell you, friends, that I am suspicious. So suspicious that I am about to make a complaint to the Information Commissioners Office. It seems to me that the council has not fulfilled its statutory obligation and when I asked them what had happened to the information, they failed to provide it on time. Given the fact that this council has maladministered my council tax account, perhaps the delay and the accompanying excuses were only to be expected. That said, there is something fishy going on and I intend to get to the bottom of it.

Recently H&F council has paid the Fulham Chronicle to carry its information propaganda. Shepherds Bush blog broke the story on 14 February. This is an unprecedented move because I know of no other council that has made such an arrangement with an independent local paper. Nowhere Towers believes that the Fulham Chronicle will now go a little easier on H&F Council, since – according to the Cowan Report – the council has paid the paper £75,000 to carry its information. In many respects, this is like the Cabinet Office paying the Daily Mirror to disseminate the government’s ‘happiness’ agenda. Make no mistake, this recent move by the council conforms entirely to the propaganda model – only rather than a compnay paying for advertising space, H&F council will actually pay for its own information to be carried by the paper.

It’s a very worrying development and it appears prima facie to circumvent Eric Pickles’s agenda to clamp down on so-called “Town Hall Pravdas”. H&F council’s Dear Leader was cock-a-hoop about the deal. Here he is quoted on Shepherds Bush blog

“We have been incredibly proud to have published H&F News but this agreement is a positive step forward for the borough’s residents as we have secured an effective way of communicating our news, while delivering real value for money. As a result we will continue to have one of the lowest communication costs of any London borough.

“Additionally, this illustrates our commitment to supporting a vibrant independently produced newspaper in the borough.”

It’s the last paragraph that sticks in the mind. How can Greenhalgh possibly make this claim with a straight face?

Finally, I’ll always remember H&F News‘ “Your Shout” column, which was always written by a member of the paper’s editorial staff. This can be seen as a microcosm of the way in which H&F council works and is a possible indication of how its relationship with Fulham Chronicle might play out over the coming years.

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