Tag Archives: New Labour

Let’s Talk About: Those New Labour Achievements

If you’re a Corbyn supporter, you’re probably more than familiar with the rebuttals (such as they are) deployed by Blairites and Nu Labour sympathizers to the discourse that insists their prescription for governing the country is the wrong one at this time. As you may already know, such minds are closed to all reason. For them, facing backward is always preferable to facing forward. Nostalgia is just so, so much better than real life.

Perhaps you’ve heard the oft-uttered defence: “When we were in power, we achieved” to which the speaker will go on to produce a list of the Holy achievements. This line of defence recently appeared as a Twitter rebuttal to the critiques of Ken Loach and Paul Mason, and has been reproduced on the otherwise interesting Political Scrapbook. As arguments go, it’s pretty weak.  Why?  Because the repetition of the “our achievements” line is little better than a curmudgeon opening their front door and shouting at some little kids playing football in the street , while at the same time leaving their back door open to all and sundry. “I fought several wars for the likes of you”, shouts the old duffer as bigger kids ransack his house and steal his valuables behind his back.

As I mentioned in earlier blogs, Blair swerved around the structural problems that had been accumulated by nearly two decades of neoliberal economic and social policies. The notion that only the market can provide solutions was accepted as fait accompli by the Nu Labour policy makers and apparatchiks. Blair and his acolytes internalized the Tories’ economic arguments and accepted them as Truths. For them, the economic orthodoxy formulated in the Thatcher years, which has been responsible for untold miseries, can and could never be challenged. It has become holy writ. Set in stone – so to speak.

So why do Blairites insist on listing Nu Labour’s achievements as words of power to ward off all and any criticism of the party and, particularly, Tony Blair? Well, it reveals their lack of a relevant vision for the future and in failing to offer a real alternative, they have become prisoners of their past. Moreover, their constant reproduction of nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ betrays their lack of a big narrative and policies that will transform peoples’ lives for the better. Nostalgia is and always has been a very poor substitute for history as it was really lived. Slogans and headline-grabbing gimmicks have become a replacement for ideas for the PR-driven Parliamentary Labour Party, itself the true offspring of Nu Labour. Today’s crop of right-wing and flaccid Left Labour MPs, who were produced by the machine created by Nu Labour, are not only devoid of imagination and ideas, they are incapable of learning from history and can see nothing beyond the status quo.

The paucity of meaningful ideas was brought into sharp relief during the last two leadership elections: in contrast to Corbyn, the Blairites and their allies could only offer more window-dressing and empty soundbites. Hope as both a concept and a word was noticeably absent from the vocabularies of Burnham, Kendall and Cooper; while Smith, who was/is emptiness personified, thought he could steal Corbyn’s policies in the hope (sic) that no one would notice. But they did and he lost. Badly. It is only Corbyn who has offered an alternative discourse to the prevailing socio-economic orthodoxy and it is only Corbyn who has articulated anything resembling a vision. The others offered nothing and in this, they are little better than the managers of expectations and the destroyers of dreams. There is no hope and there is no future. Only more misery. But hey, what about our achievements when we were in power?  What about them? What about the future? We’re not asking you to be scryers.

Those who follow the Nu Labourites, Progressites, Blairites or whatever, never bother to ask the questions about what kind of country they would like to see. Instead, like those they worship, they are at once fixated on the past and are insistent their leaders and they alone should be in power. The Bitterites haven’t cottoned on to the fact that if they can’t articulate a vision for the country that is original and distinct from the Tories’ empty promises and Newspeak policies (National Living Wage), they will be consigned to the dustbin of history. These people are nothing if not romantics. They are also megalomaniacal; inured in the Westminster system that cossets them and provides them with a handsome pension – even the failed MP and right-wing troll, Louise Mensch, gets a parliamentary pension.

Voters need hope and they need to see something that at least resembles a vision from a political party that purports to be on the side of the weak. What voters don’t need is someone in an expensive suit telling them “we have to deal with the world as it is, not how we’d like it to be”. The economic crisis depression that began in 2008 needed radical, bold action. Instead, what we got was inertia, weakness and a craven mentality that allowed the Tories and UKIP to control social, political and economic discourses in the public sphere. This is what happens when political parties become complacent and that complacency continues to dominate the discourses of Smith, Kendall, Reeves, Austin et al. Hands up! Who wants more misery and an extra helping of pain? Not me.

If you want a better future for yourself, your family or for society, you will not get that from a reanimated Nu Labour Party. The Blairites and their pals will simply hand you another shit sandwich on artisan bread and tell you that’s all you’re getting. Society deserves better than that.

 

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Corbyn And The Media (Part 2) or “The Members Don’t Matter”

The Labour Party now has over 500,000 members, many of whom have joined since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. Most politicians would chew off their right arm to get these kinds of numbers joining their party but not the Blairites. Indeed the most common response from them and their allies in the right-wing press is “the members aren’t the electorate” or “members don’t matter”.  Sometimes this is qualified with “Labour needs to win over Tory voters”. Let’s take each of these in turn.

To the first two replies, I always offer the following response: “When was the last time a party in the contemporary era with fewer than 100,000 members last form the government or the official opposition”? The silence to the question is always deafening. More members mean more people to argue the party’s case on the streets, in the workplaces, the pubs and other social spaces.  Party members are also part of the electorate. This is something the Labour plotters and their allies in the right-wing media have consistently ignored. They ignore it, not because they are blind, but because they know it’s the truth. Hundreds of thousands of newly politicized people scares the living bejesus out of the establishment.

This leads me on to the claim that Labour “needs to win over Tory voters” in order to win a General Election. There is no evidence to support this claim. When those who make this claim use the Nu Labour landslide of 1997 as their only mitigating response, it tells us only one thing: they haven’t paid attention to the fact that after 18 years of Tory rule, people were fed up and wanted something different. They’d have voted for anyone as long as they weren’t Tories. But those days are long behind us and the world has changed. The Third Way fails to meet the needs of the millions of people who have seen their incomes stagnate and the cost of living rise exponentially. People want hope and they want change. To tell them that “we must live with the world as it is and not how we’d like it to be” is no better than saying “tough shit”.

During the Blair-Brown-Miliband years, Labour lost 5 million voters and thousands of members. When I put this point to the Blairite MP, Jamie Reed on Twitter, he replied somewhat cryptically with “3 million dead”. Such a flippant reply reveals the arrogance of politicians like Reed, who are only in Parliament to feather their nests and satisfy their egos.  I mean, how dare you question them on their lack of vision or their contempt for their members? You should be tugging your forelock and lavishing praise on them.

Here’s Reed speaking to the Huffington Post. He claims that “Corbynistas (sic) hate humour”. I can remember the racist and sexist comedians of the 1970s brushing off criticisms of their humour with “it’s just a joke”. Reed’s defence is no less dishonest.

“There’s nothing like getting told to die by an anonymous egg,” says Jamie Reed, the Labour MP and lightning rod for Twitter abuse from supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.

He knows why he gets it in the neck, but refuses to curb his criticism of his party leader on social media to pacify the “trolls”.

Remember even the slightest criticism is considered as either “abuse” or “trolling” by these oh-so-sensitive people.

The Huffington Post takes him at his word and gushes.

By contrast, Reed is playful, owing as much to Viz comic, the Beano and Carry On … as the tenets of the 1997 general election landslide. His Twitter avatar has been the British actor Andrew Lincoln in zombie series The Walking Dead. It is currently the leader of the Rebel Alliance starfighter corps from Star Wars.

 “Playful”? He’s poison.
More telling is this:
He says former Tony Blair adviser John McTernan put it best: the hard Left hates humour. “It can’t co-exist with it. Just treating people who are clearly incensed – and in some case for reasons they don’t know why – with a light touch is something they hate.”
McTernan recently told his Telegraph readers that the government should “crush the RMT”. Are these really the words of someone who claims to be a Labour Party member? Remember, McTernan lost Scotland for Labour and cost former Australian PM, Julia Gillard her job. He’s about as Labour as Enoch Powell. Anyone who uses the words of John McTernan to support their case doesn’t belong in the Labour Party.
Reed even thought that Miliband was too left-wing and worked to overthrow him.
Reed played a central role in the failed attempt to oust former Labour leader Ed Miliband before the general election, and is angry about him distancing the party from New Labour.
So there you have it. Unless the leadership gets a grip and moves to jettison these Blairites, then the Labour Party is doomed to go the same way of the US Democratic Party or Spain’s PSOE.  Labour leadership, take note.

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A Typical Conversation Between An Ordinary Citizen And A Labour Right-Winger

Scene: an indoor gathering at which the local Labour MP, a professional politician and former public relations executive is present. An Ordinary Citizen has just asked the MP a question to which comes the following pat reply.

Labour right-winger [smugly]: We have to be a credible party of government.

Ordinary Citizen: But you’re not in government. You’re the official opposition.

Labour right-winger: Yes, but we need to be a credible opposition.

Ordinary Citizen: Make up your mind, I thought you said you had to be a credible party of government.

Labour right-winger [indignantly]: Stop harassing me.

Ordinary Citizen [puzzled expression]: Huh? I’m not harassing you.

Labour right-winger [feigned vexation]: Did you just threaten to kill me? I’m phoning the police!

Ordinary Citizen [rolls eyes and sighs]: I’m going for a pint. Have a nice day.

Labour right-winger: Now you’re threatening my family!

Ordinary Citizen walks off to the sound of the Labour right-winger ranting about ‘Trots’, ‘Militant’ and ‘entryists’. 

 

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Let’s Talk About: ‘Labour Maquis’

This week a friend tipped me off about a Twitter account purportedly belonging to a group calling itself the ‘Labour Maquis’. Those of you familiar with the history of World War 2 will know that the Maquis were the French resistance. Some Maquis cells were as small as 5 members and others could boast as many as a thousand members. As I write this, the ersatz Maquis has 1,176 followers, which means absolutely nothing at all. They may call themselves a “resistance” movement but they’re more Vichy than Maquis.

This Tweet is a hoot.

I like the way it talks about “core values” by reeling off a list of words that could easily have come from so-called ‘Corbynistas’, whom they despise and oppose. Yet it’s the way the word “democracy” has been deployed as a weapon in this Tweet.  It makes the claim that Corbyn and his supporters are freedom hating anti-democrats.  Hell, they may as well be called ‘Commies’. Although Dan and his friends would disagree, it is they who hold the democratic process by which  Corbyn was elected  as leader in contempt. Democracy? They don’t know the meaning of the word.

But have a look at the icon. That isn’t the logo of the Maquis (they didn’t have one), that’s the logo of the Maquis in Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This is a fictional Maquis, and like their bitter enemies, the Cardassians, they don’t exist. The imitation of reality in the Star Trek series, although set in the distant future, is very much anchored in the present and is influenced by contemporary discourses. But it is not real; it is only a representation of the real. It is, as Baudrillard would describe it, a simulation.

So whose  Twitter account is this?  The Cat thinks it belongs to ‘Desperate’ Dan Hodges, the self-styled “Blairite cuckoo in the Labour nest” and embittered Torygraph hack. For only a couple of months ago, Hodges wrote a column titled “Labour members are now preparing to go underground to resist the Corbyn regime”. I hardly think any of them have gone “underground” as our Dan would have us believe. Danczuk? Mann? Umunna? They’re what you might call ‘out and proud’.  I digress but here’s the crux of the article:

Over the past few days two different strategies have emerged, which have been dubbed the “Free French” and the “Maquis” strategies.

Really? Do tell us what these “strategies” are.

The Free French strategy involves effectively withdrawing all support from Corbyn. MPs will not serve in his shadow cabinet, they will not observe the whip, they will not be bound by any sense of collective responsibility to the official party line. Those advocating that strategy are being compared to De Gaulle and those French forces that retreated into exile in Britain, then returned to the French continent on D-Day to liberate their homeland.

The Maquis strategy involves “staying behind enemy lines and fighting”, according to one MP. Existing members of the shadow cabinet will organise slates, and stand for election in the shadow cabinet elections Corbyn has pledged to reintroduce. From here they will oppose Corbyn’s more radical policy initiatives and start to construct an independent base from within the PLP and the wider Labour party, which they will use to strike out against him when they judge the time is right.

I find his use of war language crass, and the comparison of Labour right-wingers to the French resistance also tells us that he’s no student of the history of WW2 (except in the sense he’s probably watched The Great Escape a million times). This ignorance also extends to recent history, because those with whom he shares an ideological kinship, still believe they are uniquely capable of winning elections… and this is in spite of the fact that the Labour Party under a  right-wing leadership lost two elections in a row!  And here’s something else: the Labour right is only concerned about elections and can’t quite understand that politics is about more than fighting elections, which themselves happen once every five years. It’s about relating to what’s happening everyday in the lives of real people between those elections, rather that relating to fictional characters from a Star Trek story arc.

Comparisons to the Maquis are not only over-dramatic: they insult the memories of those who fought against the Nazi occupation of France. But the use of a logo that belongs to a fictional resistance militia from a television series set in space, shows us that whoever owns this Twitter account is representative of the Labour right’s weak grip on reality.

 

 

 

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The Labour Party And The Mythical Centre Ground Of British Politics

Chucky: the Tory press’s choice for the Labour Party leadership.

As I was watching the post-election coverage on the BBC, I was struck by the number of Blairites who appeared in the studio to give their ‘analysis’. All of them, without exception, either claimed that Labour had moved “too far to the left” (laughable) or needed to “take the centre ground”. The Blairite vultures are now circling the party’s mortally wounded body, ready to pick the flesh clean off the bone.

This idea that Labour needs to “move to the centre” is based entirely on the notion that such a space actually exists in British politics. Since 1994 and Labour’s decision to remove Clause Four from its constitution, the centre ground has shifted inexorably to the right. It has got to the point where the centre is now barely distinguishable from the right-wing of British politics.

It’s an absurd notion that is perpetuated by the soi-disant political cognoscenti of the British media, which claims that most of the electorate sits within the mythical political centre. These people are usually characterized as ‘floating  voters’ who need to be wooed by Labour to win a General Election. However, from The Cat’s experience, these floating voters; the apolitical, the ideologically clueless, whatever you want to call them, often tend to default to the political right. These are the people who internalize the rubbish they’re told about the economy and the workings of the government and Parliament. They’re the ones who repeat lines like “We have to cut something. The country’s broke” in vox pop interviews. They’re the people who claim they haven’t “made up their minds” in the moments leading up to polling day.

Today, Peter Mandelson and Chuka ‘Chucky’ Umunna appeared on The Andrew Marr Show to give their views on how Labour should move forward. Mandelson talked about how union members intending to vote in the leadership election needed to be “validated” (sic). He also hinted at ending  the party’s historic link to the unions. This is just what the Tories have always wanted. Umunna spoke of Labour’s need to appeal to “aspirational” voters. ‘Aspirational’ has become a codeword for the middle class (presumably middle England) voters and the self-styled ‘wealth-creators’. In other words, “Fuck the poor and the disenfranchized. What have they ever done for us”? You can watch Mandelson and Chucky spout their inanities on the BBC iPlayer (available for the next 30 days).

If a Blairite wins the leadership election, as is likely to happen, then Labour will go into a death spiral. It’s clear that they have no intention of learning from the debacle of their Scottish branch’s belated efforts to roll back the SNP tide by offering a thin gruel of leftish-looking policies.

I would urge any left-wing Labour supporters to join Left Unity. You can’t change Labour from within. It’s 35 years too late for that. If you believe it’s still possible, then you’re clinging too tightly to a rotting corpse.

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Dan Hodges: could he be more bitter?

Last week or the week before, Dan Hodges said he’d torn up his Labour membership card. Well, excuse me, but what took you so long, Dan?

Hodges, whose mini biography on Telegraph blogs informs us that he is a “Blairite cuckoo in the Miliband nest”, has been churning them out this week. I’ve counted two blogs today already. Is he obsessed? Yes, no question about that. Is he bitter? Undoubtedly.

Today, nothing has changed; his biography is exactly the same as it’s been since he joined the Telegraph a couple of years ago. Hodges should actually change his bio to something more accurate… something like “Blairite chickenhawk in a well-feathered nest” would suit him better. To adapt Grassic Gibbon’s description of Aberdeen: Hodges detests the Labour party with the detestation of a thwarted lover. So enraged and bitter is he that he actually threw himself into the arms of Lynton Crosby, the so-called Wizard of Oz last year.

The pair of them are pictured here celebrating Bozza’s victory in last year’s London mayoral election.

Hodges and Crosby1

The reason for Hatchet-job Hodges exit from the party that he still claims to love is Ed Miliband’s sudden discovery of his spine, which led to his refusal to support Cameron’s desperate rush to fire cruise missiles at Syria.

At $1,410,000 each, cruise missiles are rather pricey. In fact, for a country that is, according to the ConDem government, “broke”, one wonders where the money will come from to pay for a military adventure. Curiously enough, neither Hodges, Cameron nor Osborne have mentioned the national debt and how a war would actually increase the level of debt. Funny that.

Here’s a snippet from blog 1

If Miliband wants to return from his the seaside with his reputation intact – or even enhanced – then he is going to have to deliver a few unpalatable truths to the brothers and sisters.

The first relates to events in Falkirk. Over the weekend Miliband’s office were briefing heavily they thought Unite had been lucky to get off on a technicality. In fact, they were even whispering Unite had actually got off by putting some of the Falkirk witnesses under heavy manners. As a result, Miliband’s spinners claimed, their man had no intention of backing away from his charge the union and its general secretary had been guilty of “machine politics involving bad practice and malpractice” and that instead of “defending that kind of thing, Len McCluskey should be condemning it”.

And here’s blog 2

So in the end, he ran away. Ed Miliband ran away from his battle with Len McCLuskey. He ran away from his confrontation with the unions. He ran away from a fight he had personally crossed the road to instigate.

Some will say this was a “job done”. Miliband escaped from Bournemouth with his dignity intact. There were no boos, even polite applause.

Others will no doubt argue he stuck to his guns, and made clear he intended to carry on with reform of his party’s affiliation link with the unions. Well, if he did stick to his guns, they weren’t loaded.

Today was not a speech. It was a trial of strength, one Miliband himself had established. It was Miliband, and no one else, who had decided to make the stand-off with McCluskey and his union the defining test of his leadership. It was  Miliband who chose the terms of that fight. And it was Miliband who decided how to frame it.

The bitterness and bitchiness oozes from every letter of these blogs. But does anyone pay much attention to Hodges? A better question would be “Why would anyone pay any attention to Hodges”? Well, the answer to the last question is: some of his rabid right-wing readers. They love him. Take this comment, for example:

FloydInPink

4 minutes ago

If Ed Miliband backs off over these reforms, I believe he will be making a serious strategic error. A Labour Party in hoc to the Unions will not go down well with a significant proportion of the electorate. The mayhem of the ’70’s caused by these people is etched into the memory of the electorate – we don’t need a second helping.

Obviously, the fear is a lack of funding – but that hasn’t stopped UKIP from becoming a serious political contender.

The reason?… POLICIES!

There’s your answer to the Union bully boys.

No irony here. This Tory (for surely it must be a Tory) hasn’t quite understood why unaccountable millionaires and hedge funds funding a political party is much worse than unions funding a party – especially if that political party was created by the unions in the first place. The aim for the Tories has always been to destroy the Labour Party. It never got used to the fact that ordinary workers may want a say in how things are run. Not even the bitter Hodges seems to understand this. Odd for someone who still claims to be a Labour supporter (even though he is no longer a member… apparently). No?

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David Miliband exits stage right

David Miliband is packing his bags and slinking off across the pond to take up a new job with International Rescue. So who’s he going to be? Virgil? Gordon? Or that other fella… wotshisname? Oh yeah, Brains. Oddly enough, this was supposedly his nickname when Blair plucked him off the backbenches and took him under his wing. Blair… there’s another one.  He’s doing all right for himself and I expect Miliband will also make a decent wedge for himself in the States.

The Labour party may have lost one of its arch-Blairites but that doesn’t mean the parliamentary party is shifting to the Left any time soon. Baby brother, Ed, has the unemployed in his sights and seems happy with the government’s attacks on the working poor of this country. His frontbench team is composed largely of disciplinarian headbangers like Liam Byrne and lily-livered cowards like Stephen Timid Timms.  They are out of touch with the lives of ordinary people whom they spit on from the lofty height of their ivory tower. Don’t be fooled by the brand spanking new One Nation Labour brand either: it is really little more than New Labour Mark 2. Mr Ed despises so-called Old Labour and he told us so in his speech back in January.

David Miliband’s South Shields seat is now vacant and a by-election has yet to be called. It’s a safe Labour seat, so there’s little danger of the party losing it… unless, the real Left can get its act together and snatch it from them. As for the Tories, they have about as much chance of taking the seat as I have of becoming Pope. Capiche?

I read a terribly naive tweet a few hours ago that went something like “ordinary need to join Labour and take it back from the Right”. Good luck with that, I thought. Loads of people have tried and failed. The parliamentary Labour party needs more than a few dedicated Left-wingers joining it in the vain hope that they can seize the party from the grip of the Blairites. It needs a complete overhaul from root to branch. It needs to welcome back the socialists it expelled in the 1980s and 1990s. But I don’t see that happening. Do you?

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The Miliband speech: one crumb of comfort in amongst the neoliberal detritus

Picture courtesy of the Daily Mirror

Well, it’s really nice of Ed Miliband to stand up for tenants who are being screwed by unscrupulous private sector landlords. Thanks for the warm words, Ed, they mean so much. And yes, I’m being sarcastic. That is my wont.

Labour has not pledged to reverse any of the Tory cuts, indeed if they won the next general election they will continue cutting, slashing and capping. I had a look at Miliband’s speech he gave to the Fabian Society (the fact that he spoke to the Fabians should tell you all you need to know) on Saturday and there was nothing to get excited about. In his speech he apparently fleshed out his “One Nation”, er, vision.

I will quote some of the speech, starting with this extract.

New Labour rightly broke from Old Labour and celebrated the power of private enterprise to energise our country.

You will notice how he uses the Tory-coined phrase “Old Labour” here. It’s as if to say that anything the Labour Party did before the arrival of Kinnock and Blair was bad or wrong. What about the National Health Service? I could list other achievements but the NHS is certainly a great achievement for a country that was, ostensibly, broke. The celebration of “the power of private enterprise” led to the disastrous reliance on the Private Finance Initiative, which effectively led to the wholesale destruction of the NHS. It licensed carpet-bagging on a massive scale. In short, it was a failure. The only thing it “energised” were greedy businessmen.

It helped get people back into work, and introduced the minimum wage and tax credits to help make work pay.

And it used tax revenues to overcome decades of neglect and invest in hospitals, schools and the places where people live.

The National Minimum Wage (NMW) was seen as a great achievement by the New Labour government but it wasn’t a living wage and was never going to be. Of course, the Tories opposed the NMW and continue to do so. Many Tories, especially of those of a free-market bent want to scrap the NMW altogether and force people to accept sweatshop wages with no workplace protection.  Speaking of workplace protection, New Labour refused to reverse the draconian anti-trade union legislation introduced by the Thatcher government. Workers continue to find themselves under attack by a ruthless and venal government that pits worker against worker and dares to offer them pitifully worthless shares in return for compliance. if it could get its way, the Tories would take us back to the 19th century… and Labour would let them.

The word “responsibility” appears several times during the speech. This word is much beloved of neoliberals and is, more often than not, applied to those at the bottom.

To turn things round in Britain, we all have to play our part.
Especially in hard times.
We are right to say that responsibility should apply to those on social security.

This language is no different to that used by the Tories. The suggestion here is that those on social security are universally “irresponsible” rather than victims of circumstance – which is often the case. But he throws in the following decoy to distract those who would seek to pick holes in his argument.

But we need to say that responsibility matters at the top too.

That’s the essence of One Nation Labour.

It shares New Labour’s insight about our obligations to each other.

And it learns the lessons of what New Labour didn’t do well enough, ensuring responsibilities go all the way through society from top to bottom.

Here, Miliband appears to suggest that his One Nation Labour brand is an extension of the New Labour brand. If you thought Miliband’s Labour Party was any different to Blair/Brown, think again. The ingredients on the label are exactly the same but with a couple of new additives… and the new brand name.

New Labour began with a bold agenda for the distribution of power in Britain.

And it stood for a Labour party not dominated by one sectional interest, but reaching out into parts of Britain that Old Labour had never spoken to.

Again, Miliband distances himself from so-called “Old Labour”, that’s the same Labour Party that legalized homosexuality and abortions under the rather right-wing Labour Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins. It’s been said that if such proposals were put to the Commons today, they would be voted down.

Miliband came from a relatively a privileged background. He went to Oxford and like many of those who were intent on a career in politics, he read (they don’t study at Oxbridge) Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE). He tells us that the Labour Party will be

Recruiting MPs from every part of British life: from business to the military to working people from across every community.

With most of Britain’s mines and factories closed, it’s hard to see how Miliband can recruit more Dennis Skinners. It sounds like a load of guff to me.

All in all Miliband’s speech was crafted to appeal to the Fabians and placate those so-called floating voters whose  political allegiances change with the wind. Fabians believe that they can reform capitalism. They are mistaken and have been wrong for more than 100 years. Their gradualism has led them to betray the working class and the labour movement time and time again.

On the one hand, Miliband is a hostage to the Blairites and on the other, he’s running scared of the Tory press (ably assisted by Hatchet-job Hodges in the Torygraph), who pore over his every word, hoping to find a way to paint him as a closet Commie. It’s quite laughable and, at the same time, it’s tragic.

There really is nothing Red about Ed.

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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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If you’re looking for leadership, look away from the Labour Party

Some people say that the post war consensus ended in the 1980’s with the election of the Thatcher government. I’d agree with that. The Labour Party in the 1980’s under Neil Kinnock was a pale shadow of its former self. Kinnock as Labour leader sought to make the party electable by expelling from it the dissenters and the socialists. It first witch-hunted and then expelled members of the Militant Tendency from its ranks at the behest of Thatcher and the Tory-supporting press. Then it embarked on a period of internal ‘reforms’ to make it less social democratic and more business-friendly.

By 1997, the party had done a complete volte-face. Now it welcomed big business. Now it adopted corporate-speak as its new tongue. Now it cut its own heart out in order to please Murdoch and the rest of the Tory press. It became a new party. It joined the new neoliberal consensus. As Labour leader, Tony Blair told us how he was “beyond ideology”. Often when people say this sort of thing, they are making an effort to conceal their true right wing selves.

What Blair offered the country was a weak compromise between social democracy and neoliberalism. The two were and are mutually incompatible. First the Public Private Partnership (PPP) was introduced as Nu Labour’s concession to neoliberalism. Then came the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) which was introduced to provide a means for investing in hospital improvements. It too was a concession to neoliberalism.

By the time Brown came to power, the Labour Party looked like it had run out of ideas. It looked like a party marking time. It could offer nothing of substance to its core supporters who were deserting the party in their droves. Whilst in power the party had failed to reverse Thatcher’s anti-union laws. It also failed to build new council homes and continued with the disastrous Right to Buy scheme. It did the spade work for any future Tory administration.

Brown lost the election and the party took months to elect a replacement leader. When it eventually elected Ed Miliband, some thought that the party would change direction and draw a line between itself and the New Labour years. Even Miliband told us this. But he was just saying that for the press. A couple of months as leader and he sounds just like his mentor, Neil Kinnock.

Miliband has failed to offer real support the student protests though he said “I was tempted”. So what stopped him?  Three words: the Tory press. He was afraid of how the papers would portray him. Most of the mainstream media have been against the student protests, many of them concoct scare stories about “dangerous anarchist groups”. Some even went as far as to accuse a wheelchair-bound student, Jody McIntyre of using his wheelchair to attack the police. While the BBC and others reported on Prince Charles and Camilla’s car being attacked by protesters for days after the event; Aflie Meadows lay in hospital with bleeding on his brain, after being hit by a police truncheon. The journalists were unmoved and unconcerned. The opposition Labour Party said nothing about Alfie meadows or Jody McIntyre.

When Miliband gave his speech to conference in September, he said,

So they looked to their union to help them. They weren’t interested in going on strike, they loved the kids the worked with, they loved their schools. But they wanted someone to help them get basic standards of decency and fairness.

Responsible trade unions are part of a civilised society, every democratic country recognises that.

But all of us in this movement bear a heavy responsibility. We want to win an argument about the danger this coalition government poses to our economy and our society.

To do so we must understand the lessons of our own history too.

We need to win the public to our cause and what we must avoid at all costs is alienating them and adding to the book of historic union failures.

That is why I have no truck, and you should have no truck, with overblown rhetoric about waves of irresponsible strikes.

The public won’t support them. I won’t support them. And you shouldn’t support them either.

But it is not just from trade unions that I want to see responsibility.

We’ll take the last paragraph first, what does Miliband mean by “responsibility”? Caving in to pressure from the tabloid press? But what did he mean when he talked about “irresponsible strikes”? I would like to know what an “irresponsible strike” is. This section of the speech was intended to placate the rabid journos of the Telegraph, The Sun and The Daily Mail. What Miliband has done here is to play to the right wing press by agreeing that unions go on strike because they’re “irresponsible” and enjoy inconveniencing people. Unions go on strike because it is the last resort. In fact, it is harder to go on strike because of the laws that were left in place by Blair and Brown.

The Labour Party has been tepid in its support for the anti-cuts movement. It has offered no leadership at all. The NUS President, Aaron Porter also provided no leadership. His candlelit vigil on the Embankment became an even more laughable glowstick vigil (sic). He condemned some protesters as “a hardcore of activists” and played directly into the hands of the media.  Porter then backtracked after, it appears, he had taken advice from Labour Party Hq. His leadership remains weak and there are calls for him to be removed from office.

History has shown us that when leadership is required, the Labour Party is nowhere to be seen. It’s more concerned in maintaining its profile in the Tory press. Too cowardly to rock the boat, the Labour Party will always abandon those in real need. It even supports some of the government’s welfare reforms. In fact, when it was in power, it advocated pretty much the same reforms.

If you’re looking for real opposition to the cuts, don’t bother with Labour. They’ll only cut your throat and leave you in the ditch to die.

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Filed under Comprehensive Spending Review, Conservative Party, Education, Education, London, Society & culture, Student protests