Archive for February, 2010

h1

Ducks, Chinese burns, hurled paper balls

February 28, 2010

Far be it for this blog not to comment on the story of the year, nay, decade, as the bullying folderol rumbles on into its second tedious week.

It’s manufactured nonsense, with its attendant crowd of quick-buck merchants flogging either books, or (muffled laughter) “human resources consultancy”. Richard Seymour has a good take on it here.

Had Brown been lurking about in St James’ Park, giving Chinese burns to schoolkids and stealing their lunch money, or kicking the ducks, there might have been a more convincing public outcry.

But when it’s faceless senior advisors and members of the PM’s inner circle being subjected to the odd tirade – really, who cares? Bullying at work is serious, of course, but there’s a world of difference between the average harassed worker, and the powerful, well-rewarded, well-connected aide to the Prime Minister.

There are too many people too interested in the story’s prolonged life for this one to die a quiet death just yet. Its real impact, however, is minimal.

h1

Platoons

February 26, 2010

David Marquand has an interesting piece, also in the New Statesman, arguing that Cameron’s “modernisation” of the Conservative Party is entirely in keeping with the traditions of Edmund Burke and Tory paternalism. On this basis, the left “dismiss Cameron at their peril”. I’m not convinced – Cameron, as discussed below, hasn’t “modernised” very much. It’s also not clear that Burke’s “little platoons” of stable Tory support still function in quite the way he intended; still, it’s a well-written article, and worth a read.

h1

Crystal Castles – Atlantis to Interzone remix

February 25, 2010

Finally tracked it down. So much better than the slightly plodding original.

h1

Hacked off, and failing to spot the merits of Neil Kinnock

February 25, 2010

Another wheel is slowly winding loose:

David Cameron’s communications director, Andy Coulson, will come under fresh pressure to defend his editorship of the News of the World and his knowledge about the illegal activities of his journalists amid new allegations about the paper’s involvement with private detectives who broke the law.

Brendan Montague, who blogs over at The Sauce, was one of the News of the World’s victims named by the Guardian. He takes up the story:

When I finished talking to the Sunday Mirror news desk I found I had seven missed calls. It seemed rather strange but on this particular day nothing was ordinary.

A friend of a friend had spent a few nocturnal hours with a married celebrity chef after meeting him in London’s Chinawhite and somehow this unremarkable fact had found its way back to me.

This was not the sort of journalism I valued but it was impossible to work in Fleet Street and not know the value it had – so I called the News of the World…

It was only later that I realised that the repeated calls which came in a quick burst while I was on the phone were made to hack into my voicemail. The reporter I had spoken to at the News of the World was Clive Goodman.

The hacking attempt was aided by T-Mobile’s unbelievably lax security: “The person who rang pretending to be me fell at the first hurdle: apparently I couldn’t remember my own date of birth.”

For my money, all this knocks the Brown “bullying” tittle-tattle sideways. That Prime Ministers in general, and Brown in particular, might not be the most pleasant people to work with is hardly news.

That the would-be PM’s director of communications, whilst editor of Britain’s biggest-selling Sunday tabloid, seemingly allowed the hiring of private investigators known to have broken the law, and known to have hacked personal information – that is a little more noteworthy.

The investigator singled out by the Guardian, unnamed at present because he is “facing trial for a violent crime”, appeared to be “blagging bank accounts, bribing police officers, procuring confidential data from the DVLA and phone companies, and trading sensitive material from live police inquiries.”

A real charmer, evidently. And with 19 people now positively identified as having had their voicemails hacked by NotW, with over 100 still unknown, it’s not clear how long Coulson’s timely bout of amnesia can hold out.

This isn’t the only reason the Tories haven’t clinched the deal. They have neither wholly convinced the City and business in general, nor sufficiently swayed the country at large. Their poll ratings have remained stubbornly below the 40 per cent barrier regarded as necessary to clinch an election, this close to its date.

Brown and Labour aren’t popular, obviously, but as we’ve seen since at least the 2008 London elections, a half-way credible Tory threat pushes Labour voters back into the polls. Turnout will be up in the tighter contest of 2010, breaking the pattern of the last decade.

James Mackenzie, writing in the New Statesman, I think gets Cameron’s underlying predicament spot-on:

Cameron has done much to change the image of his party, and his desire to reach out beyond the core Tory supporters is genuine. But on policy, he and Osborne have long boasted that they need no “Clause Four moment”, no dramatic demonstration of change equivalent to Neil Kinnock’s expulsion of Militant in 1986. On each major policy issue, from allying with fringe far-right parties in Europe to offering tax allowances to married couples, Cameron has ultimately jumped rightwards.

The Cameroon project has been to maximise the perception of change while minimising the reality of it. The approach is summed up by a sentence in a leaked document about Tory candidate selection, written by Gove. “Like a conjuror, we’ll get more applause if the audience cannot see exactly how the trick is performed.”

Kinnock spent years knocking seven shades out of the left – losing two elections in the process – but preparing the way for New Labour. There were witch-hunts, expulsions, political dramas of every kind, aided every step of the way by a concerted intellectual effort associated, in particular, with the Marxism Today magazine. The rise of New Labour is impossible to understand without grasping all this first.

Cameron has done none of that. He has produced, instead, a virtual reality Blairism – a simulation of New Labour, without the real political meat. Where Labour reformers could call upon Stuart Hall and Eric Hobsbawm, say, for intellectual clout, David Cameron has, um, Philip Blond for “mood music”. Where Kinnock set up kangaroo courts to drive out his opponents, Cameron has quietly (as Mackenzie says) accommodated to them.

His reforms fail to convince because they are not really reforms. It is one thing to presume that the route to power lies through the destruction of much of your own side, and to loudly proclaim this belief. It is another thing entirely to actually carry this out.

If Cameron were wiser, he would have paid more attention to Labour in the 80s, than Labour in the 90s. There lies his model for reform.

But then who wants to be history’s second Neil Kinnock?

h1

Euphemisms

February 24, 2010

The Governor of the Bank of England, on euphemistic form:

“I’m sure the rating agencies and the markets will be looking… for a more detailed explanation of how the structural fiscal deficit will be brought down over the lifetime of the next parliament,” said Mr King.

“…more detailed explanation”: also known as spending cuts, post-election. Big ones. Note, incidentally, who appears to be really running Britain’s economic policy.

For the time being, however, it would appear Darling’s cuts-tomorrow strategy retains the markets’ confidence; the projected growth figures may be hokey, but the Cabinet behind them looks a better bet for the City than the chancers on the benches opposite.

Whether that confidence will hold until the general election is an open question. A single bad day’s trading could focus minds on the UK’s ropey public finances, sparking a speculative attack.

And in Greece, the protests are hotting up as the full, miserable extent of the austerity package there becomes clear. The question of a political alternative to the bankers’ diktat is going to be posed sharply: either we break the grip of the financial markets, or they will break us.

h1

Mark Fisher interview

February 23, 2010

Infinite Thought flags up an interview with Mark Fisher, over at ReadySteadyBooks.

I went along to his lecture at Goldsmith’s the other week, on Capitalist Realism – still having not read the book. The lecture and its audience were interesting: an unusual mix, for academia, of theory (or Theory), accounts from the front-line of the “auditing culture”, and convincing calls for unionisation amongst education workers. Here’s Mark:

The failure of the future haunts capitalism: after 1989, capitalism’s victory has not consisted in it confidently claiming the future, but in denying that the future is possible. All we can expect, we have been led to believe, is more of the same – but on higher resolution screens with faster connections…

Neoliberalism has made it seem self-evident that “modernization” means managerialism, increased exploitation of workers, outsourcing etc. But of course this isn’t self-evident: the neoliberals fought a long campaign on many fronts in order to impose that definition. And now neoliberalism itself is a discredited relic – albeit, as I argued above, one that still dominates our lives, but only by default now.

Part of the battle now will be to ensure that neoliberalism is perceived to be defunct. I think that’s already happening. There is a change in the cultural atmosphere, small at the moment, but it will increase. What Jim McGuigan calls “cool capitalism”, the culture of swaggering business and conspicuous consumption that dominated the last decade, already looks as if it belongs to a world that is dead and gone. After the financial crisis, all those television programmes about selling property and the like became out of date overnight. These things aren’t trivial; they have provided the background noise which capitalist realism needed in order to naturalise itself. The financial crisis has weakened the corporate elite – not materially so much as ideologically.

And, by the same token, it has given confidence to those opposed to the ruling order. I’m sure that the university occupations are the signs of a growing militancy. We need to take advantage of this new mood. There’s nothing old fashioned about the idea of rational organisation of resources, or that public space is important.

h1

Afrika Bamabaataa

February 22, 2010