The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'new labour'
Johann Hari writes that, for the first time, he is hearing Britons say that they are too scared to protest:
So now we know. When our politicians complained over the past few decades, in a low, sad tone, that our young people were “too apathetic” and “disengaged”, it was a lie. A great flaring re-engagement of the young has take place this year. With overwhelmingly peaceful tactics, they are demanding policies that are supported by the majority of the British people – and our rulers are trying to truncheon, kettle and intimidate them back into apathy.
This slow constriction of the right to protest has been happening for decades now. Under New Labour, protesters outside parliament started to have to ask permission and suddenly found themselves prosecuted for “anti-social behaviour.” In 2009, a man who had committed no violence or threats at all died after being attacked by a police officer on the streets of London at a protest - and nobody has ever been punished. Now the Metropolitan Police’s instinctive response to any group of protesters is to surround them and ‘kettle’ – that is, arbitrarily imprison – them for up to ten hours in the freezing cold, with no food, water, or toilets. It doesn’t matter how peaceful you were. You are trapped.As the government pushes through unpopular measures, such as the ConDems' "fair-minded" sweeping cuts to services, whilst preserving tax breaks for the super-rich, such intimidatory measures could be essential to maintaining social acquiescence. Though, when the idea of consent of the governed is compromised, ordinary people will pay the price:
There is a cost to this chilling of protest. Every British citizen is the beneficiary of a long line of protesters stretching back through the centuries. Every woman reading this can vote and open her own bank account and choose her own husband and have a career because protesters demanded it. Every worker gets at least £5.93 an hour, and paid holidays, and paid sick leave, because protesters demanded it. Every pensioner gets enough to survive because protesters demand it. What what your life would be like if all those protesters through all those years had been frightened into inactivity? If you block the right to protest, you block the path to progress. You are left instead at the whim of an elite, whose priority is tax cuts for themselves, paid for with spending cuts for the poor.
In Britain, we are not suffering from an excess of civil disobedience. We are suffering from an excess of civil obedience. Our government is pursuing dozens of policies we, the people, know to be immoral – from bombing civilians in Afghanistan to kicking away the ladder that lets hard-working poor children stay on at school. We aren’t wrong when we challenge these injustices. We are wrong when we stay silent. As Oscar Wilde said: “Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.”
BBC Radio 4 has a series featuring former teenaged rock musician turned New Labour home secretary Alan Johnson reminiscing about the rock career he never had; in the most recent episode, he interviews Amelia Fletcher, frontwoman of a number of indiepop bands from Tallulah Gosh onward and Chief Economist at the Office of Fair Trading (which came under his portfolio when he was in government), about combining music, a day job and parenthood, and how the international pop underground worked before the internet. (The stream is available for four more days only, and may or may not be available outside of the UK; apologies if it's not.)
Britain has a new government: it's a coalition between the Tories (cue spitting) and the Lib Dems. The latter had been in talks with Labour about forming a coalition (along with a number of smaller parties, such as the Greens, Plaid Cymru and possibly the Scottish National Party), but the deal apparently was scuppered by elements of the Labour Party deciding to veto it (presulably calculating that, during the upcoming years of austerity, they'd be better served being in opposition, and by encouraging a myth of the Lib Dems' perfidious betrayal of the progressive cause, they'd claim the left-wing vote for themselves come next election). Anyway, the Lib Dems get a few cabinet seats, and a referendum on replacing the grotesquely unfair first-past-the-post voting system with the somewhat less unfair alternative vote system, as used in Australia. (Proportional Representation is out of the question in the lower house, though there is talk about a fully elected House of Lords, so we may possibly get proportional representation there; again, like in Australia.)
Interestingly enough, Charlie Stross (who really dislikes the Tories) is oddly sanguine about the coalition:
All in all ...We've got a government that, for the first time since the 1930s, more than 50% of the voters voted for. There are a lot of positive policies here, on civil liberties and constitutional reform. There are some stinkers, but fewer than I expected. There is also a systemic weakness, insofar as the extreme fringe of either of the coalition parties have the ability to take down the government. So we're probably going to see lots of compromises. In particular, I'm hoping the Liberal Democrats act as an effective brake on the Conservatives (who I fear are capable of behaving much like Stephen Harper's Canadian tories if governing on their own).
Today, the UK goes to the polls in one of the more dramatic general elections of recent times. Thanks to New Labour being on the nose, and having used up enough of their at-least-we're-not-Tories credit, the Tories are leading the polling. Of course, enough people remember the bitter days of Thatcherism to turn a landslide into a hung parliament. Meanwhile, the third party, the Liberal Democrats (who are sufficiently untainted by proximity to actual power to be able to pass for honest) are relishing the prospect of holding the balance of power in a coalition government, and making noises about demanding electoral reform, to replace the first-past-the-post electoral system (which, in normal conditions, entrenches a two-party system, relegating third and subsequent parties to the lunatic fringe) with something else, preferably full proportional representation. Recent polls, however, show the Lib Dems' bubble deflating somewhat, and the Tories likely to squeak home and be able to govern with the help of the Northern Irish sectarian parties and/or UKIP. The Coalition of Ugly may well soon be upon us.
Your Humble Correspondent, being a Commonwealth national resident in the UK, is entitled to vote, and will be voting in the election. I will not be voting for a party but for an outcome; namely, that of a hung parliament (and the end of first-past-the-post, a system which centralises power away from the people). Given that, at the time the rolls closed, I was living in a marginal seat (held by Labour, likely to go Tory), in which every vote will count, I will, regretfully, be holding my nose and voting Labour. Yes, they're the Blatcherite bastards who gave us the Iraq War, the national ID card, rampant cronyism and creeping authoritarianism, but, in terms of plausible outcomes, it is exceedingly unlikely that a Labour government will return that is not in hock to the Lib Dems, which cannot be said for the Tories. Besides which, the Tories' claim to having taken back the title of lesser evil is looking pretty thin these days, between their alliances with the eastern-European far right and their promises of inheritance tax cuts for the super-rich. And here is an example of the new "compassionate conservatives"' style of government in action.
Here's Jeremy Deller's say:
This poster (by one Liam Gillick), believe it or not, was not intended to be sarcastic:
Meanwhile, the great satirical cartoonist Gerald Scarfe's take:
The Independent has a pretty apt cartoon about the general election campaign that has just begun in the UK:
The New Labour government is planning to rush through draconian new copyright laws in the form of the Digital Economy Bill. Drafted by the recording industry and big media, this bill will nobble the internet in Britain. (Among other things, wireless access points in cafés, libraries and pubs will be too great a copyright liability to operate, and ISPs will be obliged to block file exchange services like YouSendIt if they allow users to potentially infringe copyrights.)
According to a leaked memo from the BPI, MPs are resigned to passing this without debate, and the compliant New Labour leadership are determined to force it through in this form. In fact, the BPI fears this bill being subjectdd to parliamentary debate, knowing that were it to be so, the whole odious, iniquitous package would crumble like a vampire in sunlight.
Which is why it's important to contact your MP and ensure that they put the pressure on to get the Digital Economy Bill into the light. And you can contact your MP here.
Details have emerged of the suspensions of civil liberties to be brought in for the 2012 Olympics in London, and even by the standards of New Labour Britain, they are severe. Police will have the power to enter private homes and seize posters (so no putting a "Free Tibet" poster on your window then) and, to keep sponsors placated, will prevent the public from carrying "non-sponsor items" to sporting events. Not sure if it'll apply just inside stadia or inside an "Olympic Zone" of London as in Sydney in 2000, so if, say, KFC are a sponsor, whether it'll be an offense to be seen eating a box of Sheriff Sam's Al-Halal Texas Fried Chicken ("Tender and Tasty!") in the streets of Stratford. Or, indeed, whether the laws will stay on the books afterward, to be brought out when expedient (as happened in Sydney, where Olympic laws were later used to suppress protests against the Catholic Church's "World Youth Day").
Given that the Olympics are a merchandising exercise which invariably involves notionally liberal states bending over to placate corporate sponsors by suspending civil liberties, perhaps it would be better if future Olympics were held only in totalitarian states, where the legal frameworks are already in place. Pyongyang 2016 perhaps? I hear the North Koreans put on a killer show...
(via Boing Boing)
The British government has sacked its top drug advisor for contradicting official dogma of the War On Drugs:
Most drugs experts believe his analysis is right. But ministers did not want to hear the truth or at least to be reminded of it repeatedly. The Home Secretary asked him to consider his position after a recent lecture in which attacked what he called the "artificial" separation of alcohol and tobacco from other, illegal, drugs. Last night Professor Nutt said he stood by his comments. "My view is policy should be based on evidence. It's a bit odd to make policy that goes in the face of evidence. The danger is they are misleading us. The scientific evidence is there: it's in all the reports we published. Our judgements about the classification of drugs like cannabis and ecstasy have been based on a great deal of very detailed scientific appraisal.
In a recent broadside, Professor Nutt accused Jacqui Smith, who oversaw the reclassification of cannabis from Class C to Class B, of "distorting and devaluing" scientific research. He said her decision to reclassify cannabis as a "precautionary step" sent mixed messages and undermined public faith in government science.What mixed messages? Cannabis, Ecstasy and LSD, but not alcohol or tobacco, are what is scientifically classified as "evil drugs", which are infinitely more harmful than non-evil drugs even if their actual effects may be less severe. (The extra infinite harm comes from the moral effects of doing evil drugs.) That is a scientific fact; there is no evidence for it, but it is a scientific fact.
And here is an article by David Nutt, the sacked drugs advisor, about the absurdity of New Labour's tabloid-driven cannabis policy.
The New Labour party, flailing desperately for a lifeline as its fortunes collapse further with each day, is starting to concede on some unpopular issues: first, they promised a pretend version of scrapping the Trident nuclear weapons system, by reducing it from four submarines to three, and now Gordon Brown is saying that ID cards won't be compulsory for Britons who don't wish to travel abroad or drive.
As critics pointed out at the time, the automatic inclusion on the national identity register of the details of anybody who renewed their passport – or, for that matter, their driving licence – amounted to introducing a compulsory identity card scheme by the back door.
There is no need for a new bill in parliament after the next election to allow MPs to vote on whether the scheme should become compulsory because the Home Office already plans to use obscure secondary legislation to introduce what they call a "designation order".And here is some additional reportage from the New Labour conference:
Pop singer Bono said to camera: "Gordon Brown is what makes Britain great." The man's an idiot!
With Britain facing a general election this year, the New Labour Party faces a bloodbath, with many MPs expecting to lose their seats. Given the poorly state of the economy and job market, perhaps it's not surprising that 52 MPs have applied for peerages, which would entitle them to places in the House of Lords (now more like the House of
Tony's Gordon's Cronies), from now until they breathe their last, without all the bother of having to win elections or be accountable. You can't make it up.
Some bad political news for Britain: while David Cameron may talk the talk of a new progressive, ecologically-conscious Conservative Party, most of his likely MPs have other ideas:
It finds that far from being a group of “Cameron clones” those most likely to be new Tory MPs are, in general, less concerned about climate change than terrorism, oppose green taxes and are hostile to gay adoptions. A majority oppose the party’s official policy of raising green taxes to reduce the taxation burden on families, according to a survey of 148 Tory candidates.
The findings suggest that it will not be long before the antiabortion lobby seeks to reopen the debate about the time limit if a victory by Mr Cameron sweeps in a new generation of Tory MPs. Fully 85 per cent of those polled support a more restrictive abortion law. Mr Cameron himself supported a reduction to 20 weeks when the issue was debated in May last year.
Repealing the ban on foxhunting, regarded as, at best, an unwelcome distraction by some modernisers, is supported by 119 of 120 Tory candidates in marginal seats, according to a separate survey by the Countryside Alliance. Mr Cameron has muted his support for foxhunting – for which he was a passionate advocate as a backbench MP – since becoming leader.The Tories are almost certain to get in with a landslide in the next general election, with New Labour having worn out their lesser-evil card in the eyes of the voters.
Which places those hoping for a reasonable government in Britain between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, there's New Labour, a party which spent the past decade or so tactically moving to the right to "outflank" the Tories, which forced through the Iraq war, and the core of whose platform seems now to be ID cards, internet surveillance and spending billions of pounds on Trident, i.e., the British-funded annexe of the US nuclear arsenal. New Labour's platform, once one gets beneath the layer of content-free marketing verbiage ("spin"), comes down to "we'll do this and more, and you'll vote for us, because otherwise,
the bogeyman Zombie Margaret Thatcher gets in".
On the other hand, there are the Tories. While David Cameron may walk around like Blair 2.0 (though he'd never call himself that), swear that the Tories are the party of environmental sustainability and progressive centrism, the bulk of the party seem to be steeling for a bitter culture war, similar to that fought by the Liberal/National coalition in Australia up to 2007. There are, of course, the Lib Dems, who seem more palatable (in the way that parties who can set their agendas unconstrained by the realistic prospect of holding power are), but because of Britain's first-past-the-post electoral system, they have no chance of actually forming government unless one of the other parties spectacularly implodes.
Labour, in my opinion, needs some time in the wilderness to regenerate itself as something other than New Labour. However, this may come at the high price of a harshly right-wing government.
The London Review of Books asks the question: Will We Care When Labour Loses?:
Under New Labour departments of state are named not after their function but after their aspirations – the names, it seems, are designed to tell you what the government aspires to. Part of the department that was once ‘education’ is now ‘innovation, universities and skills’, in case we failed to understand that the government wishes to encourage skills and innovation. The department that used to be concerned with ‘trade and industry’ is now concerned with ‘business, enterprise and regulatory reform’, ‘regulatory reform’ meaning simply ‘removal of regulations’. The very name was both a signal to the City that the government wanted it to make a great deal of money, and an expression of the ideology that has prevailed in most English-speaking countries since the early 1980s: an ideology deeply hostile to the quasi-social democracy of the 1960s and 1970s, and one which regarded wide and increasing income inequality as essential to economic success. It purported to be an alternative to social democracy which would eliminate the state, progressive taxation and all other impediments to getting or remaining rich.
Saving the banks was one thing, leaving them in private hands is quite another. The government should have nationalised RBS and HBOS instead of foisting HBOS on Lloyds with a demeaning promise to suspend the competition laws in Lloyds’s favour. And having nationalised them it should have made them into instruments of public policy: at the moment it effectively owns them but plays virtually no part in their activities. As it was, the government did everything it could to avoid any nationalisations. It dithered for ages over Northern Rock before it was driven by circumstances into outright public ownership. When it was clear that RBS and HBOS were both sinking, Brown rushed to ensure their recapitalisation with public funds, not because he was setting an example to the world, as his admirers thought, but because he was determined to do whatever it took to avoid nationalising them. It was an act not of courage but of timidity. By that stage no one, except for the directors, some of the more optimistic shareholders and, of course, the members of the present cabinet, would have blinked an eye had the banks been taken into formal state ownership. What was once an electoral strategy – the repudiation of what Old Labour was thought to stand for – now paralyses the Labour Party, and Brown in particular.
There is no sense that the Labour leadership believes this might be a crisis of New Labour, not just a crisis of the banking system. All the old tattered policies are still worming their way through Parliament. The government is persisting with its wretched legislation to privatise much of the social service system, though we know from experience what the consequences will be: the private sector will take on only the easy bits, and even more stringent ‘conditions’ will be imposed on claimants – all accompanied by tosh about a ‘personalised’ service. This legislation could only have been written by financially well-padded men and women who have lost all sympathy for their own constituency. Even more surprisingly, they are proceeding with it even though the economic circumstances in which it was conceived have been transformed. (Unemployment is likely to be much higher than it was when the legislation was drafted.)
In the 1990s, Tony Blair took the helm of the Labour Party and modernised it, ditching its unfashionable brown-suited socialist tendencies and transforming it into a neo-Thatcherite centre-right party with really good PR (or "spin", as they called it). In fact, the spin was so good that it allowed it not only to "outflank" the Tories, pushing them into corners, but to manoeuvre into bizarre and impossible positions, such as supporting George W. Bush's faith-based invasion of Iraq.
Blair's luck ran out, and he left the floundering ship of New Labour. Now, however, he has turned his attention to modernising another organisation he has joined; namely the Catholic Church:
The former prime minister, who converted to Catholicism shortly after leaving office two years ago, said he disagreed with the Pope's stance on gay rights and controversially suggested that the Church should reform itself along similar lines to how he re-organised the Labour Party.
"Organised religions face the same dilemma as political parties when faced with changed circumstances," he said. u can either A: Hold on to your core vote, basically, you know, say 'Look let's not break out because if we break out we might lose what we've got, and at least we've got what we've got so let's keep it'. Or B: You say 'let's accept that the world is changing, and let us work out how we can lead that change and actually reach out'."Of course, there is a lot of merit in the content of what Blair is saying in this specific instance; on gay rights, in my (liberal, atheist, cosmopolitanist) opinion, the Catholic church is out of touch, and Blair is right. A lot of people, of course, would disagree; whether they are a minority as Blair says is another matter.
However, the other part of Blair's statement, about the Catholic church needing to reorganise along New Labour lines, is more thought-provoking. What would a Blairite New Catholic Church look like? Well, firstly they would ditch the unfashionable old-guard dogmas (such as condemnation of homosexuality and contraception, to name two); those who believed in these strictures would be allowed to remain in the margins of the church, much as the left of the Labour Party was, growing steadily into fusty irrelevance, though still occasionally putting on a good, if cranky, show to keep the old believers from completely jumping ship. Freed from these dogmas, the church would be free to move towards the centre and, in classic Blairite fashion, "outflank" rival religions, appropriating their ideas and pushing them further towards the fringes. We could expect Blairite New Catholicism to appropriate everything from new-age crystal healing to promises of an afterlife filled with willing virgins and repackage what works, only with much better presentation.
As with New Labour, presentation would be the linchpin of New Catholicism. The church would be rebranded extensively, with the centuries-old trappings given new designs, crisply contemporary yet with a comforting gravitas. The vestments worn by priests and altar boys would be restyled by Paul Smith or someone, and cathedrals given an overhaul by Damien Hirst, with stained glass by Banksy. And Jamie Oliver would do the communion wafers. The sacred music would have to change, with big-name stars being brought in to give it a facelift. Finally, the Catholic Church would have caught up to that other great innovation of contemporary religious practice, the celebrity centre.
The selling of indulgences would also see a return, with donors not only being able to procure absolution of sins, but in some cases, sainthoods as well. And given the tendency of some clergy to get into scandals, the Blairite faculty of spin could prove very useful.
After having seen the influence of internet-organised grass-roots campaigning in getting Barack Obama elected, Britain's Labour Party has decided it wants some of that, and so has launched LabourList.org. Modelled on the American liberal site the Huffington Post, LabourList is intended as an online community for the "progressive left" to tear the Tories to pieces on with merciless lampoonery and discuss progressive, left-wing issues — within the scope of New Labour platform, of course.
LabourList's administrators insist that the site is editorially independent of the party, and denies that it is part of an Alastair Campbell-style "command and control" media strategy. However, the dearth of articles or comments critical of New Labour policy, and a strict moderation policy, have cast some doubt on this. Would this site post articles condemning the expansion of Heathrow, for example, or the ID Card plan which the government has been pushing hard?
I suspect that LabourList won't have the sort of grass-roots effect as the online Obama campaign. For one, Labour is the incumbent party, and an unpopular one at that. For the past 11 or so years, it has been making hay out of inevitably being the lesser evil to the despised Tories, and using this to get away with everything from presiding over the growth of wealth inequality (an Old Labour no-no, to be sure) to the Iraq war to the steady erosion of civil liberties, knowing that there was no-one else the disaffected could vote for. After all this, this old trick is no longer working as well as it did, and I suspect that a few viral videos poking fun at the Tories aren't going to recharge it. Especially that, in a lot of areas, the Tories' policies look more progressive, on paper, than Labour's.
A representative of Britain's Police Cental E-crime Unit has complained about how difficult their job is, and outlined what would really help: a nifty black box, as easy to use as a breathalyser, which can identify illegal activity on PCs:
McMurdie said such a tool could run on suspects' machines, identify illegal activity - such as credit card fraud or selling stolen goods online - and retrieve relevant evidence.
"For example, look at breathalysers - I am not a scientist, I could not do a chemical test on somebody when they are arrested for drink driving but I have a tool that tells me when to bring somebody in."Of course, knowing New Labour, this will probably result in legislation mandating police-accessible data-logging devices in all PCs. And the legislation will make these devices not only accessible to the police, but also to the Inland Revenue, TV Licensing, the British Phonographic Industry and local council officials. And, knowing that laws (specifically British laws dealing with privacy and data security) are drafted in a parallel universe in which security is perfect, there will be no possibility whatsoever of these devices either being defeated by the potential paedoterrorists they are meant to monitor or else hijacked by other criminals and used to massively victimise the innocent.