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Origins of socialism and the radical species

28/05/2011 1 comment

Blue Labour or red: which traditions do we celebrate? Paul Salveson has some suggestions

Interesting article, reposted from Tribune magazine, written with a regional perspective, which notes the importance of ethical, values-driven socialism in the history of the Labour Party.


Read it here.
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Categories: zMiscellaneous

The bitter irony of using the financial crisis to scrap the NHS

This is a guest post by Adam Ramsay, re-posted from UKUncut. 

Around 50% of American bankruptcies are triggered by medical bills. When we talk of ‘sub-prime mortgages’, we are talking about real people facing financial ruin. The main reason that these Americans are thrown out of their homes is that they get sick.

When a whole economic system is rotten you can’t solely blame one corner for its collapse. But you can say that this piece too has failed. And so it is with healthcare in the USA. One of the main reasons that our global economy fell apart is that in the richest county on earth, hundreds of thousands of people were forced from their homes when they became ill. They had to choose between their house and their health. They defaulted on their mortgages.

Bankers had built vast towers of imagined wealth by gambling on the value of these houses. As medical bills soared, as more and more families faced foreclosure, the towers toppled. They crushed an economy that had come to worship their mad, majestic height.

And so the corporations who run America’s healthcare hold huge responsibility for the credit crunch. It is they who caused the bankruptcies. It is they who forced people from their homes. It is they who kicked the base from our teetering jenga economy.

And it is they who are now trying to take control of Britain’s healthcare. When Andrew Lansley talks of NHS reform, we need to be clear what he is talking about. Because ‘reform’ isn’t what The Lancet call it. They call it “the end of our National Health Service”. What the government is attempting is not a re-structuring. It is an auction.

And as in all auctions, the winner will be the highest bidder. That’s why America’s medical corporations are so desperate for the Health and Social Care Bill to pass. That’s why companies like United Health have been so delighted to bankroll the Government’s favourite think tanks. For they know that this Secretary of State is doing his best to roll the NHS onto its back so they can gorge on its soft belly. And let’s be clear too about the scale of this gorging. In 2010, Stephen J. Hemsley, chief executive of United Health personally received $10,810,131. Unlike our relatively lean NHS, the company is bloated and inefficient: it bears the blubber of its corporate fat-cats.

When we are told that these corporations will improve efficiency in our care, this is simply a lie. Every fact, every international comparison, every statistic, every fact shows thatprivate healthcare systems with their overpaid executives and demanding shareholders have much higher overheads. All these companies know of is the efficiency of the crammed commuter train, the efficiency of the under-staffed call centre, the efficiency to rapidly enriching their executives: the efficiency of asset strippers and of profiteers. This is not the same as the efficiency of a well run healthcare system.

These companies have built for themselves the most expensive and exploitative healthcare system on earth – the American system President Obama worked so hard to reform. Their executives have forced millions of sick people into bankruptcy so they can continue to lounge in luxury. They are inefficient and ineffective, greedy and destructive. They have no place on our island. In Britain, medical decisions are based on need, not corporate greed. They are made for patients, not for profits. And we must stand together and ensure that we never forget this. For generations, people in this country fought for a National Health Service. Our grandparents came home from the carnage of the Second World War and they finally built it. For 60 years, we have worked to defend their creation, their gift to us: a healthcare system owned by all of us, run for all of us. Now, our grandparent’s legacy faces its biggest attack. Now, we must build its biggest defence.

But we must do more than protect the NHS. It was not just America’s corporate healthcare that caused economic catastrophe. And when we do think back, it is astonishing to realise that almost nothing has been done to restructure our banks.

It is a bitter irony that Cameron’s government is using the chaos of a financial crisis to scrap the NHS and replace it with the seeds of the American model which contributed so much to this crisis. It is absolutely outrageous that nothing has been done to reform the banks who delivered the crash. On Saturday, we will insist that this ludicrous inversion is ended. We will take action in bank branches all over Britain. We will demand that the government remove its hatchet from our NHS, and turn it on the bloated banks. Join us.

UK Uncut’s Emergency Operation to save the NHS is this Saturday, with actions across the country. Read more and find an action near you at www.ukuncut.org.uk/emergency

 

Categories: zMiscellaneous

Bankers caused the crash and now they strangle recovery

Instead of lending to small businesses, bankers are lining their own pockets. And yet we look the other way.
Polly Toynbee
How hard it is to explain the banks’ effortless escape from any painful punishment or real reform to prevent them crashing the world economy again. Today’s Financial Times reported the banks have escaped the modest Basel III requirement to hold 7% reserves against their lending. Instead they use risky “hybrid capital and other debt-like instruments” as surety – and the casino plays on, destined to crash again. Meanwhile, the banks are failing to keep a modest pledge to foster growth by lending more to business.
Historians will wonder why the last government and this one approached banks with such extreme trepidation. Or why the public did not demand more reparation as people lost homes and livelihoods. Or how Bob Diamond escaped lynching after telling the Treasury select committee that “the time for remorse is over” while pocketing £27m in pay and bonuses. Although historians may conclude it suited this government to use shrinking the deficit as a cover for permanently shrinking the state, it suits no government to let the banks stunt growth. One answer is the enduring legacy of the 1980s, a dangerous acceptance of iron economic laws devised by the same economists, forecasters and credit-raters who failed to see the bubble or predict the banking cataclysm.

Read more here.

Categories: UK Political Issues

So … we’re all in this together?

No-one really believes the “we’re all in this together” line any more – if they ever did: Cameron and Osborne are just so blatant and shameless in their contempt for ordinary working people and their representatives. Their Old Etonian, Bullingdonian arrogance in brushing aside normal moral concerns is breathtaking. Now Cameron’s sheer nerve in spending £680,000 of taxpayers’ money on home improvements in Downing Street pushes Tory cynicism to a new low.

Read more here.

Categories: zMiscellaneous

Middlesbrough Council AGM

26/05/2011 2 comments


Middlesbrough Council’s AGM is normally an incident-free business meeting, mainly concerned with filling vacancies on committees and outside bodies.

This week’s meeting was little different in many ways, but there were some items of interest which may give an indication of how the next council will develop.

After the nomination of Steve Bloundele as Council Chair, the Tories nominated Cllr John Hobson for the position. Fair enough – it’s the Tories’ job to show some opposition.

What was interesting was that the four MICA councillors, (those heavily backed by the BoroTaxi tendency) voted in support of Cllr Hobson. Is that what ‘independent’ voters in Beckfield, Park End and Coulby Newham expected when they voted on 5 May?

Similarly, the purportedly ‘Green’ councillor from Park Ward (who has yet to reveal any green credentials whatsoever) also voted for the Tory; not what any Green voter that I have ever met would expect.

As no opposition group has achieved 10% or more of the seats on the council, none of them has qualified as of right for a special responsibility allowance for their group leader. After it was proposed that the Tories, as the only political group (as distinct from a self-interested commercially-influenced group), should have the cash, the ‘leader’ of the four MICA councillors quickly intervened. He moved that the allowance be alternated between the Tories and MICA, and that the MICA ‘leader’ (i.e. himself) should be first to get his grubby little hands on the money.

The ‘independents’ main – indeed, only – campaign argument during the recent election was that Labour councillors were very bad people for taking special responsibility allowances for, well, actual real responsibilities (like chairing scrutiny panels or having Executive jobs). So there’s a strong whiff of hypocrisy about these same ‘independents’ grabbing a special responsibility allowance for nothing more than being a group with less than 10% of council members (four, to be precise).

Still – honesty, consistency and political principles are not what we should expect from the the four MICAs.

Don’t underestimate toxic Blue Labour

Yes, there’s a strong conservative component to socialism. But Lord Glasman’s thinking sails close to darker strands of rhetoric

Ed Rooksby

guardian.co.uk, Saturday 21 May 2011

Maurice Glasman

Maurice Glasman recently argued that Labour should seek to involve EDL supporters within the party. Photograph: David Levene

It seemed faddish at first – a here today, gone tomorrow curiosity advocated by a tiny number of Labour party affiliated thinkers and policy wonks. But it looks increasingly like the Blue Labour doctrine may well have greater staying power than many of us previously suspected.

Ed Miliband has been flirting with Blue Labour for several months. Indeed, it’s well known that the doctrine’s founder, Maurice Glasman, is a close friend of the Labour Party leader. Miliband recently authored a preface for a Blue Labour e-book and this has been interpreted as a sign that he’s moving towards a full embrace of Blue Labour as the party’s “big idea” under his leadership. It’s for this reason that critics of Blue Labour need to take the approach seriously and to look carefully at what it represents. Many have been rather too brusque in their dismissiveness towards it and have failed to grasp the doctrine’s real strengths and thus failed to understand the dangers it poses.

The basic idea animating Blue Labour is that Labour needs to rediscover strands of thinking buried in its historical traditions that have been obscured since 1945. Lord Glasman argues for a creative re-engagement with the party’s roots in 19th century traditions of mutuals, co-operatives and friendly societies and with associated labour movement values such as community, solidarity and reciprocity. Glasman argues that the party should embrace what he regards as the fundamental conservatism of the working class. An ethics of community and solidarity he suggests implies a defence of traditional institutions, social relationships and identities as valuable in themselves. These include the family, patriotism, faith and the work ethic. As such Blue Labour advocates, in Glasman’s words, “a deeply conservative socialism”.

Glasman argues that these original values were lost as the postwar reforms of Clement Attlee and Nye Bevan produced a bureaucratic state, fostered a culture of irresponsibility and transformed Labour itself into a similarly technocratic, centralised organisation. New Labour made things worse. Its embrace of market forces brought untrammelled “commodification” of human relationships, dissolving the ethical glue that binds communities together. One of the most destructive aspects of this, he argues, was that it led to an influx of immigrant labour that drove down wages and produced huge resentment amongst the “white working class”. In addition, the discourse of “multiculturalism” that accompanied this process further corroded community cohesion.

Much of this, let’s be clear, is toxic stuff. But this shouldn’t blind us to its strengths. Glasman has an impressive grasp of the way in which political traditions are always constituted by paradoxical components – a series of tensions. This is one reason why they are always contestable. Political ideologies are battlegrounds on which factions struggle for hegemony, seeking to articulate these ideological components in different combinations. This is the kind of struggle in which Glasman is engaged. For this reason I don’t think that Glasman really believes for one second in the kind of historical story he’s telling – a tale of corruption of “authentic”, prelapsarian labour movement values. This is not really an objective description – it’s a “performative” endeavour which seeks to reshape the ideological terrain and create its own truth.

Of course, Blue Labour hasn’t conjured up the values it advocates out of nothing. It’s right that there’s a long tradition of working class self-organisation, community organising and hostility towards statism. It also takes inspiration from the old tradition of “ethical socialism” which sought to ground socialism in communitarian moral values. Glasman’s argument that there’s a strong conservative component to socialism – though, at first glance, counter-intuitive – is quite right. It’s often observed that socialism shares much in common with “one nation” Toryism. Both emphasise social solidarity and are profoundly suspicious of market individualism. However, whereas conservatism tends to hark back to some past golden age, socialism characteristically seeks to combine resistance on the one hand with radical, creative change on the other.

There are other problems with Blue Labour’s narrative. It doesn’t take a genius to see that its hostility towards statism, in the context of economic crisis and austerity, could provide useful ideological cover for an assault on welfare. Blue Labour thinking, here, converges seamlessly with Cameron’s “big society”. Its professed hostility towards market forces should be taken with a pinch of salt. We should also note that Glasman’s critique of market forces nearly always singles out “finance capital” – rather than capitalism itself – as the chief enemy. This specific focus on “finance capital” as the root of all evil has an unsettling history – it’s long been a mark of rightwing populism.

This brings us to the most disturbing area of Blue Labour’s thinking – the similarities between some of its ideas and those of the far right. This is most obvious in the case of its stance on immigration and national identity. The frequent invocation of the “white working class” in particular is reminiscent of far right discourse. No one doubts the anti-fascist credentials of Blue Labour figures – but their ideas sail close to the wind in this respect. Outrageously, Glasman recently argued that Labour should seek to involve EDL supporters within the party. But there’s no future for Labour in pandering to far right extremism and it’s certainly not socialist to pitch “whites” (working class or not) against immigrants and ethnic minorities.

The left shouldn’t underestimate the sophistication of Blue Labour, or the degree to which it represents a serious threat to the principles the left holds dear. Labour needs to hold fast to its most important values – defence of the poor and vulnerable, internationalism and robust anti-racism. The adoption of Blue Labour ideas would be a terrible betrayal of Labour’s best and noblest traditions.

Categories: UK Political Issues

Blue will never be the new Red

18/05/2011 1 comment

The so-called Blue Labour position is an interesting one, but has a number of potential drawbacks – not least that it appears to hark back to an idealised (and backward-looking) view of the nature of the working class movement. While Ed Miliband has provided an introduction to a Blue Labour publication, he has not adopted the overall position – and nor should he. This link is an excellent, if rather long, critique of Blue Labour ideas:  http://www.leftfutures.org/2011/05/blue-will-never-be-the-new-red/

Categories: UK Political Issues
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