Monday, 26 September 2011

What is a 'strong leader'?

Now that the Labour party conference is underway we keep hearing about Ed Milliband's leadership qualities - as if this was all that mattered as far as Labour is concerned. Is Ed a strong leader? We hear that question repeatedly asked by the media. It seems that it has now become axiomatic that 'leadership' is the most important thing about any political party. After all, if you don't like the leader of a party how could you possibly vote for that party? And nobody could like a leader who isn't 'strong' could they?

Of course in a media age its important that party leaders are media savvy. They are bound to be in the spotlight. But isn't there something else going on here? What matters about a party is its policies and what it intends to do in government - that is the bottom line. So why the media obsession with 'strong' leaders which, over the past 30 years or so, has created a presidential style of government in the UK? Could it be that what the capitalist media really want is 'strong' leaders who are actually weak, who they can exert pressure on to act against the wishes of other ministers, MPs and the party membership, thus making it easier for the media to set the political agenda in their owners interests?

I don't want 'strong' leadership. Hitler and Stalin were 'strong' leaders. I believe the benefits of 'strong' leadership, and leadership in general, are greatly exaggerated. I would question whether we need leadership at all. But given the current set up, what I want is leaders who are team players, and listen, and respond to the party membership. I want a good party team elected into government. A team who work together and are are going to do their damnedest to implement policies which have been democratically decided upon at a party conference, whether the Daily Mail likes it or not.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

So the Liberal Democrat conference is over. The leadership will no doubt be pleased that any signs of revolt over their propping up of the most reactionary government of modern times have receded. Of course we had the predictable attacks on the Tories and bankers by Vince Cable and Chris Huhne, but the Liberal Democrats are now the party of bankers and the Tories - the attacks being merely a few crumbs thrown to party activists to help them to sleep a little easier at night.

However, you can bet that Cable, Clegg and Huhne themselves sleep very comfortably at night. After all, they are now all government ministers on good salaries at a time of austerity. But their greatest satisfaction must be that they have successfully achieved what Blair and Brown also achieved with New Labour - a right wing coup which has taken their party from the centre to the right of politics. The Liberal Democrat Party, like the Labour Party before it, has now become a shell, a hollowed-out organisation dedicated to putting the leadership into power, another vehicle for the political class, rather than a democratic party for promoting the political aspirations of the membership, and for building a better society - see here.  It is now a truly neoliberal party. As we saw with New Labour, when a party is in power it is all too easy for the leadership to ignore the views of a party membership rendered docile by its party being in government.

In case you are wondering about the title of this post, it originates in one of the most famous soliloquies from Shakespeare, delivered by Macbeth on the discovery of his wife's death, and can be found here. I selected it, because for me, it perfectly describes Nick Clegg's conference speech. Because Nick Clegg is an idiot if he really believes that by slashing welfare, destroying the NHS and wrecking the economy with austerity that he is "doing the right thing", as he claimed in his speech. Even by the standards of neoliberal politicians this was a mendacious and dishonest speech, completely detached from the realities of the crisis of capitalism we are in. It offered no real understanding off the difficulties we face, no hope for the future and It contained the usual lies - Labour caused the deficit and the "economy must be run for ordinary people not big finance" being but two examples. What Clegg said was that his government was doing "not the easy thing but the right thing". He is wrong. What this government is doing by implementing an austerity programme is the easy thing and the wrong thing to do, and it will make our children poorer than us and our grandchildren poorer than our children.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Neoliberalspeak dictionary

This post was inspired by George Orwell's Newspeak. According to Wikipedia:
Newspeak is a fictional language in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the novel, it refers to the deliberately impoverished language promoted by the state.

Over the past 30 years or so neoliberalism has contributed to the impoverishment of our language by the usage, or perhaps mis-use of certain words. The aim of a neoliberalspeak dictionary is to give some of the key words their real meaning.

  • affordable housing / adj. - unaffordable housing. Mythical housing unavailable to most citizens in the UK
  • bailout / n.; v. - a method of privatising financial gains and nationalising financial losses
  • capitalism / n. - a gigantic global Ponzi scheme designed to benefit a small elite whilst plunging billions of people into abject poverty
  • deficit reduction / n. ; v. - a means of class war by which the populations of countries are made to pay for the failures of the markets
  • efficiency / n. - increasing profits by lowering the living standards of workers. This is typically achieved by cuts in pay, a reduction in holiday entitlement and reduced pension.
  • efficiency savings / adj. - cuts
  • Eurozone / n. - proto-European capitalist empire where commercial interests are put above democratic rights
  • gig economy / adj. low paid - sweatshop labour
  • globalisation / n.; v. - a process of opening up the world to Western economic imperialism. A means of looting the natural resources, exploiting labour in all the countries of the world and lowering the standard of living of workers in the West
  • Labour market flexibility / adj. - attack on workers conditions, lowering pay reduction in holidays - cheap labour. 
  • privatisation / n.; v. - asset stripping of the public sector by the private sector 
  • quantitative easing / adj. handouts for the rich. Printing trillions of dollars to prop up a broken global economy
  • Social mobility / adj. - conservative fraudulent frame which is used to legitimise inequality in society
  • strong leader / n. - a weak leader i.e. someone who will do what we tell them to against the wishes of their own party and its supporters. we being the neoliberal so-called free press (corporate media)
  • sustainable / adj. - unsustainable. A word that has become so debased and devalued as to have rendered it virtually meaningless
  • tax / n.; v. - a levy by the state on the 99%
  • Trump / n.; v. - a fart, noxious gas released from the anus
  • we're all in this together / adj. - you pay for our crisis
  • WTO / n. - 'we've taken over' . Global organisation for the purpose of promoting the commercial interests of global corporations above the democratic rights of nation states.
I'm sure that in time the dictionary will grow into a comprehensive guide to Neoliberalspeak. I hope that I'll be able get some contributions from some of the greatest exponents of Neoliberalspeak  such as Nick Clegg, Tony Blair, Barak Obama, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nicola Sarkozy.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Green Party Conference

Plenary session at Sheffield Hallam University

My report of the Green Party Conference has been delayed by work, but my head is still full of ideas after having three great days in Sheffield. One of the best things about visiting any political conference is meeting up with fellow troublemakers.  I met lots of people who I have been talking to online for ages, and it was really good to see all of them.

I arrived on Friday and departed on Sunday after a weekend of passionate debate and very stimulating fringe meetings. The fringe is always an important part of conference, where people come together to discuss ideas and ways forward. There is never really enough time to do much of the debate justice, often, speakers take up too much of the allotted time, and I'm afraid this was the case at conference this year. There were lots of excellent meetings but the two that stood out for me were the 'Living Wage' and 'Greens and Capitalism'.

Jean Lambert (right) speaking at the Living Wage fringe meeting

At the latter fringe meeting there was a rousing speech by Derek Wall, who narrowly missed out on becoming Party Chair this year. The speakers, who also included Jonathan Essex and Jane Ennis,  presented the meeting with a cogent criticism of the crisis of capitalism we are going through, in which ordinary people are being asked to pay twice for the failures of capitalism, first through the bank bailout, and now, through the sovereign debt crisis. The economic failures of neoliberalism are being compounded by the ongoing programme of privatisation and deregulation which is making all of us poorer. 

In the main hall there were a number of important debates on policy and organisational issues. Motions on a moratorium for Shale gas extraction (fracking) and against an immigration cap were passed, as were motions to support One Million climate change Jobs and the Coalition of Resistance. There was a very lively and tough debate about the motion on delegate conferences. The debate was complicated by the fact that the motion presented conference with four options. In the end, conference went for Option 4, which was to re-consider the position when the party membership reaches 25,000. In my view, this was the right result. There are powerful arguments for a delegate conference e.g. delegates represent the views of their local party thus widening representation at conference, which means that more members have a say. But we are still a small party, many local parties don't have the resources to support delegates, and, in my view, as an experienced union steward who attended two Unison conferences and two NUT conferences, delegates tend to be the same people every year, activists who may represent the view of the branch committee, not necessarily the wider membership. I look forward to the time when we will debate this issue again at conference.

Relaxing at conference

I need to mention two of the most contentious motions debated at conference . These were; the GPRC report; and the motion on the GP being a model employer. Both motions criticised the party executive, GPEx, over a contentious staffing change. There was heated discussion at the plenary because GPEx  were being censured for the way they had handled the change, and the way they had communicated their reasons for the change to the Party. In the end, the censure motions were passed. Lets hope that lessons will be learned and we can all move on.

There were also a number of excellent emergency motions on; Legal Aid and Justice for All; Robin Hood Tax; Anti – ATOS; Nuclear Waste Disposal; NHS Listening Exercise; Bombardier - Rail jobs; English Riots; ; and the National Planning Policy Framework.

Overall, it was a great conference, with rousing speeches defending the NHS from Caroline Lucas and Adrian Ramsay which put the so-called Labour Party to shame and consolidated our position as the only mainstream party of the left in England and Wales.