Is It Time The Labour Party Got A Divorce?

It seems one thing British political parties need to do right now is act and act quick. The Tories are already rallying around Margaret Thatcher Mark 2 who is prepping to eject the UK from the EU and send us into outer space. Meanwhile, John McDonnell of the Labour Party is calling many in his party “fucking useless” whilst Angela Eagle isn’t offering much in the way of new policies and Jeremy Corbyn keeps missing opportunities to stick it to the Tories. It’s also becoming violent as Eagle recently had a brick thrown through her window. This is highly distressing and the question I’m asking is if Labour, under Corbyn or Eagle, can keep it together?

At the moment it seems like it can’t. I don’t buy all of the hype around the conspiratorial nature of the ‘coup’ and think Corbyn is somewhat deluded to think everyone is out to get him but you don’t have to be a Blairite to be disappointed with some of his actions – I mean, the man took a holiday during the referendum, the single biggest thing to happen in politics since Cameron was accused of putting his willy in a pig’s head. And watching the short VICE documentary on Corbyn’s team ‘doing’ politics is like watching a slow episode of The Thick of It – I thought that programme was supposed to be fictional. But at the same time Corbyn’s is the loudest anti-austerity voice in mainstream politics and it’s clear he’s riled the establishment somewhat given that the media is going all out to render him ‘unelectable’. And the Party putting the membership fee up from £3 to £25 is a nasty joke that reaffirms how out of touch they are with their support base. But it seems many in the Party are falling out irrevocably and don’t want to try and form a unified front, especially if Corbyn is re-elected.

So, maybe that split needs to happen pronto. For those who oppose Corbyn but still advocate neoliberal, capitalist economics maybe they could join the Lib Dems or make a new party with some vague euphemism for a title and continue presenting themselves as the lighter shade of blue option, which Blair began many years ago. I’m not trying to be glib in my analysis of their economics and, boy, do we need a functioning alternative to the Tories, but whilst I think the ‘centre’ ground of politics has just torn itself apart there are plenty of people who still wish to inhabit it (not that neoliberal capitalism can ever really be the ‘centre’ because money will always promote inequality unless suitably contained). Let them have their ‘soft left’ cakes and eat ’em whilst they carry on failing to beat the Tories at their own game. Anyway, Tariq Ali said all this before me in his book The Extreme Centre: A Warning. Meanwhile, the Corbynistas can either keep the Labour Party title or just call themselves Momentum or something. Although I do hope they stop being so violent and hostile toward alternative views because they’ll need to make a lot of new political allies. In fact, the reports of bullying in the Labour Party, stalking, and Corbyn’s refusal to support a secret ballot (so as to protect the identities of those who voted against him) suggest there are still many emotionally immature and unstable people in the Party.

One hundred and thirty-two years ago the Fabian Society was established as a precursor to the Labour Party. At its heart was representing the ‘working man’ and challenging the establishment but this was when there were flourishing working class communities centred around key industries like mining. Those industries no longer exist and work isn’t what it used to be (especially with the rise of automisation), so whilst the ideals of Corbyn’s Labour are still vital (we do need a welfare state and an end to austerity), yesterday’s solutions cannot answer all of today’s problems. We need a lot of big new ideas. But there aren’t any, I hear you cry. Wrong. I know someone’s whose got ’em and her name is Caroline Lucas – y’know, the woman who is always spot on in the things she says but gets basically 0 seconds of media time. Gotta love ’em Greens.

 

The Men Behind It All

It’s been about a year since I started this blog so I thought what better way to celebrate than to reveal the truth behind the lies, to reveal who really is pulling the strings of the global system. Who manipulates politics, economics and business at such a high level that even presidents and prime ministers will do what they ask. Who tips the balances of the capitalist military industrial complex in their favour and reaps the rewards. Who has the odd billion stored in one of many offshore tax havens. Who somehow remain hidden in the shadows.

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Perhaps, like me, you turned to The X-Files to learn the truth – that there is a cabal of wealthy, white men in grey suits who function above the law and collude with aliens to plan world domination. These men are known as the Syndicate – they’re in the picture above – just a bunch of guys in suits hanging out in shadowy rooms smoking cigarettes and drinking tea, the stuff of global conspiracy (fyi, a few X-Files spoilers on the way). The men of the Syndicate work with a bunch of aliens who want to take over the world. The men do all they can to ensure the public never knows about this: they plan and enact elaborate conspiracies to ensure abductees, alien sightings and even alien attacks are all covered up and explained away; they have the military at their disposal; they bribe and threaten government officials; they kill anyone who knows too much and often try to kill FBI agent Fox Mulder (who is always one step away from revealing their dastardly plans). In short, they pull an awful lot of the strings of power. But, the thing is, they do it very badly.

Over and over again these silly, old men make mistakes and let things slip. So many of their secret experiments using alien DNA and alien tech go awry and result in many people needlessly dying. Then they have to clean up the mess and kill anyone who spotted the mess, usually Fox Mulder. To conceal their mistakes they have to spend an awful lot on bribes and concoct exceptionally elaborate cover-up stories (often more ludicrous than the actual alient-based truth). Then they have to kill a few more people, including JFK and Martin Luther King, who threaten the balance of power. They also make a very bad team – they don’t trust each other and frequently lie to one another when they fail to successfully ‘manage’ a ‘situation’. So yeah, they’re the ones behind it all, but they’re also a bunch of idiots.

And there are times when I can’t help but think this is quite a good analogy for the real people behind the real system (unless there is actually an alien-government conspiracy and The X-Files was a documentary, not sci-fi). There’s a certain comfort in believing that a group of super-ruthless intellectuals are playing puppet master to the world’s problems and tipping the capitalist military industrial complex in their favour. And yes, there are certainly people doing this – creating/using multiple tax havens, subsidising environmentally destructive industries whilst undermining sustainable energy, investing/trading in weapons. They often do this because they’re greedy and/or it makes “business sense” (i.e. maximise short-term profit at any expense). But is it a joined-up, super smooth system of conspiracy and collusion, I doubt it, I often just think it’s greedy, insecure, selfish people with far too much power doing what greedy, insecure, selfish people do, namely look out for number one. I can’t imagine it’s actually fun being one of these people (“Hey, darling, how was your day?” “Oh, you know, the usual – I hid lots of our money in an offshore account to avoid taxes and I sold a load of weapons that will be used to kill innocent people.”). Certainly, the Syndicate don’t seem to have much fun as they’re constantly paranoid their nefarious ways will be revealed and they spend a lot of time planning how to kill one another. So, maybe those shady characters in that shady room aren’t quite so clever as the conspiracies would have us believe and, in a way, that makes it worse – such a shame that it’s a bunch of idiots bringing about doomsday far too far in advance.

The Night Manager: A Slower James Bond

The Night Manager, it’s the new John Le Carré adaptation on BBC1, a typical story of intrigue, spying and nefarious businessmen screwing the rest of the world over. If you’ve ever seen a James Bond film then it’s like that (sorry, spoiler alert) – big baddy selling weapons, objectified women who get killed by baddies and some dull, semi-sociopath spy caught in the middle of it. Except this time M is played by Olivia Coleman and she’s got a northern accent and a baby on the way. Meanwhile, if you’ve ever read one of my blog posts you’ll be able to predict my complaints: it fails the Latif and Bechdel tests so far (I’m on episode 3 and still asking myself why I didn’t stop at 1), there’s plenty of sexualised, female nudity and zilch sexualised male nudity (not even some side penis to compensate for all the side boob we get) and the protagonist has no charisma, genuinely zero, he doesn’t even register on the personality scale. To summarise, this is a boring yet glamorous waste of time. If you really want your fill of slightly-more-intelligent-than-James-Bond spy thriller (but still disappointingly chauvinistic) watch The Constant Gardener.

So, need this blog go on? Well, one thing I do find quite interesting about this series is it’s depiction of rich people. And we’re not just talking millionaires we’re talking the billionaire businessmen who sell arms and pull strings in national governments to get away with it. Yup, it’s the elite of the elite, those at the top of the capitalist military industrial complex. And the one in The Night Manager is called Richard Roper and is played by Hugh Laurie. And, curiously, he’s not very scary. He tells crass jokes, he flops around his villa eating brioche, he quaffs champagne, he does the odd deal, he dances with his much younger girlfriend (who is often to be seen naked unlike Hugh Laurie of course). Meanwhile, his rich friends have drinking problems, are insecure about how they look, cheat on their wives with their French au pairs, have complexes about their masculinity (and penis size no doubt), and genuinely do what insecure, entitled men do. Meanwhile, the wives look on as they try to ignore their husbands dodgy dealings whilst packing off bratty Tamara and Tim to boarding school.

And these so-called elites, the 1%, are the ones we’re encouraged to aspire to be like!? The only difference between these people and any other group of malfunctioning humans (which is most groups) is that when they negotiate over a contract that contract tends to be about weapons that may well be used in a war. When I fall out with my friends it’s usually over a round and the repercussions might be a split pint or two. For the 1% it’s whether British arms will be used to trash the next Middle Eastern country. So The Night Manger, whilst being a well-worn cliché of exotic locales and exoticised women has done me the favour of putting me off my dream to become a billionaire. The rich come across as pretty boring and Hugh Laurie’s attempt at justifying his lifestyle is also quite boring. After having said how great it is to be able to eat brioche whenever he likes and go skiing a lot he then says: “Children grow up thinking the adult world is ordered, rational, fit for purpose. It’s crap. Becoming a man is realising that it’s all rotten. Realising how to celebrate that rottenness, that’s freedom.” I mean, seriously, what a half-hearted attempt at justifying egoistic nihilism. The whole point of nihilism is that you don’t need to justify it, it’s just an excuse to be a complete wanker and not care about anyone else. Sure, Roper fits the bill but is a villa in Mallorca really the best he can do? Personally, I’d prefer some nice friends and not facilitating World War 3.

Why Life Is Like Monopoly (And Not A Box Of Chocolates)

So, you’ve got £200 in your pocket and you’re ready to Go. London unfolds before you – its Victorian terraces, towering skyscrapers, penthouse apartments, silver dogs and prisons. All that saving and you might finally be able to get a foot on the property ladder, it’s what you’ve always dreamed of. Yup, just a typical game of Monopoly, except this time I’m going to bend the rules a little to show the parallels between the board game and the game of life.

https://i1.wp.com/pic.lifetmt.com/2014/07/logo-monopoly2.jpgLet’s say there are 6 players and everyone is ready to get going. You, player 1, full of hope and aspirations start the game with £200. Next to go is Archibald, player 2, who already has £2,000,000. Why does he have such a high amount? He inherited it from a previous player. Whereas you’ll have to work hard to earn your cash Archibald will barely have to lift a finger. Unfair? Yup. That’s life. So, you keep trundling round the board just waiting to be able to buy your first little piece of land. However, it turns out Hugo, player number 3, is a member of one of the few land owning families in the country and it just so happens that his family already own a whole load of London. This means you won’t actually be able to buy the land you’ll just be able to rent it off Hugo’s family. Furthermore, because Hugo’s family have been hoarding land for so long it has become an increasingly scarce resource, meaning it’s very, very expensive because so many people want it. Better get moving round that board.

Fortunately, Hector, player number 4, is the banker and he’s there for you. He gives you £200 every time you pass Go to help you get your first foot on the property ladder. Of course, it’s not free money, it’s actually a loan and because the system isn’t that well-regulated Hector’s happy to keep loaning you money, he’ll even give you a mortgage, even though it’s unlikely you’ll be able to repay it. He also turns people’s dodgy mortgages into investment opportunities for rich people who want to get richer. Multiply this process by millions of people and when they start failing to pay off their mortgages the whole system comes crumbling down and lots of people get in debt, including you player number 1. Fortunately, Hector knows Bertie, player number 5, who is a politician, and rather than get Hector fired or even put in jail for corrupt behaviour he actually bails the bank out with public money – that’s right, he takes some cash from your hard-earned stash and gives it to Hector.

So, strapped for cash, in debt and struggling to get by you decide to make a stand. You wave a placard, you shout a slogan or two, you appeal to the better angels of people’s nature in the hope to make the system fairer. Enter Bobby, player number 6, he’s a policeman and he’s got no time for the likes of you. In fact, Bobby likes to uphold the rules of the game and he’ll lose his job if he doesn’t. So it’s off to prison with you for being a troublemaker. That’s what you get if you challenge the establishment and try to change the system. And let’s not forget some of the other players who haven’t been mentioned including Eric, the accountant and consultant who advises Archibald and his rich friends on how to avoid paying taxes; Rupert, who runs the newspapers and happily prints articles on how terrible and greedy poor people are whilst lavishing praise on the rich; and even quiet and unassuming Peter who actually works at MI5 and enjoys spying on groups of ‘subversives’ who think climate change and capitalism are somewhat problematic. He’ll happily team up with Rupert, Bobby, Bertie and the rest in order to keep the establishment in place and the masses at bay.

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Life, like a game of monopoly, seems to begin and end with money. People endlessly trudge around the board of life trying to make a decent living but there’s nothing decent about money, the system is rigged from the outset. It could take someone many lifetimes to earn what some people inherit at birth. Money is not fair – it is a scarce resource that is unevenly distributed and yet it’s the item we use to access key resources including houses, land and food. Thus, objects that could be in abundance (there’s enough food on the planet to feed everyone for instance) are forced into a system of imposed scarcity making it doubly hard to get by – first you’ve got to work to get a living just so you can get the money to buy the actual things you need. Perhaps you’re thinking what I’m thinking? That it’s time to change the rules of the game…

London Spy: London Spoilers

London Spy – a new 5 part series on BBC 2 stars Ben Whishaw. He plays Danny, a young guy living in London. He goes out one night, takes a load of drugs, goes clubbing and then the following morning bumps into an attractive jogger on Vauxhall bridge called Alex. To cut a long story short: they fall in love, have sex, Alex turns out to be a spy, then gets killed (stuffed in a trunk in an attic full of BDSM kit) and Danny is framed for the murder. Cue dim lighting, an untrustworthy ensemble cast and bucketfuls of suspicious glances, it’s all classic spy fare…or is it?

There’s a lot resting on London Spy (LS) because it’s the first TV spy thriller to be populated by predominantly gay characters. Danny is gay, Alex is/was gay (can we really be sure his was the body in the trunk!?) and Danny’s older male friend, Scottie, is gay. Then there’s the nasty drug dealer played by Mark Gatiss who addicts younger men to drugs and sleeps with them. And Edward Fox plays an unfriendly spy master who may well also be gay. Add to this themes of drug addiction, unsympathetic parents, lonely old men (Scottie) falling for disinterested younger men (Danny), institutionalised homophobia, HIV, prostitution, oh, and murder, and the picture LS paints of gay life in London is pretty grim. But we like a bit of grim, don’t we? I mean the Hunger Games is pretty grim. Perhaps these issues add a cold slap of gritty realism to LS and ground it in a seedy underworld that’s so fascinating to watch. But I think LS is up against a bigger problem than bodies in trunks.

Homophobia. Stories about straight men doing straight things and blowing stuff up have populated spy thrillers for decades. Heterosexuality saturates the genre and is considered normal which is why we would tend not to watch James Bond or a Le Carre as a straight film, just a film. However, gay characters going about doing gay things isn’t normal and so we watch them differently, because we’ve been conditioned to see gay characters as ‘other’. It was fellow blogger, Alex Gabriel, who reminded me of this (via Twitter). He offered numerous interpretations for why LS is so bleak: within the story itself we witness how the British spy establishment treats gay spies and gay patsies – very, very badly. In essence the establishment machine (think MI6, Whitehall & Big Money) will crush anyone it needs to and use whatever means necessary to frame them (e.g. attics full of sex toys, drugs and bondage gear – all of Danny’s past). This is a world where gay people are killed, they don’t come back to life in twists at the end (although I still think Alex might), and their lives are grim and unhappy. Meanwhile, in the non-fictional world of spy thrillers the fact that LS is so unique just reminds us how engrained and seemingly normalised the white, straight, male is in so much popular culture, especially the spy genre.

So, LS is pushing the boat out, populating a notoriously straight genre with more queer characters and reminding us that queer, spy lives can be just as dark as those of straight spies. Unfortunately though, whilst I still want to know what happens, I’m not sure LS is actually that good. Despite the title I just don’t find it that spy-y. Sure, Danny is a civilian caught up in a spider’s web of international political intrigue and corruption but it seems as if the creators of LS have watched a lot of spy programmes but not necessarily done much spying themselves (or at least interviewed spies). A lot of the time the intrigue comes from the fact that rooms aren’t very well-lit and no one (even innocent housekeepers) actually says anything explicitly, it’s all riddles and enigmas. Sure, this is the stuff of spy drama but sometimes it just seems as if they’re trying to stretch out a very thin story, do we really need 5 hours of Ben Whishaw looking forlorn and put-upon in dimly lit rooms? Hopefully though LS will open up the door for more queer spies and mysteries (ideally better ones).

The Anatomy Of James Bond (Or Why Bond Votes Conservative)

James Bond, you might have heard of him. They say men want to be him and women want to be with him – apparently. But what’s he really like? Underneath the ski gear, tuxedo and bullet proof vest who is he really? Time for some pop psychology that will lead me to conclude that he probably votes Tory.

First things first, James Bond is an affluent, English, white, straight male. According to the books he spent much of his early life jet setting around Europe with his parents as his father worked for an armaments company (I guess guns run in the family). He briefly went to Eton before being expelled for a dalliance with a maid and then went to Fettes College, a private school in Scotland. He also went to University in Geneva. So Bond’s background was one of privilege and wealth (ring any bells?). These things often make people feel quite entitled, as if they deserve them rather than just having acquired them through the accident of birth. However, a boarding school upbringing comes with other things. Namely, the repression of emotion.

At school Bond will have been bullied for crying and general displays of emotion (save anger and the joy of victory). He’ll have been told that emotions are what women do and the worst thing a man can do is appear like a woman. So classes in misogyny will have been taught alongside classes in the stiff upper lip, nationalism and tying cravats, usually by sexist, posh and snobbish teachers (or men trying desperately to appear posh by association). Thus, a general environment of racism, classism and discrimination will have percolated into Bond’s psychology. Naturally, he’ll grow up to become cold-hearted and sexist, and we see this in his general treatment of women throughout the films/books. They often wind up dead and when they do Bond hardly seems to care. “The b*tch is dead,” says Daniel Craig’s Bond when he discovers that his lover Vesper Lynd has died. Whilst we know he did love her he lives in such a world where confessing that would be tantamount to joining the communists. Add to this ingrained misogyny a big dose of self-loathing.

His posh lifestyle will have forced him to define himself apart from others – he’s not poor, not common, not badly educated, not homosexual etc – so he’ll have had little chance to explore what he actually is or could be because he’s been forced into a specific, chauvinist mould. Fortunately though he’s landed in the one job that lets him live out this warped masculine stereotype because he gets to kill and fight a lot whilst womanising without consequences. And it’s precisely this job that belies his political orientation – I mean he loves a command/control approach to work as he’s very good at taking orders (whilst treating his boss like some sort of warped father/mother figure who affirms his acts of mass violence), he upholds the values of the British establishment even when its complicit in the global corruption it’s alleging to tackle and he kills a lot of people from other countries – I mean, he must be a Tory.

So, underneath it all, who really is James Bond? Well, a mass of insecurities and brutal conditionings. He’s inherited a woeful bunch of concepts with which to make an identity from and the consequences prove alcoholic, violent and unfriendly. For someone to be so out of touch with their emotions, so lacking in sympathy and so callous, well, they can’t really have ever got much love. However, there is more to him than a mish mash of masculine clichés and stereotypes. Occasionally he’ll come out with something quite brilliant like when Daniel Craig put us straight: “But let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist. A lot of women are drawn to him chiefly because he embodies a certain kind of danger and never sticks around for too long.” Yup, even Bond is aware of his own conditioning and therein lies hope, hope that he could change to become someone who treats others well, who can challenge his repressive upbringing and tackle the root causes of global problems (such as the British government’s proliferation of the arms trade and dubious foreign policy). Maybe one day Bond might just vote for Labour, or at least the Liberal Democrats.

Yup, Monica Belluci is spot on, Bond is “obviously crazy”.

More Than Hope

Following the election many are saying it is time Labour went back to the drawing board and engaged in some serious soul-searching. Two such pundits include Pat McFadden, shadow Europe minister, and Owen Jones, Guardian columnist. Below I analyse their views and argue that both do not go nearly far enough because they don’t address the underlying issue – an issue much bigger than a Labour party rebrand and petty party politics. In truth, it is an issue as big as capitalism itself.

McFadden was quoted in a Guardian article saying: “…if there was one thing Ed Miliband was clear about, he was turning the page on New Labour even more emphatically than Gordon Brown was, and we see the results even more emphatically last night. We don’t just need a new person at the top of the Labour party, we need a new argument, too. We will always be the people of the lower paid, but we need to be more than that and be the party of the aspirational family that wants to do well. We need to speak about wealth creation and not just wealth distribution.”

In his article Jones recounts the Conservatives’ masterful victory over their left-wing rivals: their successful scapegoating of the Labour Party for the 2008 recession, their forcing of Labour to turn their backs on immigrants and the right-wing media’s stirring of Scottish nationalism to ensure a mass shift to the SNP and their stirring/scaring of English nationalism to ensure more blue votes. The Tories severely weakened their opponent and are enjoying a majority for it. He concludes with his aspirations for a new Labour politics as so: “There will be a big debate now over the future of the Labour party, and what the left does next. This country desperately needs a politics of hope that answers people’s everyday problems on living standards, job security, housing, public services and the future of their children. That is needed more than ever, no matter what happens with the Labour leadership. What is needed is a movement rooted in the lives of working-class people and their communities. The future of millions of people depends on it.

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I do not think either of these views are good enough. McFadden argues that Miliband’s leftwards shift from New Labour policies was a mistake. Now, Margaret Thatcher herself said that her greatest legacy was Tony Blair – he adopted right-wing neoliberal policies that she had initiated. He turned his back on the working classes and encouraged a capitalist rhetoric of ‘get rich and get middle class’. But the constant surge of boom and bust in capitalist economics, increasing levels of inequality and the squeezing of the middle prove that when push comes to shove the middle classes will be ignored by the establishment. We know trickle down economics are a sham as we witness the elite 1% drain wealth from wider society (e.g. in the public bailout of the banks and in the privatisation of the public sector). Yet McFadden still suggests that a traditionally working class party try to out compete a party that represents the wealthy establishment on the grounds of ‘wealth creation’ – good luck to them.

Meanwhile, Jones calls for a politics of hope rooted in working-class communities. Yet his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Classes demonstrates how severely the working-class has been undermined since the class wars of Thatcher – working class industries obliterated, trade unions weakened and workers’ rights eroded. The working-class reality today is 0 hour contracts, abysmal working conditions (e.g. as in call centres), food banks and increasing poverty. Thatcher said there was no such thing as society and it seems her prophecy has proved self-fulfilling. So, whilst Jones’ critique is insightful his proposal is lacking. We need much more than a vague politics of hope: we need a pragmatic plan of action informed by an inspirational vision of what our society could be. We need a plan and vision that transcends petty party politics and, above all, transcends capitalism.

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The recession of 2008 was not the fault of Labour it was the inevitable result of a deregulated and globalised banking sector that was ‘too big to fail’ and working under the ‘maximise profit’ mantra of capitalism. This trend of deregulation dates back to Thatcher and was not stalled by Blair, Brown, or Cameron. The rise (and rise) of the banking sector was a cross party achievement. Of course, the 2008 recession was just one of many – recessions are endemic to capitalist economics as bubbles are continually over-speculated upon and then burst. So Gordon Brown promising a departure from boom and bust economics during New Labour’s years, the Tories blaming Labour for the 2008 recession and George Osborne taking credit for the apparent economic recovery, are all just examples of a severely limited understanding of economics.

Neither McFadden nor Jones attempt to analyse the system of capitalism itself ensuring their proposals are either ill-informed or too flimsy. Booms and busts occur in capitalist economies because they have to – we are locked into a system that demands continual growth so we innovate new products and industries to ensure more money can circulate, and as the innovations increase so people speculate on them to make a profit.  When one well of profit dries up the infrastructure built around it collapses and the speculators start mining elsewhere. Profit maximisation is even inscribed in law as companies are obligated to maximise shareholder return on investment. We are literally locked into a system that demands us to make money before anything else. Unfortunately, Jessie J got it very wrong, it is about the money.

Until we can effectively challenge the all-pervasive power of capital we will never be able to articulate a sustainable and humane alternative to the status quo. Labour will constantly find itself losing as it tries to play the Tory game and the Tories will easily be able to scaremonger and scapegoat to ensure the establishment stays put. But the Tories and Labour are engaged in the neoliberal game, a game of wealth accumulation, greed and class warfare. Fortunately, there are other much bigger games to play. A politics of more than just hope is possible. Indeed, a politics of pragmatism twinned with idealism founded on a sustainable and stable economic basis is already in the making. Our task must be to understand how it works, to champion it where it is working and, above all, to make it. We have at least to be able to imagine the blueprint so we can start building. All this in another blog post soon, in the meantime here’s a bit of Jessie J…

 

The Establishment’s Deckchairs

The Establishment is Owen Jones’ latest book. It is a brilliant critique of the UK’s elite and how they rig politics, economics, business, law and media in their favour. He highlights the hypocrisy of the neoliberals who decry state intervention but then rely on the state for the  implementation of their wishes. His critique is brutally well researched and his findings are damning, yet I do not think his examination of the establishment is sufficiently rigorous. In this brief post I shall add one further criticism to Jones’ multitude.

The Establishment

In essence, The Establishment charts the rise of neoliberalism in the UK. After the second world war and with the rise of the welfare state it was looking as if neoclassical capitalism was here to stay – an active and paternalistic state working with strong unions to foster economic growth. A few lone voices bemoaned these turns of event and think tanks were established to promote neoliberalism – the rolling back of and privatisation of the state with an emphasis on supporting those at the top of the ladder rather than the bottom. Margaret Thatcher and Richard Nixon are familiar figureheads for this movement and between them they ensured neoliberalism became the status quo. The bailing out of the banks after the late noughties recession and the current government’s commitment to austerity all form part of the neoliberal narrative. It explains why inequality is growing, the rich are getting richer and more people are being pushed below the poverty line.

At the end of the book Jones offers some “pretty timid” solutions to the current problem that sees a greedy fraction of the population twist the system to fill their coffers. He calls for the state to once again play a more active role in society with regards wealth distribution, taxation and public service provision. He wants a clamp down on the banking system and tax avoidance. He calls for a “democratic revolution” without offering much of a guide as to how the public could actually play a greater role in a highly corporatised and economically beleaguered country.

A distinct lack of viable solutions aside my main concern with The Establishment is its failure to articulate the deeper political and economic impetus that has guided our country for decades and served the establishment very well. It is called capitalism – “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.” Capitalism takes capital and adds an -ism to it, in other words, it turns money making into a religion. Capitalism measures everything with money. For something to make sense in a capitalist system it must be price tagged. At a national scale a country’s overall material throughput – namely how much stuff and how many services are bought and sold – is measured in GDP, gross domestic product. Jessie J got it wrong, it turns out it is all about the money, money, money.

With this backdrop in mind it becomes clear that whether or not capitalism is guided by a neoclassical or neoliberal inclination it is still capitalism. Increasing profits and GDP will always be the priority, whatever the cost. We are relentlessly having to churn up finite resources, abuse human labour and innovate more soon-to-be-obsolete products so our economies can ‘grow’. So, whether the state is guided by an establishment willing to make concessions to the working class or by one that is cut throat in its pursuit of the bottom line we are still just rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic as we remain committed to a political and economic (il)logic that prioritises profit over people and planet.

The lack of a coherent analysis of capitalism may explain why The Establishment is so heavy on criticism, around 300 pages of it, but so very light on solutions, we only get 20 pages of “pretty timid” suggestions. The irony is that Jones has lain waste to the crooks that rig the system in their favour yet fails to hammer home a criticism of the very system that assures their power – capitalist economics. Until we understand the perils of a commitment to contemporary capitalism we remain seated on the deck of a swiftly sinking ship frantically rearranging the deckchairs. Tbc…