Blind loyalty

kirchner_2343967b

I think one of the things I despise most in life is blind loyalty, and it’s an issue I’ve been reflecting on in the last day or two.

The slightly more trivial sort of blind loyalty I object to is that of the self-described ‘real’ football fan. And by ‘real’ I mean one who turns up to every game and possesses a seemingly ceaseless appetite for their team producing abject dross, and who use their frequent attendance at matches as a stick with which to beat the rest of ‘dilettantes’ who refuse to hand over a large section of our disposable income paying to watch a poor standard of football.

This week I’ve been sucked into a debate with various BCFC fans about the abilities of Lee Clark that concluded with someone accusing me of being a Villa fan and that I was called, hilariously, Mumboloid. And all because I said that Lee Clark wasn’t very good. I think he only just managed to hold himself back from denouncing me as some kind of morally bankrupt European intellectual.

My mistake, apparently, is that I’ve failed to ‘get behind’ the team and manager. Because getting behind the team magically transforms them into worldbeaters, or so I am led to believe. Shit teams led by a shit manager cease being shit when you ‘get behind them’, wonderfully.

If football were only about hard work, I’d be Leo fucking Messi. I had years of trying hard, to no avail. Years of flying in with tackles that could have maimed my opponent. Years of chasing lost causes and finding that at the end of the chase the cause was as lost as when I’d started.

Hard work isn’t enough. So I don’t care how hard Lee Clark is trying. He isn’t good enough and he needs to be sacked and replaced with someone who actually knows what they are doing.

In the grand scheme of things the stubborn myopia of the average overly-aggressive-and-too easily-offended football fan isn’t a big issue, although it points up something a little worrying about the human condition that I’m sure if I was that European intellectual I could make a profound point around. Maybe I will after I’ve finished the Albert Camus anthology I’m half way through (it’s so bleak though…..)

But there is another blind loyalty, or the invocation of a blind loyalty, that can have rather more deleterious consequences. I’m thinking of nationalism, my beloved and patient reader.

The Falkland Islands, population just under 3,000, are back in the headlines and it’s pretty obvious even to an innocent stripling like me that the dispute suits the flag-wavers and breast-beaters on both sides. So, on the one hand we have Christine Kirchner manipulating the issue for self-evidently cynical reasons, as successive Argentine governments and regimes have.

On the other we have a British government who although they feign innocence and high-minded principle are indulging in acts of provocation clearly designed to get a reaction from their Argentine counterparts.

From the British political establishment we hear lines of attack that are quite chilling in their hypocrisy.

This from an opinion column in the Sun, the paper that thinks it has the right to conduct international diplomacy on behalf of the rest of us (cheers guys):

ONCE again a head of state faced with huge internal problems tries to divert the population’s rightful fury at corruption, inflation, financial incompetence and rising crime by stirring the jingoist pot.    

I wonder if he is sufficiently self-aware to know that these words could just as well be used to describe Margaret Thatcher in 1982? That the diversion that the conflict provided and the way her government conducted it was a godsend for her and her party’s agenda?

‘Stirring the jingoist pot’ is the tried and tested tactic of Tories throughout their party’s inglorious history, and arguably it saved them from election defeat in 1983 and helped pave the way for the continuation of her ‘revolution from above’. In fact, a bit of flag-waving is a leitmotif of the political class as a whole when they deem it necessary to provide a distraction and the usual bread and circuses won’t work.

Does he really think that the current British government is simply an innocent party in all of this, merely and bravely doing right by the Falkland Islanders? Does he really think that Cameron, Hague et al aren’t getting massive stiffys at the thought of emulating their hero and in fact completely welcome this opportunity, that Kirchner is handing them on a plate?

To me, I can’t see any further than the fact that the Falklands are inhabited by people who in their infinite wisdom appear to overwhelmingly wish to remain British. There is no ‘indigenous’ or expelled population, or one under the thumb of a colonial oppressor. I’m not at all convinced that Argentina has a valid or just claim on the islands.

But the islanders are being exploited by politicians on both sides of the Argentina/GB divide.

I don’t want to sound wise after the event but………

Yvonne Ridley

Yvonne Ridley

I had a lovely breakfast today. It was yummy. I won’t tell you what it is, but I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t the best breakfast ever, because I didn’t think that it would be. I didn’t overhype it in advance.

My attitude to this breakfast is a good rule to apply across the rest of one’s life. Don’t overhype things, especially when you don’t really know how they will turn out.

In politics, I would suggest that predicting victory hubristically is always an act of stupidity, especially when your party has not much of a track record of the kind of stunning success that you are predicting. If victory doesn’t happen, then you look a dick. If you say nothing but do make a significant breakthrough then it’s great. You can dine out on it for ages.

In short, you have risked all your credibility and gained nothing by making predictions of electoral success.

In that light, some of the talk around a possible Respect breakthrough at the recent by-elections (yes, I’m still talking about them even if the rest of the world has moved onto Kate Middleton’s baby…..) was very silly.

Partly I’m sure it was a consequence of the rampant egomania of Britain’s most indefatigable politician, George Galloway. But partly I’m sure the party as a whole and the media had started to believe all the hype.

Take the candidacy of Lee Jasper in the Croydon North by-election. In the end he polled around 707 votes, just under 3%.

So shit then. And yet there was talk in advance he might be in with a chance of winning. Why make such predictions? Lee Jasper looks like a dickhead right now. Although he did already, to be fair.

And even more so with Yvonne Ridley in Rotherham. There, she was definitely being talked of as a possible winner, and that Respect and UKIP had the Labour candidate trapped in a pincer movement.   

She ended up with just over 8% of the vote and was in fact beaten by the BNP candidate. Remember the BNP, the ones who are in perpetual crisis? That’s how well she did.

Now for a ‘left’ candidate (and I will just stretch the definition of left far enough to include Respect, although when right-wing libertarians are attacking them and successfully landing punches you know they must be pretty lousy) to get 8% plus is actually not too bad at all. Indeed, if all left candidates were doing that well then I might have to revise my opinion that standing candidates against Labour was a complete waste of time. But to be talking about winning, and a repeat of Bradford West, only to then to be beaten by the BNP, means that somewhere, someone has lost their bearings.

And this isn’t just an empty, apolitical gripe on my part. There is a longstanding culture on the left of absurd hyperbole followed by abject failure. “We’ve got the government on the run” “these are revolutionary times” and “I get all of my arguments from Representing the Mambo, he’s so well-informed” are just some of the things you can read and hear from the left all the time. When it turns out not be the case (i.e. every single time at the moment) people with a brain get disillusioned. So ultimately it is self-defeating.

This goes to the heart of what is rotten about the Respect project too. The party is the nationally-projected ego of one man. Galloway. A man whose political MO is wild over-statement and the convenient ditching of rudimentary socialist ideas in the name of short-term expediency. Absurd predictions of a sea-change in politics that the party’s ‘rise’ is supposed to presage have quite naturally come to nothing.

The other thing to note about the by-elections from a leftie point of view is that the other explicitly socialist candidates did appallingly in what should have been fairly propitious circumstances (i.e. in Rotherham a Labour candidate imposed on the constituency following the resignation of a man with his hand in the till and in general a government pursuing a deeply divisive agenda disproportionately hurting Labour strongholds). In Rotherham, the TUSC candidate got less than half the votes of the lunatic English Democrats.

Seriously, what is the point of even bothering wasting time (and a significant amount of money) on standing if that is how poorly you are going to do, especially when time and again we see that TUSC et al never do any better than risibly? What purpose does it serve? Wouldn’t the resources be better allocated to actually resisting austerity in a meaningful way?  Is such a performance only likely to make people think that there is no chance of stopping this government and its agenda, surely?

Are we ever going to learn? Can we not start being a little more realistic and sensible?

David and Enver

Oh dear me. How I love initiatives to cleanse our souls of red tape, the bane of all our lives. It really is. If it wasn’t for that pesky red tape, this fair land would be paradise on earth. And when we do get rid of it, things are going to be so much better. It’ll be like living in the Garden of Eden.

Cameron’s plans buy into a few firmly established but utterly facile political notions that offend the sensibilities of your correspondent on so many levels.

Firstly, it gives the Tories a great opportunity to play to the gallery and give the ‘equalities Marxists’ a good kicking. It’ll go down really well with the grunters at the Daily Mail and the Sun and his party’s base, who get big stiffys at the thought of all this stuff and sticking one up the hordes of Stalin-worshippers in the public sector and judiciary. They are simple folk, these right-wingers.

Secondly, Cameron, Osborne et al are desperate to get us all to buy into this Hobbesian war amongst nations bullshit. Apparently, Britain is in a competition with everyone else. Where we are in the international league table really matters. We must be competitive, we must win. If we were like China and paid the proles peanuts and gave them no rights we’d still be ruling the waves.

“Consultations, impact assessments, audits, reviews, stakeholder management, securing professional buy-in, complying with EU procurement rules, assessing sector feedback … this is not how we became one of the most powerful, prosperous nations on Earth…….We need to forget about crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ and we need to throw everything we’ve got at winning in this global race.”

It’s a grim, dystopian vision and one created to try and force us all to accept a diminished standard of living, fewer rights at work and the bosses wish to do as they please.

It’s rather at odds with all of the rhetoric coming out of the government about devolving power back down to ordinary people at ground level, however, you may have observed.

 Cameron is actually a ruthless centralizer.  A Stalin for our times. Well, more like Enver Hoxha……

The consultations and assessments that Cameron is so disdainful of can occasionally have important uses and act as a bulwark to the government and their lobbysists doing exactly as they please without fear of challenge. By making it harder to challenge controversial decisions, Cameron is disempowering the very people he dishonestly claims to be trying to help.

Oh, and I’d be interested to see exactly how Cameron intends to circumvent EU procurement rules without actually leaving the EU…………

And when someone explains how Britain is actually in a ‘race’, do let me know. I’d love to hear them try. To make sure we ‘win’, will all the members of the cabinet be donating their fortunes to economic projects that will help us do so? After all, this is all-important and the Tories are the servants of the people……… Keeping the Communist dictator theme, it all sounds rather Maoist to me.   

Thirdly, and this is connected to point number two, it’s feeding into the notion that bureaucracy is strangling the country’s economy. This is palpably false. What regulation there is serves to save capitalism from consuming itself and ameliorating some of its worst excesses. In fact it is the zeal for deregulation that created the environment for the economic crash in the first place. A de-regulated economy only benefits the minority. The benefits of a ‘vibrant’ capitalist market are never shared out equitably. His proposals are a crass, transparent power grab.

Fourthly, as I’ve already pointed out I’m intrigued how these ideas fit in with the government’s self-professed strategy of localism and devolving power downwards:

“We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy. We don’t need all this extra tick-box stuff. So I can tell you today, we are calling time on equality impact assessments. You no longer have to do them if these issues have been properly considered.”

So to sum up, all the big decisions will be made in London by Tory placemen and no reference will be made to the views of anyone else, as the placemen are all-knowing. Now I know that Cameron thinks that, but I’m surprised he is coming out and saying it so openly, and contradicting all the mood music that has come out of the government in the last couple of years. Again, Cameron the Stalinist.

Cameron’s proposals are the politics of the powerful acquiring more power, as all wars on ‘red tape’ are. Cameron wants to sound like a brave American-style frontiersman, but ends up sounding like a central committee member of the Chinese Communist Party.

A delicious and I’m sure wholly unintended irony, but one that could end up hurting ordinary people a great deal.

Another journalist gets a good kicking from the Mambo

Generic anti-austerity demo photo. I think I got this from the website of that scourge of the international bourgeoisie, Russia Today. They carry adverts now, the sell-outs.

It’s that time again folks. Another line by line condemnation of an article I recently read that didn’t exactly float my boat. An old dependable that I know you all love.

This time it’s one of the Mambo’s absolute fave columnists, Martin Kettle. He of the Tony Blair Fan Club. His latest is on austerity being a permanent state of affairs. Get in there Martin.

As workers across the European Union went on protest strike today, it was hard to disagree with the trade union leader who told the BBC that austerity economics isn’t working. “It’s increasing inequalities. It’s increasing the social instability in society. And it’s not resolving the economic crisis,” she said.

Martin, what is this? Have you come to your senses and re-joined the rest of us on the darkside? I’m really excited now, this article could be a thrilling mea culpa!

All of that is true and serious. Addressing those things is fundamental. But we are going to have to get used to austerity. Because relative scarcity, and the need to do more with less, are not going to go away in a hurry. Austerity is remaking our world. The point is to make the best of it. Welcome to 21st-century Europe.

Oh.

That’ll be a no then.

Martin, you old tease.

So it’s happening, there is nothing we can do about it and we must simply embrace it. TINA, even though he has just admitted it isn’t working. Hmm. Maybe there is a sophisticated Third Way nuance that I’m just not getting at this point. Either that, or this paragraph is straight out of the Tory playbook. Right. Glad that one’s cleared up.

Today’s quarterly inflation review by the Bank of England is merely the latest in a series of indicators that remind governments and peoples across Europe and beyond that the old days are simply over, done, finished. Recovery would be sustained but slow, said the Bank. The economy was sluggish. The environment unfavourable. Things might be weaker for longer.

I’m reminded at this point of a certain tendency that political and meteorological commentators seem to be possessed of. A fatal flaw, I would suggest. They look at current circumstances and extrapolate long-term trends from them. So, for example, we had a couple of very dry summers and I then read lots of articles earlier this year saying that dry summers would be the norm and we would have to get used to it. It then proceeded to piss down every day for about three months. I literally cannot remember a wetter summer. Ditto with politics. Lots of people are saying that the Republican Party is finished after losing again this time around. It won’t be. It’ll come back. They’ll find a way. Lots of  people said the same about the Tories after 1997. They assumed Labour government was permanent and a new ideological consensus had been established. We know how that turned out. Kettle is falling into exactly the same trap. It sounds smart now, but it will look profoundly naïve in a few years time. Things can change. The economic crash showed that. The terms of the debate changed utterly.

The message is hard to miss. Times have changed. The only thing that is certain is further uncertainty. We may have come out of recession again, but the idea that Britain, let alone the countries of the eurozone, can expect to see any resumption of the kind of growth rates to which we have all been accustomed since the second world war, is increasingly fanciful. We are living through not a downturn but an epochal change, and we need to make a more consistent effort to understand what this implies.

Uncertainty is certain and yet he is also telling us that austerity is permanent? Come again? I don’t know whether economic growth rates will ever return to their pre-crash levels, but to assert that they never will with such certainty seems a trifle fatalistic and actually quite a cheeky intellectual device on Kettle’s part. As I’ve just said, the world can change. Kettle wants to posit a way of doing things, a ‘cautious social democracy’, just without the social democratic bit, that is predicated on accepting certain ‘truths’ that revolve around the permanence of austerity.

The most interesting news story of the last week – which was nothing to do with the BBC and made few of the newspapers – illustrates what is at stake. During the next 50 years, according to a newly published OECD growth report, the world economy is expected to grow at about 3% a year. Most of that growth, however, will be in Asia and the developing nations. Growth in Europe, including the UK, will be much less robust – and will often actually decline.

You’ll have to excuse me if I take the predictions of bodies like the IMF and the OECD with a pinch of salt, Martin, and I would suggest that it is rather unwise to draw such wide-ranging conclusions from them. Kettle is a terrific bore if he thinks that was the most interesting story of that week, as well.

Got that? Growth in Britain will often decline over the coming half-century. It will not resume. We can talk all we like about stimulus and investment, as Labour did today in its latest denunciation of George Osborne, quite rightly in its way. But, during the next 50 years, growth is going to be halting and uneven and will sometimes be negative. Just like now, in fact.

Got what? That someone thinks something? Martin Kettle claims to know what economic performance is going to be like for the next 50 years. Christ alive, who does this guy think he is? Fucking Nostradamus? Seriously, how can we possibly know what will happen in the next 50 years of human history and what will get better, or worse?

The OECD said something else, too. As the world economy grows, it reported, our European share of it will decline. Economic power is shifting to China, whose economy will outstrip that of the eurozone next year and of the United States before Barack Obama leaves the White House in 2016, as well as to India. Without wishing to fall into mercantilist heresy, this means that while the world will have more, we will have less of it – and maybe less in real terms, too. We are confronting scarcity of a sort we have forgotten.

Yes  Martin, we get it. Oh, and you are falling into mercantilist heresy son. The world isn’t some kind of Hobbesian war amongst nations. I don’t care what percentage of the world’s wealth resides in Europe, because the vast majority of wealth isn’t available to ordinary people in Europe anyway. I’m worried about living standards and how that wealth is distributed. Not where Britain is in a pissing league table.

It is tempting to read a report like the OECD’s and say, yeah yeah, we all know all that stuff about the rise of Asia and the decline of the west. And maybe we all do. But probably only at a rather theoretical level. For most of us, relative decline is something we read about but don’t think about until it hits us on the head. Most of us have barely started to grasp what it may mean for our living standards and our politics.

Terms like ‘relative decline’ are deliberately disingenuous. It doesn’t mean that living standards are fated to decline, unless we choose to do nothing about the way Britain’s/Europe’s wealth is distributed (which we may……)  I really don’t mind if GDP growth is quicker in Asian and South American countries than in the UK. To repeat, it isn’t a competition and to suggest it is just provides a rationale for the Tories to turn Britain into a gargantuan sweatshop. I’d rather not go down that route, if that’s ok with you Martin. Mercantilism is the right term to describe what you advocating. And it’s utter pants.

And not just in 50 years’ time, either. These large shifts are already under way. Their impact is now, as well as later. Just look around the world this week.

Yep, great.

In China, a nation where annual growth in the last 20 years has never been less than twice that of Europe, even when Europe was thriving, a new leadership is seamlessly introduced for another 10-year span.

Growth is slowing down in China now. The idea that things are all bright and rosy in China is facile in the extreme. And even if they were, things can change. China has one big thing in common with the West now. It is just as capitalist as we are. And therefore is subject to the same tendencies, patterns and flaws that European economies are. Eventually, these problems will start to manifest themselves. In fact they have arguably done so already. We just don’t hear much about it. It’s interesting that Kettle is arguing that China is the coming power, and yet what he says he sounds ignorantly Eurocentric.

In Europe, by contrast, a series of weak leaders, vulnerable to democratic rejection of a sort with which Xi Jinping will not need to concern himself, struggle to assert some degree of control over a floundering currency and unification project. Meanwhile in the US, a re-elected but domestically weak president faces a series of defining political battles over spending and taxes, with only limited chance of achieving radical outcomes, even if that is what he wants.

Not the old ‘democracy makes you weaker’ and ‘the CCP is all-powerful’ bullshit. Please God. There will be problems, battles and struggles in China over the coming period. Just as there will be everywhere else. If ‘scarcity’ is the problem that Kettle thinks it is, does he really suppose a country with a population of well over a billion people will be largely immune to any of the problems facing the West?

Smart leaders should recognise that austerity in some form is the context for most of the foreseeable political options in countries like Britain. As a timely American book on this theme this year by Thomas Byrne Edsall argues, scarcity will remake US politics as rising expectations meet diminishing resources on a global scale. The same is true in a different context in Europe. That does not mean there is no alternative to relentless fiscal consolidation, or that all austerity strategies are the same as all other austerity strategies. The opposite is true. But it does mean that political parties in economically developed countries no longer have the same breadth of spending options as they did.

Right. Down to business. Kettle the Blairite in full flow. Only now, he’s a neo-Blairite and he’s here to save the left from itself. Yippee. As I recall, I remember the Blairites telling us during their heyday that social democratic parties were constrained in what they could do (i.e. spend money on) by the Thatcher settlement. And yet now Kettle is telling us that that period was actually one of generous spending. Hmm.

It’s interesting that Kettle observes that there are alternatives. But it doesn’t really sit well with the rest of his doom-laden piece.

The problem we have is not diminishing resources. It is how the planet’s vast resources are distributed.

This is not a defeatist but a realistic assessment. It is not necessarily all bad news for the centre left, either. Although the 20th-century social democratic project may have stalled amid economic decline, the financial crisis has undoubtedly opened up a fresh opportunity to redefine the terms on which the rich and poor can coexist without social unrest in times of greater scarcity.

Yes, we heard all this in the 80s and 90s Martin. It isn’t a new theme from you and your co-thinkers. And some of us don’t want ‘the rich and poor to co-exist without social unrest’. It is only ‘social unrest’ that offers us the opportunity to change things. If the ‘poor’ just be good little boys and girls and await deliverance from their political masters I can pretty much guarantee that the ‘poor’ will just end up being screwed over harder. Which is pretty much the negation of the social democratic project that Kettle still claims to be an adherent of.

Ed Miliband appears to believe this. So – in an interesting break with the past that illustrates the new options – does a new pamphlet this week from the Blairite group Policy Network. But the hope is likely to prove optimistic if the left simply shouts the old mantras.

One of Kettle’s favourite themes for years now is that the left must ‘ditch the old mantras’. No matter what the context, he always instructs the left to ‘ditch the old mantras’. So, will Martin Kettle be ditching the old Blairite mantras that help get us in this mess in the first place? Will he learn the lessons of the project he so smugly and self-righteously attached himself to? Will he fuck. He is making exactly the same argument he has been making for years and is then accusing those of us on the left of being the ones who aren’t moving on. Tosser.

Clearly, though, the right is more comfortable in such times. But there is a huge difference between the slash-and-burn right in America and the more collectivist right in Europe in the way they respond. It was significant that George Osborne was so quick this week to align himself with Barack Obama’s re-election victory. Obama’s win, said the chancellor, is proof that incumbent governments can win re-election in economically weak times.

Right, now I’m getting pissed off. This is just bollocks. If Romney had won Osborne would have aligned with him and pointed to the lessons the Tories and the rest of us can learn from the free-market, privatized healthcare entrepreneurs paradise that is the USA. That an aggressively economically ‘liberal’ strategy can triumph.

However Obama won so he just said it was incumbency triumphing in difficult times. Either way, Osborne would have drawn the positives and attached himself to the winner. It was not ‘significant’. It was blatantly obvious that he was going to do that.

To suggest that there is some kind of great philosophical context here, as Kettle appears to be suggesting, is just delusional and Kettle is either being childish or willfully dishonest.

Kettle may recall the minor controversy with Iain Duncan Smith tacitly endorsing Mitt Romney, and how that minor controversy blows Kettle’s thesis that the Tories were intellectually committed to an Obama victory completely out of the water at a stroke.

He is right about that. Osborne’s touch may have deserted him recently, but he has the huge advantage of being alive to the context and politics of these new times in ways that the left across Europe is still struggling to match.

Nope, sorry, Gideon’s a clown and always has been. You can’t lose something you’ve never had. His much-vaunted ‘tactical genius is’ the worst example of misplaced hype since James Milner made his debut for Leeds United. If he understands our times better than the left does then I’m Dick Turpin.

The only thing with Osborne’s political career that has changed is that he’s finally run out of luck and the scales have fallen from the eyes of people who should have known better all along. This is a statement of pure, self-serving, blustering, Tory apologia by Kettle.

Just like the rest of his article.

Nick Grimshaw and Robbie Williams

Nick Grimshaw in a totally plausible pose

Right, so, now then. The kids’ music. They are very precious about it, or so I hear, and their gatekeeper is Nick Grimshaw.

They know what they like.

And they like to keep it real. Shabba.

So that means no place for 38 year old Robbie Williams. Despite getting to number one his new single, Candy, AKA the second most boring song ever made after Bohemian Rhapsody, is not on BBC Radio 1’s playlist.

Williams is too old. His music isn’t ‘relevant’. One Direction on the other hand are relevant, naturally, according to Grimshaw.

Now admittedly there is a crude logic to the decision. Robbie Williams and his oeuvre of dreary, beige, Alan Titchmarsh Show-friendly pop is very Radio 2. Williams isn’t exactly doing anything radical musically. He hasn’t got anything to say. He appeals to people who still get drunk a lot but are probably too old to be getting drunk a lot. (Indeed, maybe it’s my sobriety that’s preventing me from appreciating just how talented he is………)

And Radio 1 does claim that its target audience isn’t those people but children barely out of puberty, and not the 30 somethings who the inexplicably popular and utterly repellent Chris Moyles apparently appealed to in their droves.  The appointment of Grimshaw is meant to signal the death rattle of the Friends generation. (The ferocious reaction to Grimshaw’s comments about Williams belies a deep touchiness on the part of people like Jamie Oliver who clearly don’t like the idea of getting old and told they aren’t down with the kids anymore.)

Plus, Robbie Williams’ music is unspeakably bad. Even by contemporary pop standards it’s shite. Sadly I have to endure Candy at work several times a day as my colleagues insist on playing the radio, and it is truly dire. Music designed for people who don’t actually like music very much.

So fair play to Radio 1 to refusing to play it and to Nick Grimshaw for dismissing it and Williams out of hand. Take That aren’t important or relevant and as far as it goes Grimshaw’s comments are spot-on.

But I think that young Nick may have made the right decision for the wrong reasons.

In truth Take That and Williams were never relevant.  It isn’t that their time has passed.

They never had a time.

Sure, they sold loads of records and had loads of young girls screaming at them when I was younger. But they were never any good. They never made any records that people will be excitedly discovering for the first time 20 or 40 years hence. In fact, Take That’s body of work has already been largely forgotten. Who remembers the tracks on their first album? What was it even called? Could anyone name them without googling them? And yet I and many others could give you a track by track breakdown of Dreamtime without even a moment’s thought……..

And it’s this notion of music being age-appropriate that winds me up. If something is good, it’s good.  If it isn’t, it isn’t. It doesn’t matter when it came out and who it’s by. If it’s good it will stand the test of time and be found by the next generation (well the next generation of people who know what they’re talking about). It sounds ludicrously crude but with music it really is as simple as that. Good records will be good in 20 years time. Good records and artists are records and artists that won’t and couldn’t be dismissed as ‘irrelevant’ in 20 years time.

So Grimshaw can claim to be Mr Cool in dismissing old fuddy-duddies like Williams. But if he’s citing One Direction rather than Williams/Take That as the definition of contemporary pop relevance, he is just making himself look like a dickhead.

The reverence for ‘new’ music (which is increasingly frequently just a derivation of something someone has done before in any case) baffles me.

It’s like this thing with the new material by the Rolling Stones. It generates excitement and breathless analysis simply because it’s new. Even though it sounds like the work of a very mediocre Stones tribute band. Wouldn’t it be better for all those Stones fans, most of whom you can bet your life don’t actually own that many Stones records, to go out and get hold of their albums from the 60s and 70s, back when the band was genuinely amazing?

If Grimshaw really believes that Robbie Williams means nothing, maybe he should use the opportunity he has on a flagship radio show listened to by millions to play something interesting (regardless of what year it was released, it could be new-interesting or old-interesting, it wouldn’t matter which) occasionally, rather than exclusively artists who in 15 years time will be dismissed in exactly the way that he has just dismissed Williams.

One Direction could well be playing Butlins in a few years time like East 17 are now. Grimshaw himself will be nothing more than a footnote in 15 years time. He should bear that in mind before he plays the age card. One day it might be him on the receiving end of it.

It’s Halloween. Yay.

Those of you of a certain age may remember a dreadful little American comedy show called Home Improvement. It was one of those ‘family’ comedies without any laughs at all, at any point, ever. Nothing. Not a sausage.

These sorts of shows try and appeal to everyone and end up appealing to no one, or no one with a sense of humour anyway. It was obvious, reactionary, Lowest Common Denominator dross with the bill of fayre being standard issue jokes about ‘the wife’ and Tim Allen’s preoccupation with cars. Obviously the show was enormously popular in the States and ran for years.

In its defence though, the last series was just as funny as the first one.

One of its few notable features, apart from the awful acting, was the fact that every Halloween they would do an all singing, all-dancing but naturally laugh-free episode. How I remember this I don’t know, but suffice it to say I do. It’s right there in the Mambo memory bank, like the track listing of Dreamtime.

Now the reason for this wistful little trip down memory lane was to highlight the connection between rubbish and Halloween. In fact Halloween is just rubbish, and its growing popularity bothers me a little bit.

Of course there is a lot of history behind Halloween, and that much of that history represents an interesting study in cultural and religious traditions and the evolution and cross-pollination thereof.

But it isn’t like that now. It’s just people dressing up in stupid costumes and kids knocking on people’s doors demanding sweets, a real bugbear of mine.

Every year it seems to get bigger and bigger. Dress up like a dickhead. Isn’t wearing a scary costume an absolute riot? Yeah. Get in. What sauce. Let’s have a party to celebrate. Let’s spend some money.

Because that’s the essence of it isn’t it really. That’s why the shops make a big deal of it. It gives them an opportunity to sell tat for money that normally they wouldn’t get away with. In Home Bargains on Saturday I had in front of in the queue a rather embittered father with a basket full of cheap Halloween costumes that his kids looked semi-enthusiastic about. At no other time of the year would he, or the kids, be contemplating such folly. But they have to join in. They couldn’t possibly just refuse to go along with something they were palpably uninterested in, could they……

And whilst Halloween has slowly taken centre stage this time of year, Guy Fawkes’ night has seen its significance steadily decrease, even though it is infinitely more important in British history and infinitely more interesting politically. But its importance and air of seriousness is presumably why its role has diminished in these lowest common denominator times.

I can understand why the shops are all forcing Halloween merchandise on us. That’s what they do, however irritating it might be.

But what I struggle to get my head around is why the general public have just swallowed it hook line and sinker as if it’s always been like this.

Does no one ever pause and wonder why they are handing over their money, again?

Conrad and Keynes

John Maynard Keynes

The economic crisis has naturally seen people with a brain looking for an alternative to the laissez-faire status quo. And even more naturally, people have been looking to the theories of Keynes, who up until 35 years ago was very de rigueur in mainstream economic circles.

In a sense many of the comments I make on this blog about not being that worried about the deficit and believing in government spending its way out of recession are tacitly Keynesian. It’s become the default line of attack from the left against the Austerians with their mindless, stupid household finance analogies and depression-inducing prescriptions of cuts and sell-offs.

(Owen Jones, for instance, is an advocate of a Labour government pursuing Keynesian policies in the name of socialism.)

And time has unsurprisingly vindicated the indictment of laissez-faire at least, with even the IMF now conceding that cuts don’t work and aren’t working. What we haven’t seen though is the emergence of a serious, new, coherent alternative. Labour is offering cuts but less of them and there are very few economists criticising the government from a non-Keynesian standpoint.

But is Keynesianism really the answer? After all, his theories have been tested before, and tested to destruction.

The right may have been correct to point out that Keynesian economics had run out of steam by the late 70s. But they replaced it with something even worse, and inequality has grown and wages for the majority have in real terms stagnated for a generation as a consequence of the imposition of that new intellectual ‘paradigm’, whilst the wealthy have got richer and richer (and continue to do so, even in these supposedly straitened times…….)

I read an interesting piece penned by Jack Conrad the other day in the Weekly Worker, paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain (not to be confused with the Communist Party of Britain, who publish the rather better known but also rather more dreary Morning Star. You need to get the populist touch comrades. You know, like I have.) Mr Mambo likes to read as broadly as he can. One minute you can find me checking out the world of celebrities on the Daily Mail website. The next I’m reading essays on Marxist economics. That’s how things work on this blog.

Anyway, it critiques Keynes and Keynesian thought from an avowedly Marxist standpoint, something you actually don’t see a lot of right now. I must confess to being deeply cynical about what the various left groups in the UK have to contribute, and as a consequence I’m inclined to dismiss their frequently absurd predictions. In fact the piece I am discussing here also finishes on a sadly typical preposterous note:

The Marxist perspective – extreme democracy, rebuilding the basic organisations of the working class from the top to bottom, Europe-wide coordination, establishing a Communist Party of the EU and sweeping away what is a moribund capitalism on a global scale – is bound to become common sense amongst all advanced workers within the next 10 or 20 years.

That would be lovely, wouldn’t it……..

Anyway, the piece is surprisingly lacking in an explanation on why Keynesianism is so flawed, other than repeated assertions that Keynes was no socialist and disliked the left and Marx. True, but hardly relevant.

There are the beginnings of a critique however:

Suffice to say, Keynesianism hit the buffers in the late 1960s. One of the unintended consequences of Keynesianism was a decline in the role of money (fundamental to capitalism). Furthermore, because of full employment, social security benefits, council housing, the national health service, etc, the system’s ability to discipline the working class through what Marx called “commodity fetishism” was reduced. Hence we can say that Keynesianism is a means whereby capitalism manages its own long-term decline through increasing the role of organisation, as against the role of the market. Markets, including the market in labour-power, are retained, but are thoroughly bureaucratised.

Under such circumstances, internal contradictions mount up. Economics is politicised and objectively the power of the working class grows at the expense of capital. Profit and growth rates begin to fall (in no small part because of the organisation and militancy of trade union power). Certainly in the 1970s, faced with a loss of control, the bourgeoisie pulled the plug on full employment in order to restore discipline over the working class. With the system visibly malfunctioning, the ruling class, crucially in the Anglo-Saxon world, broke with Keynesianism, downgraded productive capital and sought salvation in financialisation. Inflation was allowed to run hand in hand with the return of mass unemployment (an impossible combination, according to Keynesian theory).

There’s much of this that is true but I would still make a few observations.

  • It’s a bit of a shame that the assertion “decline in the role of money” isn’t fleshed out a little more, as I’m intrigued to know what this actually means.
  • Also, I think the statement about capitalism managing its (presumably inexorable) “long-term decline” could do with a bit of fleshing out and justifying. Call me naïve but I think the notion is contestable, at best.
  • Economics is always “politicised”. The passing of Keynesianism as the prevailing ideology hasn’t changed that in the slightest.
  • By asserting that profit and in particular growth rates fall as a consequence of union power, aren’t we in fact making the argument of the right for them? The logical corollary of this argument, that well organised and remunerated workforces are deadly for any private enterprise, could have some fairly wide-ranging consequences…….
  • I’m quite prepared to believe that many on the right see a high unemployment rate as an innately desirable thing as a means of keeping wages down, but to state that “the bourgeoisie pulled the plug on full employment in order to restore discipline over the working class” implies that it was a conscious, deliberate, conspiratorial act agreed at some point by most or all of those who stood to benefit. I’m not sure the world works like that. Class exists and is the central cleavage in society, but I’m not sure the ruling class acts in concert any more than the workers do.
  • Ditto the seeking of “salvation in financialisation”.
  • And double ditto (tritto?)  “(i)nflation was allowed to run”. Clearly there was a great movement on the right to forge a new set of confrontational, anti-union, anti-Keynesian policies but I’m not sure that that’s the same as ‘a decision by the bourgeoisie’.

My concern with the argument above is that it diminishes the political and ideological struggle waged against the Keynesian consensus and posits in its place a very schematic, deterministic chain of events. The struggle against Keynesianism was waged by many who had a vested financial interest in challenging the status quo, but others who were simply ideologically committed to a different way of doing things.

My other concern is that although it is perfectly valid to indict Keynes and his theories, what is the alternative? What does a genuine Marxist analysis and set of policy solutions actually look like, apart from abstract calls for ‘revolution’ and ‘workers rule’, which are terrific but frankly unimaginable anywhere in the world right now? Or do we just dismiss anything that is a lesser evil?

Confessions of a demo cynic

Last week there was the big demo against austerity in London. Estimates of its size will vary, from the left groups who will claim ten million to the police who say five, one of whom was there by accident.

I may have mentioned before that I managed to duck out of it as I had the Birmingham Half Marathon the following day. Not that it would have made much of a difference if I had gone to London for a walk and a shout the day before as I bombed on my run. Poor Mambo.

But it was a good excuse. And to be honest I was looking for one as I didn’t want to go to London anyway.

I’ve fallen as badly out of love with demos as I have with Curb Your Enthusiasm. The more I go, the more disenchanting I find them. (I’ve also just read The Outsider by Albert Camus, which may go some way to explaining my cynical mood today.)

I suppose my disenchantment began at the huge anti-war demo in 2003. It was fucking huge. Seriously, if you weren’t there, I can’t begin to describe the scale of the whole thing. There was talk of the turnout being in seven figures and to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. It was a beast of a demo. The people were speaking and they were telling Tony Blair that they thought he and George Bush were warmongering wankers.

We still went to war though, you may have noticed. The biggest demo in British history, and it changed nothing. I had a nice vegetarian curry from some students and came away slightly dazed at quite how massive and historic the thing was, but the British and American governments went ahead anyway.

I remember sniggering to myself when some kids on the same coach as me were talking about the day being the beginning of a revolution on the way back. Christ knows why I was being so arch and derisive, as I was equally naïve at the time.

The thing is that demos can be fun and empowering, to a degree. They make you feel like part of something bigger. That there are other people out there who think the same way as you, talk the same language as you and want the same things as you. So in that sense they are nice.

And they can change things. It was way before my time, but it’s fair to say that the marches against the Poll Tax had an effect. But at times they were violent, and allied to a campaign across the country of people refusing to pay and people supporting people who were refusing to pay. That ultimately was what pushed the government into backtracking. The fact that the people stood against them meant business and had the numbers behind them to back it up. The government knew if they persisted with the Poll Tax the forces challenging them had the power to bring them down. So they capitulated. Unimaginable now, and it all seems like a very long time ago (although it’s a great example of the power ordinary people have if they would only realise it).

But the big national demos against austerity (which are probably bigger numbers-wise than the anti-Poll Tax marches were) haven’t been like that, largely because there is nothing to fight for, as such. There’s a general feeling that this government is doing a lot of awful things but in the absence of a political alternative (and right now Labour are a million miles away from being that) it’s difficult to know what the point of going to London is, apart from to let off some steam. With the Poll Tax, there was something specific to rail against. Austerity? It takes so many forms and means changes in so many areas of our lives that it is impossible to boil it down to one or two demands. Which is part of the reason that the Tories have got away with it. The opposition is divided, incoherent and fighting on so many different fronts, and going to London for the day isn’t going to solve any of those problems. Stopping this government will require something a little more radical.

Admittedly what I do, which basically involves going out leafleting for the local Labour Party every few weeks and blogging here, probably isn’t the answer either, but I still think the question needs to be asked.

NB: It won’t be answered with delusional statements like this, which I found in an article when I was looking for pictures for my little screed:

Coming just 2 weeks after the TUC march on the Tory conference in Birmingham it raises the prospect of 2 massive demonstrations.

The ConDems are driving through vicious policies. They are hated and despised. Massive demonstrations in October can help finish them off.

And yet the Tories are still here, oddly enough.

A few thoughts on Tory ‘sincerity’

Nick Cohen raised an important debating point at the weekend: are the Tories sincere when they say that their policies are designed to help those at the bottom? Do they genuinely, sincerely believe that austerity is the answer to the economic crisis? Cohen (now) views Tory activists as committed, honest activists who want to make the world a better place.

It’s a cry of anguish one often hears from Conservatives and Conservative commentators. Why do the left hate us so? Why do they think we are only interested in the few at the top and not those at the bottom? Why do the left presume to have a monopoly on compassion? It’s a recurring theme of the editor of the influential Conservative Home website, Tim Montgomerie. He dislikes having his motives questioned constantly and gets very touchy when he and his party are accused of being a representative of ‘the 1%’.

I can understand why those on the right don’t like being accused of being heartless, misanthropic, selfish, greedy and contemptuous of vast swathes of the populace.

It’s sort of inevitable really though, for two main reasons.

Firstly, as Cohen points out with relish throughout his article, the policies the Tories advocate demonstrably favour the wealthiest and make the lives of those with the least harder. That isn’t an opinion, it’s a matter of public record. The debate is not whether it is happening, it is only over whether it is desirable. The more honest ‘Tory Marxists’ acknowledge that it is, but of course as a party they can’t make that admission; if they did they would never win an election again.

The government’s welfare policies are having the long-predicted effects (an example of which I’ve re-blogged just now) on those most marginalised in society. The effects of cuts and austerity weren’t hard to second-guess. Again, the only question is whether you approve of those effects.

It was also predicted long in advance by the braver economists willing to challenge the prevailing intellectual climate the effect that austerity would have on the economy and they have been proved entirely right. Extraordinarily, even the IMF now also accepts this. It isn’t as if any of this is any kind of surprise of course. It has happened before. Read books written about politics and economics in the aftermath of the Great Depression and they act as a warning of what will happen if you go down the austerity route. Cameron and Osborne ignored the lessons of history, ignored the reams of economic theory and went ahead anyway.

Is it really any wonder that people think the worst of them in these circumstances and assume that they are fucking things up deliberately? Is Montgomerie really so shallow-witted that he cannot grasp this?

Cameron and Osborne have overtly governed in the interests of their social class and the corporations and individuals that pay their party’s bills. Again, if Dave, Gideon et al are unaware of this and genuinely think they are doing the best by the British people then they and their party Conservative  Party is suffering from a collective psychosis. Needless to say, I don’t think everyone in the Conservative Party is a psychotic……

The second big reason is those occasional moments that I just love- those are the moments when the mask slips. When right-wingers let their guard down, ditch the cant and let us know what they really think of their fellow men and women. When all their protestations about wanting to help people suddenly look a little hollow.

The two most illuminating recent examples of course being Andrew Mitchell’s ‘Pleb’-gate and Mitt Romney’s ‘47%’-gate.

The reason that these exercises cause such embarrassment, and are ultimately so useful, is that they instantly clarify the issues. They allow us to see what is going on the minds of people normally so careful to avoid saying what’s actually on their minds. Agendas and objectives suddenly become a lot clearer and more readily explicable.

Once again, what Montgomerie et al have to answer is this: if a leading Tory in charge of party discipline labels a police officer ‘a fucking pleb’ for having the temerity to bring him to task, and the Republican presidential nominee says that he isn’t interested in half the population, then why is he surprised that so many people assume that Tim Montgomerie and his co-thinkers are dogshit?

Ultimately, I have no problems with Tories and conservatives stridently making their case. But then they have to accept that their opponents will do the same and it is not unreasonable to question the motives of people who surely know the effects their ideology will have if it gets implemented.

A peroration on the fabrication of the ‘aspiration nation’

Maybe I have ideas above my station but in summation I feel a little trepidation at the notion (it’s close, so I get half a point) of David Cameron’s ‘aspiration nation’. I feel no appreciation of this government’s amortisation. I offer the following investigation by way of demonstration.

If anything, Cameron’s verbal defecation represents nothing less than the retoxification of the Tories situation in a speech of mercifully short duration. My calculation is that anything of greater prolongation would have required a vacation or a state of profound inebriation, or is that a generalization?

The creation makes clear Cameron’s affiliation and motivation. His desire for the recreation of Thatcherisation in the name of rationalization. To wit: fabrication, subjugation, privatization, Americanization, pauperization and the absence of illumination.

On this occasion (again, bloody close…..) in culmination I would posit one solicitation. Would economic mitigation, reconciliation, accommodation, regeneration and social sublimation be better representation than the depreciation, degradation, retardation and humiliation of societal mutilation?

After all that I need a libation. You’ll agree without reservation that my writing is a sensation, or are you only feeling consternation?

(If anyone can do any better do let me know)

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