Thursday, 21 July 2016

Post-fact politics and the end of stability

I haven't written a blog post since the referendum because, to be quite honest, I've not really known what to say.

It feels like the end of an epoch, but how can I say that, have never seen the end of an epoch before.

Globalisation and Its Discontents was a very influential book for me about 10 years ago when I first read it. It outlined, in Stiglitz inimitable style, what globalisation (which I think some call "neo-liberalism") meant and how it was affecting some people that weren't very happy about it. It mainly focusses on the transition as managed by such organisations as the IMF, World Bank and others. He is critical of them, but not globalisation itself.

One of it's key quotes was thus,

"“...decisions were often made because of ideology and politics. As a result many wrong-headed actions were taken, ones that did not solve the problem at hand but that fit with the interests or beliefs of the people in power.”  

Therein lies the rub, I believe. Many of us are so caught up in the dream of globalisation and imagining a world with no countries, I believe we've overlooked that some people feel left behind. We've overlooked that as much as our dream is real to us, and we are living it, potentially the problems have not been thought through and short-term political expediency has won the day.

We can see this time and time again with early retirement pensions potentially causing the productivity puzzle - as outlined superbly by @flipchartrick on his blog The Great Pension's Cock Up or with the planning rules making it harder to build the houses we need, making them ever more out of reach of young people which means it's harder and less likely that they will vote - a perfect storm of favouring one group over the other.

In addition, stepping away from the travails of the middle-class, poverty and decline in some communities, especially here in the North, is endemic. Home ownership a very distant dream. And our voting system meaning very little attention paid to those in safe seats that only vote the same way.

Everything is inter-related. People talk of not feeling connected to their communities when there are many immigrants not putting down roots - well due to the housing crisis I didn't have permanent home (i.e. I hadn't bought a home) until 2 years ago, more than 10 years later than my parents did. I felt rootless and unconnected to my community, and feel better connected now, as I am more committed to putting down roots. My libertarian friends may say this is all necessary for labour market movement, but I'm not so sure. I think I was  ready to buy a house at 27, but it was only at 37 that I was able to. I think I'm pretty typical

This is so complicated, a truly Herculean task. Too many problems have gone  unchallenged. Too many short cuts have been taken.

And yet, the same problems are arising worldwide, in country after country. It truly feels like the end of an era of stability. It feels like those days are gone. I do hope I'm wrong but I fear I am not.

Friday, 17 June 2016

My Britain is the Britain of Pied Beauty. Give me my country back.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote my favourite poem, Pied Beauty.

"GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;        
    And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:        
                  Praise him."

This is my Britain,  a land of dappled things. A land of beauty, a land where some things lie unchanged for centuries.

As Larkin spoke of what will survive of us is love, I understand what he means in the outpouring of love, kindness and thankfulness for Jo Cox MP, who was murdered yesterday in an act of brutality that I cannot understand, nor really want to, however many times it forces itself upon me.

Others have written today about the political discourse, about the smallness of men like Nigel Farage, juxtaposing their "common sense" rhetoric with it's incendiary aspects and this horrific act in a typical British street, on a mundane Thursday in June.

How can this happen? we ask ourselves. And all too clearly comes the answer. We let it. The challenge when identity is under debate is how we present ourselves, a country adrift in a globalised world it used to rule. I don't understand really why people cling to British-as-Imperialists or even if that's what people think they are doing,  or what stories they tell each other about who we used to be. I don't understand white supremacists either, to be honest, it not really being the case that white people are oppressed by anything other than other white people...

But I understand MY decent, tolerant country. My Britain has beauty and an unchanging constancy underneath. It has survived the worst of times from outside in the Second World War, and from inside during the Civil War and what feels like is happening now. Things are changing, plates are shifting. But the Britain we want is about attitudes and kindness and love, things that Jo Cox clearly had in spades. We need more of her sort. We need more of her kind.

I want my country back. Give it to me.

Put down the pitchforks. Stop listening to the man with the easy platitudes and the false bonhomie he switches off when someone asks him a pointed question. Get off the bandwagon- this isn't us. This isn't what our grandparents and great-grandparents fought for. Now it's our turn to fight to hold onto what we love.

Give me my country back.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Why I'm voting Remain

I'm voting Remain in the EU referendum and here's why

1. I want the ability to live and work abroad for myself and my family. Selfish, maybe. But I also think the flipside of that is others should be free to do similar, unless they are criminals.

2. Brexit would cause a recession in the short term

3. Since the Single Market began, in real terms* the UK has gained 62% in GDP.  Source here

4. In today's globalised world, it pays to work as a group to negiotate with other, much larger, more diverse economies who have economies of scale.

That's what I can think of at the moment, I'll add to this post if I think it needs further explanation or I think of further reasons.

*in real terms means with inflation taken into account

Monday, 9 May 2016

Clothes maketh the woman?

I was struck today by the reporting on a focus group in Nuneaton -  with a fair amount reflecting people's views of Jeremy Corbyn and most interestingly, their view of his clothes.

It seems the voters of Nuneaton are underwhelmed by Mr Corbyn, and also feel he is "scruffy". The most interesting aspect of this is they seem to directly link the scruffiness to him being unfit for the position of Prime Minister.

This I thought was interesting, as logic would dictate this items wouldn't naturally fit together. But then I thought that female politicans appearance is often picked over in much detail, Theresa May's shoes attracting as much attention as her policies, for instance.

I'm wondering if what attracts attention then, is those that differentiate from a perceived "norm" - I must admit even to me with my consciousness raised, that Angela Merkel sticks out amongst pictures of the group of G8 leaders, even amongst G20 ones - mainly because her clothes are very professional (not scruffy) but clearly she's not a man, so she definitely sticks out for that reason. Is that a concern? Do people consider that women are "not leaders" because they aren't leaders a lot of the timer?

As it happens, I agree that Corbyn's appearance doesn't imbue confidence, tho I wonder why he gets judged so much worse than Boris, for instance - is it is basically the cost of the suit that differentiates them ? Boris is objectively "scruffy" w.r.t. his hair, but does tend to wear expensively cut suits.

So, in conclusion, if you want to get on in politics, wear an expensive suit and be a man. Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Micropayments, micropayments - wherefore art thou , micropayments?

I'm intrigued recently by this piece by the founder of Politico  - Jim VandeHei

It's sensible in that it predicts the death of clickbait (praise be!) and the rise of more interesting, well researched paid for content. But, what interests and worries me in equal measure is this phrase (my emphasis)

"A content revolution is picking up speed, promising a profitable future for companies that can lock down loyal audiences, especially those built around higher-quality content.  "

I don't really want to be "locked down", tho I may be to a certain extent loyal, but loyal to more than one publication.

I'd like to read a variety of sources before I make up my mind. I do think we should pay for content and tbh I hate too much advertising and really hate being targeted by adverts that seek to judge my body or my lifestyle. I accept them as a necessary evil in a public space but don't want it in my "private" browsing space, and seek to set boundaries such as ad-blockers to achieve this.

But I'm not a cheapskate, I do think we should pay for what we love. However, I can't justify more than one "premium" media subscription, but I don't want to have my reading curtailed by my budget. Can I really be alone in this?

So why isn't there a Spotify type  model available? I'd quite happily pay £10 a month to access individual articles on a subscription type basis. If Spotify isn't feasible, why can't I use Paypal to buy £1 or £2 worth of content when I want it? I wasn't the type of newspaper buyer that bought a paper every day, and even now I don't read online newspapers EVERY day, so why can't I consume new media at the same price point as old media?

Micropayments - wherefore art thou?

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The Politics of Politics

I was interested in this VICE article which is about how the crowds of new Labour Members don't seem that interested in canvassing and going to local party meetings

Some choice quotes include

"Existing cliques at local party level are also said to be putting new members off."

"Branch members have cosy arrangements. They know all the people who turn up for meeting and they are guaranteed to keep their position year after year. They don't want that upset by newcomers,"
I would say this isn't just a Labour party problem. I live in the Hazel Grove constituency which is very welcoming and makes good use of local members but in my own experience and those of some of those I speak to, these are occurrences that a number of us can relate to, across all parties.

Tim Farron has made it a mission for all members to recruit two new members by the end of this month. I think this is a laudable aim, but to what end? I understand that OMOV is not moving as fast with regard to committee elections in the Lib Dems and is now part of the governance review. I just hope that it happens, and soon.

Also, do we keep any record of why members leave, and what we might want to do about that? I do hope so.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Intersectionality is good, personal insults are bad....

Why, when someone leaves the Lib Dems, is there often some sort of obligatory group cheering ?

Kavya Kaushik, who I like and worked with as part of Liberal Reform, a group I no longer belong to, has left the party and outlined her reasons here and some other background is here. Whilst I was in Liberal Reform, I was very keen on promoting the panel that Kavya mentioned because I thought she made an excellent point that diversity shouldn't just be the preserve of the left wing of politics.

Kav leaving depresses me and the reaction to Kavya leaving depresses me further. With the possible exception of Jo Shaw, I've seen every departure of every woman (yes, even over the Rennard scandal) accompanied by the same unedifying "good riddance" approach.

Kav had a point - we need to consider intersectionality better.  And also it would be better to support initiatives in countries we are concerned about as Kav puts it

"Some of these people may outreach to Britain to support their struggle and we stand in solidarity, but for others this is an internal struggle"

Can some people not take the idea that they may not be the perfect liberal? Can they not look at themselves and think about how to improve? Is this not how they live their lives?

I see it, with the benefit of some armchair psychology, the abuse of people that have left the party as in-group and out-group behaviour. By "celebrating" the loss of a great campaigning activist, someone that had succeeded in getting elected to the Federal Executive and was very keen on pushing the Lib Dems to be better on diversity, these people seek to mark themselves as a "better" member of the in-group.

But to have integrity, it is better to be authentic. Is it really worthwhile to celebrate the loss of a keen activist, a champion of BME Lib Dems and a Woman of Colour who was keen to get on? I thought people say "women weren't putting themselves forward", I thought  people say "oh we select women but they don't get elected", but first time someone willing and able challenges you it's not that you support her, or even respectfully disagree, it's time to descend in some kind of twitterstorm.

Things that make you go Hmmmmm, indeed.