Monday, 28 February 2011

On a serious note

Another sad event. Those Dr Who fans, like me, careering towards their 50th birthday, will have noticed with regret the passing of Nicholas Courtney As The Brigadier he hung around longer than any Dr and pulled off the trick of being the loveable face of the Establishment without losing believability.

Those of you not in the slightest touched by this, normal service will be resumed shortly.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Post Industrial Society

Having being away from my desk for a few weeks coping with real life, it's good to be able to come back and talk about a death. Daniel Bell has finally given up on the post industrial society he predicted and gone to reside elsewhere. Those not familiar with his work will have heard the phrases and perhaps read the work of his disciple, Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. Or perhaps not.

Bell was a bit of a worrier and probably not great at parties but he got quite a lot of predictions about the future spot on. His background made people take him seriously and the creator of futurology, or whatever its called, can probably sleep in peace knowing he wont be ridiculed as the man who said cassette tape would take over the world. In that respect he's luckier that George Orwell who, because he wrote fiction, is ignored as a prophet of the future despite his uncanny portrayal or 21st century Orange County in 1984.

What Orwell and Bell have in common, apart from the inability to breathe, is that they both predicted a world similar to the one we're sailing into. They gave their visions a relentlessly pessimistic spin. What neither had to do in their books was give space to the lobbyists and free marketeers who currently rule the known world. These economists, free trade fanatics, frowners and lickspittles are employed by and for the financial institutions and big industry leaders they are paid to comment on. Not a day goes by without be-suited men appearing in front of an office backdrop similar to the office backdrop the man they're talking about appeared in a few moments before. The BBC love these talking heads, they give them air time to fill air time. Today, liver experts, presumably with no axe to grind other than improving the nations health, published an article urging the Government to impose a minimum alcohol price per unit. The BBC managed to find the reasoned tones of someone from the Drink More Wine and Beer Association (I think that was the name) and gave him five minutes to ridicule these experts. The BBC, who didn't have a liver expert on, probably regarded this as reasonable, allowing the beleaguered side of the argument a free and fair response. I'm reminded of that fabulous line by Joe Strummer - "If Adolf Hitler flew in today, they'd send a limousine anyway".

What has this rant against free market ethics got to do with the Liberal Democrats I'd hear you ask if I weren't on a Computer and inhabiting an empty ether. Well we have a few good men in Orange out there who belatedly seem to be questioning the progress of free and fair debate in the Coalition. Nick Clegg may get a bit upset when Lord Oakeshott loses his temper with the Tories over insipid bank negotiations, he may tut at Liberal councillors pointing out the reality of massive cuts and privatisation and he may groan when he hears of attempts to hijack the spring conference by discussing policy but perhaps he should be studying his new friends instead and trying to work out his role in the joint decision making process. We have lived through twelve years of increasingly disappointing Labour rule and now look to be heading for a decade of state dismantling without so much as a whisper of dissent from the Liberal elite.

Why are the big ideas of the centre and left ignored by the Coalition? Obviously because they are abhorrent to the ruling grandees and rottweilers of the Tory party. Why is Nick Clegg unable to get past the blizzard of free market lobbying? Not so obvious, but I'm beginning to think its because, Europe aside, he agrees with it. No-one in this slick ruling elite is prepared to notice that they are failing their constituents. The labour party is unable to escape its past. The media is owned by, and full of, the global rich and the impartial state institutions such as the BBC are falling over themselves to canvass the opinion of the Coalition sponsored lobbyists.

If Daniel Bell took any satisfaction from his predictions coming true he hid it well. Mind you, no-one really came a calling, just as no-one really views Orwell as a visionary. If Adolf Hitler flew in today.......

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Male on Sunday.

If there is one person I like to actively ignore it's Peter Hitchens, the well known big head who always comes at a subject due east of unreasonable. Last Sunday he caught me by surprise by appearing shortly after Andy Murray had collapsed in the Melbourne heat, heading up the comment and analysis on The Politics Show.

I thought he said two things of note, much as it pains me to say it, one loud and clear, the other ignored despite obviously being close to the Hitchens heart, or at least as close as anything can get. Firstly, he made the point that the cuts imposed on Britain by the Coalition, the Tories and the Lib Dems, Daleks and Ogrons, are mainly for show. They can't in themselves make much difference but they convince the bond markets that Britain is serious about its debts. The second point, at the end of a long sentence, made in a hurry but with determination, was that the Government may have underestimated quite how much the economy relies on investment and jobs in the public sector.

Taking the first point. The bond markets are in the ascendancy in the global economy. In a world reliant on credit and the exchange of money in a bewildering flood of schemes and enterprises, Hitchens concludes that the central plank of the Government economic policy is a confidence building measure. He's probably right. So why has Vince Cable done so little to change the way Britain works, one of his key election themes? If we are all enduring a long term pain for a short term gain, why are the Liberals not working toward reforming our economy so that in future we are not held to ransom by short selling? Mr Cable used to be convinced that the financial sector was too large for a healthy economy, is he still so sure and if he isn't, would it not be possible to tell us why? The deeper the world gets into the pockets of global capitalism, the clearer the need to regulate and defend the societies it meddles with. The amounts of money that can be removed from any functioning sovereign economy are now so enormous, none of us should feel safe until our elected leaders (hmmmmn) come up with an escape plan.

On to Hitchens' second point. Why is this not a battle cry from the opposition benches? All of us rely on a healthy public sector to keep the lights on. In many parts of the country the public sector offers the only employment capable of basing a secure mortgage paying economy on. Of course it is expensive, but that money so reluctantly invested in people rarely leaves our shores, most of it is plugged straight back into a local economy, supporting the private sector with steady reliable custom. The rewards of the public sector are more evident now than the drawbacks were when we were all drunk on credit. The work force valued security above wealth, now they face being left with neither because, abandoned by their traditional champions, they're left to the venom of the free market supporters, frothing at the mouth with indignation at the supposed waste of tax payers money.

We have become a sham meritocracy. We talk about social mobility without noticing it's always been all one way, William the Conqueror brought over the current cabinet. Those lucky enough to join the elite make sure the meritocratic ideas don't get in the way of their children's education. When the going gets tough, rather than large scale reform or meaningful dialogue, the elite poke the serfs with sticks and demonise them. The Coalition is carrying out a right wing manifesto under cover of keeping the bond markets happy and dissolving our public services while blaming the deficit on the cost of paying staff to work in them. It's bad enough as it is without having to agree with Peter Hitchens as well.