Depending On How It Is Performed Inoculation Is Unpredictable; Also True Of Politics

I enjoy the work of blogger Tom Pride. Today (13th August) he wrote about an article which has appeared on the Conservative Home website.  It was titled ‘How to inoculate your children against Socialism’ written by Westminster City Councillor and member of the Adam Smith Institute,  J.P. Floru. Now I cannot compete with Mr Pride in terms of humorous irreverence so I’m taking a more prosaic and personal approach. For a start, in my post I want to leave aside the issue of socialism as my parents had no wish to inoculate me against anything apart from major infectious diseases (OK, and maybe fascism, but they were caring!). Furthermore, Floru’s post is as much about ‘catching’ right-wing Libertarianism as ‘inoculating’ against Socialism.

In Floru’s post he explains how young people can be inoculated in four ways.  Now, I have experienced each of these four ways so how did things turn out?  Lets start with:

1 Rebellion.

Floru claims that Jacob Rees-Mogg has made the astounding staement that teenagers are naturally rebellious. Thank goodness we have people like Rees-Mogg to tell us such things! Now, Floru does not actually recommend anything to counter this, so presumably he is as enlightened as Rees-Mogg. What did I take politically from my rebellious teenage years.  I grew up in an eastern valley in South Wales where the Labour party had a monopoly on political power. There was a certain arrogance and complacency in their attitude and I did rebel.  But it was against systems that gave absolute power to one group. Contestability and accountability are important to me (fundamental tenets of republicanism) I am equally suspicious of, for example, Conservative dominated administrations.  Look how well Kensington and Chelsea has turned out! Floru has little to say abou contestability. But as inoculation is all about conferring immunity I guess it does not factor highly!

2. Inoculation (the crux)

Floru writes:

Michael Clark, a barrister, believes that children are effectively ‘innoculated’ by their parents. Long before they attend school, children from normal households will have heard the views of their parents. 

Further:

This is not about counter-brainwashing your children into right-wing thinking, but rather making them aware that there is an intelligent argument for it, and that they have a choice.

In my case my father encouraged me to think for myself and he would debate politics with me for hours. Sometimes I agreed with him and and built those into my political thinking! He enjoyed the exchanges and he taught me to think for myself. Floru is correct in that I became aware that Libertarian thinking was based around an intelligent argument.  But this only made me realise that I must be informed and focussed in opposing it!

3 Objective truth (!)

Floru claims.

Free market economics work; socialism doesn’t. Marxism, that invented ideology which never worked anywhere, has a tough sell.

My conclusion?  Free market economics is as invented an ideology as much as socialism and Marxism.  It has its roots in the works of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke (the intelligent arguers!) and is based on a view of late seventeenth century economics. If it was invented then I concluded that it can be (has to be!) changed.  Free market economics is not an innate and immutable  consequence of nature.

Finally

4 Understanding personal economics

Floru writes:

Parents can teach their children the values of work, saving, and financial prudence. Later, the children will realise that the state’s budget is but a macro version of their own. 

 

My parents taught me about personal finance and I have budgeted all my life. But, wealthy people frequently inherit their wealth, start with an an economic or social advantage and live off the proceeds of rents and investments, not their own efforts . But they like to tell us mere mortals about hard work, austerity  and being ‘self actualization’. Inherited wealth is driving ever greater inequality. Secondly, Floru is talking complete and utter rubbish.  A state’s finances are nothing like personal finances and this myth helps promote the austerity confidence trick which is impoverishing millions

So the result? One way or another my parents allowed me to experience these four ‘ways’ and the result is somewhat different to Floru’s desirable outcome. I was inoculated against Floru’s right wing Libertarian ideology, a stance which remains as firm as ever!

 

BBC Salaries – The ‘Market Rate’ Argument Is Again Deployed To Defend Greed and Discrimination.

The grotesque salaries paid to BBC presenters including  more than £2.2m to Chris Evans who flopped as a Top Gear presenter (in an echo of banker-like huge rewards for failure) and Gary Lineker at over £1.75m has focussed attention on what is fair reward in an age of austerity.  The eye-catching issue is the gender pay gap which has, rightly, prompted a public outcry and a legal case. But I want to consider a broader aspect of this issue which necessarily impacts the gender inequality and illustrates a number of problems with our broken socio-economic model.

I want to focus on a tired old excuse that has been trotted out once again.  This time the culprit was Today presenter John Humphrys.  Now, to be fair to Mr Humphrys, he was prepared to be interviewed about the salary scandal, unlike some other presenters who mumbled incoherently as they pushed past journalists. Nevertheless the answer was depressingly familiar. ‘Its the market rate’! He said:

I cant explain it but I’ve been with the BBC a long time and its gone up and up and up. I’ve no idea whether I am worth it. However we operate in a market place and I think its difficult for the BBC, Society sets these rules.

But we must ask what is the market in this case?  White male radio presenters able to get up early and ask ill-informed and sometimes ill-judged questions (I heard the Konta interview)? The BBC must remember that it is entering the ‘market’ on our behalf while at the same time itself distorting the market by doing so. Moreover, who defines what ‘the market’ is and what constitutes good value in this market. Would it be white middle-class men?

The real problem is that Humphrys then goes on to contadict this ‘market rate’ defence by saying that, aside from two occasions when they actually cut his salary (so goodness knows what is was before!), the BBC have been simply pushing up his salary since he joined 50 years ago.  Start with £2k and after a while no one notices the gigantic payment. So less ‘market rates’ and more ‘mates rates’!. As with banking and other senior jobs the market place argument is an attempt to deceive, to imply a commercial rigour which simply does not exist! But Humphrys does have one point.  It is the senior managers of the BBC who must be held accountable for these salaries.

Once again market rates are justified in grossly inflating the salaries of the already wealthy and powerful while justifying oppressing those less well-off with little influence. The ‘market rate’ argument is curiously rejected for teachers and nurses who are leaving their profession in droves.  I am in favour of the BBC. I consider that there is a place for a medium which is not dependant upon commercial interests. But the needs to be a radical reform of the BBC, just as there needs to be a radical reform of private sector corporate governance.  What has been revealed at the BBC must also be revealed in the commercial world.

Can We Really Hold The Media Responsible For the Grenfell Tragedy? Yes, And This Is Why.

Following the disaster, the battle for the truth of Grenfell has started. The focus is now on the nature of the inquiry with concerns being raised over its leadership and conduct. As a direct result of his actions as part of the judiciary the Chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is viewed with deep suspicion and the initial meeting with residents was fractious.  Centre stage is an apprehension that the scope of the inquiry will be limited to just the local circumstances of North Kensington and not wider issues of social housing.

In previous blogs (here and here) I have suggested why Government and media will want a strictly limited inquiry based on a woeful deficit of democratic accountability. But there is another reason for scepticism.  Any comprehensive investigation must surely highlight the role of the media in using immigrants as a tool to drive their regressive agenda of slashing public servicess while giving tax cuts to the wealthy.

The Murdoch (The Sun and The Times) and Rothermere (Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday) owned press are the obvious culprits, but we must not ignore the role of the BBC in giving continuing prominence to  UKIP and its erstwhile (and future?) leader Nigel Farage despite fast fading support and no Parliamentary representation.  The focus has been on how immigrants are responsible for everything from an inability for people to get GP appointments, through  jumping social hosing queues, to being responsible for clogging up motorways!

But the aim of papers such as the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph goes beyond simple populist xenophobic demonisation for its own sake and is really a tool for undermining public services. Services, by the way, used by ALL of us. These papers are implicitly, but effectively, promoting the idea that the populations of weldare states do not want to share their prosperity with others who they perceive as not ‘being like them’  The argument is essentially: if the immigrants get all the public goodies then why should we pay for public services? Consequently, support for redistribution of wealth withers as ethnic diversity, driven by migration, grows. As support for public services and a willingness to defend them wanes so the argument for cutting taxes for the rich, even in a time of austerity, can prosper. Here in a nutshell is the aim of the oligarchical press. More inequality, more wealth for the 1% and the less well-off, indigenous and immigrants alike suffer. All built on a perception of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees, NOT the facts!

The Grenfell Tower catastophe is where the overt xenophobic element of the media agenda converged with with the associated undermining of support for public services. Regulation influenced by corporations, cheap materials, outsourced safety checks and an attitude of anything goes  The reports of other councils such as Camden has revealed the true extent of the crisis, but it extends well beyond hosuing.  For example, why should I support an NHS if immigrants clog it up and I cannot access the service I paid for? So the case for a privatised service is advanced with the wealthy able to affors care and associated big profits for the peers of the paper owners.

A former director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Nick Pearce  examined the issue  in an article entitled Diversity vesus Solidarity: A Progressive Dilemma!. He stated:

Attention to the drivers  of public perception on race and migration.  the role of the media in shaping public opinion on race, immigration and ethnic diversity is well documented but relatively poorly researched (particularly in relation to specific groups such as asylum seekers).

How many more Grenfells must there be before the real aim of the media agenda is understood and exposed?

What Does the Grenfell Tragedy Tell Us About the Health of Representative Democracy?

SParticipatory DemocracyThat the Grenfell Tower disaster was a profound human tragedy is beyond dispute. Likewise, by general consent, the response of the non-emergency authorities was far from acceptable.  A remote and out-of-touch local council which suppressed opposition by disregarding it or actively mocking the attempt of representatives to challenge decisions. An inability to fully grasp the enormity of the problem and slapping away offers of help was mirrored by a central Government slow to react and seemingly incapable of displaying any understanding for the plight of homeless and bereaved citizens.

Now that a period of reflection is setting in, many officials are still in denial, repeating the mantra that we need to wait for a full inquiry before we know the cause of the blaze.  Within a narrow remit of the local conditions in Kensington and wider building regulations there is some sense in this, but you cannot escape the feeling that the aim is to delay and hope that by the time an inquiry reports back someone else will be in charge.

Representative democracy alone is failing us.

In an earlier post I pointed out that we need a complete rethink of rights and resources which can be wielded by citizens and civil organisations. But the possibility of such a review was immediately cast into doubt by the actions of Theresa May.  A few days after the disaster and clearly feeling the weight of public anger and resentment she agreed to meet with representatives of the victims. But where was the meeting held? In the privacy of Downing Street, which presumably left May in her comfort zone but must have been at least a little daunting to the representatives.  So why not at a neutral venue? There is no doubt that neighbouring local authorities would have been willing to have hosted such a meeting at short notice given the enormity of the disaster. But I think there is something deeper at work here than just another example of the lack of insensitivity to citizens by the Prime Minister.  It displays a fundamental fear by politicians of losing power or control; an inability to share authority where it really matters most.

Continue reading “What Does the Grenfell Tragedy Tell Us About the Health of Representative Democracy?”

After Grenfell We Need A Complete Rethink of Rights and Resources – Not a Government Whitewash

The attacks in Manchester and Borough Market, the Grenfell Tower Fire. Confidence in Theresa May is now plummeting faster than the Pound after the Brexit vote. But Theresa May is not solely to blame.  Remember that the Conservative Party made her leader with no contest and Conservative MPs voted for a Government destabilising election on the eve of Brexit talks.  But beyond that there are issues of rights and resources in society which we must all confront.

The events of the past few weeks illustrate some vital points about the rights and resources wielded by different groups in this country.  During the election the Government, of course, tried to pretend that it was planning a great extension of rights while in reality presiding over a de facto trashing of them.

Firstly the terrorist attacks.  As usual following a terrorist attack various Ministers appeared in front of the cameras and pretended to talk tough.  Once again the spectre of the repeal of the Human Rights Act was mooted along with withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights.  Dark threats of yet more snooping powers were mooted. Yet, it emerged that the terrorists were already known as a danger by the authorities.  The problem was much less to do with lack of information and much more a problem of lack of resources and, crucially, the reduction of 20,000 police officers which has hit local community policing hard. Despite what Theresa May and Amber Rudd say, the authorities are calling for more resources not more powers.  Judging by the election result it seems that people are getting this message.

Now look at the issue of the Grenfell Tower fire. Again, it was not a problem of lack of information, the residents were well aware of the dangers and local representatives tried to raise the issue of fire safety on numerous occasions.   Although far too early to tell there is every likelihood of criminal prosecutions being brought when the facts are assessed.  But while the idea of ‘Corporate Manslaughter’ is an attractive one it will almost certainly mean a fine and nothing will really change.  What is needed is a nationwide culture shift

So again, it is an issue of resources.  The wealthy, including those of Kensington and Chelsea can afford to buy the resources they require including legal assistance to get things done. The less well-off cannot. We can do some things immediately. These include recourse to systems of contestability we have lost.  Access to Industrial Tribunals (removal of punitive fees) and restoration of widespread Legal Aid is imperative, especially after Grenfell.  Far beyond that there must be systems which allow for the support of groups and resources to take concerns to the highest level and get action.

The methods of putting such systems of support for local groups and enabling them to have proper and meaningful representation in the corridors of power are not unknown and cities around the world have been developing techniques such as citizens panels, peoples tribunals and active participation for years (although far from perfect, in the UK  the Peabody Trust points to a possible route forward as I suggest in this post).

Enough of the meaningless platitudes of an authoritarian Government and their ripoff landlord allies.  Time for true methods of contestability in this country.

Being Lectured by Beneficiaries of Inherited Wealth is Bad Enough, but the Hypocrisy is Worse!

We are constantly lectured by people who live with the advantage of signifiant inherited wealth.  There was George Osborne telling us how we needed austerity to make everything well again in the economy, Ian Duncan Smith saying how disabled and other vulnerable folk needed to be ‘encouraged’ or ‘incentivised’ back to work and Jacob Rees-Mogg banging on about how the Victorians would not have stood for all this welfare nonsense, They extol the virtues of hard work, thrift and standing on your own two feet while easing back on significant assets culled from someone else’s hard work which was simply handed down to them.

I am assuming the assets were gained by hard work, but as we know this is only occasionally true. The Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Estate for example, was established by Hugh Audley, a kind of seventeenth century asset shark and rip-off merchant.  Strangely these people are not keen on developing schemes which would give everyone these sort of advantages, no matter how small, initially. So I suggest levelling up the playing field a little.

Take the Children’s Trust Fund (CTF) set up in 2002 by Gordon Brown.  Until the Coalition Government scrapped the scheme in 2011 this provided a tool to make a start.  The idea behind the CTF was simple, when a baby was born a fund was set up with the Government putting in £250, additional private contributions being allowed but limited to about £4000 per year.  At age 18 the fund was turned over to the young adult.  Of course the scheme was ended by just those politicians from privilege backgrounds who said we couldn’t afford it, but the Money Advice Service have a brief description of the scheme.

So the ideas are already there, we just need to bring them back, but this time make it meaningful. Lets start with the Government giving starting each account with £2000 and adding a further £2000 at age 14.  Additional private payments should be strictly limited.  The whole scheme could be funded by increasing inheritance and other forms of wealth tax.  By the way, in the USA authors Ackermann and Alstott in their book The Stakeholder Society suggesting paying each American $80,000 at age 18!  Even allowing for growth of assets we would be struggling to get our initial £2000 anywhere near the equivalent in 18 years but it is an aspiration. If there is any doubt about whether someone will act responsibly with the fund, bear in mind that no-one assesses whether the Duke of Westminster, Duncan Smith or Rees-Mogg were ‘responsible’ enough to control significant assets?

Is this post simply based on jealousy?.No.  It has long been understood (since at least the 17th Century) that freedom is inextricably linked to the availability of sufficient personal economic and social resources. Financial domination and oppression can be equally as damaging as political domination and are frequently interlinked (as we can see!). These issues are, of course, tied in with the traditional radical concerns with greater equality and inclusion in society. Basically, to be genuinely free and allow an exercise of citizenship you need assets.

The re-establishment of a ramped up CTF is a very small start and politics will not be suddenly full of people from normal backgrounds elbowing the likes of Cameron, Osborne and Rees-Mogg aside. It should be part of a range of actions including the increasingly popular Citizens Basic Income for one. The fact that even small schemes to provide the sort of help enjoyed by the wealthy boys and girls are trashed the very people who already benefit is, sadly, no surprise. But that does not mean we should put up with it!

‘Let It Shine’ – On an Unsavoury World of Grace and Favour

graftFor the past month the focus of the world’s press has been on the new incumbent of the White House.  Understandably, much concern revolves around the firewall which separates Donald Trump the President from Donald Trump the businessman. The gossamer nature of this separation is, of course, worrying to those who value the liberty and dignity of citizens, since through the ages autocratic leaders have effectively facilitated the use of slave labour in private enterprises through tight political control.  But rather than looking  askance at the manipulation of the US institutions for personal gain it is worth considering an example much closer to home. Although in no way approaching the scale of Trump. the recent career of entertainer Gary Barlow provides a model of how a system of autocratic patronage operates and how it serves to subvert the aims and ambitions of an open society.

The murky background to Let It Shine

I am not a fan of Gary Barlow so I am poorly placed to judge whether his new primetime Saturday evening show, Let It Shine is good or otherwise. Undoubtedly he is a popular entertainer with musical talent as his many awards testify, but the quality or ability of Barlow as an artist is not the point of this post.  Rather, it is the place which he occupies in the British establishment and the effect this has on our society. Now, as this article by Hannah Furness in The Telegraph shows, I am certainly not the first to query the wisdom of the BBC in giving Barlow a brand new series. The problem is not wholly to do with Barlow’s tax-dodging past, although that will feature in my argument a little later.  The main issue is that the BBC is once again following a format (for example Any Dream Will Do) of using the production as a talent spotting content for a putative musical show planned by Barlow called The Band. This is semi-autobiographical, telling the story of the rise of boy band Take That, which projected him to wealth and fame.

As far as we can tell the BBC has no commercial stake in the forthcoming musical so our money is being used to provide national advertising for a private production. This issue has been raised before, most pointedly in 2008 by none other than director of the Old Vic Theatre Kevin Spacey who protested at the free promotion being given to Andrew Lloyd Webber (Lord Webber, by the way. one of Barlow’s collaborators) musicals, especially Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Was Spacey justified? Apparently, as Furness points out, he was:

At the time [2008], a study by the Society of London Theatre found theatregoers were 47 per cent more likely to go to shows after seeing the musical television tie-in, dubbing it the “Saturday night TV effect.  

The Band musical is being produced by David Pugh Ltd and as no details have been released on funding or budget profile we are effectively ignorant of the commercial aspects of this enterprise.  We cannot know whether our licence money is directly lining the pockets of the less than socially conscious Barlow. The essential question is whether the BBC itself has any idea since it was they who approached Barlow to make Let It Shine!

A World of Grace and Favour

Should we have concerns about the financial activities of Barlow? I think so. It is less than three years since Barlow, along with two other members of Take That, was found to be putting money into a scheme ruled by the courts to be a tax dodge. The three band members were ordered to pay back  £20 million (!), a sum which they were clearly not keen to refund almost a year later as this report from April 2015 indicates. Bizarrely the BBC themselves highlighted a central issue of the debate which was the question of whether Barlow should be made to relinquish his OBE given to him by Elizabeth Windsor after he organised her ‘Diamond Jubilee’ concert in 2012. I have blogged previously about the iniquities of the honours system but here was a clear example of someone getting a gong for services rendered,  presumably the grotesquely privileged equivalent of mates rates!  Predictably, then Prime Minister David Cameron opposed a suggestion by Margaret Hodge, Chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee of removing the honour.

At this point it is worth remembering the citation of the OBE which states it was awarded to Barlow for services to the Entertainment Industry and to Charity. The argument advanced by Cameron and others  was that his tax-dodging antics had nothing to do with his charitable work so the OBE should still stand.  But things are not so clear cut and charities actually receive a lot of funds from the public purse. As Zoe Williams succinctly put it in an article:

In fact, paying tax and giving to charity are connected, and if you avoid the former, you leave a gaping hole in the social fabric that must be darned by the latter. It’s like overlooking all the landmines a person planted, then giving them an MBE for money raised in the service of prosthetic limbs.

Williams goes on to make the point that there were precedents for stripping titles under similar circumstances (e.g. removing Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin’s knighthood) so this action was entirely reasonable.

So its now possible to see just how the system works. Gary Barlow is famous through his membership of the boy band Take That which makes a lot of money partly because of the BBC (just as for most popular UK artists). Barlow’s fame gets him the gig to organise Elizabeth Windsor’s Golden Jubilee concert,  which favour nets him an OBE. As a by-product of all this Barlow is wealthy enough to employ experts and participate in a tax scheme which diverts money legally belonging to the public purse. Barlow is recently approached by a BBC, angry at losing The Voice show to ITV and prepared to overlook Barlow’s misdemeanours in an attempt to chase ratings, despite being told by politicians not to do so. Barlow’s Let It Shine is generating free publicity for his new stage show which will virtually guarantee its success.  The BBC is thus complicit in boosting audiences for a private venture, the funding of which is unknown (possibly even to the BBC).  The continued possession of the OBE effectively justifies the whole putrid arrangement.

What links Gary Barlow to the Windsors and much of the rest of the British establishment is the desire for a grace and favour society in which they choose which social causes receive support (and who should get honours!).  But such a society where resources are allocated on the whim and predilection of the wealthy and privileged  is inimical to an open society where we all decide where resources should go and, in turn, we can all canvas public support for causes which are important to us. As I pointed out at the start, Barlow’s activities are trivial compared with the possibilities which may open up to Trump. But bear in mind that Barlow is merely one example, though a useful one as the facts are in the public domain allowing us to see the mechanism in operation. Grace and favour should have died with the nineteenth century!