Chris Brooke’s back from Libya, where he ate soup. So inspired he uses Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s analysis of New Labour’s quasi fascist rhetoric as the basis for a series of posts, turning around some remarkable similarities with Petainism and it's practitioners, to wit:
In particular, Tasca called for a reconceptualisation of the idea of rights, as he sought a new understanding of rights that would be distinct from both a liberal treatment of rights as inviolable possessions and the totalitarian ambition to have the scope and content of all rights dictated by the state. Tasca also broke decisively with the socialism he had hitherto espoused. He rejected, for example, the natural equality of citizens, and went as far as to insist that there was no "problem of the élites" and that "the masses" were a "negative factor in the Revolution".... Tasca further argued that the middle class was the sole active historical force; he emphasised themes of social stability and inter-class harmony; and he thought that those who sought change should work for a moral transformation of the already existing political class, rather than seek to transform the social or economic structure of France.
I think there’s also a Vichy parallel of sorts in the UK’s relations with the United States. AFAIK, Petain and his cohorts cast German control of France as a kind of scourge of God, a punishment for the sins of leftism, republicanism and secularism. New Labour’s stance towards America in it’s early years was to hold it up as a font of entrepreneurship and innovation, effectively a source of rejuvenation by which an exhausted culture would be turned into a “Young Britain.”. In both cases, a cultural cringe is seen as a historical inevitability. Over Iraq, for instance, I don’t believe that it occurred to Blair that he could do anything else other than offer full support to the United States irrespective of the pretext for war.
Other than that there’s a sort of architecture and gargoyles issue. We remember fascism because of it’s monstrosities, it’s perverse biological politics and the atrocities that ensued from them. But behind this is a theory of government as an organic manifestation of the society and volk from which it sprang, and the means by which the priorities and concerns of the volk can be placed into law and governance.
Now there’s no reason why a volk needs to be interpreted racially. Make it more inclusive of minority groups and you turn it into a “community”. New Labour’s occasional nagging at the issues of redefining Britishness seems to be precisely an attempt to get away from a racial interpretation of the nation. It also seem to be hankering towards basing government legitimacy on a fixed set of “national” values.
This is radically different from the idea that a government is something chartered by the public to keep the peace and provide greater or lesser amounts of public goods while reined in by an independent judiciary and by constitutional protection for individual liberty. Old Labour conformed to this model, providing one axis of the argument about how many goods should be public around which political life largely revolved.
New Labour want to leave all that behind. People think of New Labour as being more economically right wing than Old Labour, which is true but is only half the point. Programmes like the Private Finance Initiative recall the "co-ordination" between public and private sector that is a traditional feature of rightwing authoritarian governments. But in it’s hostility to civil liberties and the idea of inalienable rights and in its constant invocation of “community” New Labour seem to be working towards a reconception of government in the broadly fascist sense. The most obvious model that springs to mind is Singapore, with it's authoritarian government, efficient private sector and docile, muiticultural, highly motivated volk.
At any rate, and whatever you think of the other parties, a vote for New Labour is a vote against democracy as we've traditionally understood the term.
Dictionary.com gives the definition of phobia as follows:
A persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.
Over at gauche, Paul Anderson provides a different and more detailed definition of phobia from the Runnymede trust, used in relation to prejudice against Muslims:
1. Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.
2. Islam is seen as separate and 'other'. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.
3. Islam is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist.
4. Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a 'clash of civilisations'.
5. Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage.
6. Criticisms made of the West by Islam are rejected out of hand.
7. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.
8. Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.
All this as part of the flap about Islamophobia Watch. Back when the –phobic suffix was first taken up by lesbian and gay activists it had a certain metaphorical power. A lot of anti-gay prejudice was so irrational that it didn’t fit into any kind of straightforward political definition. But phobia is basically a medical term and its use provides people with the opportunity to dismiss their political opponents as mentally unsound. It’s an effective enough technique to make it worthwhile transferring it over for use against other forms of prejudice, and the Runnymede trust’s redefinition of the term looks like an attempt to do just that.
But holding any of the notions they outline does not amount to a phobia. A few aren’t even criticisms. My atheism is “static and unresponsive to change.” And I’d certainly like to atheists gain greater political advantages on the basis of our lack of faith. Where the above shopping list does apply it refers to real damage done to real individuals on the basis of their faith, and yet it’s the religion we’re supposed to respect, not the rights of the individuals concerned.
Now we have a government which quite openly proposes to violate the civil rights of Muslims but compensates by giving Muslims the opportunity to veto speech they find offends their religion. In doing so the government can quite legitimately claim to be tackling Islamophobia while institutionalizing prejudice against individuals who happen to be Muslim.
Like Dave, I’ve been watching The Apprentice regularly. And like him, I’ve been quite impressed with Alan Sugar’s performance as sorcerer in chief. The UK version’s better than the US original mainly because of him. Donald Trump is a kind of camp gothic horror. Sugar’s plain talking Jewish East End trader schtick works out a lot better. No doubt about it: Sugar’s the daddy.
No surprise then that he was involved with one of those pointless government schemes to make entrepreneurship sexy with what I believe are known as “our young people.” This stuff never works. Richard Branson’s normally the only one that anyone ever likes, and that’s because he’s an amiable buffoon. See Richard floating in the balloon! Whoops! See Richard floating in the water!
These campaigns always miss the point because they don’t realize that entrepreneurship is a form of acting. Entrepreneurs are performing selves and their ventures are a means of getting other people to pay attention. You’ve either got this bug or you haven’t. If you haven't it just takes a bit of common sense to realise that you don't want your livelihood depending on someone else's rampaging ego. Entrepreneurs can't be imitated. They need to be kept in zoos and poked with sticks.
Which brings us to our hapless apprentices. I’m generally prone to dismiss such folk as go-getting vermin, but to my surprise I found myself feeling more than a little sorry for them. Unlike the buffed and beveled clones in the US version of the series, our thrusting aspirers are a bit ragged round the edges and saggy round the middle. Under pressure, they visibly sweat.
Up until 9/11, they could console themselves on being held up as the official masters of the universe. Post 9/11, they’ve dwindled into membership of an eccentric subculture with approximately the same status as the trainspotting community. Now they have their inadequate performances in the role of businesspersons casually dismembered by a master actor in the guise of a successful flogger of cheap electronics.
The thing is, a performing self needs a self on which to base that performance. Reflexive avarice just isn’t enough.
It's not new or clever to point out that New Labour's use of language owes more to Powerpoint than any conventional rules of grammar but when it's the education secretary...
Ruth Kelly has difficulty with sentences in the Guardian today:
"It's a vision for a third-term Labour government that builds on the success we have achieved. But a vision for our education system to complete a shift from one where 'comprehensive schools' have been the focus, to one where achieving a 'genuine comprehensive education' becomes our objective."
In his former career as a Conservative MP Howard Flight voted against his party whip only six times in almost eight years - and never on an issue of importance.
I think we can assume from this that he’s in the mainstream of Conservative thinking in the UK. The Guardian adds:
The suspicion must be that Mr Flight drove his former friend to fury, not because what he said was untrue, but because it was too close to the truth for comfort. There is surely no secret shadow cabinet plan to slash public services on day one of a Conservative government. But there will be many around the shadow cabinet table who agree with Mr Flight that reducing the size of the state "will be a continuing agenda".
OK, now traditionally the Labour Party took more in taxes in return for more public goods. They took your money and bought you stuff. If you wanted this stuff you voted for more of the same. At least, that was the general perception. The way New Labour seem to approach the issue is to take your money and spend it on “initiatives”, on things that newspapers are agitating about, or giving part of it to the private sector as rents on PFI schemes. It’s difficult to understand what you actually get in return for what you pay out.
After eight years of this, I thought it would have been perfectly easy to construct a straightforward free market narrative with which to conduct an election campaign, especially given the fact that Blair is so widely distrusted. But when an MP mentions the subject at a private meeting and news gets out, he’s sacked. So maybe the real lesson for this is that the appeal of Thatcherism is dead. In sacking Howard Flight, the Tories are acting on the assumption that people would rather have Tony Blair waste their money than Michael Howard return it to them in the form of tax cuts.
Coverage of the England team resembles the plot of a seventies porno movie. Before the Northern Ireland game it was: Sven must perform. Then Sven did perform. Can Sven perform once more? Undoubtedly. Sven can go on performing all the way to the top. Sven can fulfil his team’s potential, with his mighty coaching organ. Victory in the World Cup is assuredly ours. Sven’s performances will astonish the world.
This is what’s going to happen. England are going to qualify without much difficulty. Then they’re going to go out in the quarter finals, exactly as they did in Japan and in Portugal. Pre-Sven, England teams either over- or underperformed. But Sven is a predictable performer – a solid, reliable deliverer of performances, like a cheeky milkman on his daily round of bored housewives. His performances don’t make the heart leap and flutter or produce squeals of delight. His performances tend towards quiet satisfaction. They have the knack of leaving you wanting more.
Sven’s quarter final level performances contribute to setting the chaotic finances of English football on an even keel. They provide predictability in the planning of future costs and revenue streams. They get players back to their clubs in time for pre-season training and minimise the risk of injury. The players return with a faint roseate glow, enough to merit their sponsorship arrangements, but they don’t improve their market value in a way that further cripples the finances of premiership clubs. Sven’s performances offer just enough in the way of fulfilment.
That’s not how the fans think. “But Sven” they say as he puts his trousers back on. “I want more!” Eventually, the bored housewives may grow restive and clamour for more thrills. Then Sven will set his cap at a jaunty angle, climb aboard his milk float and chunter off to pastures new.
In today’s Guardian, Peter Hain argues that we shouldn’t punish x, for risk of rewarding y, a far worse gang of criminals. I’m dubious about the premise, but let’s take it at face value for now.
He fails to mention that if x is not punished, y will be confirmed in its belief that crime pays, and that x will re-offend, having had permission to do so from the electorate. Z, needless to say, will also be tempted from the path of virtue. By contrast if y is rewarded by means of the punishment of x, it might conclude that there are things it can’t get away with. That's the way things are supposed to work, anyway. If they don't then it's not really worth voting.
Anyway, don’t be triangulated. You’ll feel used and dirty in the morning.