Left Out Liberal

A left-wing/liberal look at the UK's General Election of 2005.

Friday, May 27, 2005

The End

And so I finally make the decision to cease posting to this place. I said I was going to a few posts ago, but now I feel it is now time to bite the bullet and do it. But I won't do it without a final swipe.

British politics is a mess. The whole business of ID cards over the past few days is seriously depressing. We're sleepwalking into the database state, where everyone is viewed by a seriously bloated Executive - who technically no one elected to that role; we elected the legislature, which simply becomes the pawn of the executive - as a criminal waiting to happen and so must be monitored at all costs. It scares me that it is a Labour government that is doing this. I do not care about the "New" prefix Tony likes to use. He has destroyed my party. He has destroyed our party. It will never be the same.

I'm the first to admit that Labour needed to modernise. But to modernise, it didn't have to sell its soul. New Labour has driven British politics into a ditch and is determined to bring everyone else down with it. I refuse to be held to ransom any more with "but what about the minimum wage?" or "what about tax credits?" by devoted Labour supporters who refuse to see what is actually going on in their party, refuse to witness just what the New Labour project is doing to Britain. Every government does something good, no matter what colour it is. John Major's work on resolving the problems of Northern Ireland should be something appreciated by all people. Heck, even his law to allow workers to refuse work on Sunday can be pretty handy at times. But that didn't make me want to vote for him. I can apply this logic to almost any Prime Minister post-war.

I shudder to think what more draconian measures are going to emanate from Labour this term. The Queen's Speech was full of seriously bad bills, but there'll be plenty more beyond those that appear in coming years. I pray, for the sanity of this nation, that enough Labour backbenchers can come to their senses and realise just what is going on. I don't even care about Gordon Brown becoming leader any more. I don't seriously think he'll make any difference. All I want is to see this appalling government, filled with stooges and yes-men so much that you can just picture Cabinet discussions to be a procession of nodding donkeys (John Reid, Tessa Jowell, Patricia Hewitt, Geoff Hoon, Alastair Darling, John Prescott, Charles Clarke, David Blunkett, Charles Falconer, Margaret Beckett, Jack Straw, Peter Hain... the list makes me sick. They've never had an independent good idea in their lives) all lining up to support the latest back-of-a-fag-packet idea, successfully checked: suppressed in the defence of our liberal democracy.

British democracy is in crisis. When I reflect now, I believe it only could have been solved if the result of the election was a hung Parliament. It is very difficult to aim for such a result without the fear of missing it by just enough to cause a really bad result, so it's understandable that it wasn't forefront in many people's minds. What we got was not bad, but I believe it needed to be under 50 for New Labour to be forced to really listen. New Labour wouldn't know consensus government if it came up and gave it a good happy slapping. No. They only understand one thing - how to jump off a cliff and scream for its MPs to save it. Every vote is a vote of confidence in Tony Blair. Daring to think that there just might be life beyond Blair, or even New Labour, is enough to cast you into the eternal darkness of the backbenches forever.

And this is why I must stop. I know that if I continue I will only comment in exactly the same way on everything that happens. I don't want to sound like a broken record. I want to contribute something new, and I feel I have now done all I can. I'm hoping for a miracle to happen, but when I see the Tory Party also hoping for that same miracle, I can only grimace with dread. There really is nowhere left to go.

There is an outside chance I will post more to The Sharpener, which is shaping up to be a very useful and interesting blog. But not even my last post which obtained an impressive 27 responses is enough to encourage me that I have more to say and that people may be interested in it. It is satisfying that at least I have an outlet through which more people will read my writings, and I am grateful to The Sharpener for supplying me with that. That has perhaps been the greatest disappointment of blogging here... the lack of responses.

It just remains for me to say thank you to everyone who has read this blog, thank you to everyone who saw fit to comment on my posts, and I am honoured by the fact that many other bloggers chose to link to my site. Without their help I would never have even reached the levels of traffic. I appreciate that a lot.

This site will remain in place should I suddenly have a change of heart. But I would like it to stay simply as an archive of my writings. There are now a number of people who arrive here via search engines, and I wouldn't want to stop them reading. There are also more considerable pieces by me (such as the election analysis and my thoughts on the youth and student vote) that I would like to keep published.

Best wishes to all. Here's to 2009/2010!


Monday, May 23, 2005

This Misguided Nation

As a nation, the past few years we Brits have become pretty adept at getting wound up by things that, in the grand scheme of things, are not really that important. The march against the Iraq War was one of the few instances in which the British people did get something right. But since then, we've hardly done anything, and a lot of people have been naive enough to believe Tony Blair that Iraq really is better now. Such people need to consult Today In Iraq.

But this post isn't about Iraq. Iraq is the only exception to the thesis I am about to launch into. I believe that Britain has a problem. It's not one that people will be prepared to admit to, and it appears to be something buried deep within the psyche of the nation. The symptom of this problem is responsible for some of the problems we see in society in terms of a small minority of people (not just children) who have no respect for the law. On top of that, we have people who like the law only when it is on their side. But underneath all this is one of the problems: Britain's obsession with abuse; that violence solves all, and feeding a general culture of misguidance.

Let us begin with speed cameras. Adults crave for respect to the law. Yet, see a speed camera - or better yet a speeding fine - and most adults blood will boil. "It's just another government stealth tax!" they yell as they slip a cheque for £50 in an envelope to pay the fine. Once caught, most adults don't reform. Fines are a blunt instrument. We just resolve never to get caught again. Who hasn't driven through speed camera zones to see a remarkable reduction in speed just for a short while only for the engine to start revving again once you're out of danger?

So immediately, most adults have no right to preach observance to the rule of law while being hypocrites in their spare time. Law is not selective. It is, once passed, an objective standard or criteria by which officers of the law and the judiciary cast judgement. Speeding is breaking the law. Not wearing a seatbelt is breaking the law. Using a mobile phone while driving is breaking the law. You have no excuse if you are caught. You are a criminal.

It's those last four words that rile people. "I am not a criminal!" they shout. The aggression builds. How could you possibly be a criminal? You pay your taxes. You keep your garden tidy. You don't attack people in the street. You're the model citizen!

You aren't. Much as it pains me to say it given the experience of the poll tax, if you want people to respect the law, you'd better take a look at yourself first. If we accept that our government is legitimate, and it has the authority to act on our behalf - and we do - then we should not be surprised if we choose to take on that authority and lose. Building "respect" in society as part of the processes of socialisation start at home. There are far too many parents these days, and we're not just talking about inner-city parents here, who wash their hands of their children. The schools are there to do the educating! I have work to do feeding and clothing my child with the best hoodies. I'll let them work out what's what.

You're wrong. And that's the first step. Neglect. Neglect is abuse. In my last post I complained about the fact that we seem unable to engage lower generations in any kind of conversation. This problem starts at home. The rise of the two-income household is not inherently a bad thing. I have no problem with two parents in a household working hard and earning a living. The only problem is what follows on from that. Children within such families have a habit of disconnecting from their authority figures. The parents are too tired to deal with problems. That "problem" might even be just helping with homework. The stress levels in work are too high... you don't want to go home to have to engage with your adolescent (and now increasingly pre-adolescent) and demanding offspring.

Our problem is that we are forgetting what it was like to be young. From the ages of 10 onwards, children begin to realise that there is life beyond the home. Things start to get a bit complicated. A lot of wires in the brains are not fused yet to deal with adulthood, yet adulthood and its values are foisted and expected from such individuals from this increasingly early age. To guide you through this process of mental maturation - something far more important than physical maturity - we need support. We need our parent(s) to be there for us. Someone who can share their experience, give friendly advice, set clear boundaries, show what is expected of you, being flexible to situations and allowing more as the years go by. In other words, children need mentors and role-models.

Do you think the stressed out, exhausted workaholics in this nation can adequately supply that? Children and young adults naturally will get into trouble. There will always be some problem. And when that challenge arises, the adult's response to it will have a long lasting impact. Wave your hand and say, "I'm watching EastEnders!" and suddenly the child has been rejected. A rejection is a permanent black mark. Children will always bring problems, and more than likely at the most inconvenient time. If you can't be interested in your protégé's problems, and aren't prepared to drop everything at a moment's notice - thus setting an example of how we should interact with each other - then why should they give a damn for your authority? The seeds are sown.

In the meantime, the adults watch the news. They see a story about a police officer driving 159mph who gets away with it. Hoho! How bad is that? They shout abuse at the TV screen - "it's one rule for us and one rule for them!" they roar, conveniently forgetting their own selective interpretation of the law on speed. Children witness it... more disrespect is cultivated. It now looks like it's OK to oppose authority? If my parent(s) are doing it, then why should I? After all, these are the people who I look up to the most. I get it now.

Meanwhile, we miss the story demonstrating for all to see just how the police like to fit people up. But that doesn't matter. The kid probably deserved it. The police are normally right.

Bzzt. Error in logic. On the one hand we don't really care about police brutality. Some of us secretly crave that the police come decked out with AK47 assault rifles. We want the police to have the authority to implement their own version of justice out on the streets with their batons and stun guns. Some of us even want the army to do the police's job. By cracking that baton, some skulls, and maybe bringing back the birch, the cane and some capital punishment to go with it, all the problems would be solved.

But wait a minute? What about the copper at 159mph? What about the copper telling the kid how he'd "write it up properly"? If police officers don't even respect the law, why would you trust one implicitly to hold an assault rifle and accurately dole out justice 100% of the time?

The fact is the police are as corrupt as the rest of us. A lot of us have no respect for the police - I include myself here - for reasons that we find difficult to back up. Police corruption is normally kept hush-hush. Allegations of this kind of behaviour are normally investigated by fellow police forces. Coppers don't do another copper over. So if you accuse the police of being bent, you're only going to look like a criminal yourself. The classic, "The innocent ones have nothing to fear!" gets wheeled out. Would you like cameras throughout your house to make sure you don't beat your wife, or take drugs in your own home? Why not? I thought you were an innocent one?

This is the fundamental flaw in the British people. We encounter a problem and our first instinct is to lash out at it. We like to use our fists. We are a notoriously aggressive nation. We measure our worth in the amount of pints we can drink before we hit the floor, and then on how much we value brawn over brains. If people don't like who we are, then fuck them. We have bigger muscles than them. If our kids step out of line, then whack! - take that you little bastard. The headmaster isn't getting respect from the kids? Then why not give him back the cane, and belt the little shits back into line. That oughta teach 'em.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to live in a fear culture. We have the government leading from the front in scaring is into isolation. We have a complicit media who like to do the same and then magnify the problem many times by clamouring for dictatorial measures to solve the problem.

There is a reason why we live in a liberal democracy. The principal tenets of the Liberal Revolutions of the 17-18th centuries were that we were fed up with autocratic leaders, making up the law as they go along, showing no respect for fellow members of society and putting themselves up on a plinth as somehow being morally superior by nature of their position. The rule of law was devised so that everyone had the same objective code to work from. We rejected dictators, because they had a habit of interfering here, there and everywhere for their own ends, and to be frank, a lot of them were psychotically deranged, taking pleasure in the beheading and torture of dissidents.

We decided we didn't want that. We created systems of government that kept them out of our lives as much as possible. That is why it is called liberal democracy. We believe that individuals, families and to some extent society should be empowered to solve its own problems. Governments only tend to mess things up.

Now we've encountered another problem. This seems to be reversing. Bring back national service. Ban hoodies. Ban children from congregating in groups more than two. Bring back the birch. Bring back the rope.

Authoritarian measures. Authoritarian measures to solve a general decline in respect.

Where I come from, respect is earned. Whoever heard of respecting the puny headmaster who gets his jollies out of thrashing the living daylights out of kids? Why was it that it was always the same people who ended up in front of the headmaster, week after week? Why we do we really think that abusing and assaulting children will restore respect to society?

Perhaps there is an ulterior motive. For respect, do we need to read fear? Do we want to get to a situation where the nation is constantly on edge for the police officer with an itchy trigger finger? Where adults have the right to violently assault their children, without understanding that the age-old maxim of "violence breeds violence" is true? Where adults violently assault each other to solve their problems?

I don't want that. I want us to be in a situation where people respect and tolerate the law not because of fear of being caught, whipped, brutalised or even summarily executed by police officers, but because they believe the law is right and in the best interests of society.

And the only way we can get to this position? Like I said, it all starts at home. Start with your own respect for the law. Then try to engage with other people from other generations. Your own kids would be a start. They need you in their corner: they don't want to be ignored, and they can't be told that everything they do is right either. You need to draw credible lines and boundaries. You need to offer support, attention, reassurance and an open door. Many children don't even bring problems to their parent(s) because they don't feel they'll get a fair hearing. Listen out for cries of help. Encourage those who don't want to ask to feel there is no shame in talking out problems. Communication is the best resolution. Parent(s) can't expect schools to teach this kind of thing. Our teachers are supposed to give children knowledge and information about the world. But only parent(s) can really impart wisdom.

Once we start to foster back the values of talking, debating, exchanging opinions and preparing solutions acceptable to all, then we also demonstrate the reason why we have politics, not just at a national level, but everywhere. The art of politics is all around.

It is the first solution from which all other solutions are derived.

It is the only solution.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

New Labour, New Bullshit

As we all know, we've heard a lot of nonsense talked about the issue of "respect" in society the past few days. Sure enough, it is a concern for many people, and I acknowledge that. But the "solutions" we've heard the past few days have been half-baked and mostly not worthy of any attention. The uniform for people on community service was the pinnacle of all these for so many reasons that it is more worthy analysing how a moron like Hazel Blears is in government, rather than consider how useful her "solution" might be.

But what is remarkable is that the media has let New Labour and Blair adjust recent history. The day Blair was elected for the third time was quite possibly the very first instance in which he mentioned the problem of "respect" in society. Since then he has talked about it endlessly, even getting the Queen to join in yesterday, complaining that she just wasn't getting her "props" any more, and the feral (suddenly the media's favourite word) youth just can't help but diss her.

Pardon me while I chuckle uneasily at the irony of an unelected symbol of all that is wrong with Britain's class culture is given words by the government to expound on the lack of respect in society. Fuck your deference and the horse and carriage she rode into Parliament on.

Blair's blather has now reached mountainous proportions. There's not a day that goes by where he tells everyone he is going to work hard to restore respect. Indeed, the more he says it, the more I think this is becoming outrageously shameless. New Labour are now claiming that they have a mandate to bring in everything in the Queen's Speech announced yesterday, and so it would be wrong for the Lords or anyone else, including those naughty rebellious backbenchers, to oppose it. Remarkably, this includes the issue of "respect".

I can count the number of times Blair complained about respect during the election, or indeed in the manfesto, on one hand. The word "respect" appears five times, and in only three of these cases does it actually refer to ensuring respect in the school classroom for example. It certainly does not make a case that there is a breakdown in social order from these so called "feral" youths.

So does New Labour have a mandate for this? After all, if they really had spent many days in the election talking on this issue, I can't help but feel that it would have played right into the Tories' hands, since this was a crucial part of their campaign. New Labour didn't talk about this issue for the simple reason that to do so would completely undermine everything they had done over the last eight years.

Instead, it was shamelessly stolen from the Conservatives. Indeed, so many things in yesterday's Queen's Speech were done so. School discipline. Cleaner hospitals. More police (OK, community service officers). Controlled immigration. Except the lower taxes bit, naturally. We've heard all of those before. They aren't particularly Conservative things, as we all know. But they are centrist, and they populist. So Blair grasps them with his greedy hands. Anything to stay in office.

The media is wrong for letting Blair blind us all that he has always been concerned with this issue. He only became concerned on May 5th, when he realised it's a good excuse for more ridiculous and badly drafted legislation, especially now there're 17 months of a Parliament to fill with the usual top-down, centrally controlled and high spin factor authoritarianism.

Here's to the next 4 (or 5 if we're unlucky) years!

Friday, May 13, 2005

British Mass Hysteria

On the 1st of March I wrote a post complaining that the nation is slowly whipping itself up into a frenzy about ever smaller and smaller things in terms of national significance.

This hasn't been better summed up than in the nonsense of the past couple of days. I've been finding it hard to believe that people are seriously getting themselves worked up over an item of clothing, but when the Express announced its new "Crusade!" today that hoodies should be banned, I realised that this nation is in the grip of a seizure of stupidity, led by the moronic "free press". We love to hail our free press as the finest in the world, holding the government to account. But they sure are pillocks.

You would think this nation would tire of moral panicking on demand of the Express, the Mail, the Sun and the Mirror, but no... it seems we are just as eager for it as ever. The tiresome weekly demands from these papers never seem to come to anything, but they sure as hell create a fine excuse for a good few days of the worst journalism the country has to offer, where anything and everything can be linked back to the initial item of moral panic. The problem now is that we no longer have a government who can act as the voice of reason, ready to inject a little seriousness into the debate.

Instead, they roll over and prepare another crime and disorder bill for Parliament to digest. Another piece of badly thought out, poorly drafted legislation hurtles towards the statute books. Meanwhile, the real issues remain off the agenda, for they aren't vote winners. Let's face it: you either talk tough (and talk is cheap), gain support, ride to the rescue of the nation and then look like a saviour, or you could look at the real problems in the destruction of society from further isolation, which might cost a lot of money and also might look "weak".

There is no contest.

This government has also gone so far as to realise the power and the opportunity a good old fashioned moral panic creates. It even whips them up by itself now: witness the rubbish talked about the threat of terrorism during the passage of the "Anti-Terror" legislation. It's funny how since that passed, we've had nine or ten control orders placed on people and then absolutely nothing since then. Are we really expected to believe that the threat of terror was so high that nothing less than the suspension of Habeas Corpus was necessary to defeat these 10 individuals? Do we really need so much legislation to tackle every single ill in society? If there really was such a threat from terror, why have no more control orders been issued?

We have a government that is media obsessed. It is so focused on pandering to certain segments of society that it would drop its trousers for them if it was asked. As many people, including myself, warned about New Labour, it is not remotely interested in resolving the real problems of society. It seeks power purely for the sake of it, and when in government it will do as much as it can to hold onto power, even if it means selling itself down the river for the latest craze. The traditional Labour project is dead.

Meanwhile, Britain slides into fever over pieces of cotton. It is not the government's role to tell people what they can and cannot wear. There is no uniform for society. We must stop blaming the youth for everything and anything. There are problems, I admit, but they are vastly overstated. Attempting to demonise people wearing hoodies (criminalisation is not feasible) will only tend to make the problem worse. I have not worn a hoodie in many years, and now I'm getting the urge to go out and buy one just for the sake of rebellion. Now they have been given their official recognition as the Most Evil Item of Clothing, you can be sure that sales are going through the roof in stores nationwide. What better way to express your contempt of adulthood than to wear the Evil Garment and thus prove your rebel credentials?

Groupthink is bad for society. This is the problem. We are increasingly at risk of setting off intergenerational warfare in this country. We have adults - who have the power to stop this nonsense but choose not to - who believe that they are the last bastions of "normal" society. Only they can save us from certain doom. Meanwhile, there are children, ever more emancipated, who feel the oppression of adults on them on a permanent basis means they must be rebelled against at every chance, in order to disrupt the social order that adults want to inflict on them.

Neither position is correct. Neither group has the right to be obeyed. Mistrust breeds further mistrust, and we are already deep within this cycle that it looks increasingly difficult to get out of. There is far too much generalising in society. We've got to get back to realising we are dealing with individual cases here. Each individual case likely has an individual problem. Hoodie wearing may or may not be a symptom of a much wider problem, and it's blindingly obvious to say that the hoodie itself is not causing it. Sure, many individual cases will have similar problems, but the generalisation is unhelpful. Each one needs to be dealt with down at their level, in their language, and dealt with in a way that empowers the individual to choose to better themselves. Forcing the issue often makes the problem worse.

Having said that, there are a lot of adults who have serious problems too. The breakdown of deference in society is a very good thing. Class barriers are deeply wrong. That doesn't mean there should be a certain level of respect for fellow humans, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the people who start these crusades are middle and higher class members of society who are endlessly concerned that their rank on the social ladder is in serious jeopardy. Of course, this is a generalisation - something I have just said is bad. But it is a similarity that will occur time and time again. The individual adult cases will also vary.

But is there something that can be done to make some initial progress? Yes. It's very simple. It's also free.

Reopen lines of communication. Talk. Listen. React. Calmly. Restate. Debate. Resolve. There is a way to work out what the problem is for everyone, but be prepared to accept that you might also be a problem. Change is needed from every direction. Only when each side knows what the other wants, and has been able to cast aside all prejudices, can a genuine solution be worked upon. The solution might take time, effort and yes - even money. By doing this, we instantly work upon solving the first problem at the root of this whole business: the isolation and fragmentation of individuals and subcultures in society.

In this case, the government can set an example... perhaps even lead the way. But it chooses not to.

Another wasted opportunity, lost in a further mire of blustering authoritarianism. Thanks, Tone.