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Week 11  Sunday
14 March 2004


STOP PRESS   Great meeting at Cross Hands, over the wronged miners, on Saturday - I will report tomorrow    RWE


This speech
was absurd

I mean, of course, Tony Blair's Saturday speech to the Spring Labour Party Conference in Manchester.  He has lost his touch, his perspective.  He likes making crisis speeches - and this was another one. These are his words, E-mailed to every Labour Party member within the hour.

The task of our leaders is to put terrorist attacks into perspective, not to go in for such dramatisation every time.  They should not be using the vocabulary of war at all.  As we did for thirty years in Northern Ireland, they should use the language of peacetime, of civil disorder, and ordinary criminality.  We should not be the ones to unleash, or to legitimise, the language or the ways of war.  To do that is to lose the confrontation with the terrorists, from the very outset.

Why does Blair do it?  Because he knows he has lost personal legitimacy on other fronts.  George Bush is similarly bereft of personal legitimacy, albeit for different reasons.  They seek therefore to clothe themselves in the bloody legitimacy of crisis.  They both believe that they somehow acquire stature from the very awfulness of the event. 

  • Theirs is the wrong leadership style.  They must both be replaced by men or women who are not discredited, and who stand a better chance of finding the right style of leadership for these new circumstances. The terrorists designate themselves as the men of war.  We should not ape them.  Ours are the ways of democracy, of law, of personal dignity - and of peace.

Housing Benefit
a truly liberal reform

 

This week's report from Secretary of State Andrew Smith graphically issues a pet theme of mine.  It is that, as Right/Left divisions lose their cutting edge, issues of human dignity and respect - issues of human and civil rights - will rise rapidly up the political agenda.  It is, sadly, unlikely that these pages are read by any of the 4,000,000 poorer UK tenants who are entitled to receive Housing Benefit.  But it is there, in the murky depths of the Department of Work and Pensions, that a new view of citizenship and human nature is emerging.  I am delighted.


Right diagnosis
Wrong
Prescription,
Dr Hain

 

Peter Hain is a thoughtful and courageous political leader.  But he is also professional politician. And his latest thoughts about "strengthening links between the Party leadership and its Members", set out in a new paper for the think-tank Catalyst, would make things worse, not better. 

Our professional leaders  already dominate and suffocate the Labour Party, so that rank-and-file members have no place to go. The challenge is to create a new political space in which ordinary Party members can articulate their dreams and ambitions, without being suppressed at every stage by the short-term electoral considerations of the politicians themselves. 

This is not principally a matter of "policy formulation", as Peter Hain contends.  The current divisions over Iraq are not matters of planned "policy" - they are matters of opportunism, flawed judgment, fragile character, dictatorial style. 

The truth is that "policies" are the least important element in public life.  That's why the think-tanks are so ineffective, in influencing Governments.  Far more important - to the electorate and Labour Members - are matters of philosophy, shared visions of society and of human potential, political style, human character, insights into the human condition and the desire to rectify wrongs wherever they occur. 

None of these is a matter of "policy".  By focusing on policy formation, Peter Hain is condemning Party Members to doing the washing-up, while the professionals play Chef.

  • The balance of power between
    Party Members and the political
    cadre must undergo a radical change, in style and in content. That is what
    "Labour Links" is all about.


Abandoning
Judicial Review

I owe you an insider’s explanation of the current Big Spat in relation to the Asylum Appeal system.  Let me put on my wig, and preach a little.  For even excellent people like Robin Cook have joined in the Government’s ill-informed baying against the Judiciary.  Robin Cook said that the asylum changes were merely cosmetic, because "judicial review" meant an appeal only on points of law, and that would be possible within the Asylum Appeal system anyway – with a High Court Judge presiding at the senior Immigration Tribunal.  He pooh-poohed the Judges’ opposition. 

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>In a spirit of comradely commiseration, I publish the commemorative stamps issued for England's World Cup victory Down Under... Cheer up, the English!


Monbiot
gets the point...

I have often been impatient with George Monbiot, and deplored his poor political grasp.  He seems content with preaching generalised sermons, without ever getting to the political point. 

But this week, in addressing yet again the GM debate, he has hit the right target - namely the exercise of power through the ownership of GM strains.  Natural strains cannot be the subject of ownership rights, whereas engineered one can.  That is the real reason for capitalist interest in GM foods, and by pursuing other lines of argument, the corporations are hell-bent upon diverting public attention elsewhere.  The issue is not health, or pollution, food purity, or "Frankenstein foods" or the loss of biodiversity - these are all diversionary issues. 

  • The real issue is power.

George Monbiot has finally put this political argument at the centre of his caseAnd a political threat, George, calls for a political response, not mere obscurantism and talk of prohibition.  The civilised world must act to curtail the panoply of private-property rights, and to monitor their exercise, in particular by corporations.

At the same time, the Penrose Report on Equitable Life demonstrates the horrifying systemic dangers of corporate secrecy.  The EL Management succeeded for years in pulling the wool over over the Regulators' eyes.  Far greater transparency is needed, for all major corporate affairs...

  • That is a key demand of the Company Reform Coalition, now planning its inaugural London Conference for Saturday 17 April, at LSE.  Be there!

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Woolf in deep water

I like Lord Woolf.  He is sane, balanced, liberal and kindly, with a great intellect. He was just my senior at the Bar, by two years, and we both experienced the excitement and interest of handling the Government's own litigation (although in my case, I was merely Pupil to the then Treasury Counsel Nigel Bridge, later Lord Bridge of Harwich). 

Woolf is right on the Asylum issue, for reasons I explore elsewhere.  But he should keep the asylum issue quite separate from his criticism of the proposed Supreme Court. On this second issue, he should not hazard the authority of his office by taking his opposition too far.  He must do everything he can, to avoid a stand-off between the judiciary and the posturing of the Cabinet, even though the politicians are exaggerating the issue.  Because on this one, the Government is in the right.

  • This raises intriguing aspects of a drift to dicastocracy (= "rule by judges") which I have addressed before - try putting that word into the search engine...

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The National Consumer Council has traditionally been a modest, middle-o-th'-road body, funded by the DTI to speak up for consumers' interests.  That gives the latest NCC call for radical state pensions reform far greater punch. 

Labour is wrong simply to turn away from this enormous issue, means-testing  pension-supplements and trusting to private provision.  NCC research has uncovered a mass sense of betrayal and disappointment among those approaching retirement, the high-profile "consumers" of the pensions system.


In praise of representative democracy

Q.  What is distinctive about the appalling automatic 25-year sentences being served by young Californians for trivial offences, under the “Three-Strikes-and-You’re-Out” law?  Do you know?

A. They were imposed by “plebiscite”.  The proposal was the subject of a 1994 Californian legislative referendum or poll: see Guardian report.  And it is causing the most awful injustice and inhumanity imaginable. 

Which was to be expected.  I retain my view that the “government” of society, the proper deployment of coercion in the pursuit of civic order, is a difficult and demanding task.  It calls for high personal ability, cool judgment, and wide experience, possessed by only few.  And I have a high respect for those qualities, wherever they are to be found.   But I say that legislation should be entrusted to an experienced legislature.   

I know that representative systems have their faults.  I know that I will be accused (albeit wrongly) of promoting a "political class" .  I know that careerism can easily prevail, and that nepotism can flourish.  And I know that some professional politicians are charlatans and snake-oil salesmen. 

But this remains the best system of democracy.  We should select, and eject, representative governments, and deliver periodic judgments upon their performance, both executive and legislative. 

Referenda may, I recognise prove to a last resort, an unavoidable necessity - if all other systems of legitimacy fail.  But we should be very wary of weakening our representative democracies by resort to referenda. 

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Lord Sainsbury says...

Please forgive a little blowing of the own trumpet, but it has just been brought to my attention that, in the House of Lords in on 8th January, Lord Sainsbury acknowledged my role in generating the idea of community interest companies.  In introducing the Second Reading debate, he said -

"The idea drew on earlier work by several people and groups, including Stephen Lloyd, Roger Warren Evans, the Charity Law Association and others."

My thanks to David Sainsbury (my former boss, of course, and Labour Party colleague, before the SDP...) for that handsome acknowledgment.


Left Activists' Corner

I have three moderately-left political projects to engage your interest, in 2004 - nothing too revolutionary, you understand - and for your delight I retain the Royal Mail stamps for February, which are light-hearted and good fun...

(a) Company Reform Coalition targeting a major Easter pow-wow in London;

(b) Questors - the birth of a new profession, group planning expansion;

(c) Labour Links, seeking to unlock the resources of the Labour Party - and I seek the opportunity to speak to Party groups about Party reform

  • Let me know what you think    

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Special Footnote

I love the online newspapers, which are my access to the world - share them with me - click through to their here -  I have added the English-language China Daily ... and I now offer you the leading English-language Indian paper The Hindu. 

They are all just a click away.

     

Tough Campaigner

I met Shami Chakrabarti for the first time this week, the Director of LIBERTY who last year succeeded John Wadham. At 35, she is a great campaigner, having worked as a lawyer both with LIBERTY and the Home Office. 

Shami already has important victories to her name.  She lacks nothing in terms of commitment or public courage.  Katherine Gun was represented by James Welch from LIBERTY, in her defeat of the Government in the GCHQ Cheltenham case.  Shami does not come to the post (as many of her illustrious predecessors did) as Labour political animals: hers has been the non-Party Civil Service path, and that will stand her in good stead at the head of LIBERTY, as a independent non-Party agency.   


It's my funeral..

My settled intent is to be buried in a cardboard box, interned informally in some unobtrusive Welsh woodland.  Cremation is a polluting process, and the paraphernalia of conventional coffins are a pantomime, also generating unnecessary waste and pollution.  I do not even intend to allow my remains to fester in some urban corner using up land which could be applied to better purposes...


European Migration 
a socialist view

Letter from Michael McCarthy, 8 March 2004 - MM has been my valued and welcome correspondent on these pages, for over two years - he is a principled opponent of capitalism, with a visceral socialism which generates perceptions which those on the softer Left (where I seem to belong) can easily miss - Michael McCarthy is always worth reading (tho' scornful of the cult of personality, he has always refused to send me an illustrative photo of himself...) - this time his analysis addresses the upcoming accession of the ten new EU States on 1 May...

Dear Roger

When it comes to the rights of EU citizens, the "underlying philosophy" which I would wish to see upheld is that rights should be honoured.  In this case, we should honour the right of free movement for citizens of EU accession countries.

The free movement of labour is a necessary concomitant of the free movement of capital and goods, insofar as such movements can self-evidently destroy jobs. That is why the free movement of labour was embodied as a principle in the original 1957 Treaty of Rome. The EU may be a capitalist club but, at a time when "actually existing socialism" represented a political challenge, it was clearly politic for the founders of the EU to draw up rules which at least appeared to the politically unsophisticated to be even-handed as between capital and labour.

And quick as a flash, there came this perceptive response from Cardiff Solicitor Peter Fitzgerald, also an old friend and correspondent -

Roger 

Michael McCarthy's point is well made. Both politicians and trade unionists have difficulty in dealing with this issue - the unions, mainly because of their tendency to protect their own so-called 'turf.'

From a
socialist perspective, it would have been desirable...

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Progressive
self-delusion

Tony Blair has sent me a letter.  Every E-enrolled Labour Party member has received a copy of the full text of Blair’s Sedgefield speech putting forward his new defence of intervention in Iraq.  And it comes with a rambling covering letter of great length, repeating much of the Speech.   I invite you to read the full speech.

He advances Theory Number Four, namely that unilateral military intervention can be justified on humanitarian grounds (although he denies attacking Iraq for that reason…).  The speech is well-intentioned, and serious.  But it is also rambling, unbalanced, and incoherent.  I believe that Blair's Messianic self-delusion has reached an advanced stage, and that his judgment has been adversely affected.  His whole being has been consumed by an obsession with "terrorism".

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The Clousot State

Times are hard, for the civil rights lobby.  The aura of undifferentiated “threat” which pervades current public debate makes it extremely difficult for civil-rights liberals like me, whether inside the Labour Party or not.  It is virtually impossible for us to assert the primacies of personal freedom, and to warn against the profound perils of the emerging authoritarian state.  We are cast as demented Old Testament prophets, arriving from the desert to prophesy doom.

That is, without the help of the Government’s own Office  of Surveillance Commissioners.  I have just discovered that there is a committee of retired High Court judges beavering away behind the scenes to document the excesses of our Police and Customs services, in their conduct of undercover surveillance. 

And they have a horrific story to tell.  Sylvia Jones, writing in The Guardian, has seen a leaked copy of their secret 2003 report.  It reveals a catalogue of wrongdoing and incompetence.


Noble Lady Helena

I have ordered Baroness (Helena) Kennedy QC's new indictment of the Government's authoritarian practices.  Her book Just Law (£20, Chatto & Windus) is the subject of an adulatory Peter Preston review this week. 

Her criticism of Government Ministers is bound to carry great weight, given her experience and authority.  My hope is that Downing Street, in spite of the PM's Messianism, will come to realise just how much damage is being done by this Government to our judicial system.  Once I get my copy, you will hear more from me on this subject - and more in praise of the resilient Baroness.

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Adults to the rescue

Our relationships with children are, for a thousand reasons good and bad, in the public spotlight.  And I am inspired by the Government's gradual move towards the universal provision of communal children's centres, throughout UK society: see Polly Toynbee, the The Guardian.  

I am persuaded that we ought all consider the guardianship and maturation of all children to be our personal responsibility.  It is too important to be left to parents (or to teachers, for that matter...).  I am inspired by the Quaker "text" (the Quakers have only a few texts, and this is from Advices & Queries) -

"Query 19.  Rejoice in the presence of children and young people in your meeting, and recognise the gifts they bring.  Remember that the meeting as a whole shares a responsibility for every child in its care..."

I yearn for a society of which that is true. I seek the active involvement of a far higher proportion of adults in the care and custody of children, as active parents, teachers, nursery nurses, classroom auxiliaries, probation officers, school volunteers - and as social workers.  And the universal provision of children's centres would demonstrate such a commitment.

  • If the new Children's Commissioner represents a move towards that
    kind of society, I welcome the development.

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Radical
electoral reform

Billy Bragg has come up with a new idea for elections to the House of Lords.  General Election votes would be counted in two different ways - once for the Commons and a second-time for the Lords.   

My own solution is more radical. The voters would pick two representatives per constituency (one man, one woman) and they would be assigned to (a) the Commons, (b) the Second Chamber and (c) European Parliament.  All "MPs" would enjoy equal electoral legitimacy. The outright winner in each Constituency would of course go to the Commons, and the Parties would pick the two remaining teams from their elected squads. This would solve three of the worst problems of our current system, in a triple whammy...


MindThe Gap”! 

Have you understood the game that is being played in Iraq, by the US and the UK?  Have you grasped the significance of the gap that will be left between the “transfer of sovereignty” to a puppet Iraqi Government (on 30 June 2004) and the holding of elections (perhaps early 2005)

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Did you know...?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how about this picture?

These are official Government statistics.  Methadone kills many more people than heroin, so does paracetamol.  Ecstasy deaths are a tiny figure.  And just look at the ravages of the "legal" drugs, alcohol (wine-coloured) and tobacco (light blue smoke-coloured...)

PS  Richard Brunstrom the courageous Chief Constable of North Wales has published his great drugs-reform report "Time for change?" on the Police website at www.north-wales.police.uk

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Having discovered this remarkable NASA website, linked with the Hubble Telescope and the NASA Mars exploration vehicles, with its current photographs from outer space, I am reluctant to let it go

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Recent topics

Extending the Welfare State >>>

"Culture" is a dangerous concept >>>

Speed Bumps - legal cock-up! >>>

We are all Federalists now >>>

Asylum: Inadequate legal aid >>>

Territorial v Membership States >>>

Filofax Deceit >>>

EU Immigration  Blunkett is right >>>

Blair  Civil Service Reform >>>

High politics  Airport Theory >>>

Blair confronts Clare Short >>>

 

And read my Big Theory itself, at Multiple Differential Uncertainty...

Or try my snappier and more practical analysis of the Corporations and the Left Coming to Terms

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One year ago

We are hurtling through the year - and my cross-check on 2003 seems to throw up more and more about the Iraq War.  But I will try and give you a flavour of what else I was thinking about, in February 2003 - when Robin Cook was still Leader of the House of Commons...

House of Lords Reform

Return to my "Old School"

Regulating electronic surveillance

Exaggerating risks of terrorism

City dynamism ignored


I enjoy dipping into informed US West Coast chat, always up to the minute, which can be found at www.metafilter.com.


Never miss Steve Bell!  His cartoons, from The Guardian - his wit and perception illuminate the absurdities of the political scene...


040308  Make sure you have not missed
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