Archive for August, 2010

Andy Burnham’s ‘Aspirational Socialism’ should aspire to greater socialism

August 25, 2010

As I’ve said before, I like Andy Burnham. The leadership campaign has reinforced his ‘nice’ image and he’s also emerged as a bit more politically interesting than expected.

However, he still emphasises social mobility too much. The idea that aspirational people should be able to ‘succeed’ and ‘get on in life’ however poor their background is naturally appealing but my problems with it are:

  • Surely a truly socially mobile society would also see lots of people born to wealthy backgrounds fail due to their laziness or other personal inadequacy and end up becoming poor. None of the proponents of social mobility ever discuss this, which seems dishonest to me. No-one mentions removing the safety nets for the rich.
  • The focus on individual success makes me slightly uncomfortable as it reinforces too many right-wing political narratives. I understand that we have to utilise ‘common sense’ arguments in order to maintain widespread political appeal, but we shouldn’t forget that we are collectivists not individualists.
  • Social mobility is not inspiring as a long-term vision for the left because it assumes the retention of wealth inequalities in society. We can be more ambitious than simply helping ‘talented’ poor people escape poverty. We should commit ourselves to seeking the abolition of poverty altogether. Sincere egalitarianism should seek to remove class divisions rather than make them a bit more fluid.

Musical elite

August 25, 2010

I was at a music festival at the weekend expanding my musical consciousness. Not being very aware of what the yoof of today listen to, I conducted lots of wiki research into the various bands I ended up listening to. It appeared that lots of them met at school and were members of a certain social circle. There was something a bit depressing about how many of these up-and-coming musical figures were privately-educated. Granted, they were all extremely talented, but it’s obviously easier for that talent to emerge when you’re being supplied with musical instruments and lessons from a young age.

Alan Milburn: Con-Dem’s social mobility tsar and honorary president of ‘Labour’s Progressives’.

August 17, 2010

So Alan Milburn has accepted a role as the Government’s ‘social mobility tsar’. I wonder whether Mr Milburn will be able to retain his position as the honorary president of Progress.

Progress is a New Labour think-tanky faction kind-of-thing. In some ways Progress must be pleased with aspects of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government. CameronClegg, Osborne et al clearly like the unobjectionable/vacuous political label ‘progressive’ so much that they are claiming the mantle of progressiveness for themselves. And now Progress’ honorary president is rising above tribalism and joining the new politics through helping the Government on social mobility.

However, as disposed towards Progress as the coalition seems to be, surely it does not help an organisation trying to maintain influence in the Labour Party to be presided over by someone willing to give the Con-Dems a positive headline? In fact it must be a tad embarrassing. After all, Mr Milburn has now been labelled a “collaborator” by former Deputy PM Lord Prescott, no less.

When Progress gets round to making some progress (boomboom) on updating their website and correcting the numerous mistakes (several of their parliamentary patrons are no longer MPs and is Patrick Diamond really known affectionately as “Our Patrick Diamond”?) perhaps they will omit to mention that Milburn is their honorary president. Or alternatively they will find someone who has not been co-opted into the coalition.

Wholehearted agreement with Tom Harris

August 15, 2010

I can’t remember the last time an article by Comrade Harris had me nodding my head so vigorously. NHS funding of homeopathy is ripe for cutting.

Ragged relevance for our times: reviewing the stage adaptation of ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ at Chichester Theatre

August 11, 2010

Frank Owen uses bread to demonstrate the theory of surplus value to the workers. Genius!

This blog is named after Frank Owen, the principal hero of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, so there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to watch the new stage adaptation of Robert Tressell’s socialist classic at Chichester Festival Theatre this weekend.

In fact it’s hard to imagine how I would not have enjoyed this play. Perhaps it would not be receiving two Jako thumbs up if Howard Brenton and Christopher Morahan – respectively the script writer and director – had decided to reinterpret Tressell’s work through the medium of street dance.

Actually that could still have worked. To have seriously disappointed me the plot would have had to have been altered  so that in the end the big surprise was that Frank Owen actually turned out to be a Tory.

Written a century ago, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists laments the social and political failings of Edwardian Britain. However, Tressell’s satire and socialist propagandising retain a relevance which give the play added bite.

For example, Tressell attacks the Tories and Liberals for presiding over an unjust society based on exploitation. The play’s producers must have been pleased when the coalition Government was formed! With a Cabinet full of Conservatives and Lib Dems putting forward policies to shaft the poor, it’s obvious that these two parties still represent the same old privileged class interests. (Admittedly Tressell would probably have lambasted the timidity of today’s Labour Party.)

Tressell also railed against the corruption of politicians. This was done brilliantly in the play, with all the bosses played by the actors wearing slightly unnerving masks. They were discussing how to fiddle their councillor expenses. Ooo er! Unfortunately greedy money-grabbing politicians did not become extinct in 1910, so these scenes struck a particular chord.

Most of the acting (and singing!) was great. My one criticism would be that the two women in the cast seemed weaker than all the blokes. Their accents were not dependable and none of the characters they played really worked. To be fair, the play has to cut down on a lot of stuff that happens in the book with the result that there are fewer domestic scenes. This means that the female characters are not so well developed on stage as they are in the pages penned by Tressell.

Chichester is not a hotbed of revolutionary thought. It’s a place populated by retired colonels where buyers of the Guardian are undoubtedly given funny looks by newsagents. However, the rest of the audience seemed to appreciate the play. I certainly hope that the play will be taken to other theatres so that the ragged trousered brilliance and Tressell’s socialist ideals are spread far and wide.

Yoof politics weirdos

August 10, 2010

I’m not always a fan of Laurie Penny’s work but I’m a sucker for exposés of young Tories acting like young Tories. Go read her article ‘Undercover with the young Conservatives’.

Some in the comments box insist that an article on the happenings at a Labour Students or Young Fabians event would be similarly entertaining. Having been to a few such events I have to say that I find this doubtful.

Of course there are some unpleasant types but they are more likely to be Hamer Shawcross-like characters rather than crude chauvinists with obnoxiously extreme politics. I fear a right-wing exposé of such an event would simply leave the readers yawning rather than horrified.

Is Andy Burnham losing faith?

August 9, 2010

Andy Burnham has frequently described himself as a church-attending Christian. He is often pointed to as a prominent Labour Catholic and certainly gave the impression of being the most religious out of all the leadership candidates.

However, I noticed that in a recent interview with Channel 4 News Mr Burnham comes across a tad doubting Thomas-like…

Who is the advisor you most listen to in life? My mum and my younger brother – on politics and on absolutely everything. Rocks of wisdom and sense.
If you could chose any talent you currently don’t have, what it be? Opening batsman. I always used to admire someone who could open the batting and stick in there.
If Britain adopts AV, which party will get your second preference vote? I would only put one (adding that he wouldn’t use his second preference in his constituency)
Do you believe in God? Don’t know

“Don’t know”? Sounds wishy washy! Smells like agnosticism!

I like Andy Burnham. In a previous interview with Labour Uncut he’d already made clear that he disagrees with Catholic orthodoxies.

Perhaps he is moving from sceptical Catholicism to agnosticism. The next heretical step, naturally, is to declare himself a paid-up member of the Richard Dawkins Fan Club. Come join us, Andy!

I also note that Burnham told Channel 4 that he was “the David Cameron” of this leadership contest. Hmm. Peculiar thing to say.

Methinks the Burnham press team will want to clarify what ‘the line’ is on the existence of the Big G and will seek to make sure their candidate stops describing himself as a Tory Prime Minister.

The Sunday Times – a filthy fascist rag.

August 8, 2010

Not an unexpected statement considering that this is the paper employing the talents of Jeremy Clarkson, AA Gill and Rod Liddle.

But today’s edition was filled with even more hate-stirring fash nonsense than usual. In a report on the groundbreaking news that in a few parts of the UK most of the babies being born in hospitals are from ethnic minorities (to stress my sarcasm, I was apparently the only white baby on the mid 1980s London hospital ward, so this has been the case for a while) the Sunday Times descended into BNP propagandising.

It really, honestly does. The report was accompanied by a black-and-white photograph of a VE street party. Everyone is of course white and looking happy. Then, in a clever and subtle piece of juxtapositioning, the Sunday Times puts a photograph of a woman hidden away under a niqab. ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ – you see? The niqab-wearer is clearly meant to represent the onset of a multiracial society and it’s hardly a positive image.

The only BNP leaflet I’ve ever had delivered to my address also had the ‘happy white people in 1940s’ versus ‘niqab madness of modern multiculturalism gone MAD’ theme.  ( Yes, this was delivered in Islington! What did they think they were doing? Won’t somebody please consider the house prices!).

I find it disturbing, but not entirely surprising, that the Sunday Times editor seems to be getting his inspiration from BNP leaflets.


Since Liberal Conspiracy is sending lots of people here I thought I’d ingeniously bypass the Murdoch pay wall and show you what I’m talking about:


Gilligan on the state and Islamism

August 8, 2010

It may be an article in the Telegraph written by Andrew Gilligan, but I have no qualms in saying that this is a good article.

It’s hardly groundbreaking but it’s a neat summary of the current situation and the direction of travel we should move in.

I would only question a few points. Gilligan insists that there is a clear distinction between ‘Islamist’ and ‘Islamic’ thinking. This is debatable – it could be more useful to consider them as different points on the same ideological spectrum.

It’s also a tad simplistic to declare that Maududi was the “founder” of Islamism. That’s like positing that there was a single thinker responsible for coming up with socialism. Other notable Islamists gave the creed their own flavours, such as Qutb and al-Banna (who of course gave it al-Bannana flavour. *Boom boom*).

Dems who Fib

August 5, 2010

The Local Government Chronicle reports from the recent Local Government Association Conference. LGC reporters overheard Liberal Democrat councillors discussing how to deal with expenditure reductions and suggesting the following tactics to each other:

“Blame it on the previous administration”

“Blame it on the government”

“Don’t call them cuts; call it service transformation!”

I would link to the LGC report but it’s subscribers only. You’ll just have to believe me. Don’t worry, I’m not a Lib Dem and am therefore trustworthy!